BEIJING – On bus-stop billboards, newspaper front pages and television news broadcasts, in school classrooms, factory study groups and student counseling sessions, at forums and meetings all across China, the Communist Party propaganda apparatus has been spreading the word from President Hu Jintao: Do good and avoid evil.
Hu’s fatherly advice, in the form of eight do’s and don’ts, was issued two weeks ago as an antidote to the corruption and cynicism spreading across China, a result of the often raw capitalism that has emerged during 25 years of dramatic economic change. Although his aphorisms may sound simplistic to Western ears – “Work hard, don’t be lazy” and “Be honest, not profit-mongering” – Chinese analysts said they are a response to a deep-seated desire among people here for a moral compass to guide them through the unsettling transformation.
“There is a feeling that things have been going wrong,” said Kang Xiaoguang, a social sciences researcher at the Chinese Academy of Science. “So when I hear him say that, I say, ‘Good. It should have been said a long time ago.’ ”
Many Chinese would agree. The Communist Party’s traditional values of egalitarianism and service to the poor have largely faded away, they complain, in favor of a get-rich ideology that blurs the distinction between officials and entrepreneurs. The strait-laced morals of Mao Zedong’s time, they note, have relaxed to the point that bribes are part of doing business and prostitution is practiced openly. In addition, the party’s reputation for corrupt land seizures has contributed heavily to often violent peasant unrest, making the need to re-burnish the government’s legitimacy more urgent.
Since taking over as party leader and president three years ago, Hu has been reaching for the right formula. Under his orders, the party has been engaged in an 18-month retraining program to fire up its 70 million members. Hu has declared that the country must pursue “scientific development,” taking environmental and social concerns into account as the economy grows. And he repeatedly has urged China’s 1.3 billion people to create a “harmonious society,” in which competing interest groups, such as farmers and businessmen, settle differences without conflict.
“It is a step-by-step program,” Kang said. “I think he has a blueprint in his heart.”
Some party analysts have suggested Hu’s preaching is not enough, that the country should slow the pace of economic reforms and reemphasize the benefits that came with socialism, such as health care and guaranteed employment. Hu and his premier, Wen Jiabao, have resisted the calls, which some analysts say have more to do with jockeying for position than genuine policy disagreements. But the two leaders have clearly indicated they believe headlong economic growth should be tempered by greater concern for the people left behind, particularly farmers.
Hu, 63, seems to have turned naturally toward a campaign appealing for cleaner living as part of the answer to corruption and cynicism. In a speech last year to cadres training at the Central Party School, he suggested that the solution lies in renewing traditional Marxist thought, revisiting the best of Mao Zedong’s policies and reviving ancient Chinese culture, including Confucianism.