China's leadership change is disturbing the corridors of power

Officials at some top-level Chinese government meetings have been banned from simply reading their notes and have been encouraged to engage in real discussion.

  • close
    China's new Politburo Standing Committee members (l. to r.) Zhang Gaoli, Liu Yunshan, Zhang Dejiang, Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, Yu Zhengsheng, and Wang Qishan line up as they meet with the press at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing last month.
    View Caption
  • About video ads
    View Caption

As China-watchers worldwide debate whether the new Communist Party leaders here will be able to push through the sort of political and economic changes that almost everyone agrees the country needs, a little noticed but possibly revolutionary reform appears to already be under way.

Officials and experts at some top-level Chinese government meetings have been banned from simply reading their notes, and have instead been encouraged to speak spontaneously and engage in real discussion.

Nothing quite like it has disturbed the corridors of power for a generation.

“It was fresh and new and we had to concentrate,” says Zhou Shuzhen about a meeting she attended last week chaired by the anticorruption czar Wang Qishan, a member of the new seven-man Standing Committee of the ruling Communist Party’s Politburo.

“He said from the start that he wanted us to think hard instead of just reading our notes, says Professor Zhou, who teaches politics at Renmin University in Beijing. “That was a good sign.”

Li Keqiang, the party’s No. 2, stunned a meeting of provincial officials two weeks ago by interrupting one of them only a couple of minutes into his report on water pricing, according to Xinhua, the state-run news agency.

“I’ve read your report,” Mr. Li reportedly said bluntly, before asking a pointed question about its contents.

Xinhua did not reveal how the official responded to such an unexpected demand that he get to the point, but he could have been forgiven for being flummoxed. Official Chinese meetings at all levels and of all descriptions are notorious for the manner in which participants drone on, eyes glued to their scripts, reciting their previously prepared words, regardless of what other people in the room have said.

Li seemed to be putting into practice one of the points that new party leader Xi Jinping made in his first appearance as top dog, when he made a speech in which he warned against “excessive formalism and bureaucratism” among Communist Party cadres.

That is part and parcel of a broader make-over of the party leadership’s image. Mr. Xi comes across in public as an affable and approachable man, speaking in a clear and direct fashion. That might seem unsurprising in a politician, but it marks a radical departure from the standard-issue partyspeak delivered in wooden tones that Chinese citizens came to expect from Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao.

“The previous generation of leaders were mostly engineers,” Zhou points out. “They had a different mentality and meeting style.”

Zhou attributes the new approach partly to the fact that many members of the new party leadership spent their teenage years as “sent down” youth in the countryside, learning from the peasantry at Mao Zedong’s command.

“That means we have a deeper understanding of country life and of society,” argues Zhou.

The new meeting style, she adds, “is more productive, and efficient, and helpful for discussion,” but she warns that “it will be a challenge for mediocre officials. Their real abilities will be shown up.”

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome
Make a Difference
Inspired? Here are some ways to make a difference on this issue.
FREE Newsletters
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.




Save for later


Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items


Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items


Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items