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China tells officials to keep style simple, speeches short

A directive from the new Politburo tells Chinese officials to forgo extravagance and formality as part of efforts to 'win the trust and support of the people.'

December 06, 2012|By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times
  • A directive for less extravagance and formality is part of new Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s campaign to root out corruption among officials by targeting the trappings of power.
A directive for less extravagance and formality is part of new Chinese leader… (Ed Jones / Pool Photo )

BEIJING — No more long, boring speeches. No red carpets, floral displays and grand banquets.

Less extravagance and formality.

Those and other directives governing conduct by Chinese officials have been issued by the newly inaugurated Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party in what state media described as a "bid to win the trust and support of the people."

They're part of new leader Xi Jinping's much-ballyhooed campaign to root out corruption among officials by targeting the trappings of power. The call for official behavioral adjustments leaning toward simpler and shorter comes as Xi pushes for increased respect for China's Constitution and the rule of law.

"We must firmly establish throughout society the authority of the constitution and the law and allow the overwhelming masses to fully believe in the law," Xi was quoted as saying at a ceremony Tuesday marking the 30th anniversary of China's Constitution.

Although outgoing Chinese President Hu Jintao also spoke frequently of the rule of law, Xi's words bolstered hope that basic rights guaranteed on paper will be honored in practice. There have been encouraging signs that authorities are easing their persecution of petitioners, people who come to Beijing to present written grievances to the central government.

"With the new government in place, we're not seeing drastic changes, but little openings that give us hope," said Huang Qi, a Chengdu-based activist who has been campaigning for the rights of petitioners. According to Huang, thousands of people who had been held at Jiujingzhuang, a detention center on the outskirts of Beijing, were released late Tuesday.

If not in substance, then in style, Xi, who became party general secretary last month and is set to become president in March, is trying to distinguish himself from his predecessors. In his public appearances and statements since being named to China's top post, Xi — despite being the scion of an illustrious family — has fashioned himself as a down-to-earth servant of the people.

This is not the first time the Communist Party has enacted regulations to project more humility. Dozens of widely ignored rules prohibit senior cadres from driving luxury cars and allowing relatives to do business in their jurisdiction. The latest rules appear to be more guidelines than regulations with real teeth, or penalties.

"Senior officials should keep a frugal lifestyle," according to a statement issued by the government. "The style of officials, particularly top officials, has an impact on the atmosphere of government and on the whole of society."

While traveling overseas they should keep delegations as small as possible, leaving at home the legions of flunkies who carry luggage and umbrellas. They should not expect fawning welcomes, red carpets and flowers. Attendance at ribbon cuttings and cornerstone-laying ceremonies should be approved in advance by high-level party officials. Roads shouldn't be closed unnecessarily for the convenience of the leadership.

As for their speaking style, the statement says, "We should hold short meetings, make short speeches, avoid empty words and jargon."

That directive in particular appeared to be a dig at leaders such as Hu. At the opening ceremony of last month's 18th Communist Party congress, he delivered a 100-minute speech in which he repeated the phrase "socialism with Chinese characteristics" 79 times.

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