‘Party-building’ (dangjian) refers to the Chinese Communist Party’s adaptation, ideologically and structurally, to the requirements of a new grand mission, which only the central leadership has the prerogative to decide. Party-building entails new guidelines on the role of the Party, and adjustments or alterations in organizations, membership competence and style of Party leadership.
The current Party-building, which began at the Twelfth Party Congress in 1982, is perhaps the most significant in the history of the CCP, because it aimed at nothing less than a transformation of the character of the CCP. Deng Xiaoping proclaimed that the new mission of the Party was the ‘four modernizations’—in industry, agriculture, defence, and science and technology. Deng and associates desired rapid economic growth by whatever means. Hence, practices that were commonly associated with capitalism, such as the market mechanism, private business and foreign investment, all became acceptable. Accordingly, the most important skill of a Party member was leadership in economic development, and the chief qualification of a Party member was an advanced education, preferably in science and engineering. Organizationally, there would be a separation of functions between the Party and the government, with the Party’s being mainly a monitor of policy execution. Formally, the Party’s past practice of controlling every aspect of life and work was terminated.
The most noteworthy achievements of Party-building so far are, first, in the educational upgrade of Party members. In 1982, approximately less than a quarter of Party members had a high school education or more; by 1997, the proportion had risen to half. Second, the Party became more inclusive of social groups than ever before, admitting private businessmen into the Party. But the main character of the CCP—as an organization of functionaries—has remained unchanged. Among general cadres, 70 per cent are Party members; and the proportion of Party members has risen to 90 per cent for those above the county level. In sum, to most existing and prospective Party members, the CCP is the channel to political patronage.
At one and the same time, Party-building exposed broad divisions within the Party, especially between the interior and the coastal provinces, and between the countryside and the city. Those in the southeastern (coastal) provinces tend to support Deng’s reform, while those in the interior are opposed to it. With the exception of Tibet, most ethnic minorities, especially the Muslim population, also support reforms. A high proportion (said to be as high as 70 per cent) of Party organizations in rural areas have ceased to function, and a large number of Party members, especially in the countryside, are perplexed, disillusioned and alienated. In sum, Party-building has yet to produce a unified modern organization, with its ranks dominated by development specialists as Deng had wished.
Chi, His-sheng (1991). Politics of Disillusionment: The Chinese Communist Party under Deng Xiaoping, 1978–1989. New York: M.E.Sharpe.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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