The question of what is your biggest weakness is on every tough interview question list. For those of you who are still struggling with a smart answer, Chinese officials may have a lesson or two for you.
“I’ve sat on too many sofas and not enough wooden stools.”
“I used to spend thousands on a single dinner. As the head of poor village, I should feel guilty.”
“For work inspections, I’ve rarely visited places that are not accessible by car.”
“I prefer luxury hotels during business trips, and sometimes would also visit tourist sites during work.”
“I’m obsessed with receptions of visiting superiors. I feel that I have ‘face’ when I treat them with expensive wines and dishes.”
These are a few examples of self-critique from officials all over China in the past few months after Chinese president Xi Jinping revived the age-old technique of “criticism and self-criticism” from Mao’s playbook at the end of last year.
“To get rid of the bad and keep the good,” Mao first armed the Party with “the Marxist-Leninist weapon of criticism and self-criticism.” And as Mao put it, the method became a violent weapon in the following decades, often resulting in brutal witch-hunts that destroyed lives.
Now, these criticism and self-criticism sessions, as part of a mass line campaign initiated by China’s new leadership, are called “democratic life meetings”. The aim is to bring government officials closer to the people, and to strengthen the Party’s appeal and credibility. But in the eyes of many Chinese, the whole campaign is more like a farce.
“These democratic life meetings are too ‘liberal’,” one netizen pointed out that nothing serious has been discussed, “After months of campaign, not a single case of corruption or power abuse has been exposed as a result of criticism or self-criticism.”
Why? “Because it’s nothing but a show. And ‘the weapon’ is meant to injure, only mildly, not to kill.” Another netizen explained.
These criticism sessions are, at best, an approved accession to scratch each other’s backs with innocuous critique. In May, Liu Yunshan, one of China’s top guns, urged officials to “uncover deep, honest and specific” problems. Weeks later in Yangxin, Hubei province, township Party secretary Tong Jinpo received criticisms like “you have too much dinner engagements, and often attend meetings after drinking,” or “you often ask your staff to carry bags or tea mugs for you.”
“Where are the mistresses? Where are the bribes? Where are the illegal demolitions?” One netizen asked sarcastically. The bottom line, as many netizens pointed out, is not to impact each other’s political career.
The campaign is definitely failing its objective to bolster Party legitimacy. As one netizen commented: “As an ordinary citizen, I’d rather see officials have legal education sessions to learn about the country’s laws, rather than superficial criticism and self-criticism meetings.”