China / CPC and World

In A Class Of Their Own

By Tang Yue (China Daily) Updated: 2016-06-28 07:38

Party schools have played a central role in the intellectual development and political education of officials from both China and overseas, as Tang Yue reports.

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of articles China Daily will publish in the next few days looking at the structure, history and influence of the Chinese Communist Party as it celebrates the 95th anniversary of its foundation.

There is a group of extremely powerful academies in China, but you won't see them on the lists of university rankings. They have more power to shape the minds of the country's most powerful people and, in turn, its future than any other institutions.

They are the Party schools. There are about 2,900 at all levels, and they are not just the places where rising leaders are trained, but also where economic and social issues are discussed and debated, and where policy trends are set.

"You don't really see this in the West. You don't see Democrats or Republicans going to the Party school. The schools play an important role in Party building in China," said Zhen Xiaoying, a former vice-president of the Central Institute of Socialism in Beijing.

In A Class Of Their Own

"It is also superficial and biased to think that cadres go to the Party schools just to be obedient to the Party. It is a precious chance for officials from all over the country to exchange ideas on governance," said Zhen, who is a professor of Party building.

At the top of the system is the Party School of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee. Its predecessor, the Marxist-Communist School, was founded in 1933 in Ruijin, Jiangxi province, in the Central Revolutionary Base Area.

Its current headmaster is Liu Yunshan, a member of the country's top authority, the seven-person Standing Committee of the Politbureau of the CPC Central Committee. Former headmasters include leading Party figures such as Mao Zedong, Liu Shaoqi, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping.

In A Class Of Their Own

In 2005, three national-level Party schools with different specialities were established directly under the CPC Central Committee.

The China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong in Shanghai specializes in international exchange and cooperation, while the schools in Jinggangshan in Jiangxi, and in Yan'an, Shaanxi province, both former revolutionary bases, place greater emphasis on Party history and spirit.

The wider picture shows that there are 34 provincial-level Party schools, plus 15 at sub-provincial level, about 360 at city-level and 2,500 at county-level. The schools, which are scattered across the country, employ about 100,000 people in total, according to President Xi Jinping.

"Quite a few comrades don't realize the significant roles the Party schools have played. Many think their existence doesn't make a difference. These thoughts must be corrected," Xi, who was the headmaster of the Central Party School from 2007 until 2012, told the national Party school conference in December.

Located next to the Summer Palace, an 18th century imperial retreat in the suburbs of northwest Beijing, the Central Party School was once one of the most mysterious places in China.

In recent years, though, it has gradually lifted the veil. On June 30, 2010, the day before the CPC's 89th birthday, the school invited foreign reporters to visit and conduct interviews for the first time in its history.

Meanwhile, the school has become an increasingly popular destination for foreign leaders to visit and deliver speeches.

The past decade has witnessed a growing number of foreign leaders or heads of international organizations visiting the school and addressing the students; from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Herman Van Rompuy, the then-President of the European Council, and then-US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien-Loong.

Gong Li, a professor of international relations with the Central Party School's Institute of International Strategic Studies, revealed that Rumsfeld declined the Chinese government's offer to visit Peking University when he was in China in October 2005. He preferred to call on the Central Party School instead.

"So many foreign leaders want to visit our school. However, I'm sorry to say that the busy schedule means we have to give priority to high-ranking officials and top scholars," he said.

Overseas students

In Shanghai, the China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong doesn't just play host to foreign visitors and speakers, but also to trainees from overseas. Thousands of officials from more than 100 countries have attended its courses.

In addition to seminars for students from developing countries as part of China's foreign aid program, and topics such as city planning, development zones and anti-corruption work, many projects attract officials from developed countries interested in China's investment outlook.

Despite the different themes, the curriculum for the foreign students always starts with an overall introduction to China, including courses such as a General Review of China and Relations between Central and Local Government.

According to Liu Genfa, deputy director of the international exchange and training department, nothing is out of bounds during lectures, except displays of arrogance.

"A poker face doesn't work. Plain theory doesn't work. You have to learn to be a storyteller. If you don't do that, Chinese people won't listen, let alone people from overseas," he said.

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How the system works


Three departments of the Central Party Schools offer training and education.

The Further Training Department provides courses for officials, known as cadres, at the ministerial, provincial and prefectural levels, and for secretaries of county (or city) Party committees on a rotating basis.

The Training Department oversees the training of young and middle-aged reserve cadres and cadres from ethnic groups in the Tibet and Xinjiang autonomous regions.

The Graduate School, which offers masters degrees and doctorates, has been engaged in graduate education since 1981.

Higher education

The Graduate School of the Central Party School recruits about 200 graduate students every year. Majors include the Philosophy of Marxism, Scientific Socialism and the International Communist Movement, and the History of the CPC.


What was then the Advanced Party School was suspended during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76). It reopened in 1977 and was renamed the Party School of the Central Committee of the CPC.

Turning point

Following the end of the "cultural revolution", Hu Yaobang, the then-headmaster, led a discussion among officials at the school about the criteria for "testing truth". According to the school's website, at that time whatever Mao Zedong said was regarded as the truth or the principle to follow, Hu and his contemporaries debated whether this rule should be maintained.

In May 1978, the debate led to the publication of a commentary, titled "Practice Is the Sole Criterion for Testing Truth," in Guangming Daily. It sparked a fierce national debate. It is regarded as a movement to free the minds of the Chinese people from personality cults, and inculcate a solid foundation for the subsequent economic reform and opening-up.

 In A Class Of Their Own

Left: Manmohan Singh, thenprime minister of India, addresses students at the Central Party School in Beijing in October 2013. Center: Mario Monti, thenprime minister of Italy, makes a speech at the Central Party School in March 2012. Right: Donald Rumsfeld speaks during a visit to the Central Party School in October 2005, when he was US defense secretary. Photos Bywang Ye / Xinhua, Liuweibing /Xinhua And Mandel Ngan / Reuters

 In A Class Of Their Own

Trainees from Africa listen intently during a class at the China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong in Shanghai. Wang Yuan / Xinhua

(China Daily 06/28/2016 page6)

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