Mao-Era Criticism Sessions Make a Comeback in China's State Banks

china-icbc-branch-yichang-hubei-province-sept21-2015.jpg Pedestrians walk past a branch of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China in Yichang, central China's Hubei province, Sept. 21, 2015.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party is reviving Mao-era "self-criticism" campaigns across the state-owned banking sector, where top executives and party officials hold weekly meetings to evaluate performance, sources have told RFA.

According to a department head at the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), one of the "big four" state banks, executives dread the weekly party sessions, which they feel are akin to the political "struggle sessions" under the rule of late supreme leader Mao Zedong.

"Everyone feels insecure at the top levels of management right now, and everyone is on edge," the source told RFA on Monday.

The "criticism and self-criticism" sessions take place at weekly meetings of the party committee within China's state-owned banks, the source said.

"Every week the party committee meets and we have criticism and self-criticism, where we have to say what we did wrong that week, and then other people weigh in and criticize us," the source, who asked to remain anonymous, said.

"Some people criticize themselves, while others are exposed by colleagues; they all have to undergo some form of ideological education," the source said.

The focus of the campaign is on the highest echelons and middle-ranking management in the state-owned banking system.

"People are saying the atmosphere is a lot like that of the Cultural Revolution," the source said. "Everyone is worried and afraid, because we don't know if sudden political change is coming."

He said the new practice is divisive, and is fanning the flames of rivalry and even enmity among colleagues at the bank.

"Of course, it is harming relations at the top level of management,” The source said. “A small minority of people are ... using these attacks as a form of personal revenge ... which is creating an atmosphere of fear."

According to Xiao Jiansheng, editor of the official Hunan Daily newspaper, the self-criticism sessions began fairly recently.

"This is a fairly recent development; it wasn't there before," Xiao said. "You have to look at it in the context of some behaviors in the financial sector which recently overstepped the mark."

"This is really a fairly moderate way of dealing with it, by allowing them to dispute it among themselves," he said. "If they were to investigate it for real, then a lot of people would go to jail."

"Of course, if this became the norm, then it would be like the Cultural Revolution," Xiao said.

‘Pledging allegiance to the party’

Retired Shandong University professor Sun Wenguang said that party committee meetings within state-run companies have always had the potential to use such methods.

"This went on during the Cultural Revolution, but also before it," Sun said. "It's all about pledging allegiance to the party; about party control over people's thinking."

"Mostly you find this sort of approach used in state-owned enterprises, at middle- and high-ranking levels of management," Sun said.

But he said such meetings are often used as a way to get people to expose themselves.

"They will write down what you say in these situations and then use your own internal thought processes against you in an investigation," he said.

"They want to control the whole of society; the entire population," Sun said.

The renewed campaign comes after Chinese President Xi Jinping promoted the idea of "criticism and self-criticism" on a visit to the central province of Hubei in September 2013.

The government has also vowed to push ahead with major reforms of state-owned enterprises by 2020, opening them up further to private investment in highly restricted sectors including telecoms, shipping, securities, banking, oil and gas.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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