BEIJING — Don’t suck up to your boss, don’t use jargon when making speeches, don’t act high and mighty, and never smoke or pick your teeth in public.
Those items are included on a list of “10 forbidden behaviors” that a county in southwestern China recently issued to local officials. On Friday, a local newspaper proclaimed the initiative a success, triggering an immediate flurry of jokes and barbs online.
Campaigns to improve the behavior of Communist Party cadres with rules and guidelines are almost as old as the party itself. But the effort has been at once concerted and sustained since Xi Jinping took over as general secretary of the party in November 2012 and as China’s president the following March.
Seeking to overhaul the party’s image as well as bolster his own standing, Xi launched a major effort in December 2012 to curb official extravagance and reduce bureaucracy. Party leaders were ordered to reconnect with the grass roots.
An ambitious anti-corruption campaign followed last year in which Xi promised to eliminate both the “tigers” and the “flies” — the senior and junior officials — who were stealing public money.
Xi’s campaigns have left many officials looking over their shoulders for fear of investigation by party disciplinary teams, as well as exposure on social media or by journalists.
Pengshan County, a district of 340,000 people in Sichuan province, appears to have taken the message to heart, setting out to learn exactly what its officials were doing wrong and put a stop to it.
Drawing on 1,700 suggestions gleaned from public opinion polls, symposia, investigations and interviews, the county’s party committee in late February issued a list of 10 common practices that would henceforth be prohibited.
Among them: throwing trash from car windows, parking illegally, getting other people to ghostwrite documents and making empty promises to the masses. Bullying people or getting them to carry your bags, open your car door and pour your tea also are frowned upon.
Cursing and pointing fingers at people are out, as is saying “Don’t ask me” when someone poses a question.
The Huaxin Metropolis Daily, a local newspaper, reported Friday that the effort had been effective. But its story was quickly met with expressions of both derision and despair on Chinese social media.
“These are basic manners,” wrote one user on the Sina Weibo microblogging service, referring to the implied recommendations for how to treat people. “But officials can’t do it. How can such low-quality people be officials serving the people?”
“They need to be taught such simple things?” another user marveled. “These officials should go back to primary school.”
“It looks really funny, but it’s pretty sad when you think about it,” said another. “Many of these 10 prohibitions are basic moral rules of human beings. Are these cadres not humans? Only such an explanation makes sense.”
Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociologist at the Renmin University of China, said it was regrettable that many cadres have behaved badly ever since the founding of modern China, and especially since the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s.
“During that era, not only were people not ashamed of cursing, they were proud of it — and proud of being uneducated,” he said. “Class struggle” was always more important than being civilized, he said, and today being prosperous has become a higher priority.
“Let’s face it, this small county has the courage to face reality,” he said of Pengshan.
Russell Leigh Moses, dean of the Beijing Center for China Studies, described the campaign in Pengshan as an extension of Xi’s broader effort. “Historically, whenever the Communist Party is concerned about its image and its operation, it tends to produce instructions and guidance, and in doing so shows how seriously it takes official behavior,” he said.
Those campaigns may not have produced lasting results in the past, but they could be more effective this time around, Moses said.
“Xi’s effort is less of a campaign and more of a crusade,” he said, noting that a whole series of admonitions and instructions had been issued. “The fact that they’ve had a consistent message to them and come in an almost continuous flow means they are very, very serious and not a one-off effort.”
Xi’s push for austerity appears to have already affected the Chinese economy, depressing demand for a range of goods, from alcoholic spirits to luxury brands such as Prada.
Lavish banquets have been outlawed, cutting into the upmarket catering industry as well as offering a reprieve for the world’s sharks, which have been killed in huge numbers to supply China with once-prestigious shark-fin soup.
Even funeral directors have reported a drop in revenue since instructions were issued to avoid large, ostentatious ceremonies.
Although the government continues to clamp down hard on dissent — and has imprisoned a group of civil rights activists who dared to demand that senior party officials disclose their assets — there does appear to be some effort to reform from within.
But while complaints are allowed, they must be made through official channels.
On Tuesday, the Pengshan government set up an e-mail address and phone line for people seeking to blow the whistle on officials who ignore the new rules and encouraged citizens to take photographs of offenders on their smartphones.
But so far, no reports of misbehavior have been called or e-mailed in, the Huaxin Metropolis Daily reported.
Liu Liu contributed to this report.