China is limiting high-ranking officials to offices the size of a shipping container

Beijing’s mini-Kremlin doesn’t follow the office space rules.
Beijing’s mini-Kremlin doesn’t follow the office space rules.
Image: Reuters/China Stringer Network
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“Do you work for the Communist Party? Do you know the size limit for your office at work?”

So begins an announcement (link in Chinese) from the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI)—the body responsible for making sure that party members do what they’re told—of new rules on the office space allotted to government bureaucrats.

The document, entitled “Does your office exceed space guidelines?”, imposes strict limits on the area of party member’s offices, based on their rank. Ministers and provincial governors, for example, are limited to 54 square meters. The private bathrooms of top officials, furthermore, must not exceed six square meters.

Here’s the full breakdown of office size limits by party rank:

The English version of the announcement says that, “Department heads at ministries and provincial governments shall enjoy an office not bigger than 30 square meters, and their deputies 24 square meters.”

There is little reason to think they’ll enjoy these limits after years of using party funds to deck out their offices. The most infamously ornate workplace of recent years was a factory belonging to state-run Harbin Pharmaceuticals. Hardly believable photos of its gold-laced corridors, regal European conference rooms, and Olympic-sized swimming pools leaked onto the web in 2011.

The interior of Harbin Pharmaceutical's "factory."
The interior of Harbin Pharmaceutical’s “factory.”
Image: ChinaSmack/Harbin Pharmaceuticals

Flashy digs like Harbin Pharmaceutical’s offices and a mini-Kremlin in a district of Beijing have drawn the ire both of the public and of a Communist Party that is trying to improve its kleptocratic image. The state-run Global Times newspaper, which frequently publishes editorials that summarize party thinking, cited the “Beijing Kremlin” as justification for a “corruption crackdown.”

CCDI’s latest announcement cites as its basis a document (link in Chinese) released late last year by the National Development and Reform Commission, which plans China’s economic policy, and the country’s ministry of housing and urban-rural development. That document being picked up, summarized, and distributed by CCDI suggests that the government may actually try to enforce these restrictions. The internal discipline commission has become the main weapon in president Xi Jinping’s battle against corruption. For instance, it managed to expel from the party Zhou Yongkang—once a member of the extremely powerful Politburo Standing Committee—for “serious disciplinary violations.”

Of course, the office space rules will require someone who supplies unbiased measurements.