China’s Communist Party has banned its members from meeting alone or criticizing the Party

Maybe it is best if you don’t talk.
Maybe it is best if you don’t talk.
Image: Reuters/Stringer
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China’s ruling Communist Party has issued a new set of rules that assert even more control over its 88 million members. In an unprecedented sweep, they ban golf, extravagant meals, alumni meetings, and talking about the Party critically.

For the first time ever, Communist Party members are explicitly banned from going to private clubs, receiving membership cards at gyms or golf clubs, and “extravagant eating and drinking” at official receptions, according to the Party’s new disciplinary regulations (link in Chinese) issued this week. Party members must ”champion simplicity and guard against extravagance,” one section of the rules states.

But beyond “extravagance,” and golf, there is a slew of more serious bans that have gone mostly overlooked outside China. Xinhua didn’t highlight them in its English report, and most foreign media didn’t pick them up.

Quartz reviewed the entire text of the regulations, and translated the lesser-noticed newly-added rules. Party members:

  • Must not make irresponsible remarks about the central government’s major policies
  • Must not take other countries’ nationalities, or permanent residencies overseas
  • Must not participate in any unofficial associations for townsmen, alumni, and comrade-in-arms (Party cadres, or officers, only)
  • Must not trade power for sex, or pay money for sex
  • Must not have improper sexual relationships with others (this phrase replaces “conduct adultery”)
  • Must not infringe ordinary people’s rights to know about Party affairs
  • Must allocate relief supplies impartially
  • Must not approve projects that harm ordinary people’s interests.

The most absurd item may be the ban on associations. Forming “cliques” that seek to split the Party was banned under previous regulations, but this is the first time the Party’s most powerful have been specifically forbidden from joining other groups outside it. The ban on “townsmen” groups means that Party cadres can’t meet regularly with people from the same city or area, while the ban on “comrade-in-arms” means that people who used to fight together in the army are banned from having regular meetings.

These strict new rules appear to be president and Communist Party chief Xi Jinping’s latest move to consolidate power and prevent his political opponents from gaining strength.

The new regulations—along with a new ethical code—are an upgrade of the Party’s existing rules that were “deemed incompatible… following the launch of its anti-corruption drive,” the state-run news agency Xinhua reported. Xi, Xinhua says, has repeatedly called for the rules to be revised.

In 2013 and 2014, Xi spoke about his concerns about those associations and said ”sectarianism must be addressed and eliminated (link in Chinese).” Xi said then that Party cadres come from all corners of the country, so they shouldn’t meet with neighbors, alumni, and former military associates to engage in small circles, form “cliques,” or call each other “brothers.”

Xi’s anti-graft campaign has focused on high-ranking officials who had connected interests, and often who were political rivals. For example, former security chief Zhou Yongkang—who was sentenced a lifetime in jail in June—led a faction in the Party often called the “petroleum gang.” While that “gang” wasn’t an organized group or publicized group that met regularly, “cliques” like it are what Xi is likely trying to stamp out. By detailing what groups are banned, he may be trying to rule out the possibility of new cliques like that forming.

Meanwhile, the implications of a ban on “irresponsible remarks” about government policies appears to be a move to quiet dissenting opinions inside the Party. The previous regulation only banned defying the Party’s Four Cardinal Principles and China’s opening and reform policy. “Irresponsible remarks” by Party members are banned online, as well, because they could “undermine the Party’s centralization.”

The ban has been widely discussed on, where else, Chinese social media. “From now on, as long as [the Party] hears something not pleasing to the ear, can it put the people into jail for the crime of irresponsible remarks?” one blogger commented (link in Chinese) on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo.

The new regulations also delete rules related to corruption, bribery, and dereliction of duty that overlap with China’s criminal law, Ma Huaide, vice president of China University of Political Science and Law, told Xinhua. They establish a “clear boundary between Party discipline and laws.”

The regulations take effect on January 1, 2016. Violators may face expulsion from the Party.