Train and Select Good Officials

Xi Jinping: The Governance of China I Updated: 2021-12-13

Train and Select Good Officials* 

June 28, 2013 

At present, all Party members and people of all ethnic groups in China are making concerted efforts to complete the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects and realize the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation. Confronted with the present complex and unpredictable international situation and arduous domestic tasks of continuing reform and development and maintaining stability, we must "be prepared to carry out a great undertaking with many new historic features." – This is quoted from the political report to the 18th National Congress of the CPC. With its profound connotations, the idea of "new historic features" represents an important conclusion that has been made after thoroughly reviewing and analyzing the development trends both at home and abroad. 

To carry out a great undertaking with many new historic features, and to accomplish the goals and tasks set forth at the 18th CPC National Congress, the emphasis should be laid on our Party and our officials. This means we must ensure that the Party is always the core of leadership during the historic process of developing socialism with Chinese characteristics, and we must build a large contingent of high-caliber officials. 

Our Party has always attached great importance to the selection and appointment of upright and talented people, and has always regarded the selection and appointment of officials as an issue of crucial and fundamental significance to the cause of the Party and the people. Employing suitable officials represents the key to governance. As our ancestors said, "Exaltation of the virtuous is fundamental to governance,"1 and "Employing capable officials represents the top priority of governance."

In recent years, Party committees and organization departments at all levels have implemented the Party policy on personnel management, and have done a good job of selecting and appointing officials. However, there are still some problems which, if not properly resolved, will demoralize both the Party members and the general public. 

At present, there are three questions that are of great concern: what a good official is, how to become a good official, and how to use the right officials for the right job. Good answers and appropriate solutions to the three questions will be a proof of good management of personnel. 

First, what is a good official? This should be a question with a clear and ready answer, for there are clear requirements specified in the Party Constitution. However, some people are confused when they see misconduct in the selection and appointment of officials, when unqualified officials are selected at some localities, and when unqualified officials are still promoted, even against regulations. This shows that we need to improve our work in the organization departments. If our selection of officials leads only to confusion over the criteria for good officials, it is obvious that those selected will be only bad examples for the public. We must think more about this issue! 

Generally speaking, good officials should be of moral integrity and professional competence. However, there were different criteria in different historical periods. During the revolutionary war period, good officials needed to be loyal to the Party, brave and skillful in battle, and unafraid to sacrifice their lives. During the socialist construction period, good officials needed to be politically and professionally competent. In the early years of the reform and opening up, good officials had to uphold the guidelines, principles and policies set forth at the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee, have professional knowledge and be determined to carry out reforms. At the current stage, we require that good officials be politically reliable, professionally competent and morally upright, and are trusted by the people. 

In summary, good officials must be firm in their ideals and convictions, willing to serve the people, diligent in work, ready to take on responsibilities, honest, and upright. 

To be firm in their ideals and convictions means that Party officials must cherish the lofty ideal of communism, sincerely believe in Marxism, strive ceaselessly for socialism with Chinese characteristics, and unswervingly uphold the basic theories, guideline, program, experience and requirements of the Party. 

To be willing to serve the people means that Party officials must act as servants of the people, be loyal to the people, and serve them wholeheartedly. 

To be diligent in work means that Party officials must be dedicated to their work in a down-to-earth, realistic and pragmatic manner, and take solid and tangible measures to make achievements that can prove their worth in practice, survive the scrutiny of the people and stand the test of time. 

To be ready to take on responsibilities means that Party officials must adhere to principles with a responsible attitude, and have the courage to take resolute actions in the face of major issues of principle, to tackle difficulties head-on in the face of conflicts, to step forward in the face of crises, to admit their share of mistakes, and to resolutely fight against misconduct. 

To be honest and upright means that Party officials must adopt a cautious attitude towards the exercise of power by holding it in respect and keeping it under control in a bid to sustain their political life, and make constant efforts to maintain their political integrity against corruption. 

These requirements might be easy to understand, but they are not so easy to fulfill. 

They are also important requirements that I have stressed on various occasions for some time now. Here I would like to lay special emphasis on two aspects: ideals and convictions, and readiness to take on responsibilities, which are outstanding issues facing our officials at the current stage. 

To be firm in their ideals and convictions is the supreme criterion for good officials. No matter how competent an official is, he cannot be regarded as the sort of good official that we need if he is not firm in his ideals and convictions, does not believe in Marxism nor socialism with Chinese characteristics, is unqualified politically, and cannot weather political storms. Only those who are firm in their ideals and convictions will adopt an unequivocal approach towards major issues of principle, build "diamond-hard bodies" to withstand any corrosion, remain dauntless when facing political storms, firmly resist all kinds of temptations, and act in a reliable and trustworthy manner at any critical moment. 

Ideals and convictions refer to people's aspirations. As one of our ancestors said, "Aspirations can reach any place however far it is, even over mountains and seas; and it can break through any defense however tough it is, even as strong as the best armor and shield."3 This shows how strong and invincible people can be if they have lofty aspirations. During China's revolution, development and reform, innumerable Party members laid down their lives for the cause of the Party and the people. What supported them was the moral strength gained from the utmost importance they attached to their revolutionary ideals. 

It should be fully admitted that most of our officials are firm in their ideals and convictions, and are politically reliable. Nevertheless, there are some Party officials who fail to meet these qualifications. Some are skeptical about communism, considering it a fantasy that will never come true; some do not believe in Marxism-Leninism but in ghosts and gods, and seek spiritual solace in feudal superstitions, showing intense interest in fortune-telling, worship of Buddha and "god's advice" for solving their problems; some have little sense of principle, justice, and right and wrong, and perform their duties in a muddle-headed manner; some even yearn for Western social systems and values, losing their confidence in the future of socialism; and others adopt an equivocal attitude towards political provocations against the leadership of the CPC, the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics and other matters of principle, passively avoid relevant arguments without the courage to express their opinions, or even deliberately deliver ambiguous messages. Isn't it a monstrous absurdity that Party officials, especially high-ranking ones, take no position in the face of major issues of principle, political incidents and sensitive issues? 

Some say that officials need to "cherish their reputation." This depends on what kind of "reputation" they are cherishing. Is it a "reputation" which will be applauded by people with ulterior motives, or is it a reputation for acting in the interests of the Party and the people? A Party member should only cherish the latter reputation, and it would be calamitous if he were bent on gaining the former! 

Why are the Four Malfeasances prevalent nowadays? Why are some officials becoming corrupt, ending up as criminals? In the final analysis, it is because they are not firm in their ideals or convictions. I have often said that ideals and convictions are the moral "marrow" of Communists. To be firm in our ideals and convictions will "harden our bones," while an absence of ideals and convictions or wavering in our ideals and convictions will lead to fatal moral weakness. 

Facts have repeatedly proved that the most dangerous moment is when one wavers in or begins to show doubt about one's ideals and convictions. I have long been wondering if we were confronted with a complex situation such as a "color revolution," would all our officials act resolutely to safeguard the leadership of the Party and the socialist system? I believe most Party members and officials are capable of doing so. 

During the revolutionary war, whether an official was firm in his ideals and convictions was judged by whether he could risk his life for the cause of the Party and the people, and whether he could charge ahead as soon as the bugle sounded. This was a most direct test. There are still tests of life and death at our current stage of peaceful development, but there is a much smaller number of them. As a result, it is really difficult to test whether an official is firm in his ideals and convictions. Even X-rays, CT scans and MRIs will not help. 

Nevertheless, there are still ways to test our officials. We need to find out whether they have the political determination in the face of major political challenges, bear in mind the fundamental purpose of the Party, perform their duties in an extremely responsible manner, are the first to bear hardships and the last to enjoy comforts, are ready to take on responsibilities in the face of urgent, difficult and dangerous tasks, and resist the temptations of power, money and sex. Such a test cannot be accomplished overnight based on a few tasks that an official fulfills or a few pledges that he makes; it is a process that depends on the official's behavior over a long period, even throughout his life. 

It is essential that Party officials uphold principles and readily take on responsibilities. "Avoiding responsibilities is the greatest disgrace for an official." The responsibilities an official takes on demonstrate his breadth of vision, courage and competence. The greater responsibilities one takes on, the greater undertaking one can accomplish. 

With the "nice guy" mentality currently prevailing among some officials, it has become commonplace that many officials dare not criticize errors or take on responsibilities, or are unwilling to do so. Some officials keep on good terms with everybody at the expense of principles, for they are afraid of offending people and losing votes, holding a belief in the vulgar philosophy of "more flowers and fewer thorns." They mind nothing but their own business and will do nothing unless their personal interests are affected, being satisfied with muddling along and accomplishing nothing at all. Some officials are not fulfilling their duties properly. They sidestep difficult problems and matters of public concern, argue and pass the buck, and tackle their responsibilities in a perfunctory manner, with their delay turning small problems into big ones and big problems into dreadful troubles. Some officials are smooth characters who handle matters in an overly "clever" manner, pick easy jobs and posts while shirking hard ones, think of nothing but self-preservation in the face of challenges, rush to claim credit for success, and evade responsibility when any problem crops up. What is more frightening is that some of these officials are popular, even getting on well in official circles, gaining more than others while contributing less. How can the cause of the Party and the people proceed if there are a lot of "nice guys," people of "smooth character," those who always "pass the buck to others," or those who waver like "weeds atop the wall"? These problems are extremely dangerous, and major efforts must be made to solve them. 

Ultimately, selflessness leads to fearlessness and the courage to take on responsibilities. Selflessness gives us peace of mind. Good officials must attach the utmost importance to their responsibilities, put the principles and cause of the Party and the interests of the people first, take an unequivocal and tough stance when addressing problems, perform their duties in an uncomplaining and diligent manner, and see their efforts through to the final result. "Sturdy grass withstands high winds; true gold stands the test of fire." For the cause of the Party and the people, our officials should be bold enough to think, to carry out initiatives and to take the consequences, serving as the "sturdy grass" and "true gold" of our times. 

Of course, being ready to take on responsibilities is for the cause of the Party and the people, not for personal fame. Being arrogant and overbearing is not being courageous to take on responsibilities. During the Spring and Autumn Period, there was a senior official named Zheng Kaofu, who served several dukes of the State of Song. He had a reputation for being highly self-disciplined. He had a motto engraved on a ding in his family ancestral temple, which read, "Head down when I was promoted the first time, back hunched when promoted the second time, and waist bent when promoted the third time. No one insults me if I keep close to the wall when walking along the street. What I need only is this vessel to cook porridge in."4 I am deeply impressed by this story. Our officials are officials of the Party, and their power is granted by the Party and the people. Thus, they should make ever-bolder efforts and show ever-greater determination in their work, and conduct themselves in a modest and prudent manner free from arrogance and rashness. 

Second, how can one become a good official? Good officials do not emerge spontaneously. To become a good official, both personal effort and training by Party organizations are necessary. For officials, their personal effort is essential, because this is the decisive internal factor in their personal development. 

The commitment to the Party's cause, theoretical consciousness and moral standards of an official are not enhanced automatically alongside a longer Party standing or a higher post. Rather, the enhancement requires lifelong endeavors. To become a good official, one needs to constantly remold one's subjective world, and strengthen one's commitment to the Party and moral refinement. One needs to stringently comply with the Party Constitution and the requirements for Party members, "being strict with oneself and lenient with others."5 Party members must always behave in a proper manner, scrutinize themselves, keep alert to "resist the myriad temptations of the dazzling world," and be honest and hardworking, clean and upright. 

Learning is the ladder of progress. Officials need to be good at learning and thinking, conscientiously study Marxist theories, especially the theoretical system of socialism with Chinese characteristics, focus on the standpoints, viewpoints and methods of these theories, and improve their capacity for strategic, innovative, dialectical, and principled thinking, so that they are able to correctly judge contemporary situations, and remain clear-headed and determined politically. They also need to enrich their knowledge of various subjects, improve their structure of learning, and accumulate experiences, so as to lay a solid foundation for the performance of their duties. 

In addition to learning, good officials also need to focus on practice. "Hearing is not as good as seeing, and seeing is not as good as experiencing."6 Knowledge and experience are like the two wings of an eagle, which can fly high and far only if it wants to see the outside world and braves storms. The harsher the conditions and the more the difficulties, the more an official will be tempered. Officials should go to the grassroots to see the real situation and communicate with the people, and then they will be able to refine themselves and improve their abilities in their part of the work for reform and opening up, stability, and serving the people. 

Good officials need to be trained by Party organizations. We need to focus more on the training of officials along with the changes of the circumstances and the development of the cause of the Party and the people. In this training, we must pay more attention to education on commitment to the Party, virtue and morality, awareness about the Party's ultimate goal, and sense of serving the people. We also need to strengthen the training of officials in practical circumstances to facilitate their progress. Training in practical circumstances is not a way to get "gilded," nor is it a routine process before promotion. If this is the case, officials will not devote themselves wholeheartedly to the training and will not keep in close touch with the people. The training will only be a show. 

Moreover, we need to enhance supervision of officials' conduct on a regular basis. The exercise of power without supervision will definitely lead to corruption. This is an axiomatic law. It is not an easy process to train an official, so necessary measures should be adopted to better manage and supervise officials to keep them on the alert "as if they were treading on thin ice or standing on the edge of an abyss." Heart-to-heart talks with officials are needed, so that their shortcomings are pointed out in time, and their enthusiasm is encouraged. This is a good tradition that we need to carry on. 

Third, how can we ensure officials' good performance? To employ good officials after they are adequately trained is the key. What is the purpose of training if we do not employ good officials or do not let them play their role? Employment of a competent person will attract more competent people, and all the others will take them as examples. The kind of officials we employ is a political weathervane which determines the conduct of our officials and even the conduct of the whole Party. 

It must be noted that some localities and departments are not adopting a correct approach to appointing officials. Some opportunistic officials with doubtful integrity and insufficient professional competence get promoted frequently, while those who devote themselves to work and do not build social connections for promotion do not have such chances. This has given rise to strong discontent among officials and the general public. Party committees and organization departments at all levels need to adhere to the principle that the Party should supervise the performance of officials and the correct approach to official appointment, select officials on the basis of both moral integrity and professional competence with priority given to the former, try to select and appoint virtuous and competent people in a timely manner, and place them in suitable posts according to their abilities. Only in this way can good and competent officials be selected and employed. 

To employ officials, the most important thing is to know them. If we do not know them thoroughly and accurately we may employ them in an inappropriate way. "Having no idea of a person's weakness and strength, the weak part of the strength or the strong part of the weakness, we have no ground for appointing or even training that person."7 We cannot judge an official by impression or personal feeling. We must have a good system and methods to evaluate officials, with reflections through various channels, at various levels and from various perspectives. 

We need to keep a close watch on officials and observe their approach to major issues, their concern for the people, their moral conduct, their attitude towards fame and fortune, their realm of thought, their ways of handling matters and results, and their work competence. The evaluation and observation of officials are done in day-to-day work, but the best time is at major events and critical moments. "To understand good music only after singing a thousand songs; to find a fine sword only after appreciating a thousand swords."8 The performance of an official is reflected in his work, and his reputation is gained from the public. So we need to go to the grassroots to hear opinions from the people, and judge an official's moral conduct in "big events" as well as in "small matters." 

To employ good officials, we must observe their performance and moral conduct on an overall, long-term and logical basis. Those who are competent, have distinctive personalities, are ready to take on responsibilities, and dare to offend some people for the sake of upholding principles may receive different comments. Party organizations must give them a correct evaluation. It is also difficult to accurately assess the performance of officials. We need to improve the methods and means of assessment. In the performance appraisal of officials, we should pay equal attention to economic growth and the original economic basis, and to both tangible and intangible achievements, and integrate indicators and achievements with regard to the improvement of the people's living standards, social progress and the ecological environment. We must no longer judge the performance of officials merely by GDP growth rates. Some officials tend to make abrupt decisions, start projects without second thoughts, and finally leave a mess behind, but they still get promoted without being held accountable. We cannot let it happen any more. I have said that we need to implement responsibility systems to address such issues, and hold the relevant officials accountable throughout their lifetime. The organization department of the Party Central Committee should see to this immediately. 

To employ good officials we need to take a scientific approach and appoint the right person, at the right time and for the right position. Currently, some localities tend to appoint officials according to seniority or for seeking balance rather than in accordance with their merits, suitability or professional abilities. As a result, the appointed officials find it difficult to perform their duties, thus leaving problems unsolved and work unaccomplished. 

What kind of official to appoint and what position is suitable for him should be part of the consideration of work requirements. We should not appoint an official simply because there is a post, or take it as a means of reward. "A good horse can run along dangerous paths but cannot plow the fields like an ox; a strong cart can carry heavy loads but cannot cross rivers like a boat." We should have a good sense of acquiring talented people through different channels and by different methods, treat them as treasures, and let them fully display their abilities. Only by so doing will large numbers of good officials emerge to contribute their wisdom and knowledge. 

There is a phenomenon that we must notice. To judge an official on his work performance in a locality or a unit, people have their own comments, practice has its proof, and leaders are clear in mind, but the final appointment is often not according to the actual needs, and usually disappoints people. The reason is the selfishness of some leading officials, "relationshiism" or some "hidden rules" that people dodge behind. Influenced by these unhealthy factors, officials are no longer appointed on their merits but by favoritism or by seeking personal gain. Officials and the public abhor this practice very much, so we should make resolute efforts to change it and make it a clean process. 

* Part of the speech at the National Conference on Organizational Work.


1  Mo Zi, a collection of works of the Mohist school of thought. 

2  Sima Guang: Historical Events Retold as a Mirror for Government (Zi Zhi Tong Jian). Sima Guang (1019-1086) was a minister and historian in the Northern Song Dynasty. This monumental work was China's first comprehensive history in the form of a chronicle. 

3  Jin Ying: A Collection of Maxims (Ge Yan Lian Bi)

4 Zuo's Chronicles (Zuo Zhuan)

5 Collection of Ancient Texts (Shang Shu)

6  Liu Xiang: Garden of Stories (Shuo Yuan)

7  Wei Yuan: Treatise on Scholarship and Politics (Mo Gu)

8  Liu Xie: Carving a Dragon with a Literary Mind (Wen Xin Diao Long). Liu Xie (c. 465-c. 532) was a literary critic during the Southern Dynasties. Carving a Dragon with a Literary Mind is a work on literary theory in ancient China.

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