Be a Good County Party Secretary

Xi Jinping: The Governance of China II Updated: 2021-12-24

Be a Good County Party Secretary*


January 12, 2015



It is a pleasure to be here at this discussion. I have been paying close attention to county-level work. I was told by the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee that you are studying at the Central Party School, and a meeting was proposed. My reply was that we should not only meet, but also sit down and talk, so that I can hear what you have learned and understand what you are thinking. You are all at the forefront of working for reform, development and stability, and you know about the real situation locally – it is helpful to talk with you.

We have just celebrated the New Year. I would like to wish a Happy New Year to you, and also to all secretaries of county Party committees and Party members and officials working at county level. You have done a good job, thank you.

It was the Party Central Committee's decision to arrange this study program for county Party secretaries. Over the next three years, 2,800 secretaries from all counties, cities, districts, and banners will be trained at the Central Party School. This is a strategic move with long-term significance. The goal is to help county Party secretaries better understand and hence better implement the decisions made at our Party's 18th National Congress, and the third and fourth plenary sessions of the 18th Central Committee. You will study the theories of Chinese socialism, focus on theoretical and practical problems in social and economic development and Party development in your counties, be armed with and then guide your work with the Party's latest theories, so that we can have a highly-qualified cohort of county Party secretaries.

I was myself a county Party secretary, with firsthand experience of the functions and operation of a county-level Party committee. Hearing the speeches of six county Party secretaries just now, I was deeply impressed; memories of my office as a county Party secretary came flooding back. It was like going back 30 years in time. I can relate to what you feel. The county Party secretary is an important post. It is not a high office, but it comes with great responsibilities and huge pressure – not an easy job.

Counties are a key link in our Party's set-up and state power, an important basis for developing the economy, ensuring people's wellbeing, and maintaining and promoting the enduring peace and stability of our country. One of our ancestors said, "When the counties are governed, the country is at peace." In China, counties first appeared in the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), and the system of prefectures and counties was consolidated and developed in the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). For more than 2,000 years counties have been the basic unit of our country's state structure, and have continued to exist until this very day.

All past dynasties made it a priority to select and appoint county-level officials. Ancient Chinese long ago realized that "Prime ministers must have served as local officials, and great generals must have risen from the ranks."1 Looking back, quite a few well-known figures started their political careers at county level. Wang Anshi, a Northern Song (960-1127) statesman, was appointed magistrate of Yinxian County (today's Yinzhou District, Ningbo City) of Zhejiang Province at the age of 27. During his three-year office, Wang achieved remarkable results in governance and was widely praised by the people, laying a foundation for the reforms he later introduced. In the Qing Dynasty (1616-1911), Zheng Banqiao served long terms as magistrate in Fanxian County of Henan Province and Weixian County of Shandong Province. One of his poems goes:
      When I hear the rustles of bamboo leaves outside my study,
      I feel it is the wails of hungry people;
      For petty county officials like us,
      Every concern of the people weighs in our heart.

Tao Yuanming (365-427), Di Renjie (630-700), Bao Zheng (999-1062), Hai Rui (1514-1587), and many other officials of integrity were all once county magistrates during different periods in history.

A county is basically a society – it may be small, but it has everything needed. With their responsibilities growing and becoming more diversified, county governments now play an important role in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, in driving reform to a deeper level, in implementing the rule of law, and in strengthening Party discipline. Though not a high-ranking post, county Party secretaries are special in our system of governance. Deng Xiaoping once said: "To be a good secretary of a county Party committee isn't easy: you must have broad experience as a leader and be able to administer the work all over the county, and in all fields, including Party, government, mass organizations and military, cultural and educational affairs."3 He also said, "Special consideration should be given to the selection of the top leadership at the county Party committee level. It is very important to establish strong county Party committees. As a regiment is a level of the army, a county is a level of government. This is why we always talk about county- and regiment-levels."4 When Hai Rui said that the most difficult office was that of a magistrate5, he was referring to one at the county level.

So what makes a good county Party secretary? In the speeches just now some of you mentioned that one should be clear-minded in one's political convictions, and be a paving stone for green development, a down-to-earth practitioner of close ties with the people, a pioneering leader of the local team, and a blacksmith that hammers hard in observing the Party discipline. Nice analogy. In my opinion, Jiao Yulu (1922-1964) set an example for all secretaries of county Party committees. I have visited Lankao County many times – twice last year during the second phase of the Mass Line Education Program. I am moved every time I set foot on the soil of Lankao. Jiao, through his actions, has set a glorious example for Party members and county Party secretaries. If you are a county Party secretary, be one like Jiao Yulu.

How can you be a county Party secretary like him? There are answers from many angles. Today, I want to talk about it from four angles: be loyal to the Party, be of service to the people, be aware of responsibilities, and be strict with discipline.

   1. Be Loyal to the Party

County Party committees are the "frontline command" of governance for our Party, and the secretaries are the "commanders-in-chief ". Loyalty to the Party is an important criterion for county Party secretaries. There could be many more standards for evaluation, but loyalty is central, as "the greatest virtue is none other than loyalty"6.

Our county Party secretaries are by and large good, with the majority being trustworthy. There is no doubt about this. We must see, nonetheless, that they face many daunting tests in the post – the test of a heavy workload to promote reform, development and stability; the test of ensuring people's wellbeing and improving their lives; the test of resisting all kinds of defective thinking and the temptations of power, money and sex; the test of rejecting base and unhealthy practices known as the "clandestine rules", to name a few. It should be particularly noted that with great power of office, county Party chiefs are an easy target for all kinds of temptation, plots, flattery and excessive praise with an aim to topple you. In many counties far away from the center, when higher-level supervision is distant, Party secretaries tend to have the final say. For those working in remote areas, without loyalty to the Party as an anchor of faith there is a real danger that they fail one of the above-mentioned tests.

A county government must be guarded by someone loyal to the Party. All county Party secretaries must remember that you are the county Party secretaries of the CPC, and that it is the Party that sent you there to be in charge. It is easy enough to say, but not so easy to bear in mind. You must always follow the correct political direction, always remember you are part of the organizations, always think of yourself as someone who belongs to the Party, and never forget your obligations and responsibilities towards the Party. You must trust the Party organization, rely on it, follow its orders, and conscientiously safeguard its unity and solidarity.

Only with firm ideals and convictions, and only with loyalty to the Party can one build a sound base of political philosophy. It is not possible for someone with wavering convictions to be loyal to the Party. You should master the theories of Marxism as basic knowledge, diligently study Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the Theory of Three Represents, the Scientific Outlook on Development, and the theoretical innovations since the Party's 18th National Congress in 2012. Make a greater effort to understand these theories, and make sure you gain something from your studies. You should focus on forming a world view, and an outlook on life and values, and be genuinely committed, persistent and faithful to Marxism.

Communism is not as simple as a meal of goulash, and it cannot be attained easily. But we cannot dismiss it as an illusion or choose not to be a loyal Communist just because there is a long way to go. Our revolutionary ideals are of supreme importance. Communism is the ultimate ideal of Communists, and it needs generations of strenuous effort to achieve. If we all see it as no more than an illusion, if we deem it unworthy of hard work and sacrifice, communism will never come. What we do today in upholding and developing Chinese socialism is the real effort towards the ultimate ideal.

It is true that neither our country nor our people are prosperous enough, and that there are many problems challenging our development. As county Party secretaries, you have surely seen many problems that reflect our realities. But no matter what challenges we face, we must stand our ground and remain convinced that Chinese socialism will succeed. On key matters of principle, such as the path, theories and system of Chinese socialism, we must be firm in our stance and resolute in action. Only when county Party secretaries – our "frontline commanders-in-chief " – are firm and committed, only when they strive together towards our ultimate goal, can we hold our ground, achieve success, and turn our ideals into reality.

Always remember you are a member of the Party, and this is not an abstract but a concrete requirement. As officials of the Party, no matter where you work and what post you take, you should strengthen awareness of the Party and of political guidelines, so as to stand turbulence and tests and avoid taking a wrong path politically. You must strictly abide by our political discipline, follow the correct political direction, position, views and conduct, follow the Party's leadership, act in unity with the Party Central Committee, and safeguard the authority of the Party's central leadership. What the Central Committee advocates, you must act upon, what the Central Committee decides, you must implement, and what the Central Committee prohibits, you must not do. You must never allow local policies to trump central policies, never countenance the sidelining of central decrees or prohibitions, never engage in perfunctory enforcement of the central leadership's policy decisions and plans. Any occurrence of such problems must be resolutely addressed when it arises.

2. Be of Service to the People

Serving the people wholeheartedly is the basic principle of our Party. County Party secretaries are in direct contact with the people, so you must bear in mind the interests of the people and work for their wellbeing. You should always care for the people, and be the first to worry about county affairs and the last to enjoy yourselves. You must not seek personal gain, and you should selflessly act in the public interest. You should take lightly such things as reputation, position and interests, and never be calculating in pursuit of these. What you should do, instead, is address the most pressing and relevant problems that are of the utmost concern to the people, especially the problems that the people complain about, and address them promptly.

Now we are only five to six years away from the deadline for achieving our First Centenary Goal, but there are still many people and areas stricken by poverty. We must waste no time in development-oriented poverty alleviation, and never allow these people and areas to fall further behind. Poverty alleviation is a key task for the Party and the state. Officials at all levels in impoverished areas must be fully committed to the task, and lead the people to shake off poverty through hard work. "If an official does not act on the people's behalf, he would be better going back home and selling sweet potatoes," a folk saying goes. An example I have mentioned on many occasions is Gu Wenchang, Party committee secretary of Dongshan County, Fujian Province, in the 1950-1960s. He gave his all in service of the people, who respected him so much that they paid tribute to him before worshipping their family ancestors.

In the post of county Party secretary, many of you are ambitious to succeed. You should be. When I was in Zhengding, I could see that the people led a hard life due to the poor local economy. I was worried, and felt an urge to change the situation as quickly as possible. But firstly one must have a correct understanding of what one can achieve in office, and "choose to do the things that the people want to be done, and avoid doing things that the people disapprove of"7. You must be dedicated to your work in a down-to-earth, realistic and pragmatic manner, and make solid and tangible efforts. You should work in the people's interests, and never indulge in wasteful showcase projects to prop up your own image.

Different counties have different resources and features. We must always research and investigate, go to the villages, go to the people, find out the real situation, and collect ideas from the people. I said this before, a county Party secretary must visit all the villages under his jurisdiction, a city Party secretary all towns and townships under his jurisdiction, and a provincial Party secretary all counties, cities and districts under his jurisdiction. In Zhengding, I often cycled to the villages, pedaling from the north bank of the Hutuo River to a people's commune on the south bank. I had to carry my bike every time I neared the river. It was not easy, but that way I got to know the real situation, and became close to the villagers and local officials.

With the situation clear, we should proceed to make plans for development, so that the proposed measures and plans are in line with reality and do not aim too high. You must make key decisions and plans, especially important policies and measures in the immediate interests of the people, after widely soliciting their opinions. This is obligatory.

To be of service to the people requires good conduct. At the county level, the Party secretary sets the example for the local Party committee and the government. The people judge our Party by judging the county leadership, particularly the Party secretary. Bad conduct by a Party secretary will tarnish the Party's image in the eyes of the locals. You must follow the requirements of the Central Committee, continue to improve conduct, consolidate the achievements of the Mass Line Education Program, be diligent and pragmatic in your work, work for the people's interests, and fight the Four Malfeasances of going through the motions, excessive bureaucracy, self-indulgence, and extravagance.

   3. Be Aware of Responsibilities

"Avoiding responsibilities is the greatest disgrace for an official."8 Being an official requires you to take on responsibilities, because it determines how far you can go and how much you can achieve in your career. You cannot think only of seeking office while avoiding any actual work, only of wielding power while avoiding responsibility, and only of making a show while avoiding any real effort. A county leadership is responsible for promoting reform, development and stability for hundreds of thousands of or even up to a million people, and also for managing a myriad of affairs. This is a large enough stage. As you have just said, this "petty post" comes with great responsibilities. The Party put you in this post because you are trusted with great responsibility, and you should devote yourselves with passion. As long as you are in office, you should work to benefit your people. There must be change for the better in your county during your office, and stagnation must not happen.

Taking on responsibilities means fulfilling one's office diligently. Decisions and plans must be executed in full, and one must see things through from beginning to end, to ensure that no one simply goes through the motions or treats plans as a temporary measure, like a passing gust of wind. On most occasions a county Party secretary serves only a few years, but you should not see it as a temporary job. Knowing they will not be there long, some officials, once on the job, seek to show their capability with ornate achievements to pave the way to promotion. This is wrong. If plans change every few years, a county will achieve little of substance. Instead, one should be open-minded about achievements – a good plan, as long as it is feasible, pragmatic, and answers to the people's needs, should be passed down from one term of office to the next. In a windswept location in the Mu Us Desert (Ordos Desert), Youyu County of Shanxi Province is a barren land battered by sandstorms and with minimal natural resources. In the early days of the People's Republic, the county's first Party secretary led the people to initiate an afforestation project to curb encroachment by the sand. For over 60 years, following the same plan, for the same goal, and term after term, the county Party committee has been dedicated to this strenuous effort, elevating the greening rate from just 0.3 percent when the program began to 53 percent today, and turning this once barren land into an oasis. No matter what we do, we must have this kind of patience and endurance in order to reap long-term benefits.

There are many reasons for success, and hard work is the main factor. Most of our officials are able to take on their responsibilities, but we do have a few who are content with the status quo and are perfunctory in their work. To avoid risk, they would rather keep to the status quo and a false sense of stability. This is wrong. In the face of difficulties at work, one must be brave and confront them head-on. We must seek solutions to problems, go all out, and be the vanguard that leads the people in overcoming risks and challenges.

Now, in the face of an economic new normal, to maintain the sustainable and healthy development of our economy and society, we must transform the growth model and adjust the economic structure. We must apply an innovation-driven development strategy, and boost the synchronized development of new industrialization, information technology application, urbanization, and agricultural modernization. The county-level government plays an important role in completing these tasks. How do we start? What specifically is to be done?

We must think hard and act fast. To drive reform to a deeper level, county-level authorities must not wait or hesitate in deciding what to do and what can be done. You should focus on the problems and act accordingly. County-level authorities face social problems at close range, and county Party secretaries stand at the forefront of maintaining social stability. You must fulfill your duties diligently. The incidents in Weng'an, Menglian and Longnan in recent years have shown that behind problems and emergencies are complex clashes of interest, misconduct by officials, and improper handling of affairs. You are the ones responsible for dealing with such problems, and you should act and resolve the problems rather than shrinking from them and shirking your responsibilities. Problems are to be discovered early and addressed before they get bigger. In cases of public emergency, you must not fear, but keep a cool head and take control. You should be there at critical moments, take command on the spot, and act decisively.

   4. Be Strict with Discipline

Our power is granted by the Party and the people. It is exercised to serve the Party and the people, and must be used in the public interest, to help the Party to govern, to work for the nation, and to benefit the people. We must properly use the power of office in accordance with the law, in a fair manner, and for clean governance. Use power to fulfill your statutory duties, and never abuse power beyond the scope of your responsibility. We must act conscientiously as if we were treading on thin ice, and standing on the edge of an abyss. There must be a barrier to limit us in what we say and do, and we must properly handle the relationships between public and private interests, personal favors and the law, and interests and the law.

The county Party secretary is the head of the county leadership. You should take the lead in enforcing democratic centralism, and avoid becoming a "monarch". Decision-making should follow the procedures, and key issues involving money, program and personnel should go through the leadership group. Autocracy must be avoided. You should be skilled at pooling the wisdom of the Party committee, other branches of county leadership, and officials at all levels. You should assume overall leadership but not take on every detail, divide duties but not undermine concerted efforts, and delegate duties but not totally let go. You should be open-minded, listen to the opinions of other members of the leadership, and maintain and improve unity of the Party committee. Unity here does not mean keeping on good terms with everybody, and harmony does not mean papering over cracks. On issues of principle, you must take the correct position, dare to speak your mind, and be clear about your position.

At the Fourth Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee, it was proposed that we will press forward with the rule of law and build a law-based socialist country. The roots of the rule of law go down to the villages and counties. County Party secretaries should be role models in studying, abiding by, and applying the laws, and should be adept at planning for local governance with the rule of law. You must always remember that the red line of the law is not to be crossed, and the principles of the law are not to be violated. In decision-making and planning, you must make sure that measures are feasible, that they do not contravene the law, that they are supported by the law, and that they follow statutory procedures. We must think about the consequences of violating the law, so as to conscientiously promote and safeguard the rule of law.

Clean governance and self-discipline are the principles for Communists in official positions. I have often said this: you cannot have your cake and eat it. You must choose between office and riches, and choose only one. Once in office, you must always discipline yourselves, resist the temptations of power, money and sex, and be upright, clean and honest in governance. You should extend your education to your own family and immediate staff, and restrain their conduct, ensuring that they respect the requirements of morality, discipline, and the law.

Jiao Yulu drafted "Ten No's for Officials", banning officials from special treatment at all times. Once, when he heard that his son had not paid for a show, he ordered his son to send the money to the theater. Zhang Boxing, hailed as the "No. 1 clean official under the Heaven" by Qing Emperor Kangxi9, said: "[Taking] a thread of silk and a grain of rice [from the people] damages my reputation; every coin comes from their hard labor. A bit of leniency on my side will benefit the people more than one could think; if I take a coin from the people, I am not worth one myself."10 These words in support of clean governance are still applicable today, and you should reflect on them.

The county Party secretary, a public figure with power in the county, should uphold morality and integrity, as moral degeneration can do more damage than mistakes at work. In ancient times county magistrates were required to encourage and promote good conduct. You must conscientiously foster and practice core socialist values, strengthen morality and self-cultivation, develop healthy hobbies, be cautious in the friends you make, and examine your own conduct in life, in order to build healthy social trend in the county. You should further understand and carry forward the fine traditions of our ancestors, as exemplified in these quotations to guide our action:

"When the Great Way rules, the land under Heaven belongs to the people."11

"Fortune and riches obtained through unjust means are like floating clouds for me."12

"A man of virtue has a good knowledge of righteousness."13

"Be true in word and resolute in deed."14

"A man of high moral quality will never feel lonely."15

"If a man does not keep his word, what is he good for?"16

Comrades, you have only a few days left at this class for county Party secretaries. I hope you can apply what you have learned here in your work to good effect, and work harder for the continual development of your counties. And finally, I would like to wish you good luck at work, good health, and happy life for your families.


* Speech at the meeting with a class of county Party secretaries at the Central Party School.


1 Han Fei Zi

2  Zheng Banqiao: "Bamboos Painted at the Weixian County Government to Inspector Bao Kuo" (Wei Xian Shu Zhong Hua Zhu Cheng Nian Bo Bao Da Zhong Cheng Kuo). Zheng Banqiao (1693-1765) was a painter and writer of the Qing Dynasty. 

3  Deng Xiaoping: "Things Must Be Put in Order in All Fields", Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. II, Eng. ed., Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 1994, p. 49. 

4  An interjection made by Deng Xiaoping at a national meeting on work in rural areas on October 4, 1975, included in Chronicle of Deng Xiaoping (1975-1997), Vol. I, Chin. ed., Central Party Literature Publishing House, Beijing, 2004, p. 107. 

5 Hai Rui: "Cautionary Reminders" (Ling Zhen). Hai Rui (1514-1587) was an official of the Ming Dynasty. 

6  Ma Rong: Classic of Loyalty (Zhong Jing). Ma Rong (79-166) was an economist of the Eastern Han Dynasty. 

7 Book of Rites (Li Ji)

8 Yuan Haowen: "Poem of Four Sorrows" (Si Ai Shi). Yuan Haowen (1190-1257) was a writer and historian of the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234). 

9  Emperor Kangxi (1654-1722) ruled the Qing Dynasty from 1661 to 1722. 

10 Zhang Boxing: "Ban on Gifts" (Jin Zhi Kui Song Xi). 

11 Book of Rites (Li Ji)

12 The Analects of Confucius (Lun Yu)

13 Ibid

14 Ibid

15 Ibid

16 Ibid.

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