Say No to Form over Substance and Reject Bureaucratism

Xi Jinping: The Governance of China III Updated: 2021-12-29

Say No to Form over Substance and Reject Bureaucratism*

December 2017-January 11, 2019


The manifestations identified in the article seem new, but in fact they are old problems. They show us again that the Four Malfeasances die hard. We must never falter in correcting such problems, nor should we ever stall in our drive to improve the conduct of Party members. All provincial authorities and central departments should take a close look at their performance, examine their conduct to see where they fall short of the requirements and standards. In particular, they should work out effective measures for addressing such prominent problems as unfulfilled promises, empty sloganeering, half-hearted action, and failure in implementation, and tackle them in a down-to-earth manner. Officials at all levels should take the lead and play an exemplary role. In the upcoming Aspiration and Mission education campaign, we must not favor form over substance and must ensure good results with good conduct.

(from the directive on an article of Xinhua News Agency "Be 

Vigilant Against New Manifestations of Favoring Form 

over Substance and Bureaucratism", December 2017)


The 19th CPC National Congress in 2017 created an imposing blueprint for future development. To accomplish the objectives and tasks set at the congress, we must encourage research and fact-finding in the Party. Officials at all levels should take the lead in doing frequent field work. They should go to the front line and understand the general picture; they should conduct in-depth studies of problems, understand the nature and rules of different issues, and find methods and ways to solve major difficulties. They must seek truth from facts and speak that truth, whether it is good news or not. Particularly, they must avoid favoring form over substance and bureaucratism. They should never satisfy themselves with a superficial understanding through cursory observation or a smattering of knowledge on a subject, nor should they regard a part as the whole and reach hasty conclusions and judgments.

(Comments on "Promote the Spirit of Fighting Poverty and the 

Coordinated Development of Material and Cultural Progress 

in Rural Areas – Report on Poverty Alleviation in Xunwu”

submitted by the Publicity Department of the CPC 

Central Committee, December 15, 2017)


The Four Malfeasances are difficult to eradicate. Therefore, we should never slacken our efforts in rectifying these problems, and there is no end to the task of improving our conduct. Favoring form over substance and bureaucratism are entirely incompatible with the nature, mission and fine conduct of our Party. They are the archenemies of our Party and the people. Members of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee must take the lead in having a correct attitude towards performance in our work; they must always be honest and do solid work, and conscientiously oppose the practice of favoring form over substance and bureaucratism. They must take the lead in rejecting and fighting these ills. They should focus on outstanding problems, and understand that there are many manifestations of favoring form over substance and bureaucratism, and that they can evolve and mutate. They need to get a thorough understanding of how the two present themselves in different periods, regions, and departments, and base their work on the reality of the situation. They should solve old problems and identify new ones, address both overt and covert problems, and resolve superficial problems and deep-rooted ones. Through their efforts, good norms will be formed and lasting effect will be achieved.

(from the speech at a meeting of criticism and self-criticism among

members of the Political Bureau of the 19th CPC 

Central Committee, December 25-26, 2017)


We should also relieve officials of meaningless tasks. Currently, the management of officials is widely based on keeping record of their activities. However, it may lay too much emphasis on the activities per se and not enough on concrete results. There are numerous, frequent, and repetitive inspections and appraisals. And, once again, officials are busy dealing with piles of documents and attending one meeting after another – a problem we have addressed before. These problems consume too much time and energy and actually encourage favoring form over substance and bureaucratism. In the past, it was said that "thousands of threads of instruction come from above, but there is only one needle". Now, officials at the grassroots complain that "thousands of hammers strike from above, but there is only one nail to be driven down below", and that "thousands of swords hack down from above, but there is only one neck for the blades". This must change. The Central Committee has set requirements for solving these problems. All provincial authorities and central departments must meet the requirements and duly address the problems.

We should enhance information sharing and cannot simply evaluate the performance of the lower levels by the number of activities they have kept record of or the volume of materials they have submitted. We should not, simply for our own convenience, ask for the same data and materials every time or every year if what we already have is enough. We cannot allow any department or any person to go and ask for the same materials. We must have rules to free officials at the grassroots level from the burden of preparing endless materials. The number and frequency of evaluations and inspections by various levels should be held in check. Matters of the same category should be dealt with together where conditions permit. The purpose is to reduce the burden of officials at grassroots levels and let them have more time for work.

(from the speech at the 10th group study session of the Political 

Bureau of the 19th CPC Central Committee, 

November 26, 2018)


Currently, favoring form over substance and bureaucratism are prominent problems within our Party. They are our archenemies, hindering the implementation of the guidelines, principles, and policies of the Party and the major decisions and plans of the Central Committee. In reality, there are various manifestations of these problems. Some officials and departments do not stay focused, nor do they make genuine and committed efforts to implement the decisions and plans of the Central Committee. They shout slogans but take few concrete actions. They make promises that they never act upon, or start things but do not see them through. Some keep records of their every trivial action and present these as achievements. They turn targeted poverty alleviation into targeted form filling, and claim so-called results that are no more than figures on paper. Some are dilatory and perfunctory in their work, shirking responsibility when troubles come and dodging thorny problems. They like to report every trifle to their superiors for approval or directives. In doing so, they appear to be abiding by the rules but are actually avoiding responsibilities. Some make ill-considered or purely arbitrary decisions. They place themselves above the Party organization and allow no dissenting voices. Some abuse accountability mechanisms, making officials sign written pledges for the most trivial matters, and failing them in their performance evaluation should they be unable to meet a commitment. Worse still, some exploit these mechanisms to hive off their responsibilities or pass the buck.

We must view these problems from a political perspective and address them by finding the root causes and identifying the interests involved. Those who favor form over substance are obsessed with results and achievements, with a disinclination to do any real work. This stems from a failure to understand the importance of making solid efforts for tangible progress, an absence of any sense of responsibility, and a mindset that wants only the benefits of the position but not the duties that come with the post. Those with this problem satisfy themselves with superficial work, and prefer eye-catching achievements to laying solid foundations, and window-dressing to real results.

Bureaucratism comes from the obsession with official posts and power. It reflects misguided values and a distorted view of power. Those with this problem are inclined to rely too much on their own personal proclivities and subjective judgment, and distance themselves from reality and the people. These mindsets and behavior will hamper the implementation of the guidelines, principles, and policies of our Party, disappoint the expectations of our people, and erode the foundations of the Party's governing status.

(from the speech at the Third Plenary Session of the 19th CPC

Central Commissionfor Discipline Inspection, 

January 11, 2019)


Eradicating the practice of favoring form over substance and bureaucratism is an important task. In combating the former, we need to ensure officials make real efforts at work, urge them to foster a correct attitude towards performance, and urge them to avoid fickleness in their daily work, abandon selfishness, and avoid distractions. In opposing the latter, we need to tackle the problem of nonfeasance in safeguarding the people's interests. We must protect the fundamental and long-term interests of the people, and also effectively address their immediate and most important concerns. Party committees or leadership groups of all provincial authorities and central departments should assume their principal responsibilities, keep a close watch for any new tendencies towards or any new forms of favoring form over substance and bureaucratism, and come up with effective measures to rectify them. Leading bodies at all levels should fight these practices, and take the lead in examining and exposing their own shortcomings accordingly. Discipline inspection and supervision bodies at all levels should highlight these as pressing problems to solve, and expose and report typical cases.

(from the speech at the Third Plenary Session of the 19th CPC

Central Commissionfor Discipline Inspection, 

January 11, 2019)

* Excerpts from speeches made between December 2017 and January 11, 2019.

(Not to be republished for any commercial or other purposes.)

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