Backstory of China’s Anticorruption Supervision Commission

When I wrote the paper The Rise of Party Commission of Discipline & Inspection (1927-2012) three years ago, I thought the CCDI中纪委 rose to power only after it was repurposed for anti-corruption in the late 1980s as corruption started to become prevalent during the reform era. Its activities in the early period of the PRC seemed very elusive. There are official documentations about the establishment of the CCDI in 1949 (including the draft decision with Mao’s handwritten remarks published at the official website of the CCP). Then there is also the Party decision to change the Party Disciplinary Commission纪委 to the Party Supervision Commission监察委 in the wake of the very first Politburo power struggle since the Party came to power – the Gao-Rao incident (高饶事件). Other than that, I could not find any information that can tell me what exactly these disciplinary institutions had been doing. No primary sources. And all the secondary sources that I had gleaned gave short shrift to this period (likely because their authors did not have more than what I had). This led me to conclude that the party disciplinary institution was dormant and barely operative back then.

Imagine my surprise when I chanced upon some primary sources kept by remote local archival libraries a couple of years ago: the footprints of the disciplinary institution, in particular, the supervision commission after 1954, are everywhere. It turns out that the Party’s disciplinary institution was the main enforcer and was behind every single political campaign at that time, from the three-anti, five-anti, the eradication of anti-revolutionist campaign to the anti-rightists campaign. They were even busier than the CCDI/NSC super joint-force under the Xi administration of today!

Clear sign of path-dependence aside, what I found more interesting is that during that time almost all campaigns were launched by the Party from its own seat of power and implemented mostly through Party institutions, in particular the supervision commission. It is important to note that the supervision commission replacing the disciplinary commission in 1954 was a Party institution, which is different from the (State) National Supervision Commission of today. At that time, there was also a State supervision commission tucked under the Central People’s Government but it had more or less ceased to function after the establishment of the Party supervision commission. The campaigns were carried out under the instructions sent down from the Party Center usually in the form of tongzhi通知 notice and that is it. No need for the “conversion” of Party instructions to state laws or regulations, with the exception of the Anti-Embezzlement Punitive Directive, which was issued by the State Council 政务院 to penalize corrupt officials.

Today, the Party rarely carries out any nationwide campaign without involving the state institutions (perhaps with the exception of party-building programs) – an important distinction of the party-state of today and that before.

For more on this topic, please read my draft paper “Organised” legitimacy —Institutional roots of the National Supervision Commission of China.