The CCP is building 'civilisation centers' to create a 'collective soul'
New structures have been seen sprouting up in towns and cities across China. But these aren’t the usual overproduced apartment blocks. They are “New Era Civilization Practice Centers,” hubs from which a vast army of volunteers will host movie nights and vocational education classes, sort trash, visit the elderly, and generally inculcate more “civilized behavior” in Chinese citizens. Their stated mission: to “solve problems for the masses, so that every family can feel the warmth of the Party and the government.”
As detailed in a new report by the website ChinaFile, thousands of these centres have appeared and started providing social services since they first began being trialled in 2018.
Conceived by the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Guidance Commission on Building Spiritual Civilization — devoted to fostering “ideological, moral, and cultural” progress in the population — the centres represent an attempt to develop an alternative approach to social control. If they can only help nudge the masses toward a new era of self-monitoring and self-regulation, the thinking goes, traditional heavy-handed “stability maintenance” measures may someday no longer be required at all.
So the Party is not slacking on implementation. At least $110 million is estimated to have already been spent on pilot projects by the centres since August 2018. And government directives propose each county centre enlist 10-13% of the local population as “volunteers” to carry out their mission — a figure suggesting at least 140 million such conscripts if the programme were to be expanded to encompass the whole of China.
The Civilization Practice Centers therefore reflect a growing determination by the Party to expand into every corner of everyday life in China. But why does the Party believe this is required? Because, as the report notes, “The Party remains obsessed with the state of the country’s collective soul.”
The great fear of the regime’s chief ideologist, Wang Huning, is that “there are no core values in China’s most recent structure” because economic liberalisation and the eradication of traditional beliefs has left only individualistic nihilism at the heart Chinese society. Or as the Guidance Commission quoted Xi Jinping in explaining the need for the centers: “a nation without spiritual strength will struggle to stand on its own feet; a cause without its foundation in culture will struggle to sustain itself over the long term.”
For the CCP, apathy is ultimately almost as terrifying as resistance.
The hope that these centres will come to “occupy a central position in people’s spiritual lives” may prove elusive — no matter how much they are encouraged to “practice civilization,” it remains to be seen whether people can be commanded by the state to find meaning.