Caixin has published an interesting critique of Chinese officialdom’s secretary system (??). The author, Zhang Ming, is a professor of Politics at the Renmin University School of International Studies whose outspokenness in 2007 led to his removal as Dean of Political Sciences at Renmin University. Zhang writes:
Throughout the course of history, the lifeblood of China’s authoritarian regimes have relied on sustenance provided by spies and informants to sustain control. During the Ming Dynasty, the Embroidered Uniform Guards served as the secret police of the imperial court. The imperial spy network, later run exclusively by the eunuchs, was so active that every word of courtiers was recorded in great detail. The Embroidered Uniform Guards were so attentive to their task that many posed as servants of officials, transmitting every molecule of their private thoughts to the back to the emperor…
It is natural for the emperors to put their trust on eunuchs in their castrated state, bereft of symbolic ambition. More importantly, they are the emperor’s family members, though at an extremely low status. The relationship between the emperors and the eunuchs are even closer than the closest kin of the emperors. The emperors could beat them and would not have to worry if they bore grudges. But this lulled the emperors into a state of trust, and no matter what the emperors did, there was no way to change the prime position for observation by the eunuchs. The internal intelligence war in imperial courts never ended.
The “secretary phenomenon” in Chinese political arenas is a modern-day extension of this practice. Secretaries have power to divvy the attention of the leaders they serve. Whenever they visit the subordinate units, they are regarded as authoritative as the leaders, and their words are regarded as infallible laws. Their phone calls are capable of fixing all problems. They are set to enjoy a bright future and their days generally see smooth sailing as long as they do not make any major mistakes, or the leaders do not fall overnight.
The higher-level the official is, the more influence their secretaries will have. If the secretary makes a case, no subordinates dare to challenge it. Of course, like in the feudal days, the biggest function of secretaries, or the gang of secretaries is not to speak of the leader’s own rules, but reaping personal gain through leaking the information.
The government’s authority seems to be exceedingly overwhelming and the policies may either be rip-offs or attempts at getting rich overnight. Government policies are often introduced in the form dictum so one leader’s taste often matters most. As long as the intent of the leaders can be obtained beforehand, necessary arrangements can be made accordingly and God knows what kind of benefits it means.
For many people who obtained their fortunes through government policies, the only secret to it is that they have been well-informed. In modern society, information equals money and power. Even in China, despite of the tightest regulations on classified information and the most severe punishments, sooner or later the secret will be leaked out.