China’s Latest “Negative Teaching Material”

Governing by virtue is an ideal that dates back thousands of years in human history. Common to many cultures around the world, the outstanding characteristics of the political supremo are often times made into an item of governing legitimacy. In traditional China, a benevolent “Son of Heaven” with the gift of righteousness is highly valued and appreciated. The China of today is of no exception. Each generation of Chinese leaders since 1949 have attempted to portrait themselves as high-minded philosopher-kings, and members of the governing elite, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), are expected to live up to the standard set by the head party honcho through emulating certain state-sanctioned “socialist role models”.

The concept of socialist role model is far from an entirely Chinese phenomenon, in fact, it may be argued that it is a tradition in almost all countries led by communist parties. From Soviet labor hero Alexey Stakhanov to “the party’s good cadre” Jiao Yulu, men who exhibited excellent socialist core values have been used as raw materials for positive propaganda under many different circumstances, more often than not to promote a timely message that the party wishes to convey with the general population or its cadres.

Propaganda poster featuring Jiao Yulu, a prefectural CCP cadre who dedicated his entire life to serving the everyday people. After his passing in 1964, he was fashioned into a paragon of Chinese socialist core values.  Copyright: China International Press.

Propaganda poster featuring Jiao Yulu, a prefectural CCP cadre who dedicated his entire life to serving rural China’s plebeians. After his passing in 1964, he was immortalized as a paragon of Chinese socialist virtues with the state’s sponsorship.
Copyright: China International Press.

Parallel to the socialist role models, in the Chinese context especially, is a group collectively known as the fanmian jiaocai or “negative teaching material”, mainly composed of disgraced officials that failed to live up to the party’s moral and ethnical criterion. The latest member of this socialist hall of shame is none other than the former vice-chairman of the CCP Central Military Commission (CMC), General Xu Caihou.

General Xu Caihou back in the cheery old days.  Copyright: Xinhua.

General Xu Caihou (with Leon Panetta) back in the cheery old days.
Copyright: Xinhua.

Possibly the biggest “tiger” this year to be thrown behind cage bars by president Xi Jinping’s huntsmen, General Xu’s dishonorable downfall sounds a crescendo of political cleansing inside the Chinese armed forces. Accused of “suspected bribery”, General Xu was placed under investigation in as early as March of this year, and was expelled from the party on June 30. According to Xinhua, investigators found General Xu “took advantage of his post to assist the promotion of other people and accepted bribes personally through his family members” and “[sought] profits for others in exchange for money and properties, through his family members”.[1] The media outlets loyal to the party wasted no time in tearing up General Xu’s character on a nationwide scale. The People’s Daily compared him to a “borer that must be dug out”.[2] In an article conveniently titled “Resolutely Support the Party Center’s Correct Decision”, a People’s Liberation Army Daily commentator called on “party organs at all levels to use Xu Caihou’s severe violation of party discipline as negative teaching material” to educate party cadres for the sake of “sustaining the party’s vanguard nature and purity”.[3]

As the national campaign to learn from Jiao Yulu “the party’s good cadre” revs up with president Xi’s personal endorsement,[4] another campaign with a drastically different purpose is simultaneously underway. Once a powerful figure in the Chinese military, General Xu is now officially a VIP member of the “negative teaching material” club, a community that is only going to grow larger as Xi’s shock troops take down more “tigers” and “flies” in the party’s latest crusade against graft, corruption, and Mammonism.


(Copyright 2014 Zi Yang)


[1] Jianing Yao, “PLA Supports Graft Probe into Xu Caihou,” China Military Online English Edition, accessed July 6, 2014,

[2] Xin Wang and Jun Liang, “People’s Daily Scolds Ousted Military Leader,” People’s Daily Online, accessed July 6, 2014,

[3] 本报评论员,“坚决拥护党中央的正确决定,” 中国军网数字报, accessed July 6, 2014,

[4] 周光扬 and 王子晖, “习近平重访兰考:焦裕禄精神是永恒的,” 新华网, accessed July 6, 2014,