Marxist Minds: At Party School, China grooms future leaders

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In a secretive school in China's capital rows of students face a giant video projection of Xi Jinping, making careful notes on the lecture on their leader's guiding principles.

Sitting in red-covered chairs in a school dotted with statues of late Chinese leaders, the mostly male students are being groomed to become elite members of the Communist Party.

In particular, the students are learning the intricacies of "Xi Jinping Thought".

President Xi is himself a former head of the Central Party School, but now his guiding philosophy is part of the curriculum for the cadres studying their way up the political ladder.

The usually highly secretive school in Beijing gave a rare tour to foreign media during a tightly controlled visit this week.

Statues of late Chairman Mao Zedong -- also a former dean -- and late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping dot the leafy campus.

The students are already stationed in the apparatus of the regime, such as the spokeswoman of the foreign ministry who was spotted during the visit. None were allowed to speak to the press.

"Through the theoretical education and the culture of the Party spirit, we strengthen the solidarity within the Party, we are here to serve the Party and the country's governance," said the vice-head of academic affairs of the Party School, Wang Gang.

In one classroom, rapt pupils listened to a giant video projection of Xi proclaiming that "the clear waters and the green mountains are as precious as the mountains of gold and silver".

The class was called "Xi Jinping Thought and Ecological Civilization".

In office since 2012, the Chinese leader has consolidated power as the rubber-stamp parliament enshrined "Xi Thought" in the constitution and removed term limits last year.

- Taboo subjects -

Established in 1933, approximately 1,600 students attend the school each semester, averaging about 40 years of age.

On the training programme are courses on Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, and the theory of Deng -- the architect of the late 1970s reforms that started China's rapid economic take-off.

But there is also content on economic, military and international issues.

Classroom absences are not allowed without a valid reason and campus discipline is strict, according to Chinese media.

Xi has demanded more party discipline since taking power, overseeing a crackdown on corruption that has punished more than 1.5 million officials.

Under him, the party has also tightened its hold on society -- an approach reflected in the ethos of the school.

"We obviously forbid any discussion or topics that would run counter to the major decisions made by the leaders," Wang said.

Yet "we also talk about the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen incident to better understand history and better choose the way forward," Wang adds.

The bloody crackdown on Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 is a taboo topic in China while the Cultural Revolution, a period of social and political upheaval under Mao, is a sensitive subject.

The school used to be cut off from the world but today it allows its teachers to go abroad on exchanges, according to Chinese media.

It has also welcomed renowned foreign visitors such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger or former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.

And the courses are in tune with current news, like the trade war with Washington.

"The Chinese and US economies are very complementary, the Trump administration's approach of applying sanctions, customs surcharges will only exacerbate existing problems," said Yu Jun, deputy dean of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, speaking at the Party School.

"With the internet and artificial intelligence, the thinking of younger generations is changing," says Zhu Lingjun, the deputy leader in charge of reflecting on the Party's evolution at the school, his nose deep in his notes.

"We need to think of new ways to engage with younger generations."

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