The Communist Party of China’s (CPC) Qingyang unit does not seem to have realised what most people in relationships already know: Tests and demands of loyalty can be counterproductive. The CPC’s “pioneering” new plan to reinforce party loyalty has reportedly come at a cost of $1,10,000, involves a special room, complete with virtual reality headsets and a questionnaire “carefully designed based on the psychological standards”, according to Wen Daquing of the Qingyang CPC.
The question that chaotic, multi-party democracies must ask of China is this: What’s the point of single-party authoritarianism if loyalty is still in question? After all, there is no horse trading, no place for “aaya Ram” to become “gaya Ram”. Why then is the Party making its cadre put on a goggle-helmet contraption, in a noise minimised room to “ensure a calm mind”, and sit through documentaries about such scintillating topics as the lives and lessons of communist heroes?
Cynics will invoke Orwell and Huxley to argue that authoritarianism acts out its insecurities like a jealous paramour. But the “pioneers” at Qingyang are doing something more. The loyalty tests are as old as the party, but virtual reality is not. While democrats across its border can be rightfully self-righteous about China’s one-party insecurities, the technological fetishism at play in Qingyang unites people, and governments, despite the nature of political representation, or lack thereof. After all, questionnaires and censuses existed long before unique identity databases and 360-degree headsets. A fascination for new tools may have people queueing at the Party office to have their loyalty tested, their responses stored. For an old CPC looking at new forms of control, that’s a neat trick.