China: Putting cadres to work

A Chinese scholar is asking why the Chinese socialist tradition of “cadre labor participation” is no longer practiced among current leadership and suggests its discontinuation may be linked with deteriorating work conditions in China.

Wu Li, a foreign language and foreign affairs specialist, wrote in the Chinese newspaper Southern Weekend that the participation of leadership in manual labor among the people may be effective in reducing dangerous working conditions in China.


My country once had a regulation requiring cadres to participate in manual labor once a week at the front of the production line.  In consideration of the continuous mining accidents and serious loss of life among workers, which at present has been difficult to prevent, I suggest mining corporations reinstate the [cadre labor participation] system, and furthermore take their performance as a foundation for promotion.

Wu’s call for reviving the “cadre labor participation system” may be prompted by the growing number of mining disasters in China.  On Nov. 21 an explosion in China’s northeastern province of Heilongjiang killed at least 92 miners.  The BBC reported that over 3000 people were killed in mining related accidents in 2008, down from 6000 in 2004.

Getting the manager of a mining company down a shaft might be unrealistic, Wu writes.  Yet requiring the chairmen of mining unions to take a few trips underground might have a positive effect on the direction of the union, he writes.


Supposing there was a cadre labor participation regulation, you couldn’t expect the manager of a coal mining group to go down in the mine.  An official at this level would not be willing to go in and would find a hundred reasons not to…But union chairmen aren’t so busy and perhaps this level of leadership would actually go into the mine.  After a few trips its possible he would really be able to think about problems [with the mining industry] from a miner’s perspective.

At the end of Wu’s article he calls upon the People’s Representitives to reinstate “cadre labor participation” at the next meeting of the People's Congress in March of 2010.

The origins of “cadre labor participation” date back to the early 1960s.  The Maoist policy may have been a result of the Great Leap Forward, in which lower-level leadership drastically overstated production, causing rural grain shortages and wide-spread starvation.

In February, in an entry titled “Say Good-bye to Cadre labor Participation”, blogger Wuyingdu-Hantang quoted Mao Zedong on his reasoning for requiring leaders to labor among the people.


The system of cadre participation in communal labor must be carried through.  The leaders of our party and country are common laborers, not masters who ride atop the heads of the people.  Through participation in communal labor cadres will maintain the broadest, most frequent and intimate connection.

The entry goes on to describe the demise of the system:


After the passing of Mao Zedong, the system gradually went unmentioned. And not only unmentioned.  Some went so far as to refute the system in essays or memoirs…On Jan. 1 2006 the “public servant law” was carried out.  It is an official document standardizing the regulation of party and country leaders.  In this legal document one will find no mention of cadre labor participation.

In October, former village and township level cadre Wen Zichong recalled his feelings toward “cadre labor participation” on a Xinhua news forum.


The participation of cadres in manual labor worked to maintain the color of the laborer in the cadre; it kept the cadre in intimate contact with the masses and with reality; it changed the cadre’s perspective of the world; it added accuracy to the cadre’s decision making; it made the cadre’s work go smoothly.

Perhaps those calling for the reinstatement of the system find the current echelons of Chinese leadership to be lacking some of these qualities.


Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.