My experience with the study outline taught me that the ideas the party sanctimoniously promoted were in fact self-serving tools used to deceive the Chinese people. I soon learned that they were also a way of making money. An official I came to know at the General Administration of Press and Publication, which controls the right to publish books and magazines, told me of a disturbing episode involving a turf war over publishing revenues within the CCP.
For many years, Red Flag Press had been one of three organizations responsible for publishing the party’s educational books. In 2005, the press was in the process of publishing a routine book of readings when an official from the Central Organization Department, the powerful agency in charge of the CCP’s personnel decisions, stepped in to insist that only his department had the authority to publish such a book. He tried to get the General Administration of Press and Publication to prevent the book from being published. But Red Flag Press’s main job was precisely to publish works on ideology. To get out of this fix, the agency vetted the book in the hopes of finding problems that would justify banning it—but awkwardly, it came up empty.
Why was the Organization Department so territorial about publishing? It all came down to money. Many departments have slush funds, which are used for the lavish enjoyment of senior officials and divided among personnel as “welfare subsidies.” The easiest way to replenish those funds is to publish books. At that time, the CCP had more than 3.6 million grassroots organizations, each of which was expected to buy a copy of a new publication. If the book was priced at ten yuan per copy, that meant a minimum of 36 million yuan in sales revenue—equivalent to more than $5 million today. Since that money was coming from the budgets of the party branches, the scheme was essentially an exercise in forcing one public entity to transfer money to another. No wonder the Organization Department promoted a new political education topic every year. And no wonder almost every institution within the CCP had a publishing arm. With nearly every unit inventing new ways to make money, venality has permeated the regime.