"These days the revolutionary party of the proletariat is probably best described as the world's largest chamber of commerce and membership is the best way for businesspeople to network and clinch lucrative contracts."
Tucked away between China's top spy school and the ancient imperial summer palace in the west of Beijing lies the only place in the country where the demise of the ruling Communist party can be openly debated without fear of reprisal. But this leafy address is not home to some US-funded liberal think-tank or an underground dissident cell. It is the campus of the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, the elite training academy for the country's autocratic leaders that is described in official propaganda as a "furnace to foster the spirit of party members".
The Central Party School was established in 1933 to indoctrinate cadres in Marxism, Leninism and, later, Mao Zedong Thought, and past headmasters have included Mao himself, recently anointed president Xi Jinping and his predecessor Hu Jintao. In keeping with some of the momentous changes that have occurred in Chinese society, the curriculum has been radically revised in recent years. Students still steep themselves in the wisdom of Das Kapital and "Deng Xiaoping Theory" but they are also taught classes in economics, law, religion, military affairs and western political thought. As well as watching anti-corruption documentaries and participating in revolutionary singalongs, the mid-level and high-ranking party cadres who make up the student body are given lessons in opera appreciation and diplomatic etiquette.