Photo from Xinhua News
Following a string of at least eight suicides among government officials this year, the state is taking action – by packing potential hires off to the shrink before taking them in. Wu Hanfei, chief of the examination and assessment center of the Communist Party of China announced at a leadership pow-wow on Sunday that those applying for official posts in government will soon have to undergo a psychological analysis during selection to assess their “psychological qualities” as well as “moral integrity”.
On top of this year’s suicides, at least 13 other government officials are known to have died abnormally in 2009, according to statistics released in September on www.people.com.cn. Suicide victims range in branch and rank from junior bureau officials to top dogs in the party. Many of them were said to have fallen into depression when investigations began on their involvement in alleged cases of corruption.
Cynics refer to their deaths as a cowardly alternative to facing up to the punishment and shame of pleading guilty to taking bribes while sympathisers have said that the suicide victims were merely made scapegoats in the government’s attempt to ramp up their crackdown against corruption within the party system.
Explaining the need for a psychological component in the recruiting process, Mr Wu euphemistically pointed out that officials have to deal with “unexpected psychological pressure” due to a variety of “internal contradictions” that have sprung up in recent years. Chief among these conflicts is the struggle to hold on to traditional value systems and morality in the strong tide of globalization and materialism that is sweeping over modern China.
Liang Tiangeng, the Ministry of Agriculture’s HR director, added that officials’ psychological outlooks have been changing as people become more money-obsessed: “They care more about immediate gratification and take a fast track to advance their careers as quickly as possible.”
But sniffing out one’s susceptibility to money passed under the table is not the only target of the tests. Psychological health also affects candidates’ physical health and influences their leadership and executive abilities in emergency situations, officials say. Following the Sichuan earthquake, the Sichuan and Beichuan governments had to roll out a two-year project to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among overworked officials in charge of recovery and relief efforts. Funds were pumped into improving their work and living conditions and it was made sure that every official took sufficient holidays.
At least 60,000 questions have already been identified out of the proposed 170,000 questions to be included in the psychological assessment, but the final design of the test “remains a challenge”, said Mr Wu. It remains to be seen, we think, how much truth a templated Q&A can actually extract from those already prepared to lie and deceive for the purpose of self-gain.