In this essay, I argue that the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) affective sovereignty results from its ability to adapt confessional practices to fit its governing needs at different moments in history. I analyze what recent televised confessions of party cadres reveal about China’s political order, its modes of legitimation, and its mechanisms of power. During the Mao era, confessions were intended as a form of self-transformation and redemption in the pursuit of constructing a new political subjectivity and utopian society. In the Xi era, the drama of confession is intended to separate corrupt cadres from the party, repair the party’s image, and shore up the fragile foundation of its moral legitimacy. This essay offers a glimpse into the black box of how the party governs itself and exerts control over the affective lives of its cadres.
Extracting Affect: Televised Cadre Confessions in China
Christian Sorace is an assistant professor of political science at Colorado College. He is the author of Shaken Authority: China’s Communist Party and the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake (2017). He is also the coeditor of a forthcoming volume titled Afterlives of Chinese Communism. His articles have appeared in Critical Inquiry, Comparative Politics, The China Journal, and The China Quarterly, among other journals. His current research focuses on urbanization within the Mongolian steppe.