BEIJING — Chinese people switching on their 7 p.m. television news might have done a double take, suspecting that the state broadcaster had mistakenly plugged in a tape from the 1970s before the death of Mao Tse-tung.
For 24 minutes, the flagship Chinese news — probably the television program with the largest viewership — showed President Xi Jinping presiding over an extraordinary public session in which Communist Party cadres in engaged in self-criticism.
Self-criticism, the Communist Party’s equivalent of group psychotherapy, is a venerable tradition that has largely lost steam since the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, when people denounced themselves and one another, donning dunce caps and delivering beatings. Although party members are still required to practice self-criticism, it has been in recent years largely pro forma. In fact, they can buy self-criticism essays online if they don’t know what to say.