The dictator is enjoying a surge of popularity. But the rise of this neo-Maoist movement could upend China’s stability.
Jamil Anderlini writes: A heavy pall of pollution hangs over Tiananmen Square and from a distance the giant portrait of Mao Zedong above the entrance to the Forbidden City looks a little smudged. It is 8am and the temperature in central Beijing is already approaching 30C.
But the heat and smog are no deterrent to the thousands of people waiting in hour-long queues to pay respects to the preserved body of the “great helmsman”. Since his death 40 years ago, Chairman Mao’s corpse — or, more likely, a wax replica — has been on display in a purpose-built mausoleum in the geographic and figurative heart of the Chinese capital. Well over 200 million people have visited.
In the west, Mao is understood chiefly as China’s “Red Emperor” — a vicious dictator who fostered an extreme personality cult, launched the disastrous Cultural Revolution and masterminded a “Great Leap Forward” that resulted in the worst famine in history. Experts estimate that Mao was responsible for between 40 million and 70 million deaths in peacetime — more than Hitler and Stalin combined.
However, while Hitler, Stalin and most of the other totalitarian dictators of the 20th century were repudiated after their deaths, Mao remains a central figure in modern China. The Communist party he helped found in 1921 and the authoritarian Leninist political system he established in 1949 still run the country. “Mao Zedong Thought” is enshrined in the party’s constitution and, since 1999, his face has adorned most banknotes (something he refused to allow during his lifetime).
But this whitewashing of Mao’s legacy is a risky strategy. Thanks to the party’s tight control over education, media and all public discourse, most people in China know very little of Mao’s terrible mistakes. Indeed, the dictator is more popular today than at any time since his death. Last year nearly 17 million people made pilgrimages to his home town — Shaoshan — in rural central China. In the mid-1980s, barely 60,000 undertook the journey.
China has also seen the rise of a vocal political movement of “neo-Maoists” — militant leftists who espouse many of the utopian egalitarian ideas that China’s current leaders have largely abandoned. These neo-Maoists are by definition an underground movement, which makes it very difficult to estimate their numbers, but public petitions sympathetic to their cause have garnered tens of thousands of signatures in recent years.
Several experts believe a neo-Maoist candidate would probably win a general election in China today, should free elections ever be allowed. This means the movement could enjoy the sympathy of hundreds of millions of China’s 1.4 billion people. As such, it poses one of the biggest threats facing the authoritarian system in the world’s most populous nation today.
“Speed up comrades, walk forward,” a young man in a clean white shirt with a bullhorn yells at the tourists lined up in Tiananmen Square, many of whom bow three times before a large Mao statue as they enter the mausoleum. Visitors are not allowed to take photos and tall paramilitary officers shoo people along, ensuring nobody gets more than a quick glimpse of the figure wrapped in the hammer and sickle flag and laid out in a crystal coffin behind a glass wall. Just a kilometre away is the heavily guarded compound where China’s current leaders work and live.
“Chairman Mao was a truly great man but this is not the country he dreamt of, this is not real communism.”
Many of the people visiting Mao’s remains have been left behind by China’s economic boom in recent decades. They see Mao as a symbol of a simpler, fairer society — a time when everyone was poorer but at least they were equally poor. Those who have studied the resurgence in Mao’s popularity in China see it as part of a broader global phenomenon that encompasses the appeal of Donald Trump in the US, Brexit in the UK and populist politicians on the left and right in Europe. At a time of sharp dislocation and intense resentment towards elites, people in many countries are attracted by nostalgia and tradition. For ordinary people in China, that means Mao and the classless society he envisioned. Read the rest of this entry »
Mr. Teng rose to prominence more than a decade ago for taking on civil rights, religious freedom and other cases that eventually drew the ire of Chinese authorities.
Felicia Sonmez writes: At a U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China hearing in Washington on the 26th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown this week, prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Teng Biao presented his listeners with a choice.
“They arrest the journalists, then the journalists who speak out for the arrested journalists, then the lawyers who defend the arrested journalists, and then the lawyers who defend the lawyers who defend the journalists.”
“History will require us to answer one question: Did we stand on the side of the ‘Tank Man,’ or on the side of the tank?” Mr. Teng said Wednesday, referring to the iconic photo of a lone man blocking a convoy of military vehicles during the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing.
Mr. Teng isn’t from the generation that marched in Beijing and other cities 26 years ago; at the time he was a high school student at a county in northeastern China.
Mr. Teng rose to prominence more than a decade ago for taking on civil rights, religious freedom and other cases that eventually drew the ire of Chinese authorities. His law license was revoked in 2008; authorities have not publicly given a reason. He was harassed and in 2011 was detained for more than 70 days in an unknown location, with officials again declining to publicly address his treatment. He left the mainland in 2012 for Hong Kong.
A year ago, the normally soft-spoken Mr. Teng delivered a forceful speechin Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, declaring at a vigil commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown: “You can’t kill us all.”
“They arrest the journalists, then the journalists who speak out for the arrested journalists, then the lawyers who defend the arrested journalists, and then the lawyers who defend the lawyers who defend the journalists,” he said at the time, describing a tightening of Beijing’s grip over civil society in China. Read the rest of this entry »
An anti-Japanese war drama has been temporarily pulled from Chinese television after viewers complained that a scene showing a female character concealing a suicide bomb in her crotch has gone too far.
“They are using sex and violence to entice the audience under the cover of national sentiments. They are reveling on the scars of the history.”
— Xinhua editorial that lashed out at ludicrous plots in such dramas
That’s saying something, considering Chinese TV dramas set during the Japanese invasion are known for their impossibly violent and outlandish plots. This includes one scenario in which a man ripped a Japanese soldier in half with his bare hands, and another scene showing a communist hero blowing up a plane by tossing a hand grenade in the air.
“The authorities have banned foreign TV shows only to let us see this?”
— Question from a dissatisfied netizen
The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) is now reviewing the popular period drama Together We Fight the Devils, after the viewers seemed to agree that the scene showing Chinese actress Ge Tian pulling an explosive from her undercarriage was even more lewd than usual.
The shot begins with “sister Yin” visiting her lover who’d been locked up by Japanese soldiers, Associated Press explains.
He fondles her and finds a grenade hidden in her crotch. It is meant for a suicidal act of resistance against his Japanese captors. Read the rest of this entry »
Ted Johnson reports: The White House on Friday responded to a petition calling for an apology afterABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” featured a joke in October about killing Chinese people to avoid paying down U.S. debt.
The Obama administration responded to the petition after it received more than 105,000 signatures on the We the People site maintained by the White House.
The White House noted that ABC and Kimmel apologized for the joke, featured in a segment in which Kimmel is querying children about how the U.S. should payback China. The segment provoked protests among Chinese American activists.