The January 13, 1967 issue of TIME magazine featured Mao Zedong on its cover with the headline “China in Chaos.” Fifty years later, TIME made U.S. President-elect Donald Trump its Man of The Year. With a groundswell of mass support, both men rebelled against the established order in their respective countries and set about throwing the world into confusion. Both share an autocratic mind set, Mao Zedong as Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, Donald Trump as Chairman of the Board. As Jiaying Fan noted in May 2016, both also share a taste for “polemical excess and xenophobic paranoia.” For his part, Mao’s rebellion led to national catastrophe and untold human misery.
On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States of America. Although some of China’s New Leftists hailed Trump’s November 2016 win as a validation of ever-victorious Mao Zedong Thought, there is little reason to think that a Trump-led America will give much succor to China’s ideologues. In the two months since the U.S. election, through a phone call to Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen, repeated comments on China’s currency manipulation, the appointment of Peter Navarro (an economic hawk and author, among other things, of the 2011 book Death by China: Confronting the Dragon—A Global Call to Action) as director of the National Trade Council, and his intervention in a dispute over an underwater U.S. drone waylaid by the Chinese navy in the South China Sea, Trump has indicated that he is taking an unpredictable approach to the most important global bilateral relationship. Even long-standing friends and allies of the U.S. have been thrown off guard as they learn how to live with the Great Disrupter.
The Chinese Communist Party under its Chairman of Everything, Xi Jinping, hasn’t had to confront such an erratic and populist leader since Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolutionary 50 years ago.
Uproar in Heaven
In Official China, the anniversary of the Cultural Revolution passed in silence, even though today’s People’s Republic, whether in terms of its achievements or of its egregious failures, continues to live in the shadow of that political maelstrom.
In 1966, Mao observed that his personality was a mixture of contradictory elements. There was the self-assured sense of destiny and confidence that led him to challenge and overturn earlier leaders of the Communist Party, confront Chiang Kai-shek, and lead the Chinese revolution. This was, he said, an expression of his “Tiger Spirit,” something that was in constant interplay with his “Monkey Spirit,” one that was skittish, paranoid, and unpredictable. The Monkey was always ready to take on the Tiger with devilish glee. In the last two decades of his life, Mao’s China reflected this deep-seated contradiction as the country lurched between authoritarian control and anarchic confusion. What for the Great Helmsman was his life force writ large would rend the fabric of the society he ruled and threatened everything he had worked to achieve.
At the time of the Sino-Soviet split in 1961, Mao wrote a poem in praise of China’s most famous monkey, Sun Wukong, the hero of the popular late-Ming novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en. The international order established following WWII was under increasing pressure, and the Socialist Bloc, led by the Soviet Union, was riven by rebellion and disquiet as a result both of repressive Soviet expansionism in Europe and the ideological uncertainty generated by Nikita Khrushchev’s secret denunciation of Joseph Stalin in 1956. Mao, giving vent to his Tiger Spirit, would now lay claim to the mantle of world revolution.
A thunderstorm burst over the earth,
So a devil rose from a heap of white bones.
The deluded monk was not beyond the light,
But the malignant demon must wreak havoc.
The Golden Monkey wrathfully swung his massive cudgel,
And the jade-like firmament was cleared of dust.
Today, a miasmal mist once more rising,
We hail Sun Wu-kung, the wonder-worker.
Having delivered this challenge, Mao’s unpredictable Monkey Spirit would attempt to turn the world upside down. His poem and Uproar in Heaven, a 1964 film adaptation of Wu Cheng’en’s novel, struck a cord with the restive youth of China, many of whom closely followed China’s ideological contest with the Soviet Union. Like Mao, they too felt that their country was being stymied by a hidebound Soviet-style bureaucracy; the normalization of the revolutionary ardor of the past was frustrating China’s ability to lead history and achieve greatness. They related to Mao as he portrayed himself as an outsider who championed an uprising of the masses against a sclerotic system.
When, in 1966, Mao both engineered and supported a grassroots youthful rebellion against the very party-state he had created, a group of middle-school students in Beijing responded by composing a series of manifestos declaring that they, like Monkey, would support the Chairman, create an uproar in heaven, and smash the old world to pieces. In particular, they proclaimed “Rebellion is Justified” and quoted a line from Mao’s 1961 poem:
The Golden Monkey wrathfully swung his massive cudgel,
And the jade-like firmament was cleared of dust.
Mao responded to the young rebels and, to use today’s parlance, an alt-left movement of radicalism was born. The students called themselves Red Guards.
In August 1966, Mao and his deputy, Lin Biao, encouraged the Red Guards to Destroy the Four Olds and a wave of iconoclasm swept the country while the violence against people victimized as representing the old order were denounced, attacked, beaten, and even killed. During what would be known as Bloody August, Mao is said to have written to Jiang Qing, his wife and partner in revolutionary extremism, declaring that “Once heaven is in great disorder a new kind of order can emerge.” He believed that throwing the political establishment and social order into confusion would liberate the true potential of people to achieve what was otherwise seemingly impossible. A high-tide of revolutionary enthusiasm would allow people to cast aside the deadening bureaucracy and revitalize industry, agriculture, research, and society itself. Under the guidance of Mao Zedong Thought, the goal of making China great again could be realized on the world stage.
The Instincts of an Autocrat
The similarities between Mao Zedong and Donald Trump don’t end with the autocrat’s mindset touched on in the opening paragraph of this essay, or with the clash between tiger-like brio and the dyspathy of the monkey. The will to autocracy means that both figures share (with elected or self-appointed strong men historically and worldwide) some disturbing parallels:
Quotations Vs. Tweets: In the Mao era, the mysterious, contradictory, and yet powerfully inciting utterances of the Chairman were conveyed not by Twitter, but through quotations broadcast over national radio and carried in the newspapers. In the print media, Mao’s gnomic utterances were always highlighted by being printed in bold, while on radio they were recited in the stentorian voice of authority. A daily quotation called “The Highest Directive” featured in the top right-hand corner of the People’s Daily and was mimicked by every paper across the land. The quotations demanded a response and action and sent the country lurching in different directions while confusion reigned supreme in Beijing.
Progadanda Vs. the Lying Media: Like Mao, Trump has trouble sleeping, and his early morning Tweets reveal whatever has caught the leader’s flickering attention, alerting the world to some new twist or turn in his feverish thinking. With Twitter, Trump bypasses both the formal bureaucracy of Washington and what he and his followers dub “The Lying Media.”
Mao too distrusted the state media based in the capital, Beijing, and with the support of his wife, Jiang Qing, and her Shanghai comrades he got his message of rebellion out in other cities. He extolled The Right to Rebel and, in essence, he launched the Cultural Revolution to “drain the swamp” of the Chinese Communist Party bureaucracy. He called enemies within the Party nomenklatura “Capitalist Roaders,” the permanent political class, that is men and women who were pursuing policies that undermined his ideas and which, he believe, held back China’s productive capacity and frustrated the country’s global revolutionary preeminence.
Climate Change Vs. Human Will: The effects of climate change and the mismanagement of natural resources were evident in Mao’s China. There was a profligate depletion of water resources; increasing desertification starting from Outer Mongolia; unmodulated industrial pollution from the Great Leap Forward era onwards; denial of contaminants in food and water supplies. . . the list goes on. Mao believed that “man can conquer heaven,” that human will could triumph over nature. China now faces the challenge of climate change and environmental degradation with sober clarity; Trump’s America will be led by climate skeptics, deniers, and those who would sign up for Mao’s axiom.
The Smartest Men in the Room: Like Trump, Mao thought he was “smart,” and he distrusted experts and the educated. An autodidact, he believed that he did not need to rely on others to understand complex issues and resolve problems. He declared that the more education you have, the more dangerous you may be. Read the rest of this entry »
— Foreign Policy (@ForeignPolicy) April 21, 2015
No Respect: Trash-Talkin’ Chinese Media Delivers Epic POTUS Smackdown in Wake of Historic U.S. Midterm Ass-WhoopingPosted: November 6, 2014
A mouthpiece of the Chinese Government has described President Obama as ‘insipid’ and claims U.S. voters are sick of his ‘banality’.
The state-run Global Times has published an editorial deriding the leader a few days ahead of his visit to the growing economic and military powerhouse.
It stated: ‘Obama always utters “Yes, we can,” which led to the high expectations people had for him. But he has done an insipid job, offering nearly nothing to his supporters.
The criticism comes in the wake of a crushing defeat in the Midterm elections worse even than the most pessimistic forecasts of the Democrats‘ strategists, with the Republicans now in control of both the upper and lower Houses of Congress. Read the rest of this entry »
The crackdown may foreshadow a national shift in official policy on religion, a bid by President Xi Jinping to shore up political stability.
“I won’t let them take down the cross even if it means they would shoot me dead.”
— Fan Liang’an, 73, whose grandfather helped build the church in 1924.
At least 14 and as many as 50 worshippers — some elderly — sustained wounds, including a fractured skull, broken bones and internal injuries.
Their crime? Rallying to guard their church cross, government-slated for demolition.
“It’s a risky game: In targeting the church, the Communist leaders also target a crucial source of social stability…”
It was just the latest in the intensifying persecution in Zhejiang Province, one of China’s most Christian regions.
[From our August 3rd edition: Report: China on Course to Become World’s Most Christian Nation within 15 years]
Communist China’s effectiveness at resisting reform and discouraging dissent would almost guarantee that Christianity’s future in China is not hopeful as it might appear. With Maoist China’s record of hostility to Christianity, and current success at containing or crushing competing ideologies, is this report drawing premature conclusions? (read more)
Since January, Communist officials there have toppled the crosses of at least 229 churches. The government has also torn down some churches entirely, and issued demolition notices to over 100 more.
“…and may end up politicizing a large and growing part of the population.”
And the crackdown may foreshadow a national shift in official policy on religion, a bid by President Xi Jinping to shore up political stability. Read the rest of this entry »
The number of Christians in Communist China is growing so steadily that it by 2030 it could have more churchgoers than America.
Speaking with our Hong Kong Bureau Chief yesterday about the often overlooked historical role of the post-reform Christian church as an incubator of enlightened self-governance and radical reform (try to imagine the civil rights movement without it) I was left with the impression that Communist China’s effectiveness at resisting reform and discouraging dissent would almost guarantee that Christianity’s future in China is not hopeful as it might appear. With Maoist China’s record of hostility to Christianity, and current success at containing or crushing competing ideologies, is this report–predicting an uninterrupted rise of Christianity in China–drawing premature conclusions?
Note the reverse image in the mirror: the decline of Christianity in the west. And consider the more troubling historical reverse: the persecution, slaughter, and displacement of Christians around the world.
Liushi, Zhejiang province – For the Telegraph, Tom Phillip reports: It is said to be China’s biggest church and on Easter Sunday thousands of worshippers will flock to this Asian mega-temple to pledge their allegiance – not to the Communist Party, but to the Cross.
“It is a wonderful thing to be a follower of Jesus Christ. It gives us great confidence.”
The 5,000-capacity Liushi church, which boasts more than twice as many seats as Westminster Abbey and a 206ft crucifix that can be seen for miles around, opened last year with one theologian declaring it a “miracle that such a small town was able to build such a grand church”.
“It is going to be less than a generation. Not many people are prepared for this dramatic change.”
The £8 million building is also one of the most visible symbols of Communist China’s breakneck conversion as it evolves into one of the largest Christian congregations on earth.
“Mao thought he could eliminate religion. He thought he had accomplished this. It’s ironic – they didn’t. They actually failed completely.”
“It is a wonderful thing to be a follower of Jesus Christ. It gives us great confidence,” beamed Jin Hongxin, a 40-year-old visitor who was admiring the golden cross above Liushi’s altar in the lead up to Holy Week.
BEIJING — William Wan writes: A curious thing happened two weeks ago as China was preparing celebrations for the 120th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s birth. One of the main events — a symphony of favorite Communist songs at the Great Hall of the People — got an abrupt name change.
No longer would it be called “The Sun is Reddest, Chairman Mao is Dearest.” Instead, all traces of China’s founding father were quietly scrubbed from posters, ticketing Web sites and programs, and the show repackaged as a more generic New Year’s gala called “Singing the Motherland’s Praises.”
Even decades after his death, there is uncertainty about how to tackle the legacy of the man who cemented the party’s grip on power but was responsible for the deaths of tens of millions, disastrous policies and brutal purges.
At the heart of that ambivalence is a debate over China’s future. Die-hard leftists are pushing for the country’s new leaders to revive Mao’s teachings as a path to stronger nationalism, economic equality and party legitimacy. Meanwhile, liberals say the time has come not only for economic reforms and other new paths forward, but also for an honest assessment of China’s troubled past.
“Mao has never left China’s political stage,” said Guo Songmin, a well-known leftist commentator. “Now all sides want to use him to influence China’s political direction.”
Racy online photos of Chinese sex party go viral over speculation that Communist Party officials were involved
In August, 2012, China was buzzing over a trove of raunchy photos showing six people engaged in an orgy – some of whom are rumored to be high-ranking Communist Party officials, Meena Hart Duerson reported, for the New York Daily News. Whatever became of this social media scandal? Let’s revisit:
The series of 181 often graphic photos went viral last week on China’s microblogging site Sina Weibo and have now traveled around the world. [PHOTOS] In the images, which were reportedly taken around 2008, six men and women can be seen performing group sex acts as well as posing for strangely formal portrait-style photos together.
Those involved make no effort to hide their faces, smiling in group shots, including one where one of the men can be seen grabbing the breasts of the woman in front of him.
Josh Rudolph reports: The Global Times reports on an exhibition co-sponsored by the State Archives Administration of China entitled “Red Star Over China: Chinese Communists in the Eyes of Foreign Journalists.” The exhibition’s title pays homage to American journalist Edgar Snow’s seminal book, and displays the work of western journalists covering China in the pre-Cold War era—before the founding of the PRC and in a day when China’s young Communist Party intrigued many a left-leaning foreign correspondent:
China between 1936 and 1948 was in one of its most turbulent periods. The country was invaded and torn apart. The stories of this time are well-known but a new exhibition throws light on some original insights and the firsthand accounts of 13 foreign journalists who came and worked in China at that time.
The British destruction of Beijing’s Summer Palace in the 19th Century encapsulates how the emotion played a major role in forming modern China.
Matt Schiavenza writes: In June 1840, following the breakdown in negotiations with the Qing Dynasty over the trade of opium on Chinese territory, a large British military force captured the city of Canton (now Guangzhou) before marching up the coastline and entering central China at the Yangtze River delta. Within two years, Great Britain had routed China and, during the subsequent peace treaty, extracted significant concessions: control of Hong Kong (in perpetuity), the widening of trade in new ports, and extraterritoriality for British subjects in China—a privilege obtained by American and French governments soon afterwards.
These events comprised the First Opium War, a defeat which began a era known in China as the “century of humiliation.” And only when Chairman Mao Zedong stood atop Beijing’s Gate of Heavenly Peace on October 1, 1949 and proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China did this “century”—which actually lasted 109 years—come to an end.
Since then, the “century of humiliation” has been a central part of the P.R.C.’s founding mythology, of which the short version is this: Long the world’s pre-eminent civilization, China fell behind the superior technology of the West over the centuries, an imbalance that finally came to a head with the loss in the Opium Wars. This begun the most tumultuous century in the country’s—or any country’s—history, one that featured an incessant series of wars, occupations, and revolutions and one that did not end until the victory of the Communist Party in China‘s 1945-49 civil war.
“After Xi Jinping took over as head of China’s Communist Party in December, some liberals dared to hope that change was in store for the world’s most populous nation,” Simon Denyer reports for The Washington Post:
But now, six months later, Xi appears to be more of a Putin than a Mikhail Gorbachev, behaving like a leader more interested in consolidating his power and ensuring the survival of an authoritarian system than in adopting significant political reforms…..Complicating matters, Xi has sent different messages as he has sought to unify the party behind him. He has promised economic reforms but urged his party colleagues to promote the ideology of Marx and Mao. He has cast himself as a nationalist, determined to restore China to its ancient glories, but his “Chinese dream” seems mostly about achieving middle-class comfort.
“The fundamental priority for him is to guarantee the ruling position of the party,” said historian Zhang Lifan. “From the bottom of his heart, Xi Jinping wants to be a strong man. But I am not op Read the rest of this entry »
Marxist Autocratic crackdown efforts seen as tactic to strengthen legitimacy of Communist Party.
BEIJING — Leaders worldwide may secretly envy a classic move from the Chinese president’s playbook. Tired of local officials who are corrupt, arrogant or just plain slackers? Then make them confess their errors on nationwide television.
Xi Jinping hit the road this week to Hebei, the province surrounding Beijing, whose 73 million residents have built an economy the size of Colombia’s. Instead of praise, Xi pushed Hebei’s leaders to criticize each other, and themselves, on camera.
“Criticisms and self-criticisms are forceful weapons to solve contradictions within the party,” Xi told them, in his far more important role as boss of China’s ruling Communist Party. “It’s a dose of good medicine,” he said, to boost unity, rectify decadent work styles and impose “democratic centralism.”
With language and methods drawn from the often bloody rule of Chairman Mao, Xi’s play reveals the party’s urgent need to strengthen its appeal and legitimacy in the eyes of a population deeply cynical about officials’ behavior and widespread corruption. Read the rest of this entry »
“Xi Jinping and this administration provide the last chance for China to implement a social transformation [to a more liberal political system] that comes from within the party and within the system,” says Shen Zhihua, a professor at East China Normal University who specializes in the Soviet Union and the son of People’s Liberation Army officers who served alongside Mao. “Without these reforms there will certainly be a social explosion.”
“As the economy slows and middle-class discontent grows, it is the question that’s now being asked not only outside but inside the country. Even at the Central Party School there is talk of the unthinkable: the collapse of Chinese communism,” writes the FT’s Jamil Anderlini in a must-read analysis of prospects for China’s democratization.
A more significant change for an institution founded to enforce ideological purity is its relatively new role as an intellectual free-fire zone, where almost nothing is off-limits for discussion. “We just had a seminar with a big group of very influential party members and they were asking us how long we think the party will be in charge and what we have planned for when it collapses,” says one Party School professor. “To be honest, this is a question that everyone in China is asking but I’m afraid it is very difficult to answer.” Read the rest of this entry »