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 »
Bi Fujian, a popular satirist and China Central Television host, came under fire in April when a video of him mocking the Communist Party leader during a private dinner was mysteriously leaked online.
Felicia Sonmez reports: A well-known Chinese TV personality who joked about revolutionary leader Mao Zedong behind closed doors will face “serious” punishment, according to state-run media, months after a video of the remarks went viral online.
Bi Fujian, a popular satirist and China Central Television host, came under fire in April when a video of him mocking the Communist Party leader during a private dinner was mysteriously leaked online. Mr. Bi swiftly apologized, but CCTV suspended him from his job and announced that it would be investigating the incident, which it said had “led to grave social consequences.”
“Before a word leaves your mouth, you are its master. Afterwards, it is your master. You can pull a nail out from a board, but it’s impossible to take a word back once it has been uttered.”
— Weibo user
Little has been heard about Mr. Bi’s case in the months since. But on Sunday, a newspaper affiliated with the Communist Party’s internal watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, sternly warned that authorities view the host’s quip as no laughing matter.
“…this is not just an ordinary disciplinary problem but rather a serious violation of political discipline.”
— China Discipline and Supervision Daily
“(Party authorities) believe that this is not just an ordinary disciplinary problem but rather a serious violation of political discipline,” the aptly-named China Discipline and Supervision Daily wrote, adding that Mr. Bi’s case would be “seriously dealt with.” It did not give further details.
The episode comes as China’s top media regulator, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, is tightening control over the TV industry with a series of new regulations aimed at keeping presenters and content in line with “socialist core values.” Read the rest of this entry »
Doing calligraphy, along with playing badminton, is a one of the few hobbies government officials in China admit to having
“The problem today, according to the editorial, comes when officials promote their squiggles as valuable works of art.”
“Officials should put down their calligraphy brushes and stick to governing.”
Wang Qishan, the Politburo Standing Committee member who heads the party’s anti-graft commission, hit out at the traditional craft during a plenary meeting of the organization last week in Beijing, and the message was backed up by an editorial from the agency posted on Tuesday to its website.
Officials shouldn’t “grab meat from the plates of artists,” the editorial said.
Doing calligraphy, along with playing badminton, is a one of the few hobbies government officials in China tend to admit to having. State leaders often pen well-wishes in calligraphy when they drop into companies around the country, creating valuable mementos that tend to get displayed in prominent spots in the companies.
“As you have promised to make contribution to the party and to the country, why are you greedy for an unnecessary title for unjustified interests?”
Officials can be forgiven for thinking it’s OK to strive for recognition in calligraphy, an art form associated with erudition and wisdom. Chinese leaders from Qing dynasty emperor Qianlong to Mao Zedong have been celebrated for their ability to put brush to paper, though there is some debate as to whether the latter’s distinctive style deserved the praise the Communist Party has lavished upon it ever since.
The problem today, according to the editorial, comes when officials promote their squiggles as valuable works of art. Read the rest of this entry »
Many Americans point to globalization as a bogeyman, robbing our country of good jobs and resources. But really, the phenomenon has ushered a period of unprecedented prosperity in many poor countries.
Marian L. Tupy writes: Is inequality increasing or decreasing? The answer depends on our point of reference.
In America, the income gap between the top 1 percent and the rest has grown. But if we look not at America, but the world, inequality is shrinking. We are witnessing, in the words of the World Bank’s Branko Milanovic, “the first decline in global inequality between world citizens since the Industrial Revolution.”
For most of human history, incomes were more equal, but terribly low. Two thousand years ago, GDP per person in the most advanced parts of the world hovered around $3.50 per day. That was the global average 1,800 years later.
But by the early 19th century, a pronounced income gap emerged between the West and the rest. Take the United States. In 1820, the U.S. was 1.9 times richer than the global average. The income gap grew to 4.1 in 1960 and reached its maximum level of 4.8 in 1999. By 2010, it had shrunk by 19 percent to 3.9.
That narrowing is not a function of declining Western incomes. During the Great Recession, for example, U.S. GDP per capita decreased by 4.8 percent between 2007 and 2009. It rebounded by 5.7 percent over the next 4 years and stands at an all-time high today. Rather, the narrowing of the income gap is a result of growing incomes in the rest of the world.
Consider the spectacular rise of Asia. In 1960, the U.S. was 11 times richer than Asia. Today, America is only 4.8 times richer than Asia.
To understand why, let’s look at China.
Between 1958 and 1961, Mao Zedong attempted to transform China’s largely agricultural economy into an industrial one through the “Great Leap Forward.” His stated goal was to overtake UK’s industrial production in 15 years. Industrialization, which included building of factories at home as well as large-scale purchases of machinery abroad, was to be paid for by food produced on collective farms. Read the rest of this entry »
Mao’s record challenges elite legitimacy
As the 120th anniversary of Mao’s Zedong’s birth approaches, China’s ruling Communist Party is afraid that its historical record threatens to undermine its fragile legitimacy, observers suggest.
“The famine that gripped China from 1958 to 1962 is widely judged to be the deadliest in recorded history, killing 20 to 30 million people or more, and is one of the defining calamities of Mao’s rule,” Chris Buckley reports for The New York Times:
Ever since, the party has shrouded that disaster in censorship and euphemisms, seeking to maintain an aura of reverence around the founding leader of the Communist state….But with the approach of celebrations of the 120th anniversary Mao’s birth on Dec. 26, some of his supporters and party polemicists are stepping beyond the longstanding official reticence about the famine to argue for their own, much milder version of the disaster and to assail historians who disagree.
30-36 million ‘abnormal’ deaths
“Scholars disagree, but whether their estimate is somewhat higher or lower, that doesn’t affect the fact that the Great Leap Forward created a massive disaster,” said Lin Yunhui, a retired party historian at the National Defense University in Beijing who has spent much of his career studying Mao’s time. “My own estimate is that there were about 30 million abnormal deaths.” Read the rest of this entry »
The first years of the People’s Republic under Mao Zedong were a golden age, according to Chinese Communists and many in the West. After all, “liberation” in 1949 brought to an end a period encompassing two brutal and overlapping wars: Japan’s invasion and occupation of China and the Chinese civil war with the Nationalists. A decade later, China was charging into the Mao-made Utopian catastrophe of the Great Leap Forward, in which tens of millions were worked or starved to death, and the horrors of the Cultural Revolution were still to come. According to this view, the years from the republic’s founding to, roughly, the so-called Hundred Flowers Campaign in 1956 were constructive, even benign in a paternalistic way. The party took a chaotic state in hand, and out of a shattered citizenry forged a “New China”. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted By Roger L Simon On January 3, 2013
I went shopping with my family on New Year’s Day at the “premium” outlet mall in Cabezon, California, outside Palm Springs — the kind of place where you traipse around for hours in the hopes of scoring a $225 Prada tie for 30 bucks, or a $700 Versace sweater for $135.
A large number, possibly a majority, of the shoppers there are well-heeled Chinese who have flown over to binge on Yves Saint Laurent, etc. products — many of which were made in their home country in the first place. Dressed in designer clothes, these mostly young and trendy Chinese are the privileged scions of the Communist Party. Their parents and grandparents are the ones who played along and did their best not to make waves, even cooperated, throughout the mass murders of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.
Now, they and their kids are reaping the harvest of their modern state capitalist system that still flies under the banner of communism, a false flag operation if ever there was one. Ironies abound, and those same ironies provide a snapshot of what constitutes “leftism” in our own culture.
Idealism is not the point, nor has it been for ages.
Leftism has devolved into a kind of scam run not only on others but also on the self. Leftists are brilliant at convincing themselves of their own altruism and then broadcasting it to the public, thus providing cover for the most conventionally greedy and selfish behaviors. We see that in our society all the time: the quondam Marxists of Hollywood, the media, and the academy blathering on about economic equality while living lives the Medici could not have dreamed of.
Part of this construct is a “prevent game,” a public persona and system erected so privilege cannot be questioned or undermined. A nomenklatura more successful and sophisticated than anything ever conceived in the Soviet Union. The result of this is a highly stratified society. As is well known but scarcely reported, blacks and Latinos have actually done worse under Obama than other groups. Normally, that would be unconscionable, considering the rhetoric. But as we know, it’s all about the rhetoric. Reality is unimportant — an inconvenience.
Relatively unbridled capitalism has always been the best way out of this, the best way to true social mobility, but our nomenklatura doesn’t want to admit this because it might threaten them and their perquisites. It would blow their cover.
I suspect those Chinese shoppers knew this better than anyone, having lived through a similar experience ratcheted up to the nth degree. Although I was too polite to do it, I wanted to question them. I would have loved to know what they say to each other in the privacy of their own homes, not that they would be likely to tell me.
But there was something to learn from watching them. I felt like a detective and it made me think of Roman Polanski and Robert Towne’s Chinatown. I also thought of myself, of the way I was when I was a leftist. Yes, I drove a Porsche then (a used one). And had a house in the Hollywood Hills. And ate at gourmet restaurants. And there were plenty like me. I was part of a class. I felt safe and protected for many years, though finally I just left it. I couldn’t stand the hypocrisy anymore. Or maybe I just lost the ability to convince myself of my own altruism.
Whatever the case, when it comes to the truth about leftism, it’s about the cover it gives. Or, as Bob Towne put it: “It’s Chinatown.”
Article printed from Roger L. Simon: http://pjmedia.com/rogerlsimon