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 »
Things just keep getting worse and worse for Hong Kong’s paper of record.
Now, if you try to log onto South China Morning Post‘s Chinese-language news site or lifestyle site you are redirected to the paper’s English-language website and informed that SCMP’s Chinese-language services have been closed in order to better “integrate resources.” The message concludes, “We thank you for your past support.”
And just like that years of Chinese-language reporting by the SCMP has been wiped out. Current and former employees told Quartz that they were not told in advance about the decision to close the site. This is backed up by the fact that SCMP’s Chinese-language news site, nanzao.com, was still posting stories on Facebook as late as this afternoon. Read the rest of this entry »
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks in Laos and delivers an adress to the people of Laos. He is the first US President to visit the country.
…He also accused Americans of being isolated and ignorant because the United States is such a big country.
“The United States is and can be a great force for good in the world. But because we’re such a big country, we haven’t always had to know about other parts of the world,” he said. “If you’re in the United States, sometimes you can feel lazy and think we’re so big we don’t have to really know anything about other people.”
[VIDEO] Krauthammer: China and Russia Think the U.S. under Obama ‘Does Not Earn Any of Their Respect’Posted: September 6, 2016
Taking a question about the conspicuous absence of a mobile staircase for Air Force One when Obama landed in China, Charles Krauthammer said this indignity was more than merely a “microaggression” for the experienced Chinese.
An 11-year-old girl in China was beaten to death by her father for copying a classmate’s homework, state-run media said on Wednesday.
The man “ordered the girl to kneel down, tied her hands and beat her”, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The father took her to hospital after she stopped breathing but she died the next day, Xinhua said.
Doctors at the hospital in Hangzhou found bruises and injuries on the girl’s neck and back and signs she had been choked for as long as five minutes, the Xiandai Jinbao said.
The incident is the latest in a series of child abuse incidents in China that have drawn widespread outrage. Read the rest of this entry »
BEIJING (AP) — Chinese police broke up a dinner party attended by activists in the eastern city of Hangzhou Tuesday night and detained a dozen people, according to an activist who attended the dinner.
“Recently, inside the country people have been getting nervous because they’ve been detaining people…”
Activist and blogger Wang Wusi said he and another 10 people were released after spending about two hours in police custody. He said police held Wen Kejian until Wednesday morning, when he was released although without his cell phone or computer. Wen is a signatory of Charter 08, a document calling for democracy and the end of one-party rule in China.
“We just wanted to get together and discuss this because we all feel the pressure growing.”
— Activist and blogger Wang Wusi
Wang said Wednesday that they had been warned by police that they would not be allowed to meet. He said they organized the event in response to the recent detentions of other activists. Read the rest of this entry »
BEIJING – There’s not a lot you can’t get out of a vending machine. Add large, hairy crabs to that list.
A Chinese entrepreneur on Wednesday opened up a vending machine that dispenses the chilled delicacy like a candy bar. The crabs, prized for their sweetness, always turn up in markets around China’s mid-autumn festival, a popular harvest celebration in east Asia. Read the rest of this entry »