China’s state propaganda machine is seizing Friday’s 110th anniversary of Deng Xiaoping‘s birth to highlight similarities between President Xi Jinping and the paramount leader who set the country on the road to economic prosperity while crushing dissent.
A heavyweight official biography of Deng was published this week, and Chinese television viewers are being regaled with a 48-episode dramatisation of his life, broadcast nationwide in primetime.
“The contribution by Comrade Deng Xiaoping not only changed the historic destiny of the Chinese people but also changed the course of the world’s history.”
— President Xi Jinping
But the series only covers the eight years up to 1984, avoiding much of the tumult of the Cultural Revolution and, crucially, stopping five years before he ordered the deadly crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.
“Xi is essentially trying to get back to the Deng spirit of being reformist on the economy and orthodox on the politics.”
— John Delury, an expert on modern Chinese history at Yonsei University in Seoul
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 »
On a wintry day in February 1952, two victims, their hands tied behind their backs, were marched off to the execution grounds of Baoding, the provincial capital of Hebei, just south of Beijing. They were shot in the heart rather than in the head,”writes Frank Dikotter, the author of Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution:
Both victims were central actors in the local party hierarchy. It was the defining moment of a campaign against corruption Mao Zedong had unleashed against the party itself. There were mere “flies” who needed to be swatted, the chairman explained, and there were “tigers”. Everywhere tiger-hunting teams tried to outdo each other, encouraged from above by Mao. Read the rest of this entry »