Category Archives: Maoism

“Utopia website shutdown: interview with Fan Jinggang”

Alright, hard to beat the irony of the hard-left Maoist figures getting censored and shut down by the same heavy-handed authoritarian state they’ve always supported. A Danwei writer interviewed Fan Jinggang, the man behind one of the biggest sites in the neo-Maoist revival, and you have to enjoy the undercurrent of crow-eating throughout the piece:

In the days immediately following Bo’s removal from his post as Party Secretary and head of Chongqing on March 15, Utopia had experienced connectivity issues. Fan said that this could have been a server problem – “judging from our server’s data, it was mainly caused by the sharp rise of visits that went beyond the system capacity,” but he isn’t shy of offering some vague conspiracy theorizing, adding that “it’s also possible certain forces, domestic or overseas, maliciously attacked our website.”

He was being disingenuous: at the same time that Utopia was having problems, other Maoist websites such as Mao Flag and Red China went offline or displayed “under maintenance” messages which is what Chinese websites often show when ordered to be shut down. But Utopia continued publishing – until Friday April 6, when the authorities paid Fan Jinggang a visit, shortly before we spoke.

Fan seemed unfazed by the encounter; a few days later, though, Fan told me he could no longer answer follow-up questions: Bo Xilai, it had been officially announced, was now under central investigation and the clampdown was in full swing.

Despite Utopia’s pugnacious attitude towards liberals and the government’s current worries about the website, it’s worth mentioning how unthreatening Fan and his store appear. His small, sixth-storey bookshop — left out the lift, past the masseuse, hit the smell of mildew and you’re there — has nothing on its shelves to sound any alarms. The titles — The Secret of American Hegemony, The End of the American Century, China’s Prosperity About to Go Bust?, 25 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism! — have the tone of harmless public eccentrics, buttonholing readers with cranky political theories.

Fan sees Utopia as defending the “interests of the country and the people” against the self-interests of the reformers. Many are receptive to his ideas: Utopia claims 500 million total visits, and Fan says the site recently rose to being among the top 600 sites in the PRC. The 200,000 or so articles they have published were submitted by “big-city readers… mostly intellectuals who are concerned about China’s society and economy… 90 percent of them are supporters of our general idea.”

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Filed under censorship, Chongqing Model/Bo Xilai, Maoism

“Political rivalry reflects a split within China’s Communist Party”

A good piece from the Globe and Mail about the ongoing Chongqing/Guangzhou split:

“For a mature ruling political party, it’s more important to study and review its history and strengthen a sense of anxiety than just to sing the praises of its brilliance,” Guangdong’s Party chief, Wang Yang said in remarks that were published in the official People’s Daily newspaper.

By Western standards, that was a very subtle poke at Bo Xilai, the singing boss of Chongqing. But in the murky world of Chinese leadership politics, Mr. Wang’s jab was rare for its directness. Here was one top Party official taking public aim at another’s leadership style, on a day that was supposed to be set aside for celebrating the Party’s successes.

The remark drew back the curtain a hair’s breadth on a behind-the-scenes rivalry that could shape the direction the world’s rising superpower will take in the coming decade.

Mr. Bo and Mr. Wang are not only provincial Party bosses, but rivals for coveted spots on the nine-man Standing Committee of the Politburo – the top of China’s power pyramid – during the once-in-a-decade leadership shuffle set to take place over the next year.

Since Mr. Bo took over as Party Secretary in Chongqing four years ago, he has won wide praise for smashing the region’s crime syndicates. But he is even more notorious for his nostalgic embrace of “Red culture” – which includes not only revolutionary songs but bureaucrats being sent to the countryside to work alongside farmers, and Mao quotations being sent to millions of mobile phones by Mr. Bo himself.

Mr. Bo’s campaigns have made him a hero of the country’s “new left” but also unnerved some prominent intellectuals, who hear unsettling echoes of the Cultural Revolution, when tens of millions were violently purged in the name of ideological purity.

Meanwhile, Mr. Wang – who preceded Mr. Bo as Chongqing party boss before moving east to Guangdong – has recently emerged as the new hope of the country’s liberals.

Guangdong, particularly the cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou, famously gave birth to China’s economic reforms in the 1980s and 1990s. Now the region is home to the country’s freest media and has become an incubator for civil society.

“Bo’s approach is a populist approach based on appealing to the masses with historical nostalgia,” said Russell Leigh Moses, a Beijing-based analyst of Chinese politics. “Wang’s efforts are no less populist, but they rest upon the notion that the Party’s legitimacy will have to rest on more than simply economic growth.”

Some Chinese see the coming battle as critical to whether their country continues its lurching reform, or takes a dangerous step backward. “Chongqing is on the way to becoming North Korea. Guangdong is on the way to becoming Singapore,” said Yu Chen, an investigative journalist at the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily, widely considered one of the country’s most independent newspapers.

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Filed under 2012 power transfer, Guangzhou Model, Maoism

“The significance of singing Red Songs”

Jottings from the Granite Studio has a guest post by Zhang Yajun talking about the Red Songs campaign that has struck up so much controversy. An interesting read:

Many ordinary Chinese of my parents’ generation wouldn’t think singing about the Party is anything new. They learned those revolutionary songs as teenagers and young adults during the Cultural Revolution. They sang them every day during the most important, formative, and unforgettable decade of their life. These songs mean a lot to them. For many people, the songs are the only ones they know how to sing and for which can remember the lyrics.

Once my husband and I were watching the documentary Morning Sun, which is about the Cultural Revolution. As soon as a revolutionary song started, my mom, who was cooking in the kitchen, started singing along. I have never heard her sing a pop song or love song. (When I asked her why, she said it was because she can’t remember any of those lyrics.) However, four decades after her miserable experience of heavy manual labor in a remote village during the Cultural Revolution, she can still remember every single word of those revolutionary songs. She couldn’t understand the English-language documentary, but the songs instantly brought her back to those days and her youth.

My mom is not alone. Every summer night, a group of middle-age people spontaneously gather around in our local park to sing for entertainment. Of course, all the songs they pick are Red Songs. I don’t think they intentionally do so because of party spirit, it is just they know those songs really well.

My parents’ generation witnessed one of the greatest transformations in Chinese history, but the changes often came at a cost and many were left behind during the Reform and Opening era. They may have lost their jobs in early 90’s during a restructuring or privatization of the SOE where they worked. They may not be able to afford an apartment for a son who is already past the marriage sell-by date. They are the ones who feel left out by the rapid change of this society. However, when they sing those songs, they can take comfort in a nostalgia they can share with other “old comrades.”

Sometimes it can be hard for me to understand their love of those songs. After all, many people suffered terribly during the Cultural Revolution. Many young people, like my aunties and my mom, were sent to poor and remote villages to be re-educated with heavy labor work for many years. Others couldn’t go to college because their parents were labeled as “bad elements.” Many families were ruptured when one family member accused another of being a counter-revolutionary. Some of those ruptures have never healed.

However, many decades later, many people still love those songs that they sung during one of the most difficult period of their lives and even those songs that praise the Party who caused all their pain. When I asked my dad about the reason, he said “Yes, back then people’s lives were really hard and poor, but at least everyone was equally poor and miserable. Right now, officials are corrupt and people all look toward money (向钱看). The gaps between the rich and poor are huge. The whole society has gone bad.”

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Filed under China, Cultural Revolution, Maoism

“Chinese Tech CEOs Pledge to Walk ‘Red’ Road”

I’m not sure what to think about this one, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal:

A tide of “red” pride sweeping through China ahead of the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party may have reached a new strandline this week, swallowing up several of the country’s tech industry titans.

More than 60 of the biggest names from China’s high-flying Internet sector gathered recently at a museum marking the site of the CPC’s First National Congress on Xingye Road in Shanghai to sing revolutionary songs and attend a Party lecture, according to reports from the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Among those taking part in the tour were some of the country’s most successful private businessmen, including Baidu founder and CEO Robin Li, Sina CEO Charles Chao and Sohu CEO Charles Zhang.

“Walking the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics is the well-spring of strength that will allow the Chinese Internet to continue its healthy and rapid development,” Mr. Li was quoted as saying on Xinhua’s Sina Weibo microblog feed.

On the one hand, it could just be more silly posturing demanded by a government that absolutely loves silly posturing. On the other hand, there’s been an uncomfortably large number of stories about red pride and revolutionary this and cultural that lately. One isn’t left with much confidence that the new leaders in 2012 actually have many good ideas, if this is their trademark so far.

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Filed under China, Maoism, propaganda

“Li Zhuang Returns Home; Fang Hong’s Family Disappeared”

Xujun Eberlein from Inside-Out China writes more about Chongqing and Bo Xilai:

After serving one and a half years in a Chongqing prison, former lawyer Li Zhuang returned home to Beijing earlier today. His son, Li Yatong, posted on his micro-blog a photo of the family sitting in the airplane. I’m always happy to see a family reunion.

While Li Zhuang is finally home, a Chongqing citizen, Fang Hong, was sent to labor reform for mocking Bo Xilai’s handling of Li Zhuang. Fang also has a supportive and filial son, Fang Di, who hired a renowned lawyer, Yuan Yulai, for his father. Yuan Yulai is reputed to be most interested in cases of “citizens suing officials.” A couple of days ago Yuan wrote on his micro-blog that Fang Di and other family members have disappeared after being summoned by police to talk.

Fang Hong’s arrest shocked me more than Li Zhuang’s trial, for even the appearance of legal procedure is abandoned. It is a stark naked case of “speech crime.” If I had had any illusions about Bo Xilai before, like the first time when I saw his handling of Chongqing’s taxi strike in 2008, Fang Hong’s arrest was the last straw to convince me Bo is a ruthless politician believing in Mao style iron-handed rule, and a political gambler who stakes all on a single throw. I just don’t know, 35 years after the Cultural Revolution ended, how far Bo can go in today’s China.

Reminder: Bo Xilai is likely to be a big winner in the leadership transition next year. Is the Maoism shtick something he’ll leave in Chongqing, or is he going to try and implement it nation-wide?

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Filed under China, enforced disappearance, intimidation, Maoism

“Inside Chongqing’s red TV revolution”

Something weird is happening in Chongqing.  Bo Xilai, a man likely to become immensely powerful next year during the leadership transition, has made his trademark issue a revival of Maoism.  Chongqing is an enormous city and an economic powerhouse, and his campaign has gotten a lot of attention.  The most talked about might be the push to promote ‘red songs,’ highly patriotic Mao-era songs that long ago fell out of favor everywhere else here.

The Chinese Media Project has a translation of a report from Southern People Weekly,  which goes into the details of the campaign.  Bandurski also uses the article to make a point about the general state of journalism in China:

Earlier this week, Guangdong’s Southern People Weekly ran a report taking an inside look at how Chongqing Satellite TV has made a shift toward the “red” under top leader Bo Xilai’s (薄熙来) broad revival of classic Chinese Communist Party culture, with all of its political undertones.

The report is interesting for a number reasons. First of all, of course, it offers — or purports to offer — an inside perspective on changes in Chongqing, which have either joyed or disgusted Chinese in recent months, depending on who you’re listening to. It provides a picture of news journalists struggling with dwindling budgets as advertising revenues become a thing of the past (dropped by the station itself), and forced to work closely with Party and government authorities on all stories they take on.

Secondly, I think this story, which is from one of China’s most respected professional magazines, should turn attention to basic issues of professionalism. We often provide examples at this site of the courage and professionalism shown by Chinese journalists in a very difficult press climate. But it’s important to remember how far Chinese media still have to go in building up their own professional cultures, which does not necessarily have to be dictated by the political climate.

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Filed under China, journalism, Maoism

“Mao more than ever: On the legacy of Mao”

Jottings from the Granite Studio has a quick piece up about what Mao means to China today:

What do I think of Mao?

It’s the question I get asked most often after “How can a white dude from New Hampshire be teaching Chinese history in Beijing?” and “How’s the dissertation coming?”

My usual answer is that if Mao had exited the stage in the early 1950s, his historical legacy might have been relatively secure as a brilliant, if often ruthless, revolutionary general and master propagandist. But as is too often the case in history, great revolutionaries seldom make good leaders of the nations they found. The skill sets required are just too different.

Had Mao stepped aside/died early on, the grown-ups (Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping, Peng Dehuai, Zhou Enlai) might have managed to create a state which blended revolutionary gains with rational policies of economic and social development. Unfortunately, China and the world had to wait 29 years for Deng Xiaoping, the last surviving member of the “Coalition of Reason,” to see if such a blend was possible.

In the interim we had the Mao years, which, politically speaking, were kind of like being strapped in the passenger seat of a stolen Lexus at 3:00 a.m. with your good friend Gary Busey at the wheel huffing paint and sucking down his third bottle of Goldschläger. Under such conditions, your life will change, probably not for the better, and any memories you might have – should you survive at all – will be of the highly weird and ultra-violent variety. Not good times, very bad times.

This is a country that still has Mao posters hung on walls and Mao statues on the campuses and Mao pictures hanging in cars…  but is also on a profoundly un-Mao path.  Bo Xilai and his Red Songs campaign aside, it’s hard to see how the Cult of Mao is going to survive in the 21st century, once all the old hard-liners are gone and a new generation replaces them.

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Filed under China, history, Mao, Maoism