“Beijing’s ‘Culture War’ Isn’t About the U.S.—It’s About China’s Future”

Another reaction to Hu’s culture war, this time from Damien Ma at The Atlantic:

I have a bit of a different take on Hu’s politically charged essay. I am of the view that the “politics” of it are predominantly aimed at the Communist Party itself rather than an abstract “external enemy,” in this case the West or specifically the United States. It serves as a warning to both current party members and incoming leaders to remain vigilant, not simply because it is a political transition year but because of the existential fear that peaceful evolution (和平演变) may just be around the corner. Indeed, one of the longstanding fears for the party-state is not that it will go out with a bang but that it will fold quietly in a whimper of irrelevance.

First propounded by then-Secretary of State John Foster Dulles during the Cold War, the concept of “peaceful evolution”, which essentially meant promoting policies that would induce a peaceful transition to liberal democracies within the Communist bloc, preoccupied Mao Zedong dearly. The chairman became suspicious of the Soviet Union falling prey to Dulles’ cunning ploy and eventually grew so concerned that one of the justifications for launching the decade-long Cultural Revolution in 1966 was to counter the threat of peaceful evolution.

Among these passages, this remark stood out for me the most: “He [Dulles]…placed his hope on the third and fourth generations within socialist countries…” (for those interested in the Chinese, Mao supposedly said “帝国主义的预言家门把和平演变的希望寄托在中国党的第三代或第四代身上”, which roughly translates into “imperialism’s prophesiers have pinned their hopes for ‘peaceful evolution’ on the shoulders of the party’s third or fourth generations.”) Well, depending on how leadership generations are counted, China is in that third or fourth generation, preoccupied by a leadership change that is breeding considerable caution regarding any potential destabilizing factors. Mao’s warning (or prescience?) may have added resonance, given the year that China just had, which began with the Arab Spring and ended with Wukan. In some quarters in China, these developments are likely viewed as manifestations of western-inspired peaceful evolution.

Indeed, the Hu administration has seen a personal communication technology boom like none any previous Chinese leadership has dealt with, unintentionally creating a public that is exerting vigorous bottom-up pressure. Perhaps in an indirect admission of the challenges of a new era of information pluralism, the propaganda chief recently bemoaned the immense challenge in propaganda work and “maintaining reform stability.”

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