Wednesday, January 26

China: Don’t confuse Xi Jinping’s crackdown with a second Cultural Revolution


Mao Zedong, when he was near death in the mid-1970s, told those around him that he considered his two greatest achievements to be establishing a unified country in 1949 and launching the Cultural revolution in 1966. This huge movement continued until Mao’s death in 1976. His wish, he said, was for it to repeat itself every few years.

Others did not share their positive assessment of this event. For the past four decades, the Cultural Revolution has loomed like a nightmare phantom, lurking in China’s collective unconsciousness. In the Jiang Zemin era in the late 1990s, people in China were concerned about what they saw as a rise signs of selfishness and cult of personality and the instability this could lead to.

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And, when the 50th anniversary Following the formal launch of the Cultural Revolution in May 2016, the official newspaper, the People’s Daily, published short editorials condemning the period as one of chaos and extremism.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has rarely referred to the era publicly, and never in a positive light. This is no surprise. He was caught up in the political turmoil of the time, being classified as part of a “bad class”, one of the hated urban elite who needed to be sent to the countryside since 1969 to give him a real revolutionary experience.

This is reinforced by the very vague visions of the Cultural Revolution expressed in the most recent official articulation, the Brief history of the party, which came out with Xi’s approval in early 2021, just before the Chinese Communist Party celebrated its centennial. In it, the period in which the country experienced its worst challenges and the party entered a period of division and crisis was recognized.

This is not far from the first convictions issued in 1981 by authorities, who dryly dismissed the period as one in which big mistakes were made, but said little beyond that.

However, today, Xi’s increasingly expansive and ambitious governing style, as well as the progressive policies they insert “Thought of Xi Jinping“In education and protection against perceived corruption of”celebrity culture“- has led to further comparisons with the Cultural revolution. Is China now in the middle of a new iteration of the movement that Mao wanted to be perpetual?

‘Rectification and cleaning’

Before embracing this idea, it must be remembered that the Cultural Revolution was part of a series of “cleansing” and rectification campaigns, dating back to before the party was even in power. The late historian Gao Hua, in his book How the red sun came out, described in great detail the purges of the party and the ideological application of the agreed line in the early 1940s, long before the Communists even glimpsed power.

Campaigns to discipline party members and other social forces, and try to impose a standard vision in a society as complex as that of China. continued through the 1950ss. In that sense, the 1966 revolution was part of a continuum.

A black-and-white photograph of a Chinese man with a sign around his neck led to a mocking crowd that threw ink in his face.
Communist Party officials were publicly humiliated at a rally in 1966 during China’s Cultural Revolution. Image: Elekes Andor via flickr, CC BY-SA

It is important to recognize the things that could be considered unique about the Cultural Revolution. It happened in a China that, from 1966 to 1971, was internationally as isolated as it has ever been in its modern history. The communist government had only one ambassador in office in 1966 and was not represented at the United Nations at the time.

In terms of economy and trade, the country was an impoverished and largely rural nation. It also had nothing but the most basic communication technology. Militant Red Guard students and other players in the 1960s fought their wars with stamped pamphlets and information sheets. It is interesting to wonder what would have happened if social media and the Internet had been available.

China: other country

China is a different place today: more interconnected, richer, much more globalized, and overwhelmingly more urban. the Census 2021 showed that more than 60% of the population now lives in cities, compared to 15% at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. And the technology that Xi Jinping has access to as ruler is absolutely incomparable to that deployed by Mao’s propagandists.

This means that while Xi’s autocracy and authoritarianism are far more technologically capable, it also takes place in a more complex social and economic context. The “Brief History” published in 2021 mentioned above did argue that Mao’s intentions from 1966 on were predominantly cultural, to revolutionize and modernize what was overwhelmingly, to use the language of history, a “culturally backward” nation.

The problem today is not backwardness. It’s that China is now more socially and culturally diverse. Party messages have to compete with a myriad of distractions from business, artistic and lifestyle trends that would have been unimaginable in their material privileges in 1966.

Xi’s motivation and Mao’s are also different. Mao was imposing a specific vision of modernization, shocking a country that he considered dying, enslaved by tradition, poor and backward. For Xi, the party has to find ways like never before to speak out and be relevant to a society often distracted beyond imagination.

Specifically, at the same time that campaigns began in schools to teach partisan thinking and history, so did a crackdown on teenagers sitting for hours. playing online games. The Cultural Revolution was in part to create a new model of citizen activists who put politics above all else. Today, the wish is to have people who can contribute to the economic mission of the party state in its quest to be a great strong country.

They are very different goals. It is important to bear in mind the fact that if history repeated itself so clearly in China, we would all have been able to predict events there much better than we have. That alone should advise caution to those who readily assert that the country is entering a second Cultural Revolution, despite some superficial similarities.The conversation

Kerry Brown, Professor of Chinese politics; Director, Lau China Institute, King’s College London

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the Original article.


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