Cultural Revolution - Again?

Recently, Xinhua News Agency ran pieces that promoted “the spirit of the Boxers” and “the Fengqiao social management model”; and official documents stipulating that “Political Screening” be included in the National Higher Education Entrance Examination (commonly known as Gaokao for short) in places like Chongqing, Fujian, and Zhejiang. Alongside these ominous signs of a repeat of the Cultural Revolution is a video, sent to Mingjing News, of Big Character Posters in favor of the Cultural Revolution and oppose private ownership purportedly seen on the streets of Beijing. By now, the Chinese people should indeed take heed of what is about to come: the openly expressed longings by top officials like Xi Jinping for the way Mao Zedong governed China coincides with the Mao-Leftists who are becoming increasingly active, and the people at the bottom of society, those who became part of the leadership class and the driving force of the revolution are reliving their power hallucination.

Bringing up the Boxers' solidarity against foreign humiliation for what?

Every Chinese person knows more or less about the Boxers, albeit with different levels of understanding. At a time when it remains uncertain how the trade war between the U.S. and China will evolve, and that the Chinese government deems itself humiliated by the U.S., the purpose of the state media outlet publishing an article on the Boxer Rebellion with emphasis on nationalism cannot be more obvious: it was to tell the Chinese people to be united against foreign humiliation in the event of a Chinese economic recession due to the trade war.

Judging from the anti-Japan demonstrations that took place across China in 2005 and 2012, there is no shortage of “Boxers” who would rebel against foreigners at the order of the Chinese government. Also, the so-called Guo Wengui Twitter Revolution indicated that there is plentiful of people who believe things like “democratic revolution occurs when people act in unity. In the process, it is acceptable to deceive, smear, inflict suffering and kill any or all of those in power. Whichever works, we will carry it out. It’s simple as that.” As scholar Zi Zhongyun observed, “No improvement made after a hundred years. It’s still Empress Dowager Cixi at the top, and those governed remain Boxers…It’s a usual tactic to redirect people’s anger to an enemy outside of the country when domestic tension emerges. The government will have to quell that anger when things go out of control and ultimately, it will have to make compromises to foreign countries.

When would these lurking “Boxers” become a political force? The answer lies in who would be the one wakes them up and gives them the opportunity to participate in politics.

What is the "Fengqiao social management model"?

Known in full as the “General meeting marking the 55th anniversary of the Instruction by Comrade Mao Zedong on the promotion of the Fengqiao social management model cum the 15th anniversary of the directives by General Secretary Xi Jinping on upholding the development of the Fengqiao social management model, the activity in which the Communist Party commemorates the Fengqiao social management model was one of a relatively high profile. By mentioning Mao and the current leader, the activity aims to emphasize the so-called Fengqiao social management model in the new era, which core ideas are to modernize governance of the grassroots and make China a country with peace and security. However, as in other instances when something that does not exist becomes the focus, from this very idea we can see that for the grassroots in China, the country is not one with peace and security.

Ever since the abolition of agricultural tax in 2005, rural cadres are no longer responsible for tax collection and they became absent-minded regarding local governance. In the sixth chapter of my book in Chinese, I examined the dilemma of local governance in China and pointed out that, based on analysis of a large number of facts, the politics of levels and units below the county-level division are basically controlled by gangsters and some areas have regress into the state of a jungle, where hooligans rule the roost. As governments of county and township levels solely rely on grass-root cadres to govern the villages, they do not question the integrity of those cadres. In order to tackle these issues, the “Fengqiao model” is revived to cover not only the villages and townships but also counties and cities. And, in addition to the service for and management of the migrant population and special communities, environment management, measures for the administration of the circulation of rural land contracted management right, corporate governance, internet governance are included. In a nutshell, it’s about comprehensive social surveillance.

In an instruction that was signed in November 1963, Mao Zedong specifically mentioned the Fengqiao model and ordered elsewhere across the country follow that model and implement it after trial. In January 1964, the CPCCC issued a directive on the strengthening of the people’s democratic dictatorship and the transformation of the vast majority of those of the Four Black Categories into new people with the power of the mass, and thereby facilitated the nation-wide implementation of the Fengqiao model. It is necessary to point out that, when the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976, the population of Fengqiao was 137,000 persons, throughout the 12 years, 3,279 individuals were categorized as members of the Four Black Categories, roughly one in every fifty. The four elements were the untouchables in Mao era: the landlords, rich farmers, counter-revolutionaries, and bad-influencers. Following Deng Xiaoping’s Reform and Opening Up policy, the Black Categories – deemed as a practice of the “Left Peril” – were cancelled and the untouchables became ordinary members in society.
Nowadays, with the escalation of various social conflicts, people whose land was seized, those who do not get their fair share in the low-income protection scheme, and those who stage a leapfrog petition after having experienced unfair treatment at the hand corrupt village cadres are labeled as the special communities. The authorities have never made clear the size of these communities and their percentage.

In short, the revival of the Fengqiao model (one that turned members of the public into informants, made them carry out surveillance against one another and report any wrongdoings or suspicious things to the government)  with the aid of technologies in the internet era, is to roll out comprehensive surveillance and eliminate all governance blind spots.

Why some in China miss the Cultural Revolution?

The Big Character Posters I mentioned in the beginning of this article didn’t show up in Beijing this year. Instead, they appeared two years ago in Zhengzhou. Nonetheless, they showed signs of reality in China: some individuals of the grass-root never relinquish their yearning for the Cultural Revolution. Zhengzhou, the base of labor movements back in the years of the Communist Revolution, deeply influenced by the revolutionary traditions, saw the emergence of a group of Mao-Leftists whose conviction was particularly unshakable. These Leftists held gatherings to commemorate Mao on a regular basis.
Since the turn of the century, higher education in China underwent industrialization and a large number unqualified institutions obtained the status of university. Youngsters from the villages depleted the savings of their families to study in these “universities” and remained unemployed after graduation. The feelings of disappointment, anxiety, and unfairness make these youngsters susceptible to yearning for the Mao era whitewashed by the Mao-Leftists. The time of planned economy when there was widespread poverty, food and clothes were scarce and purchase could only be made upon production of permits became what the Mao-Leftists described as “life’s needs guaranteed”, where jobless urban youngsters were sent to countryside for hard labor became what those people said as “no one without job”, and the shabby flats where core and extended families had to cramp in became what they called “free housing provided by the government”.

The real reasons these Mao-Leftists long for the Cultural Revolution are that, during those years, the movements of masses provided general workers of every organization the opportunity to topple those of higher social rankings and thus they got to taste the power hallucination of being on top. When they denounced the untouchables, that they could decide the fate of others were so wonderful an experience for them that those memories became unforgettable.

In today’s China, as the Guo Wengui Twitter Revolution showed, all the ingredients that gave rise to the Cultural Revolution are already in place: the worship of the leader, members of the public who follow their leader, and people who would vent their hatred in a crazed manner.

Guo, a tycoon who fled China because of the anti-corruption campaign of Xi Jinping, became a god-like figure in the eyes of his followers. Guo’s followers would go after people who question their leader and flood them with verbal abuse and threats like beheading and skinning.

I was young during the Cultural Revolution, and had first-hand experiences of the revolution of the masses, of which mass killings were a part. In a country where upward mobility channels do not exist, where Communist Revolution had taken place, and where there are hooligans who have power hallucination and are inclined for violence, that country would be completely consumed when someone in power lets the genie out.

As the world turns left, China turns to blood and violence

For now, the Communist Party has not yet released that genie. However, measures targeting the rich are viewed favorably by the Mao-Leftists. And on the Big Character Posters were words that read “the Cultural Revolution is the beacon of human civilization, accept it or suffer it.” Those Posters also denounced private ownership. Ironically, while the Communist Party is the sole landlord in China (all land nationalized) and the largest owner of capitals (state-ownership of banks and big corporations), the Mao-Leftists are going after the private capitals, which only account for a third of the country’s economy. These Leftists have deliberately misplaced their target.

Capitalism, in its early stage of development, already breeds the forces—the various Leftist theories—that would deconstruct and destroy it. Forces that deconstruct capitalism are chiefly represented by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who promoted mutualism and anarchism, and Eduard Bernstein, who promoted the idea that socialism could be achieved by peaceful means through incremental legislative reform in democratic societies. Forces that would undo capitalism are exemplified by Karl Marx’s communism. Marxist communism was implemented in the former Soviet Union, socialist countries in Eastern Europe and China, where it remains the official ideology today. Socialism is implemented in European countries where members of political parties promoting socialist democracy got elected to the legislative chamber. The socialist path in essence is that government creates a welfare system for all with high taxes. Such a system, forked out by the rich and the middle class, provide welfare to the grass-roots and keep them from staging a revolution. Compared with the violent communism in the former Soviet Union and communist China, where the rich and the bourgeoisie got eliminated, and all resources nationalized, the socialist path can be considered as a benign form of communism. Nevertheless, this benign form of communism gets stuck at a bottleneck and I would write another article on this topic later.

Looking at today’s China, the country’s social distribution inequality is among the worst in the world, and the upward mobility channels are badly stuck. It has become commonplace that young people cannot find a job after graduation from universities, and the “hate-the-rich” sentiment evolves into hatred against anyone who became successful. All the sentiments that Cultural Revolution needed are now there. When and if the authorities gave the green light, the grass-roots, sensing that they can rebel on government’s order, would turn their power hallucination into actions. If things come to this, the most vulnerable would the middle class. A few years ago, I asked an individual working in the media industry in China: which do you find more frightening, a tyrant or a mob? The answer: both are frightening. A tyrant may be a real and present threat, but in the long run, a mob is more dreadful that a tyrant.

And the Cultural Revolution was in fact a combination of tyrant (Mao Zedong) and mob (the various groups of rebels).

Translator note: The Fengqiao model, or literally the Fengqiao experience, refers to the experience of mobilizing the crowd to step-up dictatorship against class enemies at the Fengqiao district, Zhejiang, in the early 1960s. It evolved into a form of consolidated adminstration of social security between the 1980s and the 1990s, and from the 1990s onward, it became an experience of relying on the crowd to maintain social stability. --