A group of Maoists commemorating the 35th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s death in the northern Chinese city of Taiyuan was violently broken up by police. Chinese authorities have no patience for these Mao-lovers, who seem to have forgotten the former communist leader’s authoritarian streak and retained only the idyllic vision of a fairer society. One Chinese Maoist gives us his account.
The unrest occurred on September 9, when several dozen Maoists gathered in Taiyuan, chanted revolutionary slogans and delivered inflammatory speeches based on Mao’s Little Red Book. At the end of the demonstration, police tried to arrest the leader of the movement. Other protesters rallied to protect him, shouting “Long live Chairman Mao!” Nine people were arrested, but the organiser managed to escape. Most participants were active members of the website “Utopia”, the biggest leftist forum on the Chinese Web.
For this new generation of Maoists, the Chinese Communist Party has betrayed their leader’s roots by succumbing to capitalism and world trade. As a result foreign companies have been allowed to run amok in China, exploiting the country’s low-paid workers and wreaking havoc on the environment. In today's China, where disparities between groups are rapidly growing, Maoists are attracting an ever-growing following among the poor and working classes, which have been hard hit by unemployment and inflation. Their growing popularity, however, has also drawn the wrath of local authorities.
Though he has been gone for over 30 years, Mao’s legacy is still controversial. His supporters mainly remember the progress made under his rule, from 1949 to 1976 – rapid industrialisation, improved literacy, lower death rates… Yet they overlook the era’s darker chapters.
Mao imposed a Soviet-style rule on China, with a one-party system and economic collectivism. His vision of a ‘great leap forward’ is widely considered to have had catastrophic effects, leading to one of the biggest famines in the country’s history. In 1966, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution to ‘purge’ the party of its ‘political enemies’. Overall, Mao’s rule is believed to be one of the deadliest periods in Chinese history, with an estimated 50 to 70 million deaths.
“A small group of people controls the country and exploits the rest of the population”
Hua Quiao was born in 1972 and lives in Shanghai. He’s a Maoist photographer and activist, and blogs for the website Utopia. Although members of Utopia usually avoid speaking to the foreign press, he agreed to speak to us through an interpreter.
I’m a Maoist, and I feel both leftist and socially conservative. Utopia, the website I write for, owns a bookstore in Beijing. That’s sort of our headquarters. But our ideology is very controversial in modern-day China, and it’s often simpler and safer for us to communicate online.
Today, the structure of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) isn’t the same as what it was under Mao. Before, most members were peasants and workers, now they’re all bureaucrats. Just as Karl Marx had predicted, China’s society is breaking up into different classes. One small group of about 3,000 Chinese leaders and several dozen foreign entrepreneurs, controls the country and exploits the rest of the population. The Maoists want to return to a real Communist party, not one that exploits the working class.
"Some associate Maoism with a difficult period of our country's history"
Before his death, Mao predicted that capitalism would make a comeback in the country. That’s exactly what happened. Nevertheless, some members of the CCP [such as Bo Xilai, the leader of the communist party in the province of Chongqing] are once again leaning more toward the left. Of course, some still associate Maoism with a difficult period of our country’s history.
"Capitalism poses many problems, especially in terms of social equality"
Nevertheless, the results of 30 years of ‘reform’ and opening up the world markets [ a shift begun in the 1980s by one of Mao’s successors, Deng Xiaoping], are mixed at best. Yes, living standards have improved for some, and people have more freedom. But the gap between the rich and the poor widens every day. I experienced China coming onto the world market in the 1980s, and entering the World Trade Organisation in 2000. My conclusion is that capitalism poses many problems, especially in terms of social equaliy.
Today, people use Mao’s teachings and theories to express their discontent against the government. That’s what irritates authorities, and they remain very wary of our movement. [According to another of our Observers in China, the CCP uses Mao’s image to serve its own purposes, but when Maoists refer to him to express their discontent, they are immediately silenced]. Mao didn’t deliver the solutions to all of our socio-economic problems. These solutions must come from confrontation and debate different political forces. Only a multi-party system will allow our country to move forward.
There are many small informal political groups these days, but they’re not allowed to be parties so to speak of. They communicate and spread their ideas on the Web, sometimes on the field. Some even form alliances. I know that Shanghai police closely monitor members of these groups on a daily basis.
I personally created a virtual political group : ‘The party of the Chinese Revolution’. I’ve been contacted several times by police, but so far it hasn’t gone any further. I signed Liu Xiabao’s Charter 08 for democratic reform because I agree with most of his principles. Of course, some Maoists are opposed to a multi-party system. But I think the core principles of our ideology are based on human rights, freedom and expression and democracy. We will head in that direction".
"The Maoists are idealists"
Chan Wenting is a student in the Chinese city of Xian.
The maoists are very active on Chinese social networks. They prole social justice and equality, but to me they are idealists. I’m a little sick of websites like Utopia. It’s users attack or insult readers who don’t share their beliefs or seem too 'western' to them. They call them 'traitors'. But I think their arguments don’t stand, I don’t take them seriously.
However, even though I don’t agree with them,I think they should be free to express their opinion. In Mao’s day, politicians were less greedy and there was little or no corruption. But knowing and appreciating that does not mean going back to that system. Life was particularly hard at that time.”
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Ségolène Malterre.