Xi Jinping Wants Journalists to Learn from Marx

by Tienchi Martin-Liao    /  September 11, 2013  / 1 Comment


China’s president calls for a return to “Marxism,” but what does that mean exactly?

Marx in Shanghai

Statue of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in Shanghai, China. Photo via wikimedia, Creative Commons.

Trier is a beautiful, mid-sized city in south-west Germany. Founded 2000 years ago, it was once under the governance of the Roman Empire. Even today one can see many traces of the ancient in the city: The castles, the churches, the marketplace, and other buildings from the middle ages still exist. A tributary of the Rhine and Mosel rivers curves around the city, and the valleys, with their sloping vineyards, enrich the beauty of this town with a touch of fairy-tale charm. Each year, thousands of Chinese tourists make a stop at Trier—not because of her ancient enchantment, but to search for their contemporary spiritual roots. If one were to ask the inhabitants of Trier if any famous historical figures came from there, they may name some bishops or Roman emperors. But ask a Chinese person, and he or she will show you the tomb of Karl Marx.

  1. Blind Chess, a column by Tienchi Martin-Liao
  2. During the Cultural Revolution, people were sentenced to death or outright murdered because of one wrong sentence. In China today writers do not lose their lives over their poems or articles; however, they are jailed for years. My friend Liu Xiaobo for example will stay in prison till 2020; even winning the Nobel Peace Prize could not help him. In prison those lucky enough not to be sentenced to hard labor play “blind chess” to kill time AND TO TRAIN THE BRAIN NOT TO RUST. Freedom of expression is still a luxury in China. The firewall is everywhere, yet words can fly above it and so can our thoughts. My column, like the blind chess played by prisoners, is an exercise to keep our brains from rusting and the situation in China from indifference.
  3. Tienchi Martin-Liao
  4. Tienchi Martin-Liao is the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. Previously she worked at the Institute for Asian Affairs in Hamburg, Germany, and lectured at the Ruhr-University Bochum from 1985 to 1991. She became head of the Richard-Wilhelm Research Center for Translation in 1991 until she took a job in 2001 as director of the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) to work on human rights issues. She was at LRF until 2009. Martin-Liao has served as deputy director of the affiliated China Information Center and was responsible for updating the Laogai Handbook and working on the Black Series, autobiographies of Chinese political prisoners and other human rights books. She was elected president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center in October 2009 and has daily contact with online journalists in China.

In fact, Marx’s ghost does not linger above his hometown of Trier, nestled on the bank of the Mosel. No, it hovers over the vast land of China and its 1.3 billion citizens. Even today, when China is abandoning socialism and embracing a predatory capitalism, the rulers in Beijing still want to bathe in the glowing sunset that is orthodox Marxism.

To this effect, the new emperor of China, president Xi Jinping, gave a speech at the national work conference for propaganda and ideology on August 19. He asked “Party schools, Cadre academies, academies for social sciences, universities and colleges, as well as Learning Centers for theories, to assign Marxism as an obligatory course, so that they could become the front for doing important Marxist research and propaganda.”

Did old Karl Marx ever dream that he would foster generations of slit-eyed Chinese with his revolutionary theories? Did the millions of Chinese ever imagine that after 60 years of socialist lies, they would still have to study the fluffy “long nose’s” (what the Chinese call all Europeans) theories out of fashion? It must be a joke. Yet Xi, the dough-faced boss, means it.

A week later, on Aug. 26, the news website Xinhua published a Q and A with the “office chief of the three learning programs of the news front.” The piece confirmed that the Central Propaganda Department, the Central Propaganda Department Abroad, the State Press and Publication Administration of Radio, as well as the Journalist Association have a joint announcement that from June this year to January 2014, all media must train journalists on Marxist news concepts. Now editors for Chinese press, radio, TV, and internet outlets have the responsibility of teaching 307,000 journalists-to-be how to be a media worker loyal to the party.

The Chinese government always has a strong sense of crisis. In the past there have been many disobedient reporters who have dared to march to the beat of a different drummer and didn’t care if they were put into jail or forced into exile. Journalists like Shi Tao (10 years in prison, just released), Jiang Weiping (now in Canada), Changping (now in Germany), or Du Bin recently (released). But maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves. What was Marx’s theory of media?

While he emphasized that mass media should reproduce the status quo, he never meant that the government should control mass media, as it works in China today. When Xi and his predecessors Mao, Deng, or whomever, talk about Marxism, it is definitely not the same philosophy that Marx laid out.

Chinese netizens know this well. After Xi’s announcement, the author Cao Junshu said cynically: “I wonder what the Marxist concept of news looks like. Should it play the trombone daily to say that our situation in China is excellent and that the situation abroad is disastrous, just as our news hour alleges? Shall it say that Mr. Xue Manzi owes many debts to prostitutes and enjoys a high visibility among hookers?” Xue is a famous Chinese American blogger. Two weeks ago, he was caught having sex with a prostitute in Beijing. People believe that the authority is attempting to ruin his reputation with this action.

A Shanghai media scientist who goes by the name “little prince of media” suggests: Marx’s theory of media is “1. Against censorship; encourage freedom of publication 2. Against a government monopoly of thoughts; multiple ideas should be promoted 3. All acts and rules trying to unify thought are reactionary.” Therefore, he concludes that the media should indeed propagate these Marxist ideas.

Many internet users have a stance similar to these writers; they understand the graft strategy of the government. However the majority of people are still unknowingly brainwashed. The phrase “Tell a lie a hundred times and it becomes the truth,” was supposedly said by Goebbels, though Mao Zedong also said it and successfully applied it to China.

These days the Xi-administration has great anxiety: If the economy deteriorates, the people’s dissatisfaction will increase. As the heir of totalitarian power, Xi knows only one method—suppression—and has only one wish—to uphold power. That’s why so many arrests have happened in the last few months. People who have attempted to expose the high cadres’ property and wealth have gone to prison instead of the corrupt officers they highlighted, even though Xi announced at the beginning of his term that he would lead a fight against corruption. Dissidents have also been warned or placed under house arrest in the same timeframe. Those who remain free are not allowed to leave the country or travel. The situation is almost like a period of martial law. Marx would not be happy about this. After all, there has been so much crime committed in his name. Poor Marx! The only consolation for you is that your Chinese name, Ma-ke-si, sounds rather philosophical. Phonetically, it means “Ma(rx) may die.” So, in your name, we sincerely wish you find your final peace.

About the Author

Tienchi Martin-Liao is the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. Previously she worked at the Institute for Asian Affairs in Hamburg, Germany, and lectured at the Ruhr-University Bochum from 1985 to 1991. She became head of the Richard-Wilhelm Research Center for Translation in 1991 until she took a job in 2001 as director of the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) to work on human rights issues. She was at LRF until 2009. Martin-Liao has served as deputy director of the affiliated China Information Center and was responsible for updating the Laogai Handbook and working on the Black Series, autobiographies of Chinese political prisoners and other human rights books. She was elected president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center in October 2009 and has daily contact with online journalists in China.

View all articles by Tienchi Martin-Liao

One Comment on "Xi Jinping Wants Journalists to Learn from Marx"

  1. Klaus Griesbach September 25, 2013 at 2:08 am ·

    No, the tomb of Marx isn’t in Trier, it is in London!

Leave a Comment

comm comm comm

Fearless, Ink.