Xi Jinping’s Black and White World
Is the Cultural Revolution making a comeback?
The Cultural Revolution ended in August 1977, or so the 11th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party officially declared. Almost four decades have since passed; yet some of the era’s ultra-leftist thinking and behavior remains. The ruling party knows how to use this to serve its purpose. “Politics in command” was one of the leading slogans of the Cultural Revolution, an idea that has controlled the daily life of the common people for many years. Even today, with materialism as the leading dogma in China’s society, the old ideology lingers in the minds of the high cadres. Politics takes priority. Let’s see how this ideology manifested in recent events at The Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, the premier academic institute in China.
- 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 til 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.
- 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.
On June 10, Zhang Yingwei, an officer from the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, gave a speech at the Academy’s Institute of Modern History Academy. He harshly criticized irregularities in the Academy, and listed four problems he saw occurring within the think-tank: 1.) He accused the Academy’s members of hiding under cloaks and creating smokescreens; 2.) He claimed that they use the Internet to promote “unorthodox viewpoints on sensitive topics”; 3.) He warned of “illegal collusion during sensitive times” between the Academy and “foreign forces” ; 4.) And he claimed that the Academy allows peer-to-peer infiltration from abroad.
Zhang’s language sounds very much like the rhetoric used by the Red Guards. A man with neither formal education nor practical knowledge, Zhang used to be a lecturer of Marxism at a college in Inner Mongolia. He slipped into the government through some nepotistic channel. Now, as a political cadre inside the Academy, Zhang represents the authority and demands that all teachers, students, researchers, and administrators stay alert and practice zero tolerance for dissident thinking. Zhang has stirred up lots of dust. People are angry about his arrogant and preposterous talk, but, in light of a similar warning another unofficial officer set out months before, they cannot ignore it.
In April, military “scholar” Colonel Dai Xu, published an article on his blog entitled “China’s Biggest Threat: American Cultural Strategy and the ‘Fifth Column.’” In the article he reminded readers that “not only the Academy of Social Sciences, but lots of research institutes and universities are infiltrated. Look at their savage anti-Maoism, anti-communism and anti-Chinese words and deeds, these people are strategic lackeys built up by hostile forces….” This frantic phrasing reminds one of the Cold War. Zhang Yingwei’s speech echoes the same sentiments, indicating that it is a part of a trend.
“Infiltration” apparently refers to “bad Western influences,” such as ideas about universal values, ethics, human rights, and freedom. In China, the paranoid relics of the Marxist movement have a persecution complex. They believe that anyone who does not share their opinion is a potential enemy.
There are clues that these messages come from higher levels in the government, those who want to clear the ideological field. The Central National Security Council has launched a comprehensive inventory of all foreign NGOs in China. It believes that NGOs are infiltrating Chinese institutions. The government started to investigate the nature of relationships between foreign and Chinese partners, especially those of a financial nature.
Today, in a time of globalization, many of the universities and research institutes in China cooperate and maintain academic exchanges with foreign countries. To treat this kind of relationship as hostile is ridiculous.
In fact, the Chinese government is the one practicing “infiltration.” More than four hundred Confucius Institutes exist worldwide, and all are affiliated with the Ministry of Education in China. With Beijing’s financial support, they operate within established local universities and colleges, hiring teachers and dictating the curriculum. Under the slogan of promoting Chinese language and culture, the institutes present an uncritical picture of China. Because of its own infiltration practices, Beijing does not trust the foreign NGOs in China.
Like his predecessor, President Xi Jinping believes in only one voice: his own. At the moment, as he struggles with the anti-corruption policy, he cannot endure any sound other than encouraging applause for his heroic deeds. Coming from the authoritarian system, Xi has a schizophrenic political character. On the one hand he tries to be a good statesman, fighting a bitter battle against corruption. On the other, he suppresses all oppositional voices and jails dissidents without mercy. In Xi’s black and white world, there is no margin where free thoughts can exist. His inherent colorblindness is destined to lead the country to an impasse.