Saturday, October 5, 2019

Xi Jinping Jonesin' for Maoism

This is interesting.

From Elizabeth Economy, at Foreign Affairs, "China’s Neo-Maoist Moment: How Xi Jinping Is Using China’s Past to Accomplish What His Predecessors Could Not":

Few countries commemorate historical milestones with the zeal of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and 2019 offers a bonanza of celebratory opportunities: 40 years since Deng Xiaoping launched the economic reforms that opened China to the rest of the world; 40 years since China and the United States established diplomatic relations; and, on October 1, 70 years since the founding of the PRC. These events provide the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) opportunities to laud past achievements, legitimize the course it has set for the country, and rally support for challenges yet to come. And as Chinese President Xi Jinping surveys the country’s progress, he can point to any number of extraordinary economic, social, and geopolitical achievements.

Outside observers tend to credit the Deng-era reforms for China’s meteoric rise. But Xi and the rest of the Chinese leadership are more focused on the earliest years of the PRC—when Mao Zedong sat at the helm of the Communist Party. Like Mao, Xi has prioritized strengthening the party, inculcating collective socialist values, and rooting out nonbelievers. Like Mao, who invoked “domestic and foreign reactionaries” to build nationalist sentiment and solidify the party’s legitimacy, Xi has adopted a consistent refrain of unspecified but “ubiquitous” internal and external threats. And like Mao, Xi has encouraged the creation of a cult of personality around himself.

Yet Xi has revived the methods and symbols of Maoism not in service of a return to the past but in order to advance his own transformative agenda, one that seeks to ensure that all political, social, and economic activity within, and increasingly outside of, China serves the interests of the CCP. He is creating a model that reasserts the power of the Communist Party; progressively erases the distinction between public and private in both the political and economic spheres; and seeks to integrate foreign actors, including private businesses, more deeply into a system of CCP values and institutions. Xi also aspires to accomplish what Mao and his successors could not: to render irrelevant the political and physical boundaries separating Taiwan and Hong Kong from the mainland, and to offer China as a legitimate model for other countries disinclined toward liberal democracy.


Party ideology increasingly pervades everyday life in China, narrowing the space for the expression of alternative views. The government heavily censors the Internet; limits foreign television content; and has called for schools to be “strongholds of Party leadership,” punishing professors for using unapproved texts or “defaming the rule of the Communist Party.” At the same time, Xi’s contribution to CCP theory, known as Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, is pumped relentlessly through the system: more than 100 institutes devoted to Xi Jinping Thought have sprung up over the past few years; a phone app, Study Strong Country, offers mandatory quizzes for party members on Xi’s thoughts and activities; and even college entrance exams now feature political questions tied to the leader’s campaigns and sayings—a practice, journalist Zheping Huang notes, that was popular during Mao’s tenure.

The CCP also seeks to shape the daily choices of its citizens, influencing their behavior to better reflect the interests of the party. One element of this enterprise is the social credit system, an ambitious experiment in social engineering designed to evaluate the trustworthiness of Chinese citizens and condition their behavior through punishments and rewards. Underway in more than 40 pilot programs throughout the country, the social credit system is slated to be rolled out nationally in 2020. As the China scholar Rogier Creemers has observed, this system is about “doing things that are right and incentivizing things that are right. But right is not something that people get to sort out for themselves. It doesn’t call upon individual moral autonomy, rather it calls upon obeisance to, and compliance with, a certain state-defined version of the good.”

In one pilot program in eastern China, for example, people receive points for donating bone marrow or performing other good deeds, but lose points for late payment of bills or traffic tickets. Other programs penalize citizens for participating in protests. While much of this tracking and accounting is done with technology, the CCP has also revived Mao-era tactics: paying elderly residents to report on the behavior of their neighbors, publicly celebrating model citizens while shaming those who fall short. As one government document noted, the objective of the social credit system is to “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.” It is a motto that can be taken literally: in 2017, more than six million Chinese were barred from air travel as a result of social credit misdeeds...
A nightmare, and this is the country with designs for regional, if not global, hegemony.

See previously, "China's Military Power."