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Chi-Coms On The March?
June 28, 2011 11:37 AM   Subscribe

Chi-Com Comeback? July 1st is the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (Official English website). Since 1979, China has been on a course of economic reform, first initiated by Deng Xiaoping, who climbed from disgrace during the Cultural Revolution to lead China away from a communist economy. Now, however, with the anniversary of the Party coming up, at least in Chongqing, the fastest growing city on the planet which 32 million people call home, the East may once again be Red.

The local television station has stopped playing sitcoms and is now showing only "revolutionary" programs--including "Red Star Over China" which it is exclusively premiering. The local propaganda group has set up a "red" twitter feed.

Bo Xilai, the Party Secretary in Chongqing, and a Politburo member, has brought back the old slogans, and has used "Red SMS" to transmit the sayings of Chairman Mao to the people of Chongqing since 2009.

Xilai's drive mirrors the larger "Red Culture" initiative of the Chinese government. The movement includes a "Red Olympics" complete with "storming the blockhouse" and other military-style events.

Other changes reminiscent of the past are more ominous, however. Xilai also initiated a "Strike Hard" campaign aimed at ridding Chongqing of "gangsters." Bejing University Law Professor He Weifang condemned the "the furious unfolding of movement-style (运动式) law enforcement and administration of justice." in his "A Letter to the Legal Professionals in Chongqing." According to Weifang, local authorities resorted to collaboration between prosecutors and judges to decide the cases ahead of time and apply “Chongqing speed” (重庆速度) to the administration of justice.
posted by Ironmouth (27 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Don't call it a comeback
I been here for years
Rockin my peers and puttin suckas in fear...

posted by Thorzdad at 11:45 AM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh yeah, the Cultural Revolution was so much fun the last time, let's do it again!

Ugh.
posted by kmz at 11:50 AM on June 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


How do they reconcile this vision with the great, belching machine maw of Dickensian capitalist excess that their country actually is?

I mean I thought they'd pretty much admitted they had given up on communism in all but name. Doesn't this make that all that much harder?
posted by Naberius at 11:54 AM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I suspect this is going to be used to try to steer all the burgeoning labor organizing sentiments astray.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 12:06 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I suspect this is going to be used to try to steer all the burgeoning labor organizing sentiments astray.

In China?
posted by Ironmouth at 12:15 PM on June 28, 2011


How do they reconcile this vision with the great, belching machine maw of Dickensian capitalist excess that their country actually is?

I mean I thought they'd pretty much admitted they had given up on communism in all but name. Doesn't this make that all that much harder?


First, I think it isn't a real capitalist machine, as far as I've heard. Several friends have spent years there, one deeply involved in the US regulatory side of Chinese companies. It is who you know and bribes mean more than efficiency in many sectors. That isn't very capitalist.

Second, there are still state owned factories and the like out there. The first move they made was to get rid of the collective farms. De-nationalization of the factories has taken longer and is less uniform than one might think.

The Telegraph articles seem to indicate that they are trying to deal with the social strains from inequity via this campaign. We shall see if it works.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:30 PM on June 28, 2011


> In China?

Yes.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 1:00 PM on June 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


First of all "city" here is more like what we would call a state.
How do they reconcile this vision with the great, belching machine maw of Dickensian capitalist excess that their country actually is?
The same way the U.S. reconciles NYC with Alabama. City/state governments do have a reasonable amount of Autonomy in China (with Hong-Kong and Macao being extreme examples), it's not all controlled from Beijing. The lack of a formal democratic system makes it more difficult to figure out exactly who controls what.
posted by delmoi at 2:01 PM on June 28, 2011


It is who you know and bribes mean more than efficiency in many sectors. That isn't very capitalist.

Okay. Maybe my problem is that I just don't understand capitalism very well.
posted by Naberius at 2:01 PM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


> In China?

Yes.


Fascinating links. My fingers are crossed for those people.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:07 PM on June 28, 2011


It is who you know and bribes mean more than efficiency in many sectors. That isn't very capitalist.

Okay. Maybe my problem is that I just don't understand capitalism very well.


It is supposed to be predictable and for the most efficient use of capital to win the day. But you do not see that as often as you should and very rarely in China.

The problem for the full-throated supporters of capitalism is that without powerful regulation it does not do that.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:10 PM on June 28, 2011


The more I learned about Economics, the more I saw Communism as Fascism with a Socialist face (or facade). I'm still unconvinced that anyone has ever seriously tried to run a country with a true Communist system. (Marx's designs were fatally flawed, and the easiest way to get around the flaws was with totalitarianism.) I refered to the Soviets as "U.S.S.R. Inc., a multi-national corporation with nukes" (a model that today's corporations are trying to catch up with), and today, China Inc. is the world's largest holding company with part-ownership of every 'enterprise' in its purview. And nukes.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:33 PM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm still unconvinced that anyone has ever seriously tried to run a country with a true Communist system.

If Marx didn't didn't have the classic template for True Communist System, who does, did?

Not snarking, genuinely curious. Without something to go by, it is impossible to engage your unconvincedness.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:43 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Previously On MetaFilter
posted by jason's_planet at 5:07 PM on June 28, 2011


IndigoJones, classical Marxists often point to the Paris Commune as the first, and possibly only true communist governance undertaken. Of course, it last all of two months before the Prussians ground them into the ground, but there you go.
posted by smoke at 6:34 PM on June 28, 2011


Off track, but I'm pretty sure that 32 million people call the municipality home, not the city of Chongqing. The municipality is more than 31,000 square miles; the city itself is a fraction of that. Just look at the main peninsula.
posted by postcommunism at 6:38 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interesting.

China's ruling technocrats, all things considered, seem to be a very circumspect bunch. Sure, there's massive corruption, but on the whole, I'm impressed with how effective they've been at getting big things done, and sticking to claws-retracted economic development as the preferred mode of expansion.

I wouldn't be at all surprised to see China's relatively mellow posture shift, once this generation of leaders is replaced.
posted by darth_tedious at 8:30 PM on June 28, 2011


This is a revival of respect for and interest in Mao, not a revival of his political ideas.

In China it really is widely known that Mao had some horrible, horrible ideas. But he did kick out several hundred years worth of colonial powers and turn it into a modern country. If not for Mao, it's entirely possible that China would be six or seven dirt-poor countries, subjugated under colonial powers, with absolutely no opportunity for development.

It's not all that different from how we give tremendous respect to Jefferson even though he kept hundreds of human slaves in his home and raped them at will. If there were a group of people in the US interested in reading Jefferson's diaries and building in his architectural style, we wouldn't also assume they were enslaving and raping people.
posted by miyabo at 8:36 PM on June 28, 2011


If not for Mao, it's entirely possible that China would be six or seven dirt-poor countries, subjugated under colonial powers, with absolutely no opportunity for development.

Or six or seven wealthy, modern, independent nations on the model of Japan and (increasingly) Korea, rather than the terrifying, toxin-spewing Frankenstein behemoth it is. Or anything in between.

Might-have-beens can go both ways, after all.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:45 AM on June 29, 2011


Very poor, superficial article from the Washington Post, several years late to the phenomenon of 'red songs', no sign of understanding it began as a grassroots movement and was then co-opted, and mixing up various aspects of it and the unsurprising cranking up of propaganda in the run-up to the 90th anniversary of the Party's founding. Also, failing to interview any of the many thousands of people who lived through the Cultural Revolution and are now enthusiastically signing these songs - unpicking their motivations would give a great deal more insight into some of the social tensions at present, imo.
It does get nearer the mark (as I understand it, and that's not very far) in the final paragraphs linking Bo's (note to OP, that's his family name, not Xilai; same goes for He Weifang - perhaps change tags to get this right?) left posturing with careerist motivations, but again, that would require more research and insight than seems on the agenda. Bo showed no signs of left tendencies in his former post as Minister of Commerce (AFAIK), and famously has sent his son to an elite private school in the UK, so it does make his behaviour since taking up the Chongqing post look less than sincere, but conversely, their is something to be said about the way it remains possible or practical to adopt such a left pose, both in terms of internal party politics and in the broadly popular reception to such a stance in Chongqing.
Professor He raises a number of worthwhile points in his open letter, but bar the speed and scale of the crackdown (and even they aren't unique) it's mostly par for the course - and, again, by all accounts very popular with the people of Chongqing, unlike the usual Strike Hard-style campaigns on softer targets.
posted by Abiezer at 2:20 AM on June 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Mao was a malodorous murderer of millions.
posted by bwg at 5:45 AM on June 29, 2011


Hey, hey, hey, come on, man. He might have been directly responsible for deaths on a massive megadeath scale, sure, but denigrating his personal odor: that's just out of line!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:03 AM on June 29, 2011


stavrosthewonderchicken: "Hey, hey, hey, come on, man. He might have been directly responsible for deaths on a massive megadeath scale, sure, but denigrating his personal odor: that's just out of line!"

You're right, his green teeth actually smelled of roses.
posted by bwg at 6:20 AM on June 29, 2011


And next week they'll be celebrating the Great Leap Forward by starving fifty million people to death.
posted by joannemullen at 6:34 AM on June 29, 2011


Abiezer,

More please. Your insights from China are most excellent. I did see a lot of photos of Bo's kid in England getting drunk with young female students.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:27 AM on June 29, 2011


You're right, his green teeth actually smelled of roses.

Minty fresh!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:42 PM on June 29, 2011


The love for red songs isn't a new phenomenon. I grew up listening to 红太阳1992* in the tape deck of the second-hand VW Passant that was my dad's first major purchase after he got his ticket - a high-tech job - to North American upper middle class life. This would have been about six years after his departure from China that, while not entirely illegal, did involve a lot of stern visits from his work unit bosses (administrators of a technical college) to my mother and other family members who knew for a fact that he wasn't ever coming back from that visiting student gig but couldn't just outright confirm that he went overseas on the college's dime with the single-minded intention of escaping China for good. Who knew how far the reach of the officials went, not that they had very far to reach since my mom worked at the same college and they had full control over her wages, benefits, and pension. It was a pretty stressful situation, and my dad wouldn't have been brimming with love for the CCP at the best of times, but what had he chosen to listen to in his free time? Bootleg tape cassettes of songs extolling the heroic deeds of Mao and the party. This is the same man who, when asked if he wanted to watch Michael Moore's Capitalism, A Love Story, joked he wouldn't know what to do if it turned out the basis on which he'd built the last 30 years of his life was a lie. So yeah, people's motivations are multitudinous and contradictory.

Anyway, on the subject of the current Red Revival, I'm in China visiting family and got to attend a gala commemorating the founding of the Party on Tuesday night. Word had gotten around my family that I was interested in this sort of thing and one of my great aunts called my grandparents in the afternoon asking if I wanted to watch her perform with the Elderly Cadres Choir at the 90th Anniversary performance. Did I ever! It was held in a newishly constructed stadium in the suburbs, a mere 20 minute bike ride away from the city centre, but my grandparents were under the impression that it was too much of an inconvenience to interest me.

Grandpa: Where is it?
Grandma: The sports stadium.
Grandpa: Where?
Grandma: The new one. Why would she want to go there?
Grandpa: It's so far away.
Grandma: No reason she'd want to go to that damn place.
Me: No, no. I want to go. It seems really interesting. I want to see Third-Great-Aunt perform.
Grandpa: Has she been there yet?
Grandma: Why would she have gone before? It's so out of the way.
Grandpa: The stadium probably doesn't have electric fans.
Grandma: Of course it doesn't have fans. Think of how high the ceiling is.
Grandpa: But it has air-conditioning. Both heating and air-conditioning.**
Grandma: At the Eastern Long Distance Bus Station there are fans arranged all over the ceiling. When I was there, they only had to turn on half of them, and there was a breeze, nice as anything.
Grandpa: It costs 50 000 RMB every time to run the air conditioning in the stadium. Do you think they'll turn it on?
Grandma: For this bunch of petty officials? As if! Maybe if the premier shows up.

And lo, the premier did not come and there was no air conditioning. Every seat did come with a little plastic fan, a bottle of water, a flag (alternating Hammer and Sickle/Five Stars), and props that we were instructed to hold aloft and wave at various points during the performance as the numerous cameras panned over the audience members. There were maybe 1200, 1300 people in attendance, most of whom performers yet to go on stage or already returned from their acts. Which serves a kind of poetic justice of audience as spectacle. As one of my professors from last semester was fond of recalling, the cultural revolution signalled an event where subject and object collapsed into each other, everyone at once a revolutionary subject and object - and part of a mediated project of human beings as media installations.

For all of the bad old red days, there was nary a revolutionary song in sight. I mean, there was no end of songs praising the party, the glorious motherland, and the harmonious society. But nothing about workers of the world uniting, smashing imperialist capitalism, or even the more prosaic Socialism Is Great that I've seen in other televised performances. It's not too surprising since I've often encountered sanitized versions of other songs scrubbed of any rebellious notes. The most memorable example being a favourite lullaby of mine reduced only to its inoffensive chorus describing moonlit clouds, tall tall piles of grain, and singing voices wafting in the night, sung four times in succession to make up for the expunged verses** gone the way of many a lyric, too upsetting for polite company lest it remind everyone that the land still only belongs to the rich property developers and the masses still with little leverage other than their own labour to sell. Even the machinations of lunching with officials and calling upon guanxi to ensure my generation's continued precarious livelihood is not dissimilar from the calculus my parents' generation went through at the same age to try to avoid getting sent down to the countryside. What was it that Hegel said about repeated histories? Only this time, it's easier to bribe 'em right out of the gate because no one's about to be calling anyone else class enemies for not staying true to the ideals of revolution.

Tomorrow night, my great aunt will be performing at the entrance of a supermarket, downtown this time. The audience would no longer be under the event planners' immediate control, but I doubt they'll have much trouble. I was watching one of these shows in a restaurant with some anarchists when they asked the server if she preferred watching Korean dramas or Red Songs. She said Red Songs but couldn't explain why. "That's it," said one of them once she'd fled from our questions, "The country is undergoing collective psychosis. I'm going a bit nuts myself constantly hearing about revolution and yet unable to wage revolution myself."

1984 got a lot of Our Great Dystopian future wrong, but there are two parts that I've been constantly reminded of during this trip, and both have to do with acts of remembering. At one point Winston is trying desperately to contact a disappeared world that existed before IngSoc outside the grasp of the overwhelming IngSoc narrative. He finds a drunk old man of sufficient age who might, who must remember something of that time. And it turned out to be top hats. And being shouted at as a child by a coachmaster. I feel like I'm at the head-end of the un-remembering, in that it was barely a generation ago, and I get to choose between the CCP narrative and that of their Cold War opponents. But probe any of the common folk who lived through it, and it's all irreverent gossip about air conditioning, or how much less tofu used to cost, and all the little other bits of daily trivia that make life livable. As such, individual recollections of the grand schemes of history are so porous and unwelcome that it is easy for the Party in the book to be at constant war - it doesn't matter with who or against who - once it is, it would have always been that way. Because what is history if not the telling of past events rather than the past events themselves. It is easy to be in constant celebration and commemoration of a past victory that has long since lost any meaning or content beyond the very act of winning. Cultural production of this sort is thus never ending. There are always new momentous anniversaries to be had. The grannies of the Elderly Cadres Choir were abuzz about whether this most recent performance was better than the one in Changzhou last year, and how good their new outfits looked now that they'd finally decided it was too expensive to be repeatedly renting and finally made some replica 8th Route Army uniforms that they can use over and over again. The eagerness of the Party to make this most recent Red Revival a permanent hegemonic fixture depletes whatever symbolic continuity there is between current struggles and their historical precedences through the co-option that Abiezer mentions. All of this is then reinterpreted by the youth culture through a thick layer of irony and sarcasm. That's right: hipster Maoism, not just for clueless white kids. It's the ultimate kitsch-i-fication of history to make sure what is old and dusty and forgotten stays that way.

*Red Sun 1992, a compilation of songs praising the Red Army and Chairman Mao, the titular Red Sun of the Chinese people.
**In the coastal areas, buildings constructed north of the Yangtze get heating. We live south of the Yangtze.
*** The first of which begins with "in those days, mother didn't have any land/her whole life rested on her two hands/sweat watering the landlord's fields in the heat/but she, with only weeds and chaff to eat"

Postscript: And yeah, the WaPo is predictably late. Earlier this month I came across this pretty interesting article about Chongqing's satellite channel.
posted by dustyasymptotes at 12:49 AM on June 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


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