China and the New Maoists

China and the New Maoists


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Forty years after his death, Mao remains a totemic, if divisive, figure in contemporary China. Though he retains an immense symbolic importance within China's national mythology, the rise of a capitalist economy has seen the ruling class become increasingly ambivalent towards him. And while he continues to be a highly visible and contentious presence in Chinese public life, Mao's enduring influence has been little understood in the West.

In China and the New Maoists, Kerry Brown and Simone van Nieuwenhuizen look at the increasingly vocal elements who claim to be the true ideological heirs to Mao, ranging from academics to cyberactivists, as well as at the state's efforts to draw on Mao's image as a source of legitimacy. This is a fascinating portrait of a country undergoing dramatic upheavals while still struggling to come to terms with its past.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781783607594
Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic
Publication date: 08/15/2016
Series: Asian Arguments
Pages: 200
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Kerry Brown is the professor of Chinese studies and the director of the Lau China Institute,at King's College, London. He is an associate at the Asia Programme at Chatham House, London, and the author of eleven books on modern China, the latest of which is CEO China: The Rise of Xi Jinping.

Simone van Nieuwenhuizen is based at the University of Sydney. This is her first book.
Kerry Brown is the professor of Chinese studies and the director of the Lau China Institute,at King's College, London. He is an associate at the Asia Programme at Chatham House, London, and the author of eleven books on modern China, the latest of which is CEO China: The Rise of Xi Jinping.

Simone van Nieuwenhuizen is based at the University of Sydney. This is her first book.

Read an Excerpt

China and the New Maoists

By Kerry Brown, Simone Van Nieuwenhuizen

Zed Books Ltd

Copyright © 2016 Kerry Brown and Simone van Nieuwenhuizen
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78360-762-4


The tale of the victim, Zhang Zhixin

Calculations of Mao's victims reach into the tens of millions. This lamentable figure is simultaneously powerful and meaningless. Understanding one death carries impact. Statements of 30 million or more deaths as a result of policies laid at his door, or through the acts of agents appealing to him, can be seen as sterilized through abstraction.

Understanding what it has meant to speak about Mao in the wrong way, at the wrong time, to the wrong people, means coming down to the specific – an individual case. While so many suffered their fate in silence in the years after the Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966, there were some who at least were able to leave some record of their suffering.

Some time in 1968, in the north-eastern city of Shenyang, a member of the local propaganda department – a faithful Communist Party member since 1955 following her graduation from Renmin University in Beijing – reportedly let slip comments in a neighbour's house that she believed the wife of the country's supreme leader, Jiang Qing (Madame Mao), was no good.

Jiang Qing, an actress from Shandong who had been active in the Shanghai film scene in the 1930s, had travelled to the revolutionary base of Yan'an during the Communist Party's most endangered years in the mid-1930s, and attracted the attention of its rising leader, Mao Zedong. Despite the initial opposition of his fellow leaders, Mao divorced his then (third) wife and married Jiang. But the agreement between Mao and his fellow leaders had been a simple one: the marriage was Mao and Jiang's personal business, and she was to play no public role.

She abided by this broad agreement for most of the next three decades. There was no formal role akin to that of a 'first lady' in China for her to slip into in any case. The high-profile role of the Nationalist Party (KMT) leader Chiang Kai-shek's glamorous wife Soong Mei-ling in Taiwan was the exception that proved the rule, offering added incentive for the Communist Party to differentiate itself from its enemy rather than copy it. There was also the matter of a presiding patriarchal political culture militating against the idea in the first place. Despite the Party's support for gender equality once it came to power in 1949 (one of the first laws it passed, the Marriage Law, mandated equality between men and women), its leadership was overwhelmingly male dominated. Jiang receded from public view. Over this period, she also seems to have somewhat slipped from Mao's affections; his own doctor recorded Mao's promiscuity after 1949 with many of his serving girls, nurses and assistants.

The Cultural Revolution, as its name implied, was during its initial stages a struggle engaged in the fields of art, music and, in particular, literature. The earliest salvoes were against writers accused of embedding secret, counterrevolutionary meaning in their works. It soon became quite clear that these arguments were merely a proxy for attacks that a frustrated Mao wanted to launch against harder political targets – most particularly his own second-in-command, Liu Shaoqi, and those around him who he thought were betraying the founding mission of the Party and forming a lazy, self-serving bureaucratic elite. In what quickly became a face-off between the Chairman and the very party he had been so instrumental in bringing to power, unconventional and unorthodox means needed to be deployed.

Jiang Qing had no power base besides Mao, and could therefore be automatically counted on to be his most loyal follower. From 1966, within an entity called the Cultural Revolution Leading Group, she joined a group of other radical appointees in unleashing a new kind of movement, which was set on digging out revisionists and class enemies, and enforcing a 'cleansing' of Chinese society. Across China, this movement displayed different forms depending on location; only the levels of chaos and disruption were constant. From 1966 to 1969, the revolution was at its most violent and intense, with former cadres removed and either verbally attacked or beaten – in some cases murdered – often in public.

The dark side of the Cultural Revolution was extensive enough. But this should not conceal the fact that it was also a movement that many embraced with almost mindless fervour, motivated as much by personal gain and pursuing vendettas against old foes as they were by Mao's politics. Their mindlessness was literal – they were invited to place faithfulness to Mao above all personal considerations. His image dominated the most private places, family life was broken apart with the creation of vast communes, and mass rallies often descended into acts of quasi-religious fervour. In such an environment, to express even the most lightly critical thoughts or ideas was truly courageous.

Zhang Zhixin was not naive. Born in 1930 to a good middle-class family in Tianjin (China's third-largest city, located near Beijing), she had sound revolutionary credentials. Married with two young children, she was a stakeholder in the post-1949 settlement, and seems to have avoided the campaigns that had been waged against counter-revolutionaries in the 1950s, which had swept up many people with similar intellectual backgrounds to her own. Even in the violent anti-rightist campaign of 1957, she had emerged without any problems. Her record, until that moment of indiscretion in 1968, was impeccable. She was even entrusted with the role of secretary of the Literature and Art Division of Liaoning province's Propaganda Department, and was involved with the all-important sector of 'thought work'.

As ever with China from 1949 to Mao's death, surfaces are treacherous. The account of Zhang simply sitting in a neighbour's house and letting slip an unfortunate remark turns out to be incomplete. Her neighbour, Yan Xiujun, reported in one account sarcastically as being a 'good friend', subsequently became one of the chief participants in Zhang's denunciations and struggle sessions. Yan reported Zhang's crimes to the head of the Shenyang cadre school, Zhong Weixiang. He too, in order to curry favour, reportedly embellished the accusations with added attacks on the army, and handed them farther up the line to a man called Deng Jiahu, the main military representative in the district of Shenyang city where Zhang lived. This exemplified a period when people simply competed against each other in denunciations, partly to protect themselves, and partly to show they were not straying from the poisoned mainstream.

What followed is easy enough to record. Zhang never deviated from her expressions of devotion to Mao. 'Chairman Mao's magnificent contributions to our Party's historical development are not to be denied,' she is quoted as stating in documents supportive of her after Mao's death in 1976, some of them produced during the short-lived 1979 Democracy Wall movement in Beijing. It was more a question of degrees. She was opposed to what she labelled 'leftism'. 'I believe', she stated, 'Vice Chairman Lin [Biao] is the chief figure enhancing the development of Chairman Mao's leftist and deviationist line.' These were incendiary ideas to state aloud in China in the late 1960s.

Her initial treatment was through internment in one of the newly established May Seventh cadre schools, set up as a result of a central announcement made on 7 May 1968. These figured essentially as concentration camps for cadres regarded as unreliable and impure. To this day, the most powerful account of life within one is A Cadre School Life: Six Chapters, by Yang Jiang, playwright, author and wife of the great novelist Qian Zhongshu. Yang's A Cadre School Life is a moving, concise account of their time in internment after being exiled from Beijing in the late 1960s. Qian's masterwork, a vast collection of essays finally produced in 1979 as Limited Views, is one of the most powerful testaments to the 'turbulent decade' of the Cultural Revolution and to the life of an intellectual who had returned from the graveyard of these camps.

Throughout 1969, Zhang Zhixin was struggled against in the fashion typical of the time. Such public denunciations where individuals were exposed to the indignant anger of the masses had been a mainstay of Communist Party inculcation of discipline since the 1920s. But by the Cultural Revolution they had been refined almost to an art, with an elaborate set of procedures supporting an adept deployment of psychological torture. Reports from these meetings showed Zhang's display of almost reckless courage. On 11 August 1969 she simply responded that 'I am not an active counter-revolutionary. What am I guilty of?! I suppose it is permissible for a communist to think about some questions? Doesn't the new party constitution stipulate that orders and rules must be obeyed but reservations in thinking allowed?' Six days later, she had not changed her stance: 'I am more and more convinced that I am not wrong.' The only concession Zhang made when further examined at the cadre school was that 'I can only compel myself not to think anymore. Trust the party and government completely, hand over everything to the party.' Touchingly, her final comment was an acceptance of self-annihilation: 'In reality, I have been stripped of citizenship of the human world, becoming a mere human form.'

Zhang's words exemplify the significance of Mao and his ideas to a great number of Chinese, and reflect Maoism's status as a kind of political religion, as she expressed complete and utter faith in the Party and its ideals.

An account of Zhang's case produced after Mao's death in the late 1970s, during the period of rectification and rehabilitation of victims of this era, showed that every step of the way her case was dealt with according to what stood for legal process at this time. Courts passed sentence, then higher entities rubber-stamped their decisions. However, as the author makes clear, these courts answered only to the political instructions of their overlords. They were, in essence, expressions of the power structures of the 'fascist leadership', as its opponents called it, dominating then. They were an ersatz legality, with no accountability or independent standards of justice. Zhang was doomed from the moment she entered the cadre school. She ended up being handed over to the criminal justice system in 1969. On 24 September that year, a meeting was called at which Chen Xilian and Mao Yuanxin, the leaders in charge of the Liaoning Revolutionary Committee, in effect the main repository of executive and judicial power, mandated a sentence: 'This kind of people must be dealt with,' they demanded. Zhang was formally labelled an 'active counterrevolutionary' and, on 24 August 1970, sentenced to life imprisonment. On 26 October she was transferred to Shenyang Women's Prison.

It is hard to imagine this experience. The most powerful aspect of it was the immediate isolation of the prisoner. Zhang had twenty-one close family members; once she was jailed as a counter-revolutionary, contact with her two young children, Lin Lin and Tong Tong, and her mother and father completely ceased.

It was the equivalent of a living death sentence, a removal from the world of the free and living. From 1969, her sole companions were fellow prisoners.

The generic nature of accounts of Zhang's experiences from this period make inquiry into them all the more fascinating. She was, according to some reports, raped regularly by fellow inmates and exposed to constant physical maltreatment. Her counter-revolutionary status meant that she was on the lowest rung of the prison hierarchy; counter-revolutionaries were the scum of the earth. Her refusal to retract meant she had the added stigma of being labelled mentally ill. Perhaps her harsh experiences since 1968 had indeed brought about a mental collapse.

The lack of humanity in Zhang's treatment after 1969 seems almost unbearable. According to one of the few candid accounts testifying to this period, she was placed in handcuffs too small for her hands, which caused her skin to inflame. She was then shut in a small cell for convicts awaiting execution, which restricted her movement so much that she was unable to stand or lie flat. She was, the account reports, confined like this for over eighteen months. Astonishingly, even this treatment seems to have had no impact on her political stance. In 1973, labelled a 'diehard active counter-revolutionary', she was, on 24 December, at a meeting of the Standing Committee of the prison's Party Committee (more shades of following due process and vestiges of legality), delivered to the court system in order to receive the death sentence. Ultimately, Zhang was prepared to die for her steadfast belief in the Party.

An account by Zhang Zhixin's sister, Zhang Zhiqin, written some years after her death, compounds this tragic tone. For her, Zhixin, whom she had so admired and looked up to, had simply vanished into thin air in 1968. Her one attempt to find out what had happened to her several years later was met with stonewalling; the official she managed to get through to on the phone simply told her the causes of her sister's case and her subsequent treatment were 'complex'. Over a decade, Zhixin occupied a sort of netherworld. She heard in 1971 that her husband had divorced her. Even contact with her nephew and niece was broken. Silence reigned. The same applied to her young children, one of whom, writing decades after her death, tells how her father, who took clothes and packages to the prison in which Zhixin was supposed to be incarcerated, never actually saw her there. To her closest family, she had simply become a ghost.

What do we populate this silence with? After all, it is difficult to conceive the movement of days and nights over six years, with a death sentence hanging over you, in a world in which you are subject to the vagaries of guards and other criminals around you. Was there no human response from those who actually knew Zhang? Did her words of dissent in 1968 really merit this sort of retribution in their minds? What were their real feelings? Did they not allow any sympathy to override the political orders which compelled them to treat her so brutally? Did none of them think of her husband, family or young children? How, through all these days and nights, did they speak to her, interact with her, treat her before and after the times when she had been raped, tortured or beaten? And how had these events happened? Who had enacted them, and are any of the perpetrators still alive? If they are, how do they deal now with their memories of Zhang?

We do have details of one of her persecutors in prison, Jia Yuming. Once more, however, this figure is presented with a justification in their background for launching attacks on Zhang. Jia had apparently been married to a secret agent for the ruling KMT before 1949, and therefore belonged to the least loyal, most likely to be persecuted, class after the communist victory. A 1979 biography of Jia reads like a counterattack in its own right: 'After the liberation [as the CPC refers to 1949] she [Jia] and her husband hid in Tangshan. During the time when we aided Korea and resisted US aggression, the couple attempted to blow up a railway bridge and the Tangshan cinema. They were arrested and sentenced to death together.' But the discovery that she was pregnant at the execution site, the account continues, meant her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, subsequently reduced to eighteen years, and, through her zealous attacks on Zhang, reduced even further. 'Whenever the denunciations of Zhang became violent, Jia Yuming would always take the lead and direct a crowd of prisoners to get at her, grabbing her hair and feeding rags for floor cleaning into her mouth.' The fact that this individual fits so neatly into the narrative of a clear, morally wholly reprehensible enemy, however, raises questions about just how credible this material is. Doesn't Jia's extraordinarily treacherous background sound remarkably like that of a pantomime villain? Was it too subject to manipulation and distortion? Unfortunately, we have no way of answering these questions.

One of the striking facts about Zhang's case, when reading either the few English- or the greater number of Chinese-language descriptions and analyses, is the context in which it is presented, which almost commits a second injustice. Those writing about Zhang after the partial rectification of her case in 1979 recognized her fidelity to Mao, and spoke of her like a martyr. An account in September 1979, soon after Zhang's posthumous rehabilitation, spoke of her as someone who 'played a great role in educating party members and masses to smash the spiritual shackles of the left wing political line'. But even after reading all this material, it is not clear to which cause she was martyred. She was a faithful servant of the Party to the end, but the Party in its courts and operatives was her persecutor and executor. In the trenchant words of one of the most acerbic accounts after her death, the writer simply states that she was 'a daughter of the party ... killed by the butcher's knife of the party'. This captures the problem very precisely. How can the party both claim her, and yet be the same institution that had her killed? This distils the problems of the disjuncture between the party of Mao and that post-Mao, and raises the question, which will again resurface throughout this book, of how these claims are possible.


Excerpted from China and the New Maoists by Kerry Brown, Simone Van Nieuwenhuizen. Copyright © 2016 Kerry Brown and Simone van Nieuwenhuizen. Excerpted by permission of Zed Books Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

1. Tale of the Victim, Zhang Zhixin
2. The Chairman’s Life After Death
3. Defender of the Faith: Deng Liqun and Leftism
4. Maoism in Motion: The Red Campaign of Bo Xilai in Chongqing
5. Blurred Lines: Map, the CPC and Chinese Society Today
6. Mad About Mao
Conclusions: Mao’s Second Coming
Selected Reading

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