As CCP Turns 90, Time For 'Backward Glances' and 'Symbolic Gestures'

A Chinese military band practices inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing before celebrations start for the Chinese Communist Party's 90th anniversary on July 1, 2011. (Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)

Asia Society Associate Fellow Jeffrey Wasserstrom has a piece in Miller-McCune magazine set to coincide with today's 90th anniversary of the Chineses Anniversary. In "Whose Road Led to Hu’s China?" Wasserstrom — author of China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know — asks, "What kinds of historical echoes sound loudest in today’s China? And which past leaders deserve the most credit — and blame — for setting the country on its current trajectory?"

Here's how he closes:

Now, as Hu prepares to hand over the reins to Xi Jinping next year, the symbolic ground has shifted yet again. Headlines tell of a large statue of Confucius being removed from Tiananmen Square and “red song” waves (group singing of patriotic and political works from the Mao years) sweeping the country. And in Chongqing, where the “red song” fad began, a theme-parked version of the caves where Mao and other Long March veterans prepared for their epochal final battles with Chiang’s Nationalists is being incorporated into a local tourist area.

Is this a course reversal, a turn away from Deng’s reforms and Hu’s emphasis on Confucian “harmony” and back toward a more fundamentalist version of Chinese Communism? Or is it maneuvering for power by a particular faction whose members — including the popular Chongqing politician Bo Xilai — had parents with close ties to Mao?

Perhaps. But there’s also a third way to make sense of the recent ideologically promiscuous lurches back and forth. Hu’s resurrection of Confucius and Bo’s efforts to rework memories of Mao can be seen as variations on a theme.

The party is widely viewed as an organization run largely by corrupt figures with little understanding of the needs of ordinary people. This is same reputation that the Nationalist Party had in the 1940s, right before Chiang was driven into exile on Taiwan. Knowing this history well, current leaders seek to strike a populist chord by making use of nostalgic notions of purer times in the past, just as Chiang did with his Confucian-inflected New Life Movement of the 1930s.

There is nothing new about China being led by authoritarian modernizers who think that invoking “traditional values” can help them convince the masses that they believe in something greater than simply maintaining their positions in power. What is novel is that, at present, it seems to make little difference whether the “tradition” invoked is Confucian yellow, Maoist red, or a curious mashup of the two.

Read the whole story here.

About the Author

Profile picture for user Dan Washburn

Dan Washburn is Asia Society's Chief Content Officer. The Financial Times named his book, The Forbidden Game: Golf and the Chinese Dream, one of the best of 2014.