An ideological split between Chinese President Xi Jinping and the country’s business and cultural elite has come to the fore after a hardline commentary by a known Maoist supporter received official blessing in state media.
The widely distributed commentary, laden with Cold War jargon, calls for a “profound transformation” to make China strong enough to fight against the United States, a process some have dubbed Cultural Revolution 2.0.
Political commentators said the article resembled the way revolutionary leader Mao Zedong initiated the Cultural Revolution with his “big-character posters” in 1966.
They also said President and Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping would gain more political and economic power with this transformation while businessmen and officials who had benefited from China’s opening-up in recent decades would lose out.
The commentary follows Beijing’s recent tough action against business giants, along with new priorities in social, educational and cultural fields.
Since Alibaba’s Ant Group was banned from listing in the United States last November, Beijing has launched measures to curb technology giants including Tencent and Didi Global. New rules have also been imposed to restrict the education, property and entertainment sectors.
After top party leaders gathered in the informal policy-discussing Beidaihe Conference in early August, Xi told the party’s Financial and Economic Affairs Committee on August 17 that China should aim to promote “common prosperity.”
A dozen pop stars, including actresses Vicky Zhao and Zheng Shuang, were banned or fined while some male singers were accused of involvement in sexual crimes.
China also banned feminine-looking male celebrities and ordered that people under 18 were only allowed to play video games for three hours a week.
The possibly historic article, entitled “Everyone can feel that a profound transformation is happening”, explained in detail Beijing’s motives for the moves.
Written by Li Guangman, a former editor-in-chief of the Central China Electric Power News, which was closed in 2013, the article was posted on his personal social media accounts on August 28.
The following morning, it was published on the websites of the Guang Ming Daily, a unit of the Communist Party’s propaganda department, and the Global Times, a state-run publication known for its provocative views. In the evening, it was reprinted by more state media websites including the People’s Daily, Xinhua, CCTV and www.81.cn.
“China is currently facing an increasingly severe and complex international environment. The US has implemented military threats, economic and technological blockades, financial strikes and political and diplomatic siege against China,” Li wrote.
“The US has also launched biological warfare, cyber warfare and public opinion against China.”
“If we still have to rely on big capitalists as the main force of anti-imperialist and anti-hegemonism, or still cooperate to the US’ ‘tittytainment’ strategy, our young people will lose their strong and masculine vibes and we will collapse like the Soviet Union before we are attacked,” he said, claiming that the US had launched a color revolution against China through different channels.
The “profound transformation” underway in China aimed to respond to the US’ brutal and ferocious attacks as well as the current complicated international situation, he said.
The curbs on the entertainment sector were far from adequate as ordinary workers and people should become the main characters on screens. People would benefit from the “common prosperity” goal after the education, medical and property sectors were reformed, he wrote.
Wang Dan, a US-based Chinese activist and a former student leader during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, said the party’s latest moves to reform the cultural sector aimed to push forward a social movement similar to the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976.
Wang said Li’s article used Maoist language, showing that the party planned to reform the country’s culture and people’s minds and then all of society.
“If this is not Cultural Revolution, what is it? We have cried wolf about the re-emergence of the Cultural Revolution for many years. Now the wolf has come,” Wang said.
Shi Shan, a political commentator, said Li’s article could be the curtain-raiser of a “Cultural Revolution 2.0,” which would promote statism and suppress individualism.
Shi said over the past few years Xi had promoted many officials who had supported Mao. He said these leftists were trying to increase their influence in the economy but might end up creating a new disaster like the 1959-61 Great Chinese Famine and the Cultural Revolution.
Studies suggest the number of non-natural deaths ranged from 20 million to 45 million during the famine. About 20 million people died due to the Cultural Revolution.
Political commentator Johnny Lau said a “second-generation” of the party’s senior members and retired officials who had contributed to and benefited from China’s economic liberalization in recent decades could be suppressed under Xi’s “common prosperity” drive.
Lau said Xi had prevented various second-generation senior party members from taking key positions in the party and government because they might dilute his power.
He said it was worth noting that former vice-minister of commerce Long Yongtu had recently expressed different views about China’s foreign and economic policies. He said Long’s view showed that there is a big debate within the party on how Beijing should deal with the US.
On August 20, Long said in an article published by Cain magazine that China should improve its relations with the US, which he predicted will remain the world’s strongest country for a long time.
Long wrote as the world’s economic focus had shifted from Europe to Asia, the US only wanted to benefit from the trend and did not come to Asia to suppress China.
He said China should not misjudge US strategic intentions because this would worsen relations between the powers.
“Some of the Cold War mentality may still affect many of us, especially the older generations among us. It’s important for us to avoid old thoughts and nicely handle international problems,” Long said.
“Some troubles are created by ourselves while some others are caused by the wrong way of thinking.”