Is China taking a Maoist turn? An incendiary attempt triggers the discussion.

For years, Li Guangman, a retired Chinese newspaper editor, wrote in obscurity, launching attack after attack against posh celebrities a...


For years, Li Guangman, a retired Chinese newspaper editor, wrote in obscurity, launching attack after attack against posh celebrities and famous tycoons whom he accused of betraying Mao’s strong socialist values. Few people outside the staunch but narrow world of China’s Maoist left read them.

Until now.

Mr. Li rose to prominence recently after an essay he wrote slurs against celebrity culture and misbehaving companies have ricocheted across the internet in China, spreading far left sites then on at least five major news sites run by the Communist Party, including People’s Daily, suggesting the support of at least a few senior leaders.

The official surge in Mr. Li’s controversy surprised Chinese political and business circles as doubt had already risen over the Communist Party’s growing role in the economy. Among some, the essay left the impression that the party could step up its crackdown on private companies, tighten its grip on culture and hunt down the wealthy. Some criticisms worryingly pointed echoes of Mao’s Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, which had also emerged from attacks on the cultural elite by hitherto little-known polemicists.

Perhaps surprised by the response, party officials and media outlets attempted to calm people down without explicitly disowning Mr. Li or withdrawing his essay, and this left the confusion. People’s Daily, one of the party’s news sites that shared Mr. Li’s essay on Wednesday, published an editorial on the front page however, the government remained committed to market forces.

There is no evidence that China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, or other senior officials pushed Mr. Li’s trial, and China is unlikely to fall into the turmoil of the era. the Cultural Revolution. But the outcry has cast a bright light on ideological tensions and growing unease as Xi prepares his platform for a likely third term.

“Underlying this episode of Li Guangman is deep anxiety and uncertainty about Xi’s direction in matters of politics and politics,” he added. Jude Blanchette, author of a study on Chinese Maoist revivalists and Freeman Chair in Chinese Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said in an interview. “It is an anxiety based on uncertainty on this question: how far is all this going?

In the essay, Mr. Li celebrates reports that wealthy stars are being held on sexual assault charges Where fine for tax evasion. He applauds the investigations and fines from some of the largest Chinese private companies accused of abusing their market power, including Alibaba and Didi.

A “profound revolution” is at hand, Li said, as Xi cleanses the country of moral and political decay, paving the way for socialist revival under the regime slogan of “common prosperity. “

“This transformation will remove all the dust,” Mr. Li wrote in his essay, First published on August 27 on WeChat, a Chinese social media platform. “Capital markets will no longer be a haven where capitalists can make their fortunes overnight. The cultural market will no longer be a sissy-boy celebrity paradise.

Two days later, a succession of party news sites reposted a slightly toned-down version, suggesting they wanted to soften his views for a wider readership. Chinese liberals and pro-market economists denounced it, adding to the setback.

The Chinese government’s recent crackdown on error companies and celebrities bolstered Xi’s image as a staunch defender of socialist discipline. Its promises of a looming era of greater equality and “common prosperity” have amplified expectations for bolder changes to close the wealth gap.

“The neo-Maoists saw all of this as a green light to get back on their feet and be active,” Blanchette said. “Without further official clarity, they read in all of this a fundamental rectification of the private sector.”

Yet Xi and his advisers also tried to reassure entrepreneurs that China welcomes them and respects the role of market forces and the private sector, and said any efforts to reduce inequalities will be measured.

The oscillating messages have generated uncertainty about where Mr. Xi might lead China and emboldened radicals like Mr. Li. Officials who let leftists like him push the boundaries of the discussion are much less likely to be. punished than those who show sympathy for liberal dissidents.

Before he rose to fame, Mr. Li, who is in his early sixties, had published more than a thousand essays, many of which targeted those he saw as undermining China’s socialist heritage. While he was a newspaper editor, he immersed himself in the world of leftists devoted to the defense of Mao. ideas. Years before Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, received an official review, Mr. Li focused on him as a political enemy, embodying the trends which Mr. Li despised.

Ever since these far-left groups emerged during China’s market-driven growth spurt of the 1990s, they have had a difficult symbiosis with the Communist Party. Activists in these groups number in the hundreds or thousands, and they have often served as left-wing vigilantes for the party, attacking dissidents and liberal academics.

After Mr. Xi took power, many of them embraced him as their great hope, and his recent emphasis on “common prosperity” – a Mao-era phrase that suggests reducing inequality – increased their expectations.

“They believe they are upholding the high moral standards of socialist ideology,” said Deng Yuwen, former editor of a party newspaper, The Study Times, who now lives in the United States. “If they publish something with too much negative impact, it will be taken down, but the authorities will not ban them outright. “

Mr. Li’s overnight importance ignited theories that a party leader gave the green light to promote his lightning attack. But the idea contradicts how officials around Xi have recently gone out of their way to try and reassure private entrepreneurs that the government appreciates them.

It was much more likely that a relatively junior propaganda official presented the essay as a catchy attack on celebrities and censored companies without anticipating the dramatic backlash, said Mr. Deng, the former editor. He cited echoes of 2018, when a Chinese blogger argued that the private sector should be phased out, adding to nervousness over the government’s intentions. Chinese officials, including Mr. Xi, intervened to reassure entrepreneurs.

“Li Guangman is not very well known among us. I don’t think he has any special training, ”said Zhang Hongliang, who runs an ardently Maoist website in Beijing, over the phone. “He broached a hot topic at the right time. “

In response to the essay, Zhang Weiying, professor of economics at Peking University, published a passionate market advocacy and the private sector as the best guarantors of prosperity and social equity. Gu Wanming, a retired journalist who worked for Xinhua, China’s main news agency, warned that Mr. Li used the kind of assault rhetoric “that could only be heard 60 years ago during the Cultural Revolution.”

Even Hu Xijin, the editor of the Global Times, best known for his pugnacious attacks on party critics, suggested in an online comment that Mr. Li’s essay had gone too far. “It uses exaggerated language and deviates from major policy guidelines,” Hu wrote.

The turmoil can only subside when Xi clarifies how much he wants to change China’s economy and his stance on the private sector, Deng said.

“An essay in the People’s Daily will not be enough to make them back down,” he added of emboldened leftists in China. “Now everyone is trying to guess how far Xi Jinping wants to go.”

Liu Yi contributed research.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Is China taking a Maoist turn? An incendiary attempt triggers the discussion.
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