The Chinese "Pope of Marxism"
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Sun Nov 28 20:05:09 MST 1999
Paving the road to communism with capitalist intentions
China's old-guard Marxists still cling to the idea
that the collective will win out over consumerism
Saturday, November 27, 1999
Beijing -- The elevator lady, sitting on a stool and clutching a hot-water
bottle to ward off the Beijing chill, takes out a long stick and hits the
button for a slow ride up to the 13th floor. Destination: The crucible of
Marxist thought in China.
With a tired wheeze, the doors slide open to reveal a long, shadow-filled
corridor. An escort takes you past dozens of tiny offices, occupied by
Marxist scholars lost in thought. The only sound is her stiletto heels
hitting the bare concrete floor. Tack. Tack. Tack.
Finally, she waves at a door. The man dubbed the Pope of Marxism waits
inside, ready to grant a rare audience.
"I'm not really like the Pope," insists Fu Qingyuan, emerging from an
antechamber to stand in the cold sunlight streaming in from a window
overlooking the Boulevard of Eternal Peace. "I have no such power as he."
Yet Mr. Fu, a 63-year-old, hard-core Communist who runs the Institute of
Marxism, has a similar responsibility: Supplying 1.25 billion Chinese with
spiritual guidance in confusing times.
Every day he reaches into Das Kapital,the Selected Works of Mao Tsetung and
the tomes of Deng Xiaoping Theory,the canon for the Chinese Communist Party.
He then explains to the masses what's going on today in money-crazy, yet
still, he insists, Communist China.
But Beijing bookstores sell out of different books: The Millionaire Next
Door and other translations of get-rich-quick manuals from the West. The
divide between rich and poor widens daily, with the nouveau riche in their
Mercedes pushing peasants and their mule carts off the streets.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government, constitutionally obliged to follow the
Communist road, is about to join the World Trade Organization, the
free-market trading bloc that will be China's entry ramp to the superhighway
of global capitalism.
"I'm not a party member and I don't want to be." said Xiao Xu, a 27-year-old
window salesman from an outlying city, confirming Mr. Fu's view. "I want to
be a member of [the World Trade Organization], so I can buy a Japanese car
for a good price."
A Beijing shopkeeper who sells Chinese silk dresses to Westerners says WTO
membership will help China, but not before a lot of ordinary people are laid
off. "My husband works at the steel factory," she said with a deep sigh.
"His job is in trouble, but the government will do nothing to help us, I
Despite this obvious drift toward capitalism, the sort that helped tear
apart the Communist regime in the Soviet Union, Mr. Fu radiates serenity as
he sits in a worn easy chair.
The chaos is expected and under control, he soothes, taking another sip of
tea. In building socialism "with Chinese characteristics," China's leaders
have made a simple calculation: economic development must come before the
people's paradise, even if it brings short-term pain and "contradictions."
Inside the Communist Party, old-guard conservatives, still a powerful force
who have struggled behind the scenes to quash the WTO deal, view such
heresies with alarm. The fabric of communism and of the Party itself, many
of them believe, is unraveling. They see China's imminent WTO entry as just
the latest evidence.
"Marxist thought is in chaos," explains Mr. Fu, calmly sipping jasmine tea
from cups emblazoned with the red China star. "The young people are
confused. They don't know what to believe. People are hungry for money.
There is money worship in the land."
Members of the younger generation, he says, are less likely to join the
Communist Party, or even believe in it. "Because of the contradictions in
life, Chinese people pay less attention to ideology. This is a problem."
It is for this reason, he adds, that millions of Chinese are looking to fill
a spiritual vacuum with egregious desires such as lust for money and the
idolatry of religious sects such as falun gong --which has taken root so
quickly it has frightened the Communist regime -- and the embrace of
individualism and nihilism over the collective.
China's strategy, he explains, is to go through the world's capitalist
economies like a cherry picker, picking out the best fruit and leaving
behind the pits. He calls it "researching capitalism to develop socialism."
"We tell the people socialism is better. But Chinese people say, 'Our life
is not as good as people in the West. Our science and technology is not as
advanced. We want these things,' " Mr. Fu said. "Without the development of
the economy, the advantages of socialism will always be a question mark in
people's minds. So in China we are developing the economy as quickly as
That's the theory, anyway. Implementing it, however, is not so easy. Even
some of the most devout Marxists admit to a void in their lives.
Sitting on a sofa, a young Marxist scholar and university lecturer will not
give her name for a good reason. After more than 15 years of studying
Marxism, she has become a practitioner of falun gong, the quasi-religious
group that has taken China like wildfire and recently been ruled a criminal
organization by the regime.
"I believe in Marx and much about communism," she said in an interview
before the sect was ruled illegal. "Communism is a good thing. But falun
gong offers me something for my heart."
Falun gong, she added, filled a hole in her life that China's shifting and
at times confusing political ideology never could. With other intellectuals,
some of them at China's most prestigious universities, she continues to
practise falun gong, which mixes a bit of New Age apocalyptic raving with
the ancient breathing exercises of qi gong.
So what will she do, now that her religion has been ruled illegal and its
leaders are in jail, charged with treason and making people so insane they
are driven to murdering their loved ones?
"I have two choices. I can either stop practising falun gong, as the party
tells me. Or I can practise falun gong quietly. I will do the last. In the
end, I believe good will prevail over evil."
There is another reaction to Marxist malaise. It is to turn the famous
atheist into an object of worship himself -- to cocoon oneself in Marxist
Fan Qiang Ming, a 42-year-old journalist who edits a magazine called Marxism
and Reality, has opened the Creative Echo Bookstore. He works in a Beijing
hutong, behind bright red walls pasted with hopeful slogans like "The
forefathers cannot be forgotten."
He sells just about every version of Marxist, Maoist and Deng Xiaoping
thought ever put between covers. At the moment, his store isn't doing a lot
of business, he admits. But he has booths in the Forbidden City and plans to
put one near the Mao Mausoleum on Tiananmen Square, so the people can take
comfort in the words of Marx.
A slight man with a ready smile, his eyes have the gleam of a missionary.
Each day, he pins a white, gold and red Marx badge on each layer of his
clothing, proudly explaining to guests what each colour symbolizes: "The
gold is for brightness, the white for purity and the red for victory.
"China's entry into the WTO will help bring that victory," he avers,
spouting the government line. It will develop the economy, and eventually
China will be rich enough for the party to dust off the Communist Manifesto
and implement it in full.
"Communism will come," he promised. "But it won't be in my or your
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