[Marxism] Maoists for Trump? In China, Fans Admire His Nationalist Views
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Apr 4 08:36:38 MDT 2017
NY Times, Apr. 4 2017
Maoists for Trump? In China, Fans Admire His Nationalist Views
By CHRIS BUCKLEY
BEIJING — They protest, picket and sing to defend Mao’s memory, yearning
for the East to be red again. But lately some of China’s Maoists are
finding inspiration in an unlikely insurgent in the West: Donald J. Trump.
Mr. Trump “has torn up the old rules of the ruling elites, not just of
the capitalist West,” said Zhang Hongliang, a polemicist who is the
loudest proponent of what could be loosely called “Maoists for Trump.”
In a recent essay, Mr. Zhang lauded the American president as being
alone among national leaders daring “to openly promote the political
ideas of Chairman Mao.”
President Xi Jinping of China will be sizing up Mr. Trump during a visit
to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida this week, in the leaders’ first
summit meeting. Meanwhile, many ordinary Chinese people have also been
taking the measure of the new American president and have been
bewildered, incensed and yet, sometimes, inspired.
The global wave of nationalist, anti-establishment sentiment that Mr.
Trump rode to power has washed ashore in China, encouraging a hard-left
fringe that is hostile to capitalism and Western influence, and that the
Communist Party has long sought to cultivate — and contain.
China’s Maoists are a small minority; most Chinese have no desire to
revive the ruthless, convulsive politics of the Mao era. But the
Maoists’ growing assertiveness, echoed in their embrace of aspects of
Mr. Trump’s agenda, could help push the country in a more authoritarian
They also complicate the efforts of Mr. Xi to play both sides of an
ideological divide: as a robust defender of Mao’s legacy, but also a
proponent of market liberalization and even a champion of globalization
in the Trump age.
It is a paradox that these admirers of Mao Zedong, a Marxist
revolutionary who railed against Western imperialism, have found things
to like about this American president, a property tycoon with a cabinet
crowded with millionaires. But they want Mr. Xi to take a page from Mr.
Trump’s “America First” script and protect Chinese workers from layoffs,
privatization and foreign competition.
“Trump opposes globalization, and so should China,” said one article on
Utopia, a popular Maoist website. “Trump’s ideology has oriented toward
China, and he is learning from China,” said another hard-left Chinese site.
China’s neo-Maoists, as they are sometimes called, are loosely united by
demands for stringent economic equality, zealous nationalism and a
loathing of the capitalist West and liberal democracy.
“Many of the same ideas now animating the global populist movement have
been the hallmarks of the neo-Maoist movement for over a decade,” said
Jude Blanchette, a researcher in Beijing who is writing a book about the
“The neo-Maoists have also clearly benefited from the rise of Xi
Jinping, as he has blasted a pretty large dog whistle in their
direction,” Mr. Blanchette added.
Many on China’s far left see Mr. Trump as a dangerous foe who has
questioned established American policy on Taiwan, vowed to confront
China’s hold on the disputed South China Sea and threatened to cut
Chinese exports to America.
But some Maoists say Mr. Trump also offers a model. They think he led a
populist revolt that humbled a corrupt political establishment not
unlike what they see in China. They cheer his incendiary tactics,
sometimes likening them to Mao’s methods. And they hear in his remarks
an echo of their own disgust with Western democracy, American
interventionism and liberal political values.
Maoist meetings and websites dwell on a clutch of enemies, including the
C.I.A. and America in general, genetically modified crops and advocates
of privatizing state companies. But they reserve a particular venom for
liberal Chinese intellectuals and celebrities who have condemned Mao.
In the West, Mr. Zhang argued, the nationalists are on the right while
the left generally supports internationalism. “But China is the
opposite,” he said. “Chinese rightists are the traitors, while Chinese
leftists are the patriots.”
The Communist Party never repudiated Mao’s legacy after his death in
1976, but it condemned his excesses, including the violent Cultural
Revolution, and for years he was ignored or discredited while Deng
Xiaoping pursued economic liberalization.
In the 1990s, though, the party refurbished Mao’s image and fostered a
popular revival to bolster its authority and blunt calls for political
liberalization. Officials started using Maoists to intimidate liberal
academics, dissidents and other critics. Before Mr. Xi came to power in
2012, a political rival, Bo Xilai, openly encouraged “red” nostalgia for
the Mao era as part of an effort to build a populist power base.
Mr. Bo was purged in a scandal, but the Maoists regrouped as Mr. Xi
associated himself more closely with Mao’s legacy than his predecessors
and called for a return to Marxist purity.
Under Mr. Xi, Maoists have become bolder in taking to the streets and
organizing online campaigns. A court ruling last year and legislation
adopted last month protecting Communist heroes buoyed them further.
Nobody expects Maoists to seize power in Beijing. They are disdained by
the middle class and kept on a tether by the party authorities. Across
China, there are maybe a few thousand active supporters of Maoist groups
and causes, and their petitions against liberal intellectuals have
gathered tens of thousands of signatures online, according to Mr.
Blanchette, the researcher.
But the Chinese left’s broader message of muscular nationalism and its
criticism of widening inequality have reverberated, especially among
retirees, hard-up workers and former party officials dismayed by
extravagant wealth and corruption. Mr. Trump and the global surge of
nationalism and populism have added to the political tinder.
Dai Jianzhong, a sociologist in Beijing, said Maoists could gain a
bigger following if an economic slowdown caused mass layoffs, or if
tensions with the United States escalated into confrontation.
“It was a big shock for China to see American middle-class society
overwhelmed by this tide of populism,” Mr. Dai said. “China is a
different society, but if the economy stagnates and workers feel badly
let down, populism will gain influence. The influence of Maoists and
ultraleftists would spread.”
In January, about a hundred protesters gathered in Jinan, a provincial
capital in eastern China, to condemn a professor of communications and
advertising, Deng Xiangchao, who had dared criticize Mao online. They
chanted and held banners near Mr. Deng’s home, reviling him as a
“traitor” and “enemy of the people,” and roughed up a few people who
came to show their support for him.
“We love Chairman Mao because we’re poor, and the poor all love Chairman
Mao,” Yang Jianguo, a retired worker who was among the protesters, said
by telephone after the protest.
The university swiftly dismissed Mr. Deng rather than engage in a
prolonged battle with the Maoists. Later, left-wing activists also
successfully demanded the dismissal of a television station worker who
had voiced support for Mr. Deng.
It would be unthinkable for the party to be so obliging of protesters
for free speech or other causes the party considers anathema. But while
Mr. Xi has silenced the party’s liberal critics, the party has
tolerated, even abetted, its hard-left opponents, giving the Maoist
populists room to grow stronger.
“Their influence has clearly grown with the leftist turn in ideology,
especially since 2015,” said Deng Yuwen, a current affairs writer in
Beijing who has criticized the Maoists.
“It’s not that the top level of the party directly controls them, but
the Maoists are politically astute, and they have a good sense of what
they can get away with,” he added. “They know the officials use them,
but they also use the officials.”
While party leaders may find them useful for intimidating critics, the
Maoists want to take China in a different direction and reverse market
policies that have fueled decades of growth, by seizing the assets of
the rich and strengthening state ownership of industry, for example.
Most phrase their criticism of the party carefully, but some openly
accuse it of betraying Mao. “China is a capitalist state under socialist
guise,” said Mr. Yang, the retired worker. “Capitalists dominate the
Asked about the American president, Mr. Yang was more generous: “Trump
has socialist tendencies, because the way he won power in a way
reflected the workers’ demands.”
Many Maoists see Mr. Xi as a fellow traveler who is taking China in the
right direction by restoring respect for Mao and Marx. But others say
privately that even Mr. Xi may not be a dependable ally. They point out
that he has promoted himself abroad as a proponent of expanding global
trade and a friend of multinational corporations, drawing an implicit
contrast with Mr. Trump.
He Weifang, a law professor at Peking University who is often reviled by
China’s far left, said Mr. Xi was playing a dangerous game by allowing
Maoist populists to silence liberal voices and risked igniting political
fires that he cannot easily control.
“If political currents in China increasingly converge with populism,”
Mr. He added, “that would have a powerful effect on China’s future.”
Adam Wu contributed research.
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