Tuesday, April 3, 2012

China's Maoists-A bookshop manager in Beijing stands up for Bo Xilai

FAN JINGGANG’s bookshop, Utopia, is not one the casual shopper will ever find. It occupies a small room on the sixth floor of a shabby office building (relocated from similar hard-to-find premises where your correspondent paid it a visit three years ago). Yet it, and a website of the same name also run by Mr Fan, are among the fountainheads of an ultra-left intellectual current that has become a striking feature of China’s turbulent politics.

There is no evidence that the recently deposed party chief of Chongqing, Bo Xilai, ever gave explicit encouragement to the bookshop, the website or its network of Mao-loving supporters. But neither did he reject Utopia’s adulation of him and his “Chongqing model” with its revival of “red culture” (quotations from Mao and revolutionary songs). Chongqing’s government website carried a flattering reference to Utopia and its readers’ “thirst for justice” in a comment submitted last year by a Chongqing citizen who also praised the work of the municipality’s then police chief, Wang Lijun (who is now thought to be in custody in Beijing). The comment elicited a thankful reply from Chongqing’s police, but has now been expunged (see here for a cached copy, in Chinese, on Google).

As Analects reported on March 23rd, Utopia has been among a handful of hard-left websites that have continued to sing Mr Bo’s praises in spite of his political disgrace. This is unusually daring in a country where people are normally quick to conform to a change in the political mood. But with more than two weeks now having passed without any public explanation of the reasons for Mr Bo’s dismissal, citizens can be forgiven for thinking that the struggle is not over. This is certainly Mr Fan’s view. Clad in a dark Mao-jacket, seated at a table in the middle of his cramped bookshop, he describes what he sees as a conspiracy by America, the World Bank, think-tanks in Washington, DC and “traitors” at home to crush Mr Bo, the Chongqing model and the principle it upholds of big spending on welfare projects and nurturing of state-owned enterprises. Ordinary Chinese, he says, believe that rumours of corruption involving the Bo family and Mr Wang have been fabricated by “anti-China” forces and by the gangsters that Mr Wang was famous nationwide for locking up.

Mr Fan is particularly critical of the World Bank. He sees the publication in late February of a report, “China 2030”, by the bank and a Chinese government think-tank, the Development Research Centre, as part of a “step-by-step” plot to attack the Chongqing model and Mr Bo. The report’s proposals for financial liberalisation and the scaling back of state-owned enterprises “harboured evil intentions”, says Mr Fan. His website has recently been replete with articles echoing such misgivings. Mr Fan says that since Mr Bo’s dismissal on March 15th total page views on his website’s articles relating to Chongqing and Mr Bo have more than doubled to over 10,000–evidence, he thinks, of public support for their views.

Mr Fan offers little evidence to back his claim of a plot. But they are worth taking seriously, at least as an insight into a strand of thinking in Chinese politics that ties together an array of forces, ranging from born-again Maoists to ultra-nationalists and hardline elements of the establishment itself. Utopia and like-minded websites such as Maoflag.net are the online inheritors of an orthodox tradition that traces its origins back to the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 when party hardliners founded journals extolling the virtues of old-style communism. The two leading ones were closed down in 2001 for going too far in their criticism of the party’s embrace of capitalism. Utopia was founded two years later to keep up the cause. A new leadership that came to power in 2002 and 2003 has tolerated online Maoism (and in Mr Bo’s case tapped into its readership for support), partly because it too has sought to distance itself from the Dickensian excesses of China’s economic transformation.

Mr Fan, however, sees gloomy times ahead for people like him. He blames a “hostile attack” by unnamed “political forces” for the closure of his website and others like it for several days after Mr Bo was sacked. He fears that in the short term at least, China could “go astray” (Mao-ese for deviating further towards capitalism).

The reason, he says, why China saw hardly any organised display of sympathy with the Occupy Wall Street movement is because people saw the Chongqing model as a portent of change for the better. Now he does not rule out large-scale unrest. “What’s happened this year and future uncertainties are making people more worried”, he says, referring to leadership changes due to take place at the end of this year.
Mr Fan’s bookshop, however, still peddles optimism. Shoppers are given red bags with which to carry their purchases. On them is a Mao quotation that begins: “The socialist system will eventually replace the capitalist system”. On the other side they say, clinging to hope, “Long live Chairman Mao”. The Economist

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