Today the pro-Mao (and by extension pro-Bo Xilai) site Utopia announced it would be closed for a month. At the risk of over simplification, this would be like Mitt Romney shutting down Tea Party websites. While one of my co-workers seemed to think that this was “good news,” it’s not the victory for reformers that some might be tempted to claim it is. Too often observers make the mistake of assuming that China is either heading to the left (which in China is the pro-Mao camp) or to the right (reformers), but things are rarely that simple.
As other observers have noted, if a site on the right had ventured as far from the permissible realm as Utopia had gone to the left, people would already have been arrested. The message on the site mentioned charges that have resulted in 10+ year sentences for activists on the right, including violating the constitution and attacking state leaders. The right has certainly taken a blow with the ousting of Bo Xilai, but the militarism and nationalism remains. People’s Daily ran two articles about martyrs of the Communist Revolution over the Qingming holiday, a subject that is actually rarely discussed in the paper (1 and 2). It seems far too soon say that pro-Mao ideology has fallen completely out of favor.
Moreover, the closure of Utopia is in no way a victory for those opposed to the policies of Bo Xilai and the red ideology he professed belief in, instead it fits neatly within the tactics of the Maoist left (a textbook example of irony). I would argue that this is not a shift toward reform, nor is it a step back to the days of the Cultural Revolution, instead it shows China continuing in a third direction – the one that speaks of reform while crushing opposition. The direction that upholds the Party as an infallible and indispensable institution. The kind of power that seeks to contain conversations and ideas within a narrow scope that can be efficiently monitored, where the policies of the past can neither be praised nor condemned.
Those on the right (reform minded) know that the little space that had existed to discuss politics, which was abused in the past few weeks, is an incredibly precious commodity that may disappear all together in the wake of the rumors. The flurry of articles published in Party-backed newspapers condemning such discussions as dangerous should be of great concern to those on both sides. As my co-worker said with a laugh, “They say one month now, but maybe it’s closed forever.” While there is no way of knowing at the moment whether or not she’s right, the gov’t has preferred to soften bad news with limited time frames in the past to avoid negative reactions.
In light of the recent restrictions placed on micro-blogging sites, it seems that we are now experiencing the backlash for spreading rumors, and the gov’t is signaling that unless netizens restrict themselves, more limits will be placed on them. It will be interesting to watch and see what happens next – will the netizens retreat as the Party hopes or will they regroup? Considering the continuing discussions on Weibo, even after the arrest of several users, I’d bet on the latter.
[…] On the shutdown of rightist website Utopia. “The closure of Utopia is in no way a victory for those opposed to the policies of Bo Xilai and the red ideology he professed belief in, instead it fits neatly within the tactics of the Maoist left (a textbook example of irony). I would argue that this is not a shift toward reform, nor is it a step back to the days of the Cultural Revolution, instead it shows China continuing in a third direction – the one that speaks of reform while crushing opposition.” [Seeing Red in China] […]
Agreed on most points, Tom. Good post.
I agree that the crackdown on the left is nothing to celebrate, particularly if one favours substantive political reform (as many on BOTH the left and the right do, it should be noted). It bespeaks a lack of faith on the part of the CCP in the robustness of their own political model, yet as long as they control all of the institutions of government and of public discourse, hope of political reform will continue to be stymied.
The problem, of course, is that the Maoism of Bo Xilai was pretty much all kitsch, and not even that original for kitsch – having been in Beijing and Henan recently, I can attest to the fact that the red culture campaign is far from being Bo Xilai’s exclusive trademark, and just before he was ousted Bo made some comments in favour of multiparty democratic reforms which would have made diehard Maoists apoplectic. The Chongqing model, though it certainly has a strong, leading role for SOEs and an emphasis on social welfare, was emphatically not a Maoist model – marketisation and economic growth under Bo’s institutional reforms was higher than in any other region of the countries. Dr Cui Zhiyuan, also emphatically not a Marxist of any flavour but a Keynesian, was one of the masterminds behind the institutional reforms in Chongqing. It was a strategic error on Bo’s part, and ultimately played into the hands of his political rivals, that he cloaked it all about in the window-dressings of the Mao era.
[…] EmailIn the past two weeks, the Chinese government put a temporary gag to the social media and shut down Maoist sites to quell undesirable political discussion, many netizens were busy deciphering the signals the […]