Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

No room for criticism

President Xi's China has no room for political criticism — even of (especially of?) Chairman Mao. This is true even though the official line is that Mao "made mistakes."

Joking About Mao Lands Chinese TV Host in Hot Water
Mao Zedong famously said a revolution is not a dinner party, and nor in China these days, it seems, is a dinner party a safe place to mock Mao’s revolution. Some tipsy jibes by a Chinese television celebrity, Bi Fujian, have been enough to inspire tirades from the state media and imperil Mr. Bi’s career…
Bi Fujian

Mr. Bi apparently thought he was amusing a few guests around a banquet table when he sang some lines from a Mao-era opera and peppered the lyrics with sarcastic asides. But shaky video of the performance lasting a minute or so leaked onto the Internet in recent days, and now Mr. Bi stands accused of political sacrilege, which cannot be good when your job depends on echoing party propaganda themes…

It seems unlikely that the regulations, whatever they are, will let Mr. Bi off easily. The Communist Party leader, Xi Jinping, has demanded that citizens, especially artists and writers, uphold party orthodoxy, and has warned against “historical nihilism,”…

Mr. Bi’s sin was to offer his own interpretation of a song from “Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy,” one of the eight “model” operas and ballets that Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, and her artistic underlings developed in the 1960s to replace traditional performances with revolutionary content…

Like quite a few Chinese celebrities, Mr. Bi seems to have combined a politically wholesome public persona with an irreverent sense of humor in private. And the reaction to Mr. Bi’s brief performance has illustrated the divide in China between Mao’s sacred official stature and public opinion, which is much more mixed between reverence and revulsion.

Commentaries in the state media and on the Internet reviled Mr. Bi as a traitor and heretic for mocking Mao, but online, some people defended his right to his opinions and welcomed his satirical take on Mao’s grievous mistakes…

Under Mr. Xi… the party has imposed even tighter censorship on public discussion and research about Mao’s era. Party publications have also dismissed as lies the conclusion, shared by many historians in China and abroad, that tens of millions of people, possibly 30 million or more, died because of the famine and other suffering brought on from the late 1950s by Mao’s Great Leap Forward, when his attempt to catapult the country into Communist abundance crashed disastrously.

Unlike the intellectuals of Mao’s era who dared to question the party’s policies, Mr. Bi appears unlikely to spend time in prison for his performance. But his days in the limelight appear over, for now at least…

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