Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, May 25, 2018

Marxist protesters in China

President Xi has frequently mentioned the importance of Marxism. However, some younger Chinese aren't sure about the brand of Marxism Xi is promoting.

Why Beijing isn’t Marxist enough for China’s radical millennials
Beijing has long gone far to teach China about the father of Communism. Classes on Marx and Marxism are routinely part of the country’s educational curriculum, especially at the university level…

[I]n recent years, Marxism has also inspired some young activists in China, who have seen in [the Communist Manifesto] the motivation to boldly press ahead on issues of feminism, workers rights and income equality.

In sharp contrast to the official Marxist line, this new generation of Marxists has emphasised individual freedoms, with some even expressing some interest in a constitutional democracy – a stand that the country’s mainstream Marxists and Maoists usually dismiss as hypocritical.

For their part, despite Beijing’s official narrative that the party upholds Marxism, some young leftists, appalled by China’s poor protection of workers, rampant corruption and wealth gap, are not convinced…

This handful of activists have grown to their 20s during the most oppressive time for China’s civil society in decades, as Beijing in recent years introduced new, strict laws on non-governmental organisations, rounded up hundreds of rights lawyers and activists in the “709” crackdown of 2015, and tightened control over all religious groups.

That tight control over all social activities makes it impossible to estimate the number of pure Marxists in China. And the young activists recently in the news are hardly recognisable as an organised group of political dissidents.

Yet they have already unnerved the party, which has used harassment and detention to effectively silence a number of Chinese advocates of the Western notion of constitutional democracy…

A month [ago]… a handful of leftist youths showed up in the Ministry of Public Security to submit a petition. The group, all of whom had once been arrested or wanted by police for holding reading and discussion sessions about political and social issues and for doing labour-related volunteer work, demanded their records and names be cleared, saying they were only exercising their constitutional rights…

Most of the leftists… said they became interested in Marxism during their school years, but not from the mandatory Marxist courses.

Some said they joined leftist student groups, where they started reading the original works by Marx, and conducted field research among workers and even took on factory work themselves.

Han Peng, among the leftists once wanted by police, said the rise of labour activism was partly due to the economic impact of the 2008 financial crisis on Chinese manufacturers. The crisis has fuelled criticism of capitalism around the world, and was largely credited for the rise of later anarchic movements like Occupy Wall Street…

“From 2008 to 2012, there was a broad diversity of political views in the mainland media and publications, ranging from a multi-party system to the relaunch of a Cultural Revolution,” [Yuan Yuhua, a prominent Maoist scholar], said. “That was unseen in past decades.”

But as Xi came into power in 2013, Beijing adopted a tighter control over the country’s ideology. The government clamped down hard on Western notions of constitutional democracy, jailing human rights lawyers and activists in the notorious “709” crackdown, when around 300 were rounded up or harassed starting on July 9, 2015.

The government, beginning with Xi, has also listed some leftist ideas, including beliefs widely held among China’s Marxists and Maoists, as “wrongful opinions”…

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