The Chinese Communist Party celebrated its 90th birthday on July 1. In the days prior to this event, the airwaves were full of historical dramas depicting heroic People’s Liberation Army soldiers and party cadres struggling against a variety of enemies. There is a new, neo-Maoist faction within the party that has began promoting the singing of classic Communist songs like “The East is Red” throughout the country. This “red culture” revival has nothing to do with the party’s original ideals of equality and social justice. Rather, it is being promoted by national leaders as a means of strengthening stability in a country that has seen a massive rise in inequality in recent years.
But Chinese history did not, of course, begin with the Communist victory in 1949. In a fascinating turn, an older alternative historical narrative is being formulated alongside the Communist one through a revival of serious study of classical Chinese philosophy, literature, and history. Mao attacked Confucius as a reactionary, but today Chinese dynastic history is once again being taught in the school system.
Contemporary China has two alternative sources of tradition to look back on, a neo-Maoist one and a neo-Confucian one. Both are being promoted as alternatives to democracy. That the Chinese need to find their own way to modernity seems incontrovertible. Whether either of these ideas will bear the weight of regime legitimation, or indeed whether they can ultimately co-exist with one another, is something yet to be seen. Continue reading »