'Is The People's Republic of China Your Homeland?'

A commentary by Bao Tong
china-painting-mao-zedong-young-pioneers-1952.jpg A painting of Mao Zedong greeting members of the Young Pioneers of China, a mass youth organization for children aged six to 14, in 1952.
CCI/The Art Archive/The Picture Desk

This question is too broad and deep for me to answer. An ordinary person like me can't answer it, but I don't think major historical figures like Mao Zedong can, either.

Mao Zedong was born in 1893, and the People's Republic of China wasn't born until he was 56 years old. So, if the People's Republic is his homeland, where did Mao live for the first 55 years of his life?

If somebody had asked him, "Is the Chinese Soviet Republic your homeland?" then what would have been the diplomatic response of this major-league statesman?

Deng Xiaoping was a little smarter in his orchestration of the main theme tune.

He had a tagline calling himself the "son of the Chinese people."

That's more or less correct, as he had no way of claiming that either his motherland or fatherland was the People's Republic.

I myself am more than 10 years older than the People's Republic, and so it sounds very strange for me to call it my motherland. I can't quite get the words out.

The land of my birth is the Republic of China, from 1931-1945, under Japanese invasion. But the relationship between the People's Republic and Japan isn't one of invader and invaded.

On the contrary, Mao Zedong's tone towards Japan was one of respect and even gratitude. It was only his status as the successor of the Republic of China that enabled him to absolve Japan of responsibility for war reparations.

And Japan's politicians and businessmen know this; that's why they were kind enough to become the biggest foreign investors in China after reforms and opening up began.

They played a key role in facilitating the economic power of the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party.

But if our motherland isn't synonymous with the People's Republic of China, then last month's parade marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the war with Japan couldn't have happened.

After Lenin's fall from power, he gave a speech to the Communist Youth League, which was later collected under the title "On the State."

In it, he warned the Pioneers that the nation-state was a concept that had been left in a chaotic state by the capitalists, to which I think we could add that it was also left in a chaotic state by the Leninists.

Elusive meanings

Throughout the 20th century, the meanings of "country," "patriotism" and "nationalism," whether spoken by fascists or Leninists, have been more elusive than the contents of a gourd, and have had little in the way of positive impact.

Slogans like "justice/peace/the people will prevail" are clearly interchangeable and equivalent expressions to that of "the country/nation," and even harder to get a handle on.

As for me, of course I have a homeland, in the same way that I have a hometown. For me, the two terms mean the same thing; they refer to a piece of territory about which I have some feeling, feeling that has nothing to do with political power, and which is unaffected by time.

I love my homeland, and I wouldn't want to see it trampled or invaded by anyone, nor do I wish to see it polluted or destroyed by anyone.

To elaborate further, I also respect other people's homelands and hometowns, and I wouldn't want to see them trampled or invaded by anyone, nor polluted or destroyed.

A journalist told me that there has been a fierce debate taking place online on this topic, which is a good thing, and worth doing, hence the above thoughts.

We need every shade of opinion from all and sundry, with no fear or forbidden topics; to find our way forward through discussion.

As long as this option is open to us, uninterrupted by violence, there is still hope for humanity to free itself from ignorance.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Bao Tong, political aide to the late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing.


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