Beijing Revises 'Correct' Version of Party History Ahead of Centenary

2021-04-15
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Beijing Revises 'Correct' Version of Party History Ahead of Centenary People visit an exhibition to mark the 100th founding anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party at a museum in Beijing, March 12, 2021.
AFP

The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has set up a hotline for people to report each other to the authorities for failing to toe the party's freshly revised line on matters of history.

The Cyberspace Administration said in a post to its official Weibo account on April 9 that people should use the number "to report erroneous online remarks relating to historical nihilism."

The move is to "create a good public opinion environment" regarding China's history since the CCP took power in 1949, the post said.

To help those who may be unsure of which opinions are the "correct" ones, the CCP has also published a handy guide in the form of a book titled A Brief History of the Communist Party of China.

Published to mark the party's centenary this year, the revised history plays down the cautious diplomatic approach of late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping in the wake of international sanctions following the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, instead highlighting his comments to former U.S. president Richard Nixon in November 2019.

Deng told Nixon that China would never "beg" for sanctions to be lifted, the book says.

The U.S. and Europe imposed an arms embargo on China after the People's Liberation Army (PLA) attached unarmed civilians with machine guns and tanks in an operation that ended weeks of pro-democracy protests on Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

The new edition deletes an 11,000-word chapter dedicated to the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) relegating the 10 years of mayhem to a single page in a chapter titled "Twists and Turns on the Road to Socialist Reconstruction."

The older edition, published under former president Hu Jintao in 2010, said late supreme leader Mao Zedong should bear responsibility for starting the Cultural Revolution, which turned out to be a "serious disaster" for the Chinese people.

The latest edition makes no such criticism of Mao, saying instead that the late Chairman had waged "an incessant war on corruption, special privileges and bureaucratic mentality within party ranks."

"Many of his correct ideas about how to build a socialist society weren't fully implemented, which led to internal turmoil," the new version says.

Chapters on the Great Famine during the Great Leap Forward of 1959-1961, the collectivization of farming under the People's Communes in the 1950s and on the often brutal "anti-rightist" political campaigns targeting intellectuals have also been deleted.

Forgetting the mistakes

CCP history expert Gao Wenqian said CCP general secretary Xi Jinping is revising the country's history under CCP rule in a bid to focus minds away from the party's mistakes, and to emphasize the positive roles played by leaders who ruled alone, wielding huge personal power.

"The 'History of the Communist Party of China' has always been an exercise in realpolitik," Gao said. "Back when Mao Zedong launched the rectification campaign in the Yan’an period ... the CCP passed its first historical resolution, which was aimed at cementing Mao's status."

"Deng Xiaoping also passed a historical resolution in 1981 that made a huge deal of Mao's mistakes in the wake of the Cultural Revolution, while letting Lin Biao and the Jiang Qing counterrevolutionary clique off the hook."

"The aim was to win firm support for economic reform and opening up, and to ensure continued party rule," Gao said.

The book portrays Mao as a conscientious leader constantly aware of the danger of "capitalist restoration," which echoes Xi's current campaign against "imported" notions of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

It blames the "civil unrest" of the Cultural Revolution on the failure to implement Mao's "correct" ideas, while erasing pages of description of the campaigns against the "four olds," mob justice and door-to-door raids, as well as armed clashes between rebel factions in the streets.

Gao said the claim that Mao's "anti-corruption" campaign was at the heart of the Cultural Revolution is a ridiculous one.

"Mao Zedong had more power and privilege than anyone else in the CCP, and similarly, Xi Jinping is one of the biggest shields for corrupt officials today," Gao said. "One-party dictatorship is the most corrupt thing of all."

"Xi Jinping is falling into the same trap that Mao did in his later years, holding a huge amount of power but still unable to sleep at night," Gao said. "Xi Jinping has been in power for 10 years now, so this isn't about establishing or consolidating his power."

"It looks a lot like the same tricks Mao used to engage in, to protect his personal power and authority," he said.

Keeping up the pressure

The final chapter of the new edition takes up around a quarter of the book, and is dedicated to Xi's personal brand of ideology, "socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era."

"This new edition ... is to further keep up the ideological pressure on the Chinese people," Gao said. "Back in 1967-1969 we had slogans on the walls ... Today, in Cultural Revolution 2.0, we have quotations from Xi Jinping in the People's Daily every day, and in the streets and alleyways."

"Everyone in China has to study [this version of] party history now," Gao said. "I feel sorry for the kids."

The renewed emphasis on history comes after Xi told a Feb. 20 meeting that the history of the Chinese revolution was "the best nourishment" for its people.

"Our faith and beliefs are of the utmost importance at all times," Xi said. "Our belief in communism and in socialism with Chinese characteristics are our political soul, and our spiritual rock that will enable us as communists to withstand any challenge."

"The party's century of struggle and great achievements are the best foundation for us to build [self-confidence] as a nation," he said.

U.S.-based historian Liu Zhongjing said Xi wants Marxism-Leninism to become an inseparable part of Chinese tradition and Chinese culture, much as Buddhism was used to establish the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1127) dynasties.

"In this way, the new China led by the descendants of Kubla Khan was able to inherit the Tang and Song dynasties, which became the newly anointed dynasties," Liu said.

According to Liu, Xi spoke of "faith and beliefs" because he is deliberately using political ideology as a new theology to underpin the CCP in a manner similar to an imperial dynasty.

U.S.-based commentator Hu Ping, honorary editor-in-chief of the online magazine "Beijing Spring", said Xi's revised version of party history, in trying to draw on Mao-era revolutionary tropes while at the same time still allowing capitalist-style economic activity, is trying to have its cake and eat it.

"These two periods of history [presided over by Mao and Deng] are mutually exclusive," Hu said. "If the revolution had it right and the reform era had it wrong, then he should step down."

"If the reform era had it right and the revolution was wrong, then he should change course."

Hu said allowing private ownership of assets is at odds with the communist beliefs Xi draws on for his political "faith."

"The original intention of the CCP was to eliminate the private ownership of property," Hu said. "After taking on the capitalists and winning, it has itself become a hugely capitalist enterprise."

Reported by Xue Xiaoshan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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