'Red Guards’ song and dance for model worker prompts shock, anger over Mao's legacy

Uniformed high-schoolers stage a 'red loyalty' parade for model worker as congress opens
By Xiaoshan Huang and Chingman for RFA Cantonese
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'Red Guards’ song and dance for model worker prompts shock, anger over Mao's legacy In a display described by some as a "red loyalty dance" in honor of the opening of the National People's Congress' opening day in Beijing, students dressed as Red Guards from China’s Cultural Revolution, hit the streets in Shangrao, Jiangxi province, on Sunday, March 5, 2023.
Credit: RFA screenshot from Twitter

High school students dressed as Red Guards from the Cultural Revolution took to the streets in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangxi over the weekend to sing the praises of model worker Lei Feng, in a move that shocked many who were reminded of the decade of political violence under late supreme leader Mao Zedong.

In a display described by some as a "red loyalty dance" in honor of the opening of the National People's Congress' in Beijing, hundreds of students dressed in full military uniform, bearing placards of calligraphy and wearing red armbands, marched through the streets of Shangrao on Sunday, singing songs of praise for Lei Feng. They were escorted by rows of uniformed police, a video clip provided to RFA showed.

Local media reports said officials in the town had agreed to let the display go ahead because March 5 marked both the opening of China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress, in Beijing, as well as being National Lei Feng Day.

Radio Free Asia was unable to reach any of the students or staff who took part in the heavily choreographed parade, and several schools in the city denied having taken part when approached about the event.

Shangrao officials also seemed keen to distance themselves from the "loyalty dance."

An official who answered the phone at the municipal bureau of education on Monday said the event had nothing to do with them, and was organized by the Xinzhou district education and sports bureau.

An official who answered the phone at the Xinzhou district education and sports bureau said they didn't know which schools had taken part in the event, adding that some of the schools in the district are administered by the city education bureau.

"This wasn't organized by us ... there are district-run schools and city-run schools, and I don't know which schools you are referring to," the official said.

"Learning from Lei Feng is normal ... it's quite normal for schools to organize activities that promote it," the official said. "Maybe copying the clothes worn by Lei Feng is part of red education, but it's not formalistic."

Calls to the Xinzhou district government and Shangrao city government hadn't responded to requests for comment by the time of publication.

No nostalgia

A Shangrao resident who gave only his surname Xu, for fear of reprisals, said the parade was held on Dongmen Road, that has the reputation for being "retro," but that local people hadn't welcomed the display of nostalgia for the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, a decade of factional street fighting and political turmoil that saw teachers and doctors locked up in cowpens and their places taken -- sometimes to disastrous effect -- by revolutionary youths.

"March 5 was 'Everyone Learn from Lei Feng Day'," so they were trying to create some momentum for that," Xu said. "They set up Dongmen Road to look as if it was back in the 1980s."

"But this Red Guard craze will blow over," he predicted. "It can't become a trend in the absence of orders from people at the highest level."

Students dressed in full military uniform carry placards and wearing red armbands march through the streets of Shangrao, Jiangxi province, on Sunday, March 5, 2023. Credit: RFA screenshot from Twitter

A Guangdong-based lawyer who requested anonymity said the display had aroused feelings of disgust on social media, with many worrying that China will accelerate its move towards leftist ideology and wind up back in a situation similar to the Cultural Revolution, a concern that was also reflected in slogans hung from a Beijing traffic flyover ahead of the 20th party congress on Oct. 13.

"It's unclear whether this was spontaneous, or whether it was Xi Jinping's intention [for it to happen]," the lawyer said. "I really don't think it can develop into the red fever that we saw under [now jailed former municipal party secretary] Bo Xilai in Chongqing."

"But things have changed a lot in the past 10 years ... and [Xi] certainly seems to hope that everyone can be brainwashed into loyalty dances and singing red songs," he said. "But it'll probably be hard for him to achieve that in a short time frame after 40 years of market economics."

Red songs were temporarily banned in Chongqing and Beijing after Bo Xilai’s fall from power, amid unconfirmed rumors that he and his political allies had been planning a coup in Beijing.

A Shanghai-based entrepreneur warned however that a society that hasn't fully reflected on the tragedy of Maoist politics will inevitably wind up repeating it.

"Back in the days of economic development, everyone could make some money, but those days are gone forever," the entrepreneur warned. "If there is no money to hand out, then there is going to be a serious problem, like in North Korea -- it's inevitable."

"Things are getting worse -- if there are no monuments to the Cultural Revolution or to the Great Famine, then they will both happen again," they warned.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.


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