In the summer of 1921, 13 young men, disillusioned by the development of China after the end of the Empire, met in Shanghai to form a communist party. On July 23, they met at the French Concession in Shanghai, where they held the first “national congress.”
None of them would have thought that 30 years later the organization they founded would rule the country, or that after 100 years it would be the largest political party in the world, with almost 92 million members. For people outside the party, it is also an enigma.
This Thursday the centenary of the political organization that dominates almost all aspects of life in the country and that aspires to reform the postwar world order.
In January, the president of China, Xi Jinping, who is also the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), told his ranks that, regardless of the difficulties the world was going through, China was “invincible.”
“Judging by how this pandemic is being managed by different leaders and political systems around the world, we can clearly see who has done better,” Xi said during a rally at the party’s central school on January 11. Five days later, an angry mob had stormed the Capitol in Washington. “Time and history are on our side, and that is where our conviction and resistance lie and the reason why we are so determined and confident.”
Since the beginning of the year, these kinds of messages – in conjunction with the official history of the party – have been spread throughout the country and displayed on banners and posters. “Hear the party, appreciate the party, follow the party,” reads a roadside ad in Beijing. Tours have been organized for foreign journalists in an attempt to teach them the official history. Buddhist temples All over China they host events to celebrate the party’s centennial.
Work has been done to create a “festive and warm” atmosphere for the centennial party, but the authorities also want the celebration to be “serious and solemn”. It is a difficult balance to strike. Entrepreneurs have tried to take advantage of the moment economically, so the Chinese market regulatory authority took drastic measures on what he considered “publicity and profit.”
In Xinjiang, where human rights organizations say at least one million Muslims from the Uyghur minority They are being jailed for their “re-education”, the authorities have selected 100 “red films” to showcase the immense achievements of the party. In Tibet, teaching about the party is the top priority. “Our youth must celebrate the party, listen to the party and be guided by the party and be faithful to our beautiful new Tibet,” told Reuters Wang Zhen, director of the Department of Education in Tibet.
And in Hong Kong, increasingly under Chinese control, buses and trams carry slogans celebrating the party’s birthday, emphasizing that the date coincides with that day in 1997 when the region ceased to be a British colony.
Every public announcement made throughout the year is carefully scripted. They all refer to the power of the party and the advantages of China’s political system: the alleviation of poverty, the mission to mars and the 1 billion vaccines against COVID-19 in just a few months. The list goes on.
The 1921 congress venue in Shanghai is one of the holiest buildings in the city. It is in an area called Xian Tian Di, or New World, today full of designer boutiques and frequented by the country’s “new rich.”
A different way of dreaming
The CCP’s followers maintain that China has gotten to where it is today thanks to its leadership. The party, they claim, will help bring about the rejuvenation of the ROC. It’s what Xi calls the “Chinese dream.”
But in a country with 1.4 billion people, there is no uniform “Chinese dream”, not a single version of the party’s history. “At a time when censorship is part of the daily life of Chinese citizens, even few historians really know the full history of the party,” says Sun Peidong, a historian. “As a researcher in history, it is difficult to access materials and sources on the history of the party. Knowing with certainty what has happened in these 100 years is even more difficult.”
Coinciding with the anniversary party, Sun begins work at Cornell University in the United States. He left China last year. Being a Chinese historian, it pains her that she cannot do her work in her home country or in her native language.
Sun is part of the growing group of Chinese scholars who have been excluded due to their interpretation of history. In the run-up to the party’s centennial, authorities have stepped up their efforts to forge what Xi calls “the right perspective on history.”
In Sun’s experience, this project has been in the works for a long time. His life took a 180-degree turn in 2015, when censorship in the academy – particularly on his research topic, Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, the political campaign run from 1966 to 1976, which the party now describes as “complete mistake” – intensified at his university in Shanghai.
The change in official tone and humor among his colleagues reminds Sun of the time of the Cultural Revolution. She claims that she was banned from publishing scholarly articles in simplified Chinese. On the web they accused her that “the West had brainwashed her.”
“I was wondering to myself what had brought us to where we are now,” she says. “I think it is due to the lack of a careful study of our own history. When the official versions offered by party historians spread and contaminate other speeches, the phrase that says that those who cannot remember the past they are condemned to repeat it “.
“The West cannot see China’s values”
Voices like Sun’s are not the norm in China. Beijing’s rigorous censorship means that such dissent is not tolerated. The Internet in China is a combination of national pride and anti-Western resentment, particularly against the United States. It is a platform for those whose vision of China – and the world – aligns with that of the party.
“When the CCP was born a century ago, it used the theories of the West, since the founding fathers of the time, like their contemporaries, believed that old China was useless,” says Chairman Rabbit, a popular blogger whose ‘ nickname ‘is made up of the names of your childhood pets. “But today China is confident enough to establish its own political paradigm. In Beijing they believe that this paradigm is capable of making China great again.”
In any case, Chairman Rabbit – whose real name is Ren Yi -, 41, is the type of personality that Beijing would like to give a voice to. After being a research assistant for the late Ezra Vogel, the renowned Harvard sinologist, Ren knows Western discourse in detail. But perhaps more importantly in China today is that Ren is the grandson of Ren Zhongyi, a prominent figure who was a party secretary in Guangdong province during the 1980s.
Like many in the Chinese elite, Ren’s day job is finance, which some see as an ironic contrast to the party’s founding doctrine. He views his support for China simply as what a prodigal son of the nation must do, no matter how difficult.
“Since Xi came to power after the party’s 18th congress, there has been a slight reorientation of domestic politics in order to address the shortcomings of the last decade. Still, the West has a hard time understanding it. It’s difficult to get Western countries to accept. to China. The West cannot see China’s values. ”
Jeffrey Wasserstrom, a professor of Chinese history at the University of California at Irvine, says the China versus the West scheme is “deeply problematic.” “There are always many facets involved and some are emphasized according to the moment. And there are quite paradoxical intersections, too. For example, the accent that the party places on stability and its assertions that the elections could lead to disorder can be considered as ideas that respond to Confucian doctrine, but also resemble things that the British colonizers in Asia said a century ago. ”
Foreigners may scoff at Ren’s Chinese exceptionality theory and dismiss it as mere partisan propaganda, but with nearly 1.8 million followers on the highly censored Chinese social network Weibo, his voice should not be ignored.
“The time when China was [para EEUU] part of the ‘wild west’. Instead, today China is like a big company. Their leader, Xi, is like a CEO who must exercise leadership and come up with new long-term plans for the country, “says Ren, who compares Xi to Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew.
“Xi Jinping leads the CCP’s baton and strengthens its confidence. If one tried to describe the political ideas of modern China, one would speak of cosmopolitan patriotism, socialist traditionalism, environmental humanism, and secular spirituality. This is how I describe myself as well.”
Translation of Julián Cnochaert