May 7, 2016

WHAT SOUL?:

The Cost of the Cultural Revolution, Fifty Years Later (EVAN OSNOS, 5/06/16, The New Yorker)

In 1979, three years after the end of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping visited the United States. At a state banquet, he was seated near the actress Shirley MacLaine, who told Deng how impressed she had been on a trip to China some years earlier. She recalled her conversation with a scientist who said that he was grateful to Mao Zedong for removing him from his campus and sending him, as Mao did millions of other intellectuals during the Cultural Revolution, to toil on a farm. Deng replied, "He was lying."

May 16th marks the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Cultural Revolution, when Chairman Mao launched China on a campaign to purify itself of saboteurs and apostates, to find the "representatives of the bourgeoisie who have sneaked into the Party, the government, the army, and various spheres of culture" and drive them out with "the telescope and microscope of Mao Zedong Thought." By the time the Cultural Revolution sputtered to a halt, there were many ways to tally its effects: about two hundred million people in the countryside suffered from chronic malnutrition, because the economy had been crippled; up to twenty million people had been uprooted and sent to the countryside; and up to one and a half million had been executed or driven to suicide.  [...]

[T]here are deeper parallels between this moment in China and the time in which Xi came of age, as a teen-ager in the Cultural Revolution, which illuminate just how enduring some of the features of Mao's Leninist system have proved to be. Xi, in his constant moves to identify enemies and eliminate them, has revived the question that Lenin considered the most important of all: "Kto, Kovo?"--"Who, whom?" In other words, in every interaction, the question that matters is which force wins and which force loses. Mao and his generation, who grew up amid scarcity, saw no room for power-sharing or for pluralism; he called for "drawing a clear distinction between us and the enemy." "Who are our enemies? Who are our friends?" This, Mao said, was "a question of first importance for the revolution." China today, in many respects, bears little comparison with the world that Mao inhabited, but on that question Xi Jinping is true to his roots.

That zero-sum view is distorting China's relations with the outside world, including with the United States. It was easy to laugh off the news last month that China had marked "National Security Education Day" by releasing a poster that warns female government workers about the dangers of dating foreigners, who could turn out to be spies. The cartoon poster, called "Dangerous Love," chronicled the hapless romance of Little Li, a Chinese civil servant, who falls for David, a red-headed foreign scholar, only to end up giving him secret internal documents. Other recent news has been cause for concern: in April, after years of warnings, from senior leaders, that foreign N.G.O.s might seek to pollute Chinese society with subversive Western political ideas, China passed a law to sharply control their activities. The law gives sweeping new powers to China's police in monitoring foundations, charities, and advocacy organizations, some of which have operated in China for decades. Many N.G.O.s had warned that the law, if passed, would cripple their ability to function, and they are now considering whether they can operate under the new arrangement.

As China, fifty years after the Cultural Revolution, weighs the impulse to insulate itself, once again, from foreign influence, it is worth considering that the costs may be more severe than we appreciate in real time. 



Posted by at May 7, 2016 10:17 AM

  

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