Mao's statue towers over a public square in his birthplace, Shaoshan City, Hunan. Photo credit: Changsha Evening Newspaper
Officials in Shaoshan City, Hunan Province, the birthplace of Mao Zedong, have already spent in excess of 1.9 billion yuan in preparation for the 120th anniversary of Mao’s birth this December. Last month, more than 20 thousand people visited a mausoleum in the middle of Beijing to mark the 37th anniversary of his death. Throughout the country thousands more—many of them petitioners, former soldiers, workers, and officials—attended “red song” concerts in memory of China’s “great man,” depicted in official narratives to have “liberated” China from feudalism, capitalism, and imperialism.
Mao and patriotism seem to go hand in hand, but Chinese authorities have convicted scores of individuals of “reactionary” or “subversive” acts for singing Mao’s praises too loud. Dui Hua’s Political Prisoner Database (PPDB) has information on more than 40 individuals detained or sentenced for their involvement in illegal opposition parties advocating pre-reform socialism. These self-proclaimed vanguards of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought include farmers, workers, academics, cadres, and even entrepreneurs discontented by the capitalist influence that poured into China following Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening in 1978.
While many Chinese have joined leftist symposiums and, in the past decade, Internet forums to vent grievances about the corruption and social inequality that persist despite, or because of, the Communist Party of China (CPC), few chose to organize opposition parties to rebuild a proletarian dictatorship. Those who do face the same, and at times worse, fates as those who organize in the name of western-style democracy, a multiparty system and separation of powers.
Striking Hard Against “Mao Anmin”
On December 22, 1983, the Linyi District Intermediate People’s Court in Shandong Province sentenced Zhang Chengjian (张成检) to death. According to an official summary of the case (translated in Dui Hua Occasional Publications, Volume 2), the farmer claimed that he was Mao Anmin (毛岸民), Chairman Mao’s successor and Jiang Qing’s stepson. He said that his entire family was murdered by Deng Xiaoping and his allies and that Deng “usurped” the power of Mao’s designated successor, Hua Guofeng, and “distorted Mao’s revolutionary path.” Zhang was particularly critical of the household responsibility system. First adopted in the agricultural sector in 1981, the system allowed farmers to sell their produce at unregulated prices after meeting state production quotas. While increasing production incentives dramatically, the system also made farmers more vulnerable to economic losses from poor harvests, fluctuating market prices, and natural disasters.
Assembling several like-mind individuals who hoped to restore the people’s commune and abolish the one-child policy, Zhang formed a new “Central Party Committee” in preparation for “revolution.” Between April and September 1983, the group allegedly mailed 97 letters attacking CPC principles, inciting military units to take up armed rebellion, and urging students to skip classes and workers to go on strike. Some letters were sent to foreign embassies, requesting their personnel to leave China and disseminate information about Zhang’s organization in their own countries.
The case summary, the only known description of Zhang’s party, implies that the group was small and of little influence. Six farmers, ages 25‒43, were convicted for their involvement. Two others were mentioned as being approached by party members but refusing to join.
In the trial of first instance, Zhang was convicted of organizing and leading a counterrevolutionary group, collaborating with foreign countries to conspire to damage state security, inciting state personnel and military units to rise up in armed rebellion, and counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement. As the trial coincided with China’s first “strike-hard” campaign, which used swift and severe punishment to maintain political stability, Zhang’s death sentence came as little surprise.
A year later, however, an appellate court found the crimes against Zhang to be incorrect and his sentence to be unduly heavy. The Shandong High People’s Court reduced his sentence to 20 years’ imprisonment, convicting him only of non-violent crimes. The other members of his group were sentenced to 1.5 to 15 years’ imprisonment on appeal. According to government responses to 10 prisoner inquiries made by Dui Hua, Zhang received one sentence extension and three sentence reductions and was released in April 2005. He was 52 and had spent 22 years in prison.
Henan’s Mamao Party
Established in 1991, the Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought Communist Party of China (中国马列主义毛泽东思想共产党), or Mamao Party (马毛党), is one of the largest illegal political parties in China known to Dui Hua. Most opposition parties discussed in Chinese open sources are only reported to have a few dozen or few hundred followers. Three times the size of the Chinese People’s Democracy Party, the Mamao Party once had nearly 3,000 members in and around Dengfeng City, Henan Province. Of the 1,031 members identified in the late 1990s by local police, 899 were farmers; more than 100 were workers, teachers, cadres, and retirees; 90 percent had received middle-school education or above; and over two-thirds were ages 25‒45.
Local public security records from 2003 name Wang Wuzhou (王五州) as party leader. A farmer and self-proclaimed special representative of the party’s Henan Provincial Committee, Wang assigned key members to take charge of propaganda, labor, military, and women’s affairs and appointed secretaries to various county- and district-level committees. The party criticized CPC policies dating back to the third plenary session of the 11th CPC Central Committee in 1978, when Deng’s market reforms were introduced. Calling the CPC “degenerate” and “corrupt,” the group cited Mao’s strategies of guerilla warfare to encourage the establishment of a new proletarian regime.
Local police branded the Mamao Party a subversive group that “stole” the title of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought. Wang was detained in Xuchang, Henan, on January 9, 1999. Chinese government sources informed Dui Hua that Wang was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment for subversion, while leading members Zang Yongqin (臧永钦) and Dong De’an (董得安) were both sentenced to 10 years. Police classified all party members as part of the “targeted population,” a group of free persons singled out for additional public surveillance, and forced them to write statements of repentance. Zang and Dong were released in 2006 and 2007, respectively, after receiving sentence reductions. Wang is not known to have received clemency and may remain in prison until 2014.
In the 1990s, several senior CPC leaders advocated for workers and farmers to stage an armed rebellion, among them was Xu Jianyi (徐建一), according to investigative journalist Zhao Yan (赵岩). (Zhao was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in 2006 for exposing forced land seizures, evictions, and other farmers’ rights issues.) Born in 1954, Xu was an editor of Hongqi (Red Flag), the state-run magazine that was renamed Qiushi Journal in 1988. He studied human rights theories in Geneva and co-wrote China’s first human rights white book, rebuking western criticisms of China’s human rights situation from 1990‒2000. Along with former Central Propaganda Minister Deng Liqun and leftist writer Wei Wei, Xu “supported” two banned publications that criticized Jiang Zemin’s “Three Represents” as overly capitalistic. Leftist officials were particularly outraged by Jiang’s plan to allow private entrepreneurs to become party members.
Allegedly using Hongqi to establish a new publishing company and purchase an office building in Beijing, Xu was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for “embezzlement” and “favoritism” on December 31, 2003. He is the only person known to have been sentenced in the case. According to Zhao Yan, Xu’s sentence was “relatively light” because state prosecutors deliberately prolonged his investigation until after Jiang Zemin retired as chairman of the Central Military Commission in 2002. In 2005, Hong Kong journalist Ching Cheong (程翔) shared a cell with Xu in Beijing’s Dahongmen Detention Center, which houses high-profile political prisoners and high-ranking officials.
One Man Committee
Wang Shiji (王士吉) formed the CPC Revolutionary Committee at his chemical plant in Yongjin County, Hebei Province, on May 16, 1999. As the sole member of his committee, he called for the proletariat to stage the “second socialist revolution.” He appointed himself party secretary and designed party flags and emblems. In letters he wrote petitioning the CPC in 2001, Wang said he was born to a poor family in 1944 and was indebted to Mao for assigning farm work to his family, giving them a house, and subsidizing his education from the time he entered primary school to his university graduation in 1968.
Wang opined that corruption plagued the CPC because it failed to strictly follow The Communist Manifesto and the principles of the Paris Commune. The root of this corruption, he argued, was Deng Xiaoping’s “revisionism,” a term used by Mao in the early 1960s to indicate that post-Stalinist Soviet interpretations of Marxism adulterated Marxist theory with capitalistic elements. Accusing Deng’s economic theory of betraying Marxism, Wang also openly criticized Jiang Zemin for strengthening the revisionist path and urged members of the Central Standing Committee to collectively resign. Between 1997 and 1999, Wang used the penname Mao Jidong (毛继东), literally “Mao’s successor,” to send more than two dozen critical letters and articles to the central government, party schools, and state-run and Hong Kong-based publishers. The self-proclaimed patriot and loyal party member warned that revisionism dismembered the Soviet Union in 1991, and China would follow suit.
On November 22, 2000, the Shijiazhuang Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Wang to three years’ imprisonment for inciting subversion. His letters and articles, although never published, were presented as evidence of “rumors” defaming party policies and leaders and the socialist system.
After his release in August 2002, Wang began petitioning to overturn his conviction and resumed his “anti-revisionist” writings. By that time, with the popularization of the Internet, he gained a broader audience, and in 2010, he reportedly formed the Marxism-Leninism-Maoism Workers’ Party of China (中国马列毛主义工人党). Wang explicitly stated that the party had a “fraternal” policy toward the CPC and would not attempt to overthrow incumbent party leaders.
In December 2010, the Chang’an District Civil Affairs Bureau rejected Wang’s application to register the party as a social organization. Wang then defiantly stated that he would formally announce the party’s establishment in March 2011, but whether the party was formally established or continues to operate is unknown. In an article that appeared on Boxun in June 2013, Wang focuses on corruption in the CPC but makes no mention of his party. He questions President Xi Jinping’s sincerity and ability to curb graft after fire engulfed grain stocks slated for central government inspection in Daqing, Heilongjiang Province.
Against Hu Jintao and Charter 08
Circulating information on social networking services and sympathetic websites, the Mao Zedong Thought Communist Party of China (中国毛泽东主义共产党) was founded on November 28, 2008. In its “Ten Declarations,” the party promises that a successful revolutionary movement against the CPC will purge corrupt officials; restore the people’s communes; and lead to employment, education, healthcare, and housing for all. About a month after its founding, the party allegedly distributed pamphlets in Beijing, Shanghai, and other big cities asserting the rights of workers to overthrow Hu Jintao’s “fascist” regime. The party was equally hostile to signatories of Charter 08, a political manifesto calling for multi-party governance, calling them “traitors” and “reactionary elites” who plotted to “westernize” and “subjugate” China to US imperialism. In 2009, the party briefly received foreign media attention, but little is known about the fate of party members.
Possibly emboldened by Bo Xilai’s Mao-style approach, 34 representatives from more than 20 provinces convened a secret meeting on October 15, 2009, in rural Wansheng County, Chongqing, where Bo was municipal party secretary, to discuss “Mao’s revolutionary practices.” One of the organizers was Ma Houzhi (马厚芝), a teacher and Shandong native who had spent more than 40 years advocating Maoism. According to Hong Kong’s Open Magazine, the meeting was joined by several members of a Chongqing Mao Zedong Thought society and a Nanjing university professor who had organized Mao Zedong Thought classes in Henan’s Nanjie Village—a place that reportedly retains pre-reform collectivized agricultural production.
Online forums include accounts of armed police and security officers raiding the gathering and confiscating computers, party flags, and propaganda. Twenty-five of the meeting participants were sent back to their original residences after serving 4‒5 days of administrative detention for holding an “illegal assembly.” Ten other members, whose average age was over 50, were criminally detained for “organizing terrorist activity.”
Government sources confirmed for Dui Hua earlier this year that at least four members, including Ma, are serving sentences for subversion in Chongqing and Guizhou. Ma and Wei Jinxiang (蔚晋湘) are both scheduled to complete 10-year sentences on October 14, 2019. Incarcerated in Guizhou’s Zunyi Prison, Niu Yong (牛勇) and He Yuanfa (何远发) are serving five- and six-year sentences, respectively. Government sources were unable to verify information about Deng Guobin (邓国宾), who was reportedly sentenced to five years’ imprisonment.
Patriotism and Mao Zedong
Partially to appease hardline leftists bitter over Bo Xilai’s downfall, in his first speech at the Politburo collective study session in November 2012, Xi Jinping emphasized that Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought “must not be lost.” This summer, Xi remarked that Mao’s lakeside villa in Wuhan, Hubei Province, should become a youth learning center dedicated to patriotism.
While toeing the line of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” and “stability above all else” under one-party rule, how appropriate is it for Xi to stress Mao Zedong Thought? As the aforementioned cases show, a deep love for Mao and country is not the same as a deep love for the CPC, and those who favor communist ideals over the “perils” of democracy and constitutional government may also face persecution.