Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Leftist Dissent Under Xi: The Old Leftists, Part II

In "Leftist Dissent Under Xi: The Old Leftists," Part I, Dui Hua discussed the phenomenon of neo-Maoism among a number of social groups, including veterans and laid-off workers. In this post, we look at attempts to form political parties intended to resurrect the ideology, culture, and legacy of the Mao era, and the government’s reactions to these efforts.

Political Parties

Despite faltering public trust in local officials, the central government still earns the approval of many patriotic workers and veterans, especially since the launch of Xi’s anti-corruption campaign, which appears to have won the hearts and minds of the majority of Chinese. However, there exists a small segment of aggrieved leftists who believe their plight cannot be addressed without an ideological overhaul within the CCP. They believe that the CCP must revert to pre-reform era socialism, restore the people’s communes, re-collectivize, and provide employment, education, healthcare, and housing for all throughout China. They also think that the alternative communist parties they created are the true vanguard of socialism, a path from which the CCP has been straying for over 40 years since Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms began.

Dui Hua has previously reported cases of leftist subversion from 1980-2012, where individuals received harsh prison sentences for founding political groups with the aim of overthrowing the CCP, which some on the far left believe has morphed into totalitarian capitalism. A year before Xi came to power, Dong Zhanyi (董占义), founder of the New Era Communist Party of China, was sentenced to life imprisonment for subversion and contract fraud. The party was established around 2008 with the mission to fight rampant government corruption.

Under Xi, new political associations created by the Old Leftists continue to emerge. Instead of promoting regime change like Dong Zhanyi, some of these newly formed groups call for mutual coexistence with the CCP. One such case involves Wang Shiji (王士吉), who calls himself Mao Jidong (毛继东, literally “Mao’s Successor”). Wang had attempted to set up the “China Communist Party Revolution Commission” in 1999, but was arrested on September 8, 1999. Wang completed his three-year sentence for inciting subversion in August 2002. In August 2016, at the age of 72, apparently undeterred, he founded a new party, the “Defend Mao Zedong People’s Party.” This Hebei-based party, which he claimed had about 40 members from across China, aimed to promote love for Mao and the concept of popular sovereignty. Casting it as a “fraternal” party that sounds less radical than the programs of his leftist counterparts, Wang said that his party would co-exist and enjoy equal status with the CCP, and that privatization must be stopped in order to solve China’s current problems of corruption and a widening gap between rich and poor. However, after being summoned and warned by officials in Shijiazhuang, Hebei, Wang dissolved the party, one day before he was scheduled to convene the first “national congress,” which he had claimed would be attended by representatives from a number of major cities. He is not known to have received any criminal punishment thereafter.

Wang Zheng founded the Supreme Constitution Party at the age of 48 in 2013. She commended former Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai for being a genuine socialist, because, she believes, he improved the lives of ordinary people in Chongqing. Image Credit: VOA

It would be mistaken to assume that Maoism enjoys only grassroots popularity. Leftist ideologies are no less appealing among certain educated professionals looking for solutions to present-day China’s social ills. Wang Zheng (王铮), a former associate professor at Beijing Institute of Economics and Management, set up the “Supreme Constitution Party” in November 2013, two months after Bo Xilai was sentenced to life in prison for bribe-taking, embezzlement, and abuse of power. Bo, who won national renown with his “sing red, strike black” campaign while serving as Chongqing Party Secretary from 2007-2012, was hailed as a hero by many leftists. Wang is a vocal supporter of Bo, calling the former rising star in the Politburo a genuine socialist who spent money in Chongqing on public housing to improve lives of ordinary people. In a New York Times interview in 2013, Wang claimed that her party aimed to promote “common prosperity,” a core socialist value that the CCP has largely ignored, mostly through its failure to address widening income disparity. Although Wang never met Bo, she said Bo’s stated egalitarian views and his self-defense in court had inspired her. Wang believes that Bo was a victim of a power struggle within the CCP and her party is an answer to what she sees as serious political problems. When asked whether her party was legal, Wang retorted that "even the CCP didn’t register when it was set up… it was a revolutionary party!” Wang and other members elected Bo as the “Chairman for Life” before the party was banned by Beijing’s Bureau of Civil Affairs in December 2013.

In 2013, the Shandong High People’s Court upheld the life imprisonment sentence of Bo Xilai, the former Party Secretary of Chongqing, who tried to revive Mao-era culture by encouraging locals to sing revolutionary songs. Image Credit: CCTV

Since Xi put Bo and other big “tigers” behind bars on corruption charges, the threat posed by Wang’s political party to the CCP was negligible at best. Nevertheless, Wang remained a target of police surveillance because of her high-profile support for Bo. In 2016, Wang organized a protest against the demolition of Xinghai Square in Dalian, an iconic landmark built by Bo when he served as the mayor from 1993-2000; the demolition is part of a drive by the new leaders in the north-eastern port city to wipe out the lingering “poisonous” legacy left by Bo. In the same year, Wang published articles calling county- and township-level elections a “black-box operation” and Xi the “most unruly leader.” Wang’s insistent demands for Bo’s political rehabilitation led to her detention in Beijing in March 2017, this time for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles.” Hefei, provincial capital of Anhui, was later instructed by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate to investigate this “important and sensitive” case in December 2017. In July 2018, she was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. Wang is currently scheduled for release in March 2022.

The "Genuine Communist Party"

A small group of leftists continue to seek regime change by forming political parties which they believe represent genuine vehicles for Mao Zedong Thought. Dui Hua discovered several names of prisoners belonging to the so-called “Genuine Communist Party,” a virtual party founded in 2010 by a Jiangsu worker naned Chen Jianmin (陈剑敏). Chen, who was born in 1962 and is also known by his internet nickname Zhou Qun (周群), founded and led a party entitled “The Central Committee of the Chinese Proletarian Revolution.” Unlike Wang Shiji and Wang Zheng, Chen, through his party, openly calls for the overthrow of the ruling CCP and condemns Chinese leaders from Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping as “fake communists” and “capitalist bureaucrats.” Although the party claims to convene weekly online meetings, the minutes posted on its party website indicate that the meetings have been sparsely attended by a mere handful of netizens.

Chen has now been placed “under supervision,” (beikongzhi 被控制), according to information posted in May 2019. The wording suggests that his personal liberty is restricted with an unknown coercive measure being placed on him. Information from the party’s online forum also reveals that since 2013 seven members of this party from Fujian, Hubei, Hunan, Guangdong, Gansu, and Jiangsu have been beaten, received administrative detentions, or have even been committed to psychiatric hospitals.

Dui Hua’s research also found that some “young leftists,” believers in Marxism or Maoism born after Mao’s death in 1976, have joined the Genuine Communist Party. One of the known members was Ye Dongdong (叶东东), a sophomore in Chongqing Vocational College of Media in 2013. In February of that year, Ye was detained for ten days after putting up public notices in Chongqing and his home province, Gansu, that claimed China is a capitalist, not a socialist, country and promoted the Genuine Communist Party. Four years later, in November 2017, Ye was re-detained and later indicted in Longnan, Gansu, for inciting subversion. Ye stood trial in the Longnan Intermediate People’s Court in 2018, but the trial outcome is unknown.

In a separate case, another Genuine Communist Party member, Zhou Liangliang (周亮亮), completed his three years’ sentence for subversion in Beijing in 2016. Dui Hua unearthed this case from a civil judgment handed down by the Chaoyang District People’s Court in December 2016. In this civil case, Zhou, born in 1983, was the plaintiff, seeking compensation because he had been dismissed by a power consulting company in 2013 on the grounds that Zhou was a member of the “illegal” Genuine Communist Party. Zhou was also accused of using the company’s Internet connection to plan and publicize activities aimed to “overthrow the government and party and subvert state power.” Unsurprisingly, the court found that Zhou had been lawfully dismissed. The company was not required to pay compensation to Zhou.

Read the other installments in this series to find out more about contemporary China’s young leftists and their activism.