Public Criticisms in China

The words for 'nation' (Guo Jia 國家) separated by a 
mobile phone number to get fake identity documents

The photo above collected in Irony Lives In China: A Photo Album triggered some memories from the very interesting book, Rhetoric of The Chinese Cultural Revolution by Lu Xing.

(p. 121)  In traditional operas, loyalty to the emperor and obedience to authority were highly praised.  The Mandate of Heaven mythology of ancient China was naturally extended to adoration for Mao Zedong in modern times.  When revolutionary songs equated Mao with the gold sun and his teachings with sunshine, the Chinese embraced such exaltation and took it in stride.  Loyalty to the emperor was transferred to Mao and the party.  Obedience to authority became obedience to Mao's teachings.  Similarly, traditional Chinese values emphasized sacrifice for the community and state.  The new revolutionary art forms celebrated sacrifice for the proletarian cause.

In Chinese language the two characters guo (state) and jia (family) are always used together, implying that the head of the county is also the head of the family.  As China has had three thousand years of practicing filial piety in relation to the family, it was not difficult to extend the practice and apply it to the head of state.  Though Mao presented himself as a radical reformer of Chinese society and was critical of traditional Chinese attitudes concerning filial piety and loyalty, he allowed the masses to worship him as another Chinese emperor.  The only difference was that no Chinese emperor before him had ever been elevated to such a grand scale of deification.

Several interviewees shared with me the processes they underwent in eventually coming to regard Mao as a living saint.  Before the Cultural Revolution they already had great adoration for Mao, but not to the extent that Mao was even dearer to them than their own parents were.  After singing and hearing many songs eulogizing Mao and his thought, these interviewees were convinced that Mao was the dearest, the wisest, and the greatest.  They felt lucky to live during Mao's era and came to feel that they would not hesitate to sacrifice their lives to defend him.

Toward the end of the Cultural Revolution the cult of Mao began to decline as many had become disillusioned.  Interestingly, the worship for Mao has made a comeback in today's China.  Many popular songs eulogizing Mao during the Cultural Revolution have regained their popularity and are available in the marketplace.  It seems that the Chinese psyche needs a mythical figure like Mao.  On the other hand, the practice of placing absolute faith in a god-like leader seems to have been shattered to a large degree by Mao's death.  Deng Xiaopeng and the current leaders (for example, Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin) were never elevated to cult status as Mao was.  No songs have been written eulogizing their dees, and it is actually quite acceptable nowadays to criticize and even ridicule state leaders in private settings.

So maybe there still isn't anyone cursing out Hu Jintao (and his mother) in public these days, but there is no lack of weasels trying to curry favor with authorities everywhere.  However, these days, those weasels may come under open attack by others for their behavior.  Such is the case of this post at Xici Hutong's Reporters Section which is directed at an unnamed commentator who published an essay in the Chinese Youth Daily.

[in translation]

On your July 15 essay, the first sentence was "General Secretary Hu Jintao's important directive for university student voluntary services in the western region was like a beacon that points out a direction for the university students to move forward."  This made me quite embarrassed and disgusted, and stopped my desire to read another word further.

I don't know how to write commentaries, but I do know how to read.  I have often read terms of adulation such as "like the north star", "like the red sun" and "like a beacon."  I have even thought of myself as "the trapped beast groping in the dark", "the weak seedling needing to be nurtured by sunlight" and "the lone lost boat".  But that was thirty years ago.  After the north star retreats, the red sun sets and the beacon shuts down, then we can truly regard our nation and ourselves.

Weasels need to have thick skins among their peers these days ...