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China's New ‘Black Five’ Categories – Social Threat or Core Strength?

During the Cultural Revolution in China, the term ‘Five Black Categories‘ was used as a political label for cracking down on five social and political groups – landlords, rich farmers, anti-revolutionists, ‘bad-influencers’ and right-wingers. Many innocent people were prosecuted as a result or even killed, and even the Chinese government admitted that the political struggle was a man-made “disaster” [zh].

However, recently Chinese state media has revived the political labels to describe another five groups – human rights lawyers, underground churches and religions, dissidents, online opinion leaders and social minorities.

The new ‘Black Five Categories’

A historical photo showing the public execution of people from the "Black Five Categories" during the Cultural Revolution. Public domain photo via Molihua.

A historical photo showing the public execution of people from the “Black Five Categories” during the Cultural Revolution. Public domain photo via Molihua.

The article [zh] concerned, written by Yuan Peng, the head of United States Studies under the China Institute of Contemporary International Relation (CICIR), was published in the China Daily overseas edition on July 31, 2012. It accused the U.S. government of penetrating China's grassroots communities to create the conditions for political change, and declared that the ‘new five black categories’ have become U.S. allies.

Beijing lawyer Zhang Kai was among the first to comment on [zh] the political propaganda on social networking platform Weibo:


Global Times just interviewed me for my opinions on the ‘five groups,’ I enlightened to something during the interview. The ‘five groups’ represent five fundamental values. Human rights lawyers represent the law and the constitution. Underground religions and churches represent the fight for freedom of belief. Internet personalities represent freedom of expression. Dissidents represent the fight for political rights. And the minority groups represent the fight for justice. These are the core values of a modern society. (Epoch Times’ translation)

All Chinese people are “black fives”

Human rights lawyer Xiao Guozheng, however, looks into the new black five categories and concludes [zh] that 100% of Chinese people fall into the categories:


The harm done by the [unrestrained] public authority is horrible and pervasive. No matter how strong, powerful (such as our former President Liu Shaoqi) and wealthy (such as the billionaire in Chongqing) a person is, once s/he becomes the victim of the public authority and cannot be protected by a fair and effective judicial system, they will become the minorities under the unrestrained public authority grinding machine. Not to mention that the existing marginalized group is already the majority.Please ask: Do you belong to the minority group?If you ask what is the proportion of black fives to the nation's population. I would say 100%.

No wonder that news commentator, Yan Jiawei, believes [zh] the new political label will create no real effect:


The only interpretation of Yuan Peng's “New Black Five Categories” is that they represent the core strength of Chinese society. A new power to counter corruption, defend democracy and legal justice. They represent the power of morality and conscience which drives the transformation of Chinese society towards democracy. The think tank of national security puts forward the theory of New Black Five Categories to obstruct the citizen rights movement and democratic transformation in China. Such effort is doomed to failure.

Indeed, instead of rejecting the new political label, dissidents and marginalized social groups have started to use the term to label themselves. The photo below shows some Fujian demonstrators who have dressed themselves like the “black fives” during the Cultural Revolution to protest against judicial injustice. The photo spread quickly in Sina Weibo and was deleted.

Twitter user @xinceng34 [zh] reposted it:

Fujian demonstrators label themselves as “black fives” to protest against judicial injustice. Photo via Twitter user xinceng34

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