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Property Tycoon Angers Ideologues by Saying China's Communism Has a Long Way to Go

During the Cultural Revolution, the red guards believed that they were the successors of communism and were very active in class struggle. Historical photo from Ren Zhiqiang's blog.

During the Cultural Revolution, the red guards believed that they were the successors of communism and were very active in class struggle. Historical photo from Ren Zhiqiang's blog.

Since China opened its doors to the world's business in the late 1970s, the country's private sector has grown rapidly. Today, China's economy may seem to have more in common with its capitalist Western counterparts than with a truly communist system based on collective ownership of the means of production.

While some might argue that China is no longer communist in a strict sense, it's still very much a feature of the ideological battle being waged under current Chinese President Xi Jinping. Slogans such as “uphold communism” or “communism is the greatest ideal” often pop up on social media, and public figures who don't profess their love for the motherland with enough conviction have become the target of online trolling.

The latest person to catch flak is real estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang, who spoke out against a communist slogan and triggered a hot debate online.

‘I have been cheated’

Ren Zhiqiang, who has more than 33 million followers on Twitter-like Weibo, is nicknamed “the cannon” for his outspokenness. The phrase he took issue with was “we are successors of communism,” which appeared as a hashtag in a statement from the Central Communist Youth League, a party organization with 75 million members and a coordinating body of the “civilization” campaign to spread online messages that put China in a positive light:

【信仰】其实,对于我们共青团人来说,共产主义既是最高理想,也是实现过程。现阶段为实现中华民族伟大复兴、建设富强民主文明和谐的社会主义现代化国家而奋斗就是这一伟大实践的现实体现。 让我们理直气壮地高扬共产主义旗帜,因为,#我们是共产主义接班人#

Belief: Indeed, for members of the Youth League, communism is the ideal and a process [toward this ideal]. Our current stage is to fulfill the Chinese national revival and to build a democratic civilization that will bring about a harmonious socialism and a modernized state — all these projects are part of the process [toward communism]. Let us hold up the flag of communism with pride because we are the successors of communism.

“We are the successors of communism” was a theme song featured in the 1961 movie “Little Heroes” meant to spread patriotism among young people in the then newly established China. The lyrics speak of following in the footsteps of the forbearers of the communist revolution by struggling against and destroying the enemy for the cause of communism.

Upon reading the League's message, Ren commented, “I have been cheated by this slogan for over a decade.” In his day, Ren was one of the youth who believed in political struggle, but he has grown disillusioned looking back on the violence of the Cultural Revolution, a movement led by Chinese Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong throughout the 1960s to rid the party and country of people who were deemed not true communists. At the same time, Mao's disastrous economic policies contributed to the Great Chinese famine, during which millions died.

In a response article titled “Are we the successors of communism?”, Ren argued that today's young communists are not in fact the heirs of communism, calling Mao's rule a “dictatorship.” Below are excerpts of his piece via “What's on Weibo“:

我们从儿时就是听着哥哥姐姐们唱"我们是共产主义接班人"这只歌长大的。
小学三年级当我戴上了红领巾时,也学会了唱这首歌。每当看到五星红旗升起时,我们都会举起右手敬礼,并高唱这首歌。心中充满信心和希望![…]梦想着可以接受伟大领袖毛主席检阅,当一名真正的共产主义接班人。

When I was in the third grade, wearing a red neckscarf, I also learned this song. Every time we saw the five-starred red flag raised, we saluted it with our right hand, and sang this song. Our hearts were full of confidence and hope! […] We dreamed of being seen by Leader Mao Zedong: a real successor of communism.

没想到的是文革开始几个月之后,我的父母就成了走资本主义的当权派,我也成了黑帮子女。还有个"狗崽子"的光荣称号。共产主义接班人的梦变成了可以敎育好的子女。
我们被欺骗了十几年。文革让我知道只有无产阶级专政下的阶级斗争再革命。而没有共产主义接班人!

I never thought that when the Cultural Revolution began a few months later, my parents would become ‘capitalist-roaders’, and I would be the child of criminals, and get the glorious title of a ‘son of a bitch’. My dream to grow up to be a next generation communist changed to being a child who had to be rehabilitated.

We’ve been deceived for years. The Cultural Revolution only let me know the class struggle under a proletarian dictatorship. And that there is no next generation of communism.

‘Communism is a very far-reaching and hard goal’

Ren wasn't arguing against communism itself, but the way in which the Chinese Communist Party has gone about realizing it in China.

He wrote that China should abandon the empty talk of communism and deal with its immediate problems — establish democracy and freedom to promote equality, stabilize incomes, strengthen the rule of law, and embrace the world's value system — to prosper. With more prosperity, China will inch closer to true communism, he said, but that will take time — communism isn't something that is achieved overnight or even within a few generations.

His comment polarized Chinese social media. Opponents accused him of attacking the party, while supporters applauded him for boldly speaking out.

The League quickly responded in an article written by its Propaganda Minister Jin Lin that insisted that communism is the existing base of the Chinese Communist Party and accused Ren as a party member of betraying his belief:

既然任志强先生这么公开鲜明、郑重其事地反对共产党员的共产主义理想,又指名道姓、断然决绝地指出现在共青团员接共产主义的班是天大的笑话,那么,作为整个共青团组织的一员,就有必要认真严肃、平心静气地对任志强先生进行回应。[…]作为一名社会人士,他有不信仰的自由;然而,作为党团组织、党团员,我们也有信仰共产主义的天然的、绝对的自由,谁也没有权利对此指手画脚,普通群众不行,社会名流也不行;党外人士不行,共产党员更不行。

Now that Ren Zhiqiang has openly opposed the communist ideal held by party members and specifically mentioned that the Youth League as the successor of communism is a big joke, as a member of the Communist Youth League I find it necessary to respond to Mr. Ren’s comment seriously and peacefully. […] As a public figure, he has the freedom to hold his beliefs. But as a party member, we have the freedom to believe in communism and no one can point fingers at us. Ordinary people can't do such things, celebrity can't, non-party member can't and party members shouldn't.

Jin Lin's claim that Ren, as a party member, opposes the communist party's beliefs was used as excuse for political persecution during the anti-rightist movement in 1950s and the Cultural Revolution.

‘Don't confuse criticism of the party's history…as opposing the party’

Ren defended himself, penning another article refuting the League’s accusation and clarifying his view. He pinned the post at the top of his Weibo page with the following remark:

团中央发表了一篇与我榷的文章。心平气和的送了顶反党反共产主义的大帽子。只好再写几句。千万别让团中央用愚昧再去欺骗年轻的一代。千万别让改革开放退回到改革之前。我不在乎别人骂我,但团中央不能用无知欺骗社会!

The Central Communist Youth League posted an article discussing me, labeling me as anti-party and anti-communism. I have to write something warning against allowing the League to use ignorance to cheat the younger generation, against allowing China's reforms and opening up to be scaled back. I don’t care about being abused, but the League can’t use ignorance to cheat society!

In his long post, he pointed out:

不要以为对党的历史和现状提出批评就是反党。中共历史上有过无数次党的领导人的变更,也有过无数次党内的路线斗争。对党提出反对意见和批评最多的是毛,多少次的路线斗争都围绕着毛的领导地位而产生的。请问党内的斗争是反党还是爱党?

Don't confuse criticism of the party's history and current status as opposing the party. In the history of the Chinese Communist Party, the leadership and party lines have changed many times. In fact, Mao Zedong criticized the party the most and the struggles over party lines were mainly the result of the status of Mao's leadership. So how should you describe the internal party struggle? As opposition to the party or love for the party?

我反对的是急功近利的将“共产主义接班人”的口号放在今天空喊!这会误导大众,尤其是误导年轻的一代又一代。

What I oppose is sloganeering “successors of communism” for quick success and instant benefit today! It would mislead the public, especially the younger generations.

共产主义在有中国共产党的那天就不是只属于一个民族,一个国家的。共产主义天生就是个国际的主义!能不能实现也决不是一个政党,一个民族,一个国家的事。[…] 中国可以将马克思主义与中国的实际结合,建立有“中国特色的社会主义”。但这最多也只是“中国梦”,不是共产主义!

Communism since the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party does not belong to any nationality and state. Communism is internationalism, a project which cannot be fulfilled by any single party, nationality or state. […] What China can do is to combine Marxism with the country’s specific situation to build “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” But it is merely at most a “Chinese Dream” rather than communism!

Ren said he was forced to delete his introductory remark to the post on Weibo to settle the dispute, but you can still read the article on his blog.

The powerful Youth League

Even though the League isn't an official department of the government or the party, it has been able to influence millions of youth through its enormous affiliates across the country. It’s also the power base of former President Hu Jintao, who was its previous general secretary, and has produced such luminaries as current Premier Li Keqiang and Guangdong party chief Hu Chunhua.

However, at a July central leadership meeting, Xi Jinping sent a warning signal to the powerful League to be less “aristocratic” and more in touch at a time of slowing economic growth within China.

As of the end of 2014, the League had recruited nearly 90 million members, who pay an annual fee and must be less than 28 years old, according to figures from its personnel department.

  • lacompacida

    Chinese economy is still a centrally controlled (that is, very few decision makers) economy. That control can be a planned control or haphazard control, or random control, or seat of the pant control, it is still centrally controlled by a small number of people, who may or may not agree with each other, and may have different conflicting agendas. And objectives of these decision makers may not be maximizing profit of the firms. It can be maximizing the bribe they can receive, or his friends and family will receive, or to bring down certain factions.

    • Drew

      Which, ironically, is exactly the sort of nepotism that the chinese communist party was criticizing and trying to fight, originally.

      Basically every “communist” party out there that actually controls a country isn’t communist at all, because communism is by definition supposed to be classless and stateless, so ‘communist government’ is a contradiction in terms.

      • Jane

        “communist government” is just the thing that China government’s thing to run this country. Probable it is not on the track now compare that the firstly place it has been launched. But we can also see that current government is trying to re-structure their national -owned companies. And We can also see from thing is that people are realising that the policy system is not like China’ government’s advocate. However, i see this thing as a positive progress because people now have chance to share their idea at least .

  • Jane

    BUT you can also see the voice from China’s dominated media say that “how to remove the Copy-hat and be creative in our industry” , which means that people be aware of that they need change their industry model from state’s owned to private enterprises .

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