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China's crackdown on business, media and entertainment sectors is packaged as a ‘profound revolution’

Image created by Oiwan Lam

An article that suggests China’s recent crackdown on all sectors is part of a ‘profound revolution’ to shift the country toward a socialist system, has been republished by more than 30 state-owned media outlets since August 29, 2021, indicating a coordinated effort within the Chinese government to promote its message. However, many Chinese political dissidents have suggested the rhetoric in this article is reminiscent of calls for a Cultural Revolution, and could be a means to consolidate power within the ruling party and distract from domestic crises.

China started a heavy-handed clampdown on the private corporate sector from Big Tech companies to property developers near the end of 2020. The crackdown then extended to education, culture and entertainment. There has been speculation about the motivation behind the clampdown and one widely circulated theory is that Chinese President Xi Jinping is using the crackdown to consolidate his power.

Recently, the Chinese propaganda machine provided another theory for Xi Jinping's comprehensive clampdown — a revolution to move away from a ‘capitalist-centred’ system to return to a ‘people-centered’ socialist system. 

The article, entitled ‘Everyone can sense that a profound transformation is underway’ (每一個人都能感受到,一場深刻變革正在進行),  is written by Li Guangmen, a nationalist writer. The article begins with an overview of the recent crackdown on celebrities in China. The propaganda authorities have criticized celebrities for being morally corrupt and slammed their fans for being irrational. The article also says the series of crackdowns on private corporations such as the suspension of Ant Group’s IPO, the 18.2 billion yuan fine levied on Alibaba and the investigation of Didi Global, as a sign of a profound transformation toward ‘common prosperity and will alter China’s political-economic system’ (English translation via China Digital Times):

一系列整治动作,都在告诉我们,中国正在发生重大变化,从经济领域、金融领域、文化领域到政治领域都在发生一场深刻的变革,或者也可以说是一场深刻的革命。这是一次从资本集团向人民群众的回归,这是一次以资本为中心向以人民为中心的变革。因此,这是一场政治变革,人民正在重新成为这场变革的主体,所有阻挡这场以人民为中心变革的都将被抛弃。

What these events tell us is that a monumental change is taking place in China, and that the economic, financial, cultural, and political spheres are undergoing a profound transformation — or, one could say, a profound revolution. It marks a return to the people from ‘capitalist cliques’, a shift from ‘capital-centered’ to ‘people-centered’. It is, therefore, a political transformation in which The People will once again be front and center, and all those who obstruct this people-centered transformation will be left behind.

The author predicts that the crackdown will be extended to other sectors including education, health and housing, and blames the US for staging a Colour Revolution to bring down the one-party regime in China: 

美国正在对中国实施越来越严厉的军事威胁、经济及科技封锁、金融打击、政治及外交围剿,正在对中国发动生物战、网络战、舆论战、太空战,力度越来越大地通过中国内部的第五纵队对中国发动颜色革命。如果这个时候,我们还要依靠那些大资本家作为反帝国主义、反霸权主义的主力、还在迎合美国的奶头乐战略,让我们的青年一代失去强悍和阳刚的雄风,那么我们不用敌人来打就自己先倒下了,就像当年苏联一样,任国家崩溃、任国家财富被洗劫、任人民陷入深重灾难。因此当前我们中国正在发生的这场深刻变革,正是为了应对当前严峻而复杂的国际形势,正是为了应对美国已经开始对中国发动的野蛮而凶猛的攻击。

The US is waging biological warfare, cyber warfare, space warfare and public opinion battles against China, and is ramping up efforts to foment a ‘color revolution’ by mobilizing a fifth column [or Quisling] within China. If we rely on the barons of capitalism to battle the forces of imperialism and hegemony, if we continue our obeisance to American ‘tittytainment’ tactics, if we allow this generation of young people to lose their mettle and masculinity, then who needs an enemy — we will have brought destruction upon ourselves, much like the Soviet Union back in the day, when it allowed the nation to disintegrate, its wealth to be looted and its population to sink into calamity. The profound transformations now taking place in China are a direct response to an increasingly fraught and complex international landscape, and a direct response to the savage and violent attacks that the US has already begun to launch against China.

The fact that this commentary has been republished by more than 30 state-owned media outlets has raised eyebrows among overseas Chinese political dissidents, as the coordinated campaign implies that the republication instructions are coming from the top.

Zhu Yuanhe, a former People Liberation Army soldier said the tone of the commentary resembles the editorial run by People’s Daily published on June 1, 1966, which marks the beginning of the Chinese Cultural Revolution:

Today all major media outlets published this article, ‘Everyone can sense that a profound transformation is underway’. I read through it patiently and found myself shivering.  It reminds me of the People’s Daily editorial 55 years ago.

The front-page editorial of the People’s Daily on June 1, 1966, read ‘Sweep away all monsters’. It references former Chinese leader Mao Zedong’s May 16 announcement about the threats of infiltration by counter-revolutionary revisionists to justify a rigorous class struggle against the bourgeoisie. The party’s internal struggle was then extended to a nationwide violent political purge in the name of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

Cai Xia, a retired professor of the CCP Central Party School also saw a resurgence of Chinese political history. She told Radio Free Asia that China had suffered from COVID-19 lockdown and the US-China trade war in recent years and Xi’s policy has been severely criticised in recent years. She believed that Xi’s political campaign was to divert public attention just as Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution was:

毛泽东为什么要做政治运动?就是三年大饥荒追责到毛的头上。1962年七千人大会上毛泽东陷入困境被追责,他在党内中高层的偶像崇拜破产。为了摆脱这种困境,毛从1964年开始搞农村的社会主义教育运动,接着到1966年搞文革,而在1966年之前,就开始对文艺圈、文化圈进行一波整肃。

Why did Mao Zedong decide to launch the political campaign? It took place in the aftermath of the Great Famine (1959–61). In 1962, during the Seven Thousand Cadres Conference, Mao was forced to admit his failure in the Great Leap Forward  (1958–1962). In order to uphold his leadership, he started a socialist education movement in rural China in 1964 and in 1966 he launched the Cultural Revolution. Before that, Mao had already purged the literature and cultural sector.

A number of international media outlets such as Bloomberg and Reuters also reported on the propaganda piece. Some, like The Australian, also sees the ‘profound revolution’ theory as an attempt to divert attention from the country's economic stress:

Rather than recycling the term Cultural Revolution, political cartoonist Rebel Pepper coined the all-around crackdown as the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s revolution:

The era of Xi’s revolution has officially arrived. Judging from the publication of  ‘Everyone can sense that a profound transformation is underway’ and a series of political moves including the nipping of several business sectors, crackdown on celebrities, the return of rights to rural land to the state, clampdown on property investment … all of these policies happened within the past six months. The suppression is escalating in full speed and very soon everyone and their property would be sucked into a dark hole.

Li Zhi-De, the chief editor of Chinese investigative news outlet the Initium, on the other hand, compares Xi's crackdown with the Land Reform Movement (1949-53), a political movement to purge landlords:

與其說習近平近年的措施像「二次文革」,我的想法是它更接近「(中共黨史中的)土改」。我的感受(說不上判斷)的主要依據是,對這些資本大鱷的斬殺,同時附以的論述,都非常接近「打土豪,分田地」的底蘊。它是以激進的手段(意圖)實現中國中底層平民最基本的生活要求:財富平均。這和毛澤東發動文革時比較務虛的意識型態,以及實際的政治目的 —— 黨內政變,都不相同。[…] 不要忽略,光是習近平所標舉的口號,就和「反貪腐」一樣,就足以鼓動起中國中、下層民眾對他強烈的支持,成為支持他續第三任的重要基礎。

Rather than calling Xi's measures ‘Cultural Revolution 2.0′, I think the move is more resembling the CCP's land reform. My impression is that the slaying of ‘capitalist crocodiles and the rhetorics on their crackdown is closer to the slogan ‘crackdown on landlords, redistribute the land. Through radical measures, it addresses the Chinese grassroots’ basic needs: redistribution of wealth. This is different from Mao's Cultural Revolution which was mobilized through a thin ideology and driven by a practical political need — the party's internal power struggle. […] What can't be ignored is that the slogan that Xi Jinping upholds is similar to ‘anti-corruption, it can effectively gain enough support from the grassroots and this would be a significant basis for the renewal of his third presidential term.

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