Why Chinese Gen Z embraces Mao

THEY read it in libraries and in the subways. They have organized online book clubs devoted to his works. They uploaded hours of audio and video, spreading the gospel of his revolutionary thought. Chairman Mao is making a comeback among Chinese Generation Z.

The supreme leader of the Communist Party inspires and comforts disgruntled people born long after his death in 1976. For them, Mao Zedong is a hero who speaks of their despair as a struggling person.

In a modern China grappling with worsening social inequalities, Mao’s words justify the anger young people feel towards a business class they see as exploitation. They want to follow in his footsteps and change Chinese society.

Mao’s fashion lays bare the paradoxical reality facing the Chinese Communist Party, which celebrated the centenary of its founding on July 1. Under President Xi Jinping, the party has placed itself at the center of almost every aspect of Chinese life and claims credit for the economic progress the country has made.

At the same time, economic growth is weakening and opportunities for young people appear to be dwindling. There is a growing wealth gap, unaffordable housing and a lack of labor protection. The party must find a way to appease or tame this new generation of Maoists it helped create, or it might find it difficult to govern.

“The new generation is lost in this divided society, so they will seek out the keys to the problems,” a Maoist blogger wrote on the social media platform WeChat. “In the end, they will certainly find Chairman Mao.”

The class struggle revisited

In interviews and online posts, many young people have said that they can identify with Mao’s analysis of Chinese society as a constant class struggle between the oppressed and their oppressors.

“Like many young people, I am optimistic about the future of the country but pessimistic about mine,” said Du Yu, 23, who has suffered burnout since his last job as editor at a start-up. -up blockchain in the tech-obsessed world. Chinese city of Shenzhen.

Mao’s writings, he said, “offer spiritual relief to small town youth like me.”

Chinese tech workers are often expected to work 9 am to 9 pm six days a week, a practice so common they call it “996”.

Du’s schedule was worse. After only getting five hours of sleep over three days at the end of last year, his heart pounded, he was gasping for air, and he became lethargic. He resigned shortly after. He has not looked for a job for three months and rarely ventures outside. A doctor diagnosed with mild depression.

“Most of my peers that I know always want to be successful,” Du said. “We are simply against exploitation and senseless efforts. “

Although Mao never left, he was once old fashioned. In the 1980s, as freedom and free markets became buzzwords, young people turned to the books of Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre and Milton Friedman. Studying Mao was compulsory in school, but many students missed these lessons.

Today’s Generation Z in China is reminiscent of the feelings a much older generation had for Mao. In this 1966 archive photo, portraits of the Great Leader and books are displayed at a public rally in Beijing. – AP

After the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, martial arts novels and books by successful entrepreneurs topped the bestseller lists.

But China has become fertile ground for a revival of Mao. Nominally a socialist country, China is one of the most unequal countries in the world. Some 600 million Chinese, or 43% of the population, earn only about US $ 150 (RM 628) per month.

Many young people think that they cannot fit into the middle class or raise their parents up. The apparent lack of upward social mobility has led them to question the party, which they deem too tolerant of the capitalist class.

The growing presence of the party in daily life has also opened doors for Maoism. The intensification of the indoctrination under Xi made the young people both more nationalistic and more immersed in communist ideology.

“Die for the country? Yes, ”says an online slogan. “Die for the capitalists? Never! ”New slogans among young people reveal this favorable mood for Mao.

As wages begin to stagnate, young people speak of “downgrading of consumption”. Their employers make them work so hard that they call themselves “wage slaves”, “company cattle” and “overtime dogs”. A growing number of them say they would rather become lazy, using the Chinese expression “tang ping” or “lay flat”.

These attitudes helped make the five volumes of Mao Zedong’s Selected Works popular again. Photos of fashionably dressed young people reading books in the subway, at airports and in cafes are circulating online.

Students at Tsinghua University Library in Beijing borrowed the book more than any other in 2019 and last year, according to the library’s official WeChat account.

“I will definitely reread the selected works over and over again in the future,” wrote a young blogger named Mukangcheng on Douban, a Chinese social media service focused on books, movies and other media. “He has the power to show the light to a person seeking in darkness. It strengthens my weak soul and widens my narrow worldview.

Mukangcheng, who refused to give me his real name, uses an email account called Left Left. His portrait is a red Mao badge. His messages relate to the high prices of pork and the lack of money for his phone bills. In 2018, when he visited the site of the First National Communist Party Congress in Shanghai, he wrote in the guestbook, quoting Mao: “Never forget the class struggle!

Others commenting online on Selected Works said they saw themselves in young Mao, an educated young villager from a remote province trying to succeed in the early 1900s in the large city then known as Beijing.

They generally call Mao “teacher,” a term he preferred to call himself.

“Who are our enemies? “

Many users of social networks like to quote the first sentence of the first volume: “Who are our enemies? Who are our friends? Mao wrote in 1925. “This is a question of primary importance for the revolution.

Many say that their greatest enemies are the capitalists who exploit them. The main target of their anger is Jack Ma, the co-founder of Alibaba’s e-commerce empire.

He was once hailed as the embodiment of the Chinese dream. Now they laugh at his comments supporting the 996 work culture and saying that business itself is the greatest philanthropy.

“Workers are just money making tools for people like him,” said 19-year-old Xu Yang.

Ma later retracted his remarks, saying he only wanted to pay tribute to workers who put in long hours out of love for their work.

Online calls for violence against capitalists – like the cry of the French Revolution to hang aristocrats from lampposts, “by the lantern!” – not to be censored on the Internet in China.

Xu, a high school graduate from southern Zhejiang province who wants to major in fashion design at university, said he read Mao because he wanted to change China for the better. The portrait on his Douban account is an old poster of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao with the slogan: “Long live Marxism-Leninism-the thought of Mao Zedong!”

He describes himself in his biography as “a revolutionary proletarian soldier”.

The anti-establishment sentiment of Maoist youth does not end with the capitalist class. The radicals also wonder why the party allows to deepen social inequalities.

“Hasn’t the proletariat won the revolution? Xu asked. “But why are the masters of the country now at the bottom when the targets of the proletarian dictatorship are at the top? What went wrong? “- The times of the straits

The Asia News Network (ANN) is an alliance of 24 media entities. The Asian Editors Circle is a commentary series from ANN editors and contributors.

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