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, whose decades of uninterrupted political campaigns have claimed millions of lives, inspires and comforts disgruntled people born long after his death in 1976. For them, Mao Zedong is a hero who speaks to their despair as that nobody in trouble.
In a modern China grappling with growing social inequalities, Mao’s words justify the anger many young people feel towards a business class they see as exploitative. They want to follow in his footsteps and change Chinese society – and some have even spoken of violence against the capitalist class if necessary.
Mao fashion lays bare the paradoxical reality facing the party, which celebrated the centenary of its founding last week. Under President Xi Jinping, the party has placed itself at the center of almost every aspect of Chinese life. He takes credit for the country’s economic progress and tells the Chinese people to be grateful.
At the same time, economic growth weakens and opportunities for young people diminish. The party has no one else to blame for a growing wealth gap, unaffordable housing and a lack of labor protection. He must find a way to appease or tame this new generation of Maoists he helped create, or he might face challenges to rule.
âThe new generation is lost in this divided society, so they will seek out the keys to the problems,â a Maoist blogger wrote on the social media platform WeChat. “In the end, they will certainly find Chairman Mao.”
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, a 23-year-old who suffers from burnout from his last job as an editor in a blockchain startup in the tech-obsessed 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”. Mr. 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 sluggish. He resigned shortly after. He has not looked for a job for three months and rarely ventures outside. A doctor diagnosed with mild depression.
âMost of my peers that I know always want to be successful,â Mr. Du said. âWe 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. 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 a monthly income of only about $ 150. Many young people think that they cannot fit into the middle class or raise their parents up. The lack of social advancement has led them to question the purity of 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 Mr. Xi made the young people both more nationalistic and more immersed in communist ideology.
âDie for the country? Yes, âsays an online slogan. âDie for the capitalists? Never!”
New slogans among young people reveal this favorable mood for Mao. With stagnant wages, young people speak of a “downgrading of consumption”. Their employers work them 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 âtang pingâ or âlay flatâ.
These attitudes helped make the five volumes of “Mao Zedong’s Selected Works” popular again. Photos of fashionably dressed young people reading books in subways, airports and cafes are circulating online. Students at Tsinghua University Library in Beijing borrowed the book more than any other in 2019 and 2020, 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. âHe 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 on the guestbook, quoting Mao: âNever forget the class struggle!
Others commenting online on the “selected works” said they saw themselves in young Mao, an educated young villager from a remote province who was trying to succeed in the early 1900s in the large city then known as from Beijing. They generally call Mao “teacher,” a term he preferred to call himself.
Many social media users like to quote the first sentence of the first volume. âWho are our enemies? Who are our friends? Mao wrote in 1925. âThis is a question of primary importance for the revolution.
China’s tightening grip
- Xi warning: A century after the founding of the Communist Party, the Chinese leader declared that foreign powers “would break their heads and spill blood” if they tried to stop its rise.
- Behind the Hong Kong takeover: A year ago, the city’s freedoms were reduced at breakneck speed. But the crackdown lasted for years and many signals were missed.
- A year later in Hong Kong: Neighbors are invited to point out each other. Children learn to look for traitors. The Communist Party is remaking the city.
- Charting China’s post-Covid path: Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, seeks to balance confidence and caution as his country progresses while other countries continue to fight the pandemic.
- A challenge for the global leadership of the United States: As President Biden predicts a struggle between democracies and their opponents, Beijing is eager to defend the other side.
- “Red tourism” flourishes: New and improved attractions dedicated to the history of the Communist Party, or a sanitized version of it, draw crowds ahead of the party’s centenary.
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.
âWorkers are just money making tools for people like him,â said Xu Yang, 19, who went so far as to say that people like Mr. Ma âmust be eliminated physically and spiritually. “. Mr. Ma later reconsidered his remarks, saying he only wanted to pay tribute to workers who put in long hours out of love for their work.
Online calls similar to 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.
Mr. Xu, a high school graduate in 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!” “A revolutionary proletarian soldier”, we read in his biography.
The anti-establishment sentiment of young Maoists does not stop with the capitalist class. Radicals also wonder why the party has allowed social inequalities to worsen.
âHasn’t the proletariat won the revolution? Mr. 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?
After a classmate introduced him to Mao’s books last year, Mr. Xu researched obscure facts about China by using software to visit censored websites. He learned how the Chinese government crushed the efforts of young Marxist activists to help workers organize unions and arrested a meal delivery boy who had organized his peers to seek better protection of labor rights.
âBureaucracy and capital are highly integrated,â he said. âOur rebellion is unlikely to end with the capitalists. “
The government is wary of escalating sentiment and has started to censor some Maoist messages and discussions. A widely circulated and since deleted article analyzed why Mao’s revolution was unlikely to succeed in China today. The reasons: government surveillance and background checks.
âPeople like Mao could write in newspapers 100 years ago,â Mr. Xu said. âNow, if we make noise, we could instantly disappear. “