SUN WUKONG Maoism fuels princeling's power trip
By Wu Zhong, China Editor
HONG KONG - Bo Xilai, the good-looking, charismatic Chinese Communist Party
(CCP) secretary of Chongqing municipality, is in the spotlight again. A
citywide campaign he launched to virtually restore Mao Zedong-style ideological
indoctrination has attracted wide attention and won the applause of the top
leadership. This may boost the chances for Bo, now a politburo member, to move
up the last rung of the official ladder to enter the CCP power core at the 18th
party congress in 2012.
Bo was born in 1949, the year when Mao Zedong declared the founding of the
People's Republic of China (PRC). Like Vice President Xi Jinping, heir apparent
to President Hu Jintao, Bo belongs to the "princeling" class. Also like Xi, Bo
suffered for a while after his father Bo Yibo was purged by Mao during the
Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Because of their personal experiences, Bo and
his generation naturally have mixed feelings about Mao. For them, political
movements launched by Mao after 1949 cause resentment, but the Great Helmsman
should never be totally denied. Without Mao, their parents (hence themselves)
could have remained nobodies. This was the major reason why Deng Xiaoping
always insisted on upholding Mao and his thought, even though Deng's reforms
and opening up were a departure from the late chairman.
In any case, having grown up and received education during Mao's era, Bo and
many of his generation could not but have been deeply influenced by Mao and his
ideas. Bo and other members of the "princeling" class who have political
ambitions always see safeguarding and strengthening the communist rule that
their parents fought and worked for as their destiny. But Mao's ideas and
practices have largely been abandoned in past 30 years of capitalist-style
reform and opening up. And during the period, while the Chinese economy grew
miraculously, serious social problems have grown, such as ideological
confusion, moral degeneration, corruption, fraud and cheating, which
increasingly threaten the continuation of communist rule.
For Bo, apparently, a revisit to Mao may be of use to solve some of these
problems. Shortly after he was appointed in late 2007 as the No 1 leader of
Chongqing, the largest of the four provincial-level cities directly under the
central government in terms of population and geographical area (the other
three are Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin), he began to put his ideas into
In June 2008, a citywide campaign of "Singing Red (revolutionary) Songs,
Reading Classics, Telling (revolutionary) Stories and Passing around
(spirit-inspiring) Mottos (or quotations)" was launched in Chongqing.
Bo once explained, "Why should we sing Red Songs? Because they used to be sung
loudly during decades of revolutionary struggles to inspire many to charge the
enemy lines. Why should we read classics? Because they are the cream of Chinese
and foreign cultures left to us through the screening of time in hundreds or
thousands of years. The stories we should tell are those which used to be
inspiring, cheering people up during the periods of revolutionary war and
reconstruction. To pass around mottos is to savor the essence of Chinese
thought and humankind, ideas through refined words, and to pass them around."
Obviously, for Bo, material life in China today may be rich, but moral
qualities are poor due to the ideological vacuum left by the abandonment of
Mao. Having learned from Mao, Bo is fully aware of the importance of people's
spirit or morale.
On October 24-25, Chongqing held activities to mark the 60th anniversary of
China sending troops to fight the Korean War. Bo took the opportunity to
elaborate the importance of the ideological or spiritual role by quoting Mao.
"History has convincingly shown, steel and big guns are not a decisive factor
in winning or losing a war. At that time, the US economy accounted for half of
the world's total, but New China had just walked out of the smoke of war. There
was a huge difference - about 1:10 - in equipment between the Chinese People's
Volunteer Army and US troops. But China defeated US imperialism. This is
something weapon-worshippers can never understand."
In his speech, Bo quoted Mao in various contexts such as "weapons are an
important factor in war, but not the decisive one; it is man and not materials
that counts" and "the people, and the people alone, are the motive force in the
making of world history".
Since June 2008, Chongqing has organized 128,000 Red-song singing shows, 28,000
public recitations of classics. Some 130 million mottos have been passed around
on mobile phones or the Internet. According to the People's Daily, 93% of
Chongqing residents, including officials, have participated in the activities
and felt "happy". Bo has occasionally been seen joining performers to sing Red
Songs or recite classics. Under his instruction, university students in the
city even staged performances to recite The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx in
Bo's campaign of ideological education, however, has remained largely a city
affair without attracting much attention around the nation - until now. This is
perhaps because it has been overshadowed by another campaign launched by Bo at
about the same time, to crack down on mafia-like gangsters and colluding
In late August and mid-November, two members of the Politburo Standing
Committee - Li Changchun, who oversees propaganda and ideological affairs, and
Zhou Yongkang, who oversees law enforcement - paid inspection visits to
Chongqing. They both gave high marks to Bo's ideological campaign, and demanded
such a campaign be promoted nationwide. National media began to trumpet it. On
November 19, the People's Daily carried a front-page editorial saying
Chongqing's "Sing-Read-Tell-Pass-Around Campaign is an effective way of
building socialist core values". Since the People's Daily is the mouthpiece of
the CCP power center, one may say Bo's effort is recognized and appreciated by
Hu Jintao, who himself has also been seeking to rebuild a national ideology.
It can be expected that a similar campaign will soon engulf the whole of China,
which will be the greatest reward for Bo. And this may have smoothed his way to
move one more rung up the official ladder.