Read part one of the article here.
Among the New Left, and indeed the Party itself, there is a widespread fear of historical nihilism—the idea that certain people, especially rightists, are attempting to manipulate certain aspects of history, particularly the Cultural Revolution. Virtually every leftist I spoke to defended this period to at least some degree. “People are coming out to repent for their crimes during the Cultural Revolution; they want to apologize and negate what happened, but they are not anti-Cultural Revolution heroes and they should hold direct responsibility. Mao promoted a verbal not physical struggle,” said Mai. Professor Li offered a similar response: “Mao was simply a historical representation of the period. As an individual, he could not move and change hundreds of millions of people. Instead the historical actions of hundreds of millions of people found their personal expression in Mao.” Debates about the Cultural Revolution and the redness of Bo Xilai aside, a crucial issue for Chinese New Leftists, and indeed leftists the world over, is if the radical social change they want should come from the bottom-up or the top down; in essence, revolution or evolution? To answer this question one first needs to know to what extent there are any leftists in the Party at all. Surely, if the left want to affect real social change, a position in the party might not be so bad. When the question was put to Zhang Xia, editor of leftist journal The Red Years, she looked at me quizzically, simply saying: “The Party? Why should we join the Party?” An editor at Mao Flag is equally cynical: “Some say there are ‘healthy elements’ within the Party, but I don’t believe it. How can you expect change to come from those detached from the people?”
If the New Left were to have a figurehead, and it is a label he would quickly reject, then it would without doubt be Wang Hui, professor at the departments of history and literature at Beijing’s Tsinghua University and one of China’s leading public intellectuals. In a quiet corner of the University, he answers my questions thoroughly and at length, refusing to see any issues in simple terms of black and white (or even red). Though on a personal level he rejects the label New Left, he gives detailed analysis of the issues that saw the New Left rise, citing the privatization of SOEs, the agricultural crisis starting in the 90s, and the desperate need for social welfare and medical care throughout China. Perhaps befitting his very public position, Wang’s politics seems to take on a more liberal, nuanced hue than other leftists, and he believes that these, so-called, “healthy elements” within the party do exist, at least to some degree: “The division between the people and the Party is gone. Any elements you can find in the society, you can find in the Party, perhaps not at the elite level, but it must exist.” At the suggestion that Bo Xilai represented these elements, Wang is dismissive, and while he points to many aspects of the Chongqing model that proved useful in terms of social equality, he quickly says: “I have no way to know if Bo was an opportunist or a leftist. We don’t know if the trial is right or wrong or true or false. Who can say about his private life?”
As is often the case with Party diktats, the message is unclear, and, strategically at least, Maoism seems to be being embraced at some level amongst the senior echelons of the party, but many suggest this is more about political rhetoric than anything else. On April 22, 2013, the Central Committee of the CPC sent out a communiqué, later dubbed Document Nine, to all local divisions of the Party; incredibly spiky in tone, it warned Party cadres to guard against what it saw as several worrying ideological threats, including the promoting of neoliberal thought and the promotion of historical nihilism. Such words could easily have been written by any number of New Leftists, many of whom firmly warn against these two very things. Confusingly, the document also warned against those critical of the Reform and Opening Up policy. It was seemingly a paper that, if needs be, could lead to the exclusion of
those on the right or left…