With the 90th anniversary of the CCP just around the corner (okay, next July…), the Party brass and their academic ass sucks got together for a high-level history hootenanny. At the kick-off, China’s Heir-Apparent-But-We-Still-Can’t-Admit-That-Publicly-Yet Xi Jinping called for more education regarding the Party’s history.
Xi said the Party, having experienced the tests of revolution, development and reform, “successfully united and led the Chinese people to achieve miracles under an extremely complicated circumstance.”
“Over the past 89 years, the CPC contributed greatly to the nation’s independence, unification and the people’s well-being,” he said.
Well, I for one am relieved…because THAT’S a story that hasn’t been told enough times through China’s education, media, or entertainment industry.
I suspect though that Xi’s main message had less to do with trumpeting a triumphalist narrative of Party history than about his accompanying admonition against those who sought to “distort or smear the Party’s history.”
For the CCP-impaired or if you are otherwise unaccustomed to Zhongnanhai-speak, allow me to translate:
“People are starting to see through all of our bullshit, so we need to pump some ex-lax into the cattle feed and get the shovels ready.”
It’s not clear if Xi was responding to an actual threat within the Party ranks or if he was simply joining the latest in a long list of celebrity blowhards mangling history in an attempt to justify their own paleolithic notions of the world.* Hey, it’s a big club and the more I hear Xi Jinping talk, the more I realize that China’s about two years away from letting Shaanxi’s take on Glenn Beck run their country.
But the problem that Glenn Beck, or the Tea Party, or Sarah Palin, or Xi Jinping face when they try to pile on the bullshit is that that try as they might, history isn’t always as neat or tidy as they would like it to be and it has a nasty habit of being remembered in ways that can be…inconvenient to maintaining a message. Sometimes it’s those egghead academic snobs who point out that Alexander Hamilton was not in favor of weak central government, other times it’s annoying Western media types who have the audacity to question the CCP’s linkage of the Tibet issue with “Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves.”
But I can see why Xi might be worried. The Party’s control of history is a key element to the Party staying in power.
I just finished Richard McGregor’s The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers. Richard has a review on The Peking Duck and I agree with him that it’s a very good book, perhaps one of the best books produced for a general readership on Chinese politics in recent memory.
Recently there has been this…theme by Party hacks and the trolls who love them to downplay the idea of “Communism” as it relates to China or to lament that the Western media uses the term “Communist” to describe China’s government. Frankly, I think this is one of the stupidest bees in the fenqing bonnet, but then you don’t buy geniuses for RMB .50 a post.
Most people living or working in China are already well aware of the Party’s presence even as the CCP tries to play down its involvement in various enterprises and facets of day-to-day governing. But not everyone sees it or is willing to admit it. McGregor’s book should disabuse those inclined to believe or preach that the Communist Party has ceded its ground in pulling the levers of power at all levels of Chinese society and industry.
In fact, if one line could summarize this book, I’d give that one line to Kevin Spacey: “The greatest trick the Devil ever played, was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”
For me, however, the best part of McGregor’s book was the chapter discussing the work of Yang Jisheng and his research on the Great Leap Forward. Yang’s book Tombstone is the definitive work on this troubling period of China’s recent past. And this really gets at the crux of Xi’s (and Glenn’s and Sarah’s) vexation. Once we start reexamining the past, those narratives which have justified various systems of power begin to unravel right before our eyes. I don’t know if WE are products of history, but how we see the world is certainly influenced by how we understand the past. When that past is thrown into doubt, when “book types” have the temerity to shake things up, it can be troubling.
And it’s particularly troubling if you’re a Party whose legitimacy is based on a carefully constructed historical narrative with more holes in it than a Lindsay Lohan alibi…no matter what flavor of tea you serve.
For a particularly brilliant satirical take on the abuse of history, see this piece in the Onion.