Is history always repeating itself?
Last week at a symposium for cultural workers and artists in Beijing, Chinese president Xi Jinping made comments that art works should serve the country and socialist values, instead of being “slaves” of the market.
It was a déjà vu moment for many Chinese. 72 years ago in Yan’an, Mao delivered his infamous Talks at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art, in which he argued that art should serve politics, and specifically, the advancement of socialism. The talk was later used by the Gang of Four to push forward government-sanctioned art forms during the Cultural Revolution.
How to make sense of Xi’s comments on arts today? Is this the beginning of what everybody fears? Will China’s mainstream culture turn left from here? According to many Chinese netizens, the outlook isn’t so bright.
Among a few dozens of cultural workers (authors, playwrights, actors, etc.) who met with Xi last week in Beijing, two prominent online writers, Zhou Xiaoping and Hua Qiangfang, caught special attention. Both are young and popular online political commenters known for their nationalistic views.
It was reported that towards the end of the symposium, Xi made special mention about the two and urged them to keep creating works that spread “positive energy’.
What exactly are works that spread “positive energy”?
“This is me. Zhou Xiaoping. Standing at the turning point of this era, I voice my thoughts as an independent-thinking post-80s generation.” That’s Zhou’s self-introduction on Weibo, China’s leading social media platform. The 33-year-old online writer is known for his passionate and nationalist political commentaries. His 3 best known pieces are: Please Do Not Fail This Era; Your China Your Party (Communist Party of China); Nine Killer Tricks by the US in Its Cultural Cold War with China.
In the first piece, Zhou described in detail his journey from a young Chinese who admired the West, namely, the US, to a grown-up who’s discovered the “true face” of the West and found confidence in his own country’s government. “China is the most wronged country in the world, “ he argued, “Nowadays, 80% of voices on the Chinese Internet are critical of the government, and yet China is still accused of having no freedom of speech.” In the second piece, Zhou chronicled several milestone historical events from 1900 to 2013, and made the argument that the Chinese people should thank the Communist Part of China and its government for improved living standard today.
The other online writer at the symposium also made his fame by expressing patriotic ideas. In his best known piece, Our Battlefield Is the Sea of Stars, he analyzed, in great length, why China was and will resume status as a great global power.
One consistent theme in the writings of Zhou and Hua is their condemnation of online voices critical of the government.
Zhou once argued that the Chinese Internet has become “a billboard by Western Capitalism to sell brain-washing fabricated stories that position the US, Japan, and European countries as role models, and magnify China’s problems.” The purpose is to “take away people’s trust in the Party.”
In a similar fashion, Hua claimed that there was an organized effort in discrediting the Chinese government: “For whatever reason, condemning the government has become a cool thing to do. Those online opinion leaders and liberal intellectuals spare no effort to badmouth the government, even by spreading rumors.” At the end of the article, Hua said: “People have faith, and I’m no exception. My faith is my country, is the ruling Party that has led 1.3 billion Chinese moving forward.”
While Zhou and Hua have their supporters, whom one Peking University professor claimed to be China’s “silent majority,” many Chinese netizens see nothing positive in such works of “positive energy.” In fact, quite the opposite.
The arrests of liberal scholars and writers in recent months plus this boost to leftist authors take away many people’s confidence in Xi being a reformist. “The higher the hope, the bigger the disappointment.” One netizen commented. Some even commented that their support for Xi, which grew out of his mass-line anti-corruption campaign, took a dive after his meet with Zhou and Hua. “Zhou’s biggest contribution is to wake people up from the dream that Xi would be a great leader. The meeting with Zhou has dragged Xi to the same level as Kim Jong Un.”