Jeffrey Wasserstrom: Old Stories from the New ChinaRoundup: Historians' Take
tags: Jeffrey Wasserstrom, China, LA Times, Communist Party, Mao
Jeffrey Wasserstrom teaches at UC Irvine and is the author of "China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know."
In July, two stories out of China were big news. One focused on watermelon seller Deng Zhengjia, a poor urban migrant in Hunan province, who became newsworthy only when reports circulated that thuggish chengguan — members of para-police units — allegedly beat him to death. A week later, someone very different, Bo Xilai, was back in the news when he was formally charged with "abuses of power" and corruption. Bo — the former party boss of one of China's biggest cities, Chongqing, a Politburo member and once thought to be bound for elevation to the Communist Party's ruling Standing Committee — was anything but poor, powerless or unknown before cascading scandals brought him down in 2012. Putting the tales of Deng's death and Bo's indictment side by side illuminates a major challenge China's leaders face: How to keep the people believing the stories they tell to justify their rule.
In China, as elsewhere, such stories often involve a kind of political-product differentiation that presents the current era as totally unlike earlier dark periods. This meant that, during the Mao Tse-tung years (1949-1976), a steady stream of propaganda stressed the allegedly total contrasts between the new China of the Communists and the old one of Nationalist times (1927-1949). Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek was presented as obsessed with vanquishing his rivals and being closely allied with thugs and gangsters who rode roughshod over ordinary people and were rewarded for it. The Nationalist Party was portrayed as corrupt and dominated by cliques, many of whose members were close friends or relatives of one another.
In the post-Mao reform era, versions of this story continue to be told, but leaders also stress a newer one that contrasts the present age to the chaotic Cultural Revolution decade (1966-1976). Since Mao's death, this tale goes, China has not just boomed economically but has been placed on a more stable, saner political footing, thanks to the end of bitter factional infighting and scattershot purges....
comments powered by Disqus
- Fake News and Fervent Nationalism Got a Senator Tarred as a Traitor During WWI
- Debunking Viral Story, Art Historian Says ‘Allah’ Does Not Appear on Ancient Viking Garment
- Will Trump Be Remembered as the Worst President in History? Almost Half Think So
- Thank This Man For Your Last-Minute Halloween Costume
- Letters from young Obama show a man trying to find his way
- Thomas Childers says we’ve got the Nazis wrong in 5 different ways
- National security expert Tom Nichols: “Hey, I’m unstable” is a bad look for the president
- Fake news? It’s nothing new, says Trinity College Dublin historian
- Historian discovers early Reformation writings “hiding in plain sight”
- Victor Davis Hanson says we shouldn’t be rushing to war with North Korea