China Jails Hardcore Maoists for Insulting Reformer Deng Xiaoping

A large screen showing communist leader Deng Xiaoping during the art performance celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Founding of the Communist Party of China on June 28, 2021 in Beijing, China. Ahead of the 100th anniversary of the party founding on July 1. Final preparations for events to mark …
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

A Chinese judge sentenced five Maoists to prison for terms of up to two years for allegedly criticizing reforms that allowed the Communist Party to greatly enrich itself under Deng Xiaoping, the South China Morning Post confirmed Tuesday.

Deng Xiaoping, who succeeded Communist Party founder Mao Zedong, shifted the party’s approach to the world by seeking ways to attract foreign investment and profit the party – a move that has turned China into the world’s second-largest economy. Under Mao, the party focused on exterminating anyone considered disloyal to itself – including members of almost every faith, political dissidents, academics, doctors, and members of ethnic minorities – and starving out large swathes of the population. Estimates suggest Mao’s “Great Leap Forward,” a campaign that ended in mass famine, killed at least 45 million people.

Despite Mao’s murderous record, fervent communists in China still uphold him as the gold standard of a Chinese leader, crediting him with turning China into a global power. Many Maoists reject Deng’s moves to strengthen economic ties between China and the West and have extended their disdain for reform to current dictator Xi Jinping. Xi, in turn, has attempted to extend China’s economic ties to the rest of the world through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) a debt trap strategy targeting poorer countries, and rewritten the country’s constitution to elevate himself to Mao’s status.

The arrests the South China Morning Post confirmed occurred in response to the five individuals in question criticizing what they considered out-of-control capitalism in the country on what the newspaper described as an “internet rumour mill.” The victims of the Party’s repression were convicted of the crime of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” which mainly exists on the books to be used against any criticism of Xi and the Party. The incident occurred in Pingdingshan, Henan province.

“Articles circulated by the group, and with the Pingdingshan court verdict attached, said they had attacked late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping and other reformist leaders for betraying Mao’s revolutionary ideals,” the Post reported. “The verdict said they had trafficked more than 100 articles on dozens of WeChat accounts between late 2020 and April last year and profiteered from readers’ tips and advertisements – a common way of making money online in China.”

The Post noted that the Chinese court convicting them referred to them as a “gang of evil forces” and disparaged them for claiming to be communists and using “red culture” to promote opposition to the regime.

The Morning Post reached one of the five people convicted, Yu Yixun, who affirmed that he was a zealous supporter of Mao and said it “would be an honor if I have to go to jail for promoting Mao’s thoughts.”

Yu described Mao’s murderous philosophy as “about equality for everyone” and claimed it was “being embraced by a lot of people now.”

Mao worship is a core tenet of Chinese communism, and the Communist Party has yet to distance itself in any meaningful way from its founder. On the contrary, Xi has used both government arms and propaganda to usurp some of Mao’s popularity.

“China needs a leader like Mao and Xi fits the bill,” the People’s Tribune, a government outlet, declared in 2016.

Xi joined Mao – and Deng Xiaoping, who for years was considered akin to Mao in political stature – in the text of the Communist Party constitution in 2017. He joined in the text of the Chinese constitution itself soon after. In the following years, Xi began changing school curricula to include his personal philosophy, “Xi Jinping Thouight on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” and forcing families in some regions to place portraits of Xi prominently in their homes.

By 2019, the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, Mao was barely to been seen at the celebratory parade, while Xi flooded Tiananmen Square with giant images of his own face.

This climate has created a small but increasingly vocal Maoist opposition to Xi. Prior to the reported arrests this week, in June, Radio Free Asia (RFA) documented a similar operation in Shandong province at the time to round up and silence Maoists in an effort to “maintain stability.”

“The operation, which began on May 12, has largely been carried out in secret, with no information given to detainees’ families after going incommunicado,” RFA reported, identifying one of the disappeared as a 77-year-old hardcore Maoist dissident named Ma Houzhi who had previously spent ten years in prison and had attempted to found a political party, the “Chinese Maoist Political Party.”

RFA cited local sources predicting that the Communist Party was worried Maoists would become such a hostile anti-Xi force that it “could trigger something like the 1989 pro-democracy movement,” which culminated in the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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