Qiu Zhanxuan, a prominent Marxist student leader and head of the Marxist Society at Peking University, was grabbed by a group of “heavy set men who identified themselves as police” and stuffed into an unmarked car outside the campus on Wednesday, which happened to be the 125th birthday of Chairman Mao Zedong, the founder of the modern Chinese state.
“I saw a black car parked by the gate and seven or eight men in plainclothes lifting him by his arms and legs and forcing him into the car,” an anonymous student witness told Reuters.
Another eyewitness account given to AFP, possibly by the same student, described Qiu as “screaming and resisting arrest” as he was dragged off.
“Why are you taking me away? What are you doing?” he reportedly asked.
Although the kidnappers identified themselves as agents of the Ministry of Public Security and displayed documents to that effect, the ministry did not answer requests from reporters for comment, nor did Peking University. AFP’s student source said the university is blocking attempts to get information about the arrest online.
Aghast at the Qiu’s abduction en route to a memorial for the former Chinese leader, the eyewitness asked: “What’s wrong with remembering Chairman Mao? What law does it break? How can they publicly kidnap a Peking University student?”
There are many reasonable answers to the student’s first question, beginning with the horrific number of people murdered by Mao. The answer to the other two questions is that Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s vision of China values communist branding, but has limited patience for Mao’s version of Marxism, other than the part that says authoritarian rulers can arrest anyone they please.
Reuters noted campus activism is one of several social phenomena the ambitious Xi frowns upon, another being organized religion.
Not only is Xi haunted by memories of the Tiananmen Square protests, and probably nervous about the effect another comparably bloody crackdown would have on his efforts to develop China’s economic power, but the Marxists have lately made common cause with labor activists in their clashes against the government. Xi has successfully written his musings into Chinese Communist Party doctrine and put himself on a pedestal alongside Mao as the most consequential leader of the modern era. China’s current leader finds that pedestal is a bit crowded.
The result has been a very quiet 125th birthday for Mao, with few mentions in China’s state-controlled media. According to AFP, one Marxist student group managed to stage a “flash-mob style event” at an undisclosed location on Wednesday, which would not make for much of a flash mob, since the point of such exercises is to attract an audience. Also, a student group posted a video online of themselves singing “revolutionary songs” at Mao’s home village in Hunan province.
Qiu is far from the first student Marxist to be “disappeared” from campus. CNN reported on an atmosphere of “terror” at Peking University in November, relating an almost identical story of a university graduate getting dragged into a car by “several people in black jackets.” When students and alumni of Peking University created a group to lobby for the missing graduate’s release, one of the organizers promptly disappeared.