Marxist student leader Qiu Zhanxuan resurfaced a day after being whisked away by a menacing group of non-uniformed police officers while he was en route to a birthday commemoration for Mao Zedong.
Qiu made his way back to the university after his 24-hour interrogation only to discover he had been pronounced unfit to lead the Marxist Society, which would now be “restructured” by university staff. The Marxist students rebelled and ended up fighting with university security guards on Friday.
The South China Morning Post quoted eyewitnesses who said the Marxist students were demonstrating peacefully until the security guards started roughing them up:
Witnesses said the students held placards near a science building at the campus in Beijing as they protested against the decision to install a new committee to run the society.
They said the students had locked arms during the peaceful protest but some were injured when security guards forced them to go into the building, manhandling and in some cases carrying them inside.
“Several of them were pushed to the ground and suffered cuts to their hands and some had their glasses broken in the struggle,” according to one witness.
At least eight of the students were still inside the building on Friday evening, according to a source.
Qiu himself was one of the protesters hustled inside by campus security. The SCMP reported he was “not reachable on Friday night.”
A key element of the university’s “restructuring” plan involved judging Qiu “not qualified to lead” and replacing him with a committee of 32 students, none of whom were actually members of the Marxist Society. In fact, Qiu said many of them were members of a student association that has been harassing the Marxists.
Friends of Qiu said he told them he was charged with “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” by the police. His student adviser joined him for the interrogation and advised him to be less “extreme” and “impulsive.”
“This was, plain and simple, a plan to restrict my personal freedom and to use these inhuman and illegal means to stop me from going to commemorate Chairman Mao,” he said, referring to the timing of his detention on the 125th birthday of Mao, who ironically was a noted enthusiast of whisking inconvenient people away.
“We are deeply shocked and angered by such an absurd scene happening on the campus of Peking University. This is a clear move to place the Marxist Society under the control of campus bureaucrats,” said an online petition signed by some 30 of the students on Friday.
The Chinese government is cracking down on Marxists and Chairman Mao’s true believers because the Marxists are critical of Communist Party chief Xi Jinping’s policies, which they see as deviant from Marxist ideals and responsible for rising income inequality and the poor treatment of workers. Marxist student groups have made common cause with disgruntled labor activists, notably the unhappy employees of the Jasic Technology factory in the city of Shenzhen.
One such labor organization, the Jasic Workers’ Solidarity Group (JWSG), expressed outrage over Qiu’s detention and the harassment of the Peking University Marxist Society this week. As Radio Free Europe observed, the JWSG has some experience with sudden and extralegal detention:
A total of 32 individuals are still in custody, disappeared, or under “residential surveillance in a designated place,” while four former Jasic workers have been criminally charged with “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order,” according to the U.S.-based group Human Rights in China (HRIC).
Of the 32, only five are known to be held at an official detention facility with an address—the Shenzhen Municipal No. 2 Detention Center, according to HRIC. The remaining 27 are being held at unknown locations.
According to the JSWG, the detentions followed coordinated nationwide police raids on July 27, Aug. 24, Sept. 9, Nov. 9, and Nov. 11.
Among the detainees are Beida graduate and former #MeToo campaigner Yue Xin, Shang Kai, editor of the Maoist website Red Reference, and Maoist youth campaigner Yang Shaoqiang.
Chairman Mao is increasingly seen as a symbol of Marxist resistance to the course of modern China. Groups like the student activists and Jasic workers ostentatiously demonstrate reverence for Mao, who is a useful totem because he remains a revered figure in Chinese political culture. The government responded by destroying Mao statues and carefully disrupting celebrations of his birth. Xi takes every opportunity to praise Mao and insist Marxism is still the “guiding ideology” of China, but hardcore Marxists are increasingly seen as a subversive element.
The South China Morning Post proposed over the summer that Marxism has become a generational flashpoint in China, as Xi and his old-guard faithful have become the establishment Chinese millennials wish to rebel against. Accusing the old guard of insufficient fidelity to Mao and his Marxist ideals is the easiest and safest way to rebel without being accused of “counter-revolutionary” crimes.
Marxism also provides young Chinese with a bridge to millennials in other countries, a bridge that will not be immediately shut down by the vast Chinese censorship apparatus because it involves quoting Marx and Mao to discuss topics such as income inequality, feminism, and corruption.
Yue Xin, the detained #MeToo activist mentioned above, annoyed the authorities by digging into a 20-year-old rape of a student, allegedly perpetrated by a university employee. Yue drew attention by claiming as her motto the same quote from Karl Marx that has been approvingly cited by Xi in speeches: “If we have chosen the position in life in which we can most of all work for mankind, no burdens can bow us down, because they are sacrifices for the benefit of all.”
“Marxist theory is a mandatory course in China… but if you want to learn original Marxism, you need to read on your own,” Yue declared on social media. The authorities definitely took that as an insult, and whatever else they might get wrong about classical Marxism, they are very familiar with its techniques for suppressing dissent in the name of unity and collective purpose.