Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping commemorated the centennial anniversary of China’s May Fourth Movement this week by telling Chinese youth that patriotism, nationalism, and socialism are inseparable.
The May Fourth Movement was a youth movement in 1919 in which Chinese students rebelled against provisions of the treaty that ended World War I and violently defied Imperial Japan, the aspiring regional hegemonic power of the day. China’s nationalist and communist ideological strains both view the May Fourth Movement as a landmark event in their evolution.
President-for-Life Xi did not, of course, take the occasion of the impending 100th anniversary to reflect that, these days, China is the heavy-handed imperial power making everyone else in Asia nervous. Instead, he argued that nationalism and communism have blended inseparably together into modern Chinese patriotism and told young people to value unity of purpose above all.
China’s state-run Xinhua news agency quoted Xi’s remarks at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Tuesday:
Xi said the May Fourth Movement was a great patriotic and revolutionary campaign pioneered by advanced young intellectuals and joined by the people from all walks of life to resolutely fight imperialism and feudalism.
With its mighty force, the movement inspired the ambition and confidence of the Chinese people and nation to realize national rejuvenation, Xi added.
Xi said the May Fourth Movement gave birth to the great spirit centered on patriotism, progress, democracy and science, with patriotism at the core.
“As long as the banner of patriotism is being held high, the Chinese people can unleash great powers in the endeavors to transform China and the world,” Xi said.
The essence of patriotism is having unified love for the country, the Party and socialism, Xi added, urging young Chinese to follow the instructions and guidance of the Party, and remain dedicated to the country and the people.
Young people are also urged to establish belief in Marxism, faith in socialism with Chinese characteristics, as well as confidence in the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation.
“Socialism with Chinese characteristics” is a catchphrase Xi and his followers have invented to excuse his authoritarianism and a technocratic system of government-controlled but privately owned enterprise that frankly resembles fascism more than classical Marxism by treating it as a Chinese cultural phenomenon that cannot be fairly criticized by anyone beyond the borders of mainland China.
Internally, the concept is a cudgel against old-school Chinese communists who wonder where the Little Red Book went. Externally, it is a way to deflect human rights concerns as artifacts of Western culture inapplicable to Chinese people.
Xi claimed the Chinese Communist Party values input from young people and said that “even if they express harsh or partial criticism, we should correct our mistakes when we have made any, and guard against them when we have not.”
In reality, harsh criticism of the Chinese Communist Party is extremely dangerous, no matter how old the critic is. Young people who speak out in China are occasionally tossed into unmarked cars by plainclothes government agents. In one notable recent case, a student activist got the black bag treatment for noticing that “socialism with Chinese characteristics” bears little resemblance to the teachings of modern China’s founder, Mao Zedong.
Taken at face value, Xi’s remarks are an unapologetic blend of nationalism and collectivist appeals to unified purpose, coming from a president who loves to posture as a champion of globalism.
Xi clearly believes China’s authoritarian government, acting ruthlessly to protect its own self-interest and its nationalist population gives it a clear advantage over global competitors whose elites believe acting in their own national interest is sinful. The good news is that the authoritarian leaders of a hundred years ago did not think free-market democracies stood a chance against them either.