Chinese New Left

Chinese New Left

New Leftism (Chinese: 新左派) in the People's Republic of China is an ideological tendency in opposition to capitalism and the Chinese economic reforms and in favour of the restoration of Maoist-style socialism. The movement first gained steam during the mid-1990s[citation needed]. New Leftism is seen as being more appealing to students in China today than liberalism or neoliberalism[citation needed] — problems faced by China during its modernisation, such as inequality and the widening gap between the rich and the poor, are becoming more serious. It is also known as 'neo-leftism'.



New Leftists can usually be divided into two main groups: (1) believers in either postmodernism or Mao's interpretation of Marxism; and (2) those who support Chinese nationalism. The Chinese New Left's origins lie mainly in scholarly people who were heavily influenced by the idea of postmodernism in universities in the Western world before coming back to China in the mid-1990s. They tend to think that the social problems faced by China are caused by capitalist loopholes and corruption.

The name

The name was first applied in the late 1990s. Their foremost thinker is Wang Hui, and he explains how they did not choose this term:

The first stirring of a more critical view of official marketization goes back to 1993... But it wasn't until 1997-98 that the label New Left became widely used, to indicate positions outside the consensus. Liberals adopted the term, relying on the negative identification of the 'Left' with late Maoism, to imply that these must be a throw-back to the Cultural Revolution. Up until then, they had more frequently attacked anyone who criticised the rush to marketization as a 'conservative' - this is how Cui Zhiyuan was initially described, for example. From 1997 onwards, this altered. The standard accusatory term became 'New Left'...[1]

Actually, people like myself have always been reluctant to accept this label, pinned on us by our adversaries. Partly this is because we have no wish to be associated with the Cultural Revolution, or for that matter with what might be called the 'Old Left' of the reform-era CCP. But it is also because the term New Left is a Western one, with a very distinct set of connotations – generational and political – in Europe and America. Our historical context is Chinese, not Western, and it is doubtful whether a category imported so explicitly from the West could be helpful in today's China.[1]


A sub-group of this strand of New Leftists are more radical, adhering to Marxism as originally interpreted by Mao and as executed during approximately the first twenty years of the PRC's existence. They believe firmly that China is, and has been for some time, moving away from the communist path, which has resulted and will continue to result in the rise of capitalists who will further exploit peasants and workers, as they did in China before 1949. Similarly to the worldwide Maoist movement, this strain of New Leftists are against the Chinese government's policy of "openness" and economic reforms; correspondingly, they do not consider Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward to have been wrong-headed in an ideological sense, even if they do oppose the actual outcomes and on-the-ground policies of those early experiments.

These New Leftists are also against capitalist "so-called" democracy and look favorably on the "revolutionary Maoism" of a generation ago, in contrast to the corruption and money-centeredness they see in current Chinese society. Many of these New Leftists also regret the erosion of guaranteed employment, education, health care, and other former gains of the Chinese Revolution that have been largely lost in the new profit-driven economy. The New Left collection of Chinese tend to look at themselves, like most socialists, as defenders of the people against a dehumanizing and inherently corrupt capitalist system. It is safe to assume that many of them were involved to a greater or lesser extent in the February–March 2011 Chinese pro-democracy protests.

Zhengzhou incident

On December 24, 2004, four Chinese protesters were sentenced to three-year prison terms for distributing leaflets entitled "Mao Forever Our Leader" at a gathering in Zhengzhou honoring Mao Zedong on the anniversary of his birth.[2] Attacking the current leadership as "imperialist revisionists," the leaflets called on lower-level cadre to "change (The Party's) current line and to revert to the socialist road." The Zhengzhou incident is one of the first manifestations of public nostalgia for the Mao era to make it to the international press, although it is far from clear whether these feelings are widespread. In any case, it is an example of Marxist Chinese New Leftism in action.

Chinese New Leftists are often criticised by liberal intellectuals, such as Liu Junning, who consider China not to be liberal enough, both economically and politically. These liberals tend to think that inequality and the widening gap between rich and the poor are serious problems, but that these problems exist in every developing country and constitute a necessary stage of development. Liberals also criticise postmodernism, which they argue is inappropriate for China because it is still not developed enough, and at the moment does not yet face some of the particular problems that have occurred in some developed countries that in turn gave rise to postmodernist thought. Democracy and personal freedoms are seen by these liberals to be important for China, although perhaps not attainable in the near future. These liberals largely consider themselves to be classical, not modern, liberals, and are heavily influenced by Friedrich Hayek and Karl Popper. The liberal critics and Chinese New Leftists have fiercely debated throughout the mid-1990s and early 2000s. At the heart of this debate is the conflict between liberal representative democracy, based on the Anglo-American political tradition, the English Glorious Revolution and the American Revolution, and the Scottish enlightenment,which is favoured by the Liberals; and conceptions of direct democracy, based on the Jacobin traditions of the French Revolution, the French enlightenment, in particular Rousseau and the Maoist socialist-democratic concept of the mass line[citation needed].

Land Issues

On Friday 13 May 2011, National Public Radio's website published a story about Nanjie Village[3], saying that it is a prime example of recent "re-collectivizations" inspired by Mao's original ideas and paying active tribute to him. "The furniture and appliances in each home are identical, including the big red clocks with Chairman Mao's head, radiating psychedelic colors to the tune "The East Is Red." [Villager] Huang Zunxian owns virtually nothing in his apartment. The possessions are owned by the collective, right down to the couch cushions." The report also says that "Some villages around the country have followed Nanjie's example and re-collectivized," but doesn't give any examples of other such villages.

Amongst the established Chinese Communist Party's current ideology, it is significant that the idea of privatising China's countryside land outright has not so far been accepted, instead keeping it in public hands. Currently, most Chinese non-urban land is used privately but cannot be sold, unlike Chinese urban property.

In 2008, the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao initiated land privatization reforms[citation needed], but it is clear that these measures were ultimately quite limited when taken on the whole.


See also

External links

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