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Xi’s Anti-Rightist Campaign

Xi's Anti-Rightist Campaign

Red Guards and other Chinese holding up Mao’s Little Red Book during Mao Zedong’s reign (Image:

Xi Jinping is starting to act a lot like Mao Zedong — strong, assertive, patriotic, man of the people — and willing to promote or condone the same techniques Mao used for controlling the masses through party propaganda. While propaganda has a long history among countries, Chairman Mao Zedong was the first Chinese leader to successfully use modern mass propaganda techniques, including the use of teams to promote and monitor ideological thought. The most widely-known product of this promotion of ideological thought was Mao’s Little Red Book, which included dozens of directives and quotes from Mao. Lesser known is the realization that Mao was also successful in monitoring ideological thought through his Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1957–59.

The Anti-Rightist Campaign was Mao’s reaction to the Hundred Flowers Campaign, which had encouraged intellectuals and others to express their criticism of the government in a constructive fashion. When Mao felt the criticisms had gotten out of hand, he launched the Anti-Rightist Campaign which resulted in the political persecution of an estimated 550,000 people, mostly intellectuals.

Now it appears Xi is borrowing elements from Mao’s Anti-Rightist Campaign, remaining silent over and perhaps condoning the actions undertaken by reporters from the Communist Party-run Liaoning Daily newspaper, who over a two-week period, listened in on nearly 100 university lectures in over 20 schools from around the country. According to the newspaper, the reporters were evidently searching for professors who were “being scornful of China” — some compared Mao Zedong to ancient emperors, others pointed out failures of the Communist Party since taking power in 1949, and still others reportedly praised Western ideas.

The article in Liaoning Daily, which was widely circulated throughout China via social media, evidently justified its actions by imploring, “Dear teachers, because your profession demands something higher of you, and because of the solemnity and particularity of the university classroom, please do not speak this way about China.”

This latest attempt to promote ideological thought in China follows earlier directives issued immediately following Xi’s ascent to power last year. In that report, entitled “The Current Situation of the Ideological Front,” China’s top propaganda officials outlined seven topics which were to become off-limits for discussion (freedom of speech, civil society, civil rights, the historical errors of the Chinese Communist Party, crony capitalism and judicial independence). The report was distributed widely to local party committees urging cadres to stop universities and media organizations from discussing these political ideas.

While modern China has always restricted free speech, the actions by reporters from the Liaoning Daily have sent an unwanted chill through academia, and come on the heels of the sentencing of Ilham Tohti, an economics professor in Beijing. Ilham, a Muslim Uighur, was sentenced to life in prison on separatism charges for championing the rights of Muslim Uighurs in China’s remote province of Xinjiang during his lectures. His sentence was upheld in court last Friday.

Perhaps the latest attempts to silence the faculty in China, and the sentencing of Ilham, should be examined more closely by the likes of several U.S. universities, including Duke and Stanford, who are planning to open university campuses in China. Those universities (and others) would do well to study the case of Harvard University in 2010, when it pulled its plans to open a campus in Beijing fearing the campus in China would have lower academic standards than their campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Now, with the new official rules in effect restraining political discussion, can we really consider future graduates of Duke and Stanford to be educated properly and fully without some discussion in their curricula  of freedom of speech, civil society, civil rights, the historical errors of the Chinese Communist Party, crony capitalism and judicial independence? Surely, future employers are cognizant of the differences between a graduate whose degree was obtained in China and a graduate whose degree was obtained in North Carolina or California. Who would you rather hire?



Gary Sands

Gary Sands is a Senior Analyst at Wikistrat, a crowdsourced consultancy, and a Director at Highway West Capital Advisors, a venture capital, project finance and political risk advisory. He has contributed a number of op-eds for Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, Newsweek, Washington Times, The Diplomat, The National Interest, International Policy Digest, Asia Times, EurasiaNet, Eurasia Review, Indo-Pacific Review, the South China Morning Post, and the Global Times. He was previously employed in lending and advisory roles at Shell Capital, ABB Structured Finance, and the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation. He earned his Masters of Business Administration in International Business from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and a Bachelor of Science in Finance at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut. He spent six years in Shanghai from 2006-2012, four years in Rio de Janeiro, and is currently based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Twitter@ForeignDevil666