REFLECTIONS ON FUTURES PAST AND PRESENT IN ANTICIPATION OF THE 60TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE PRC

Anders Sybrandt Hansen, Ph.D. student, Department of Anthropology and Ethnography, Institute of Anthropology, Archaeology and Linguistics, Aarhus university

The 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China is to be found absolutely everywhere in Beijing these days. Its presence shows in the never-ending news coverage of the preparations for the grand parade that will take place on October 1st allegedly involving 200.000 participants rallying under 50 mottoes issued by the Central Committee covering the themes of socialist modernization, establishing the harmonious society, upholding the one China policy and the unity of China’s ethnic groups. The upcoming anniversary can be seen in the traffic jams brought about by parade rehearsals at Tiananmen Square, It shows in the omnipresence of security volunteers, in commercials attaching the spirit of the occasion to their product lines and of course in the red banners hung up by the CCP’s local propaganda branches everywhere, urging your participation in- and devotion to constructing a civilized and harmonious society. The celebratory spirit is thus hard to miss, though I have heard a complaint as well, which was on the yellow colour of the volunteer sweatshirts and delivered with a sly grin: it attracts insects, doesn’t it?

Now anniversaries are instances of commemoration, but the history of the People’s Republic of China being as diverse as it is, the question is which Chinese history will be evoked on October 1st? In anticipation of the 60th anniversary I will in the following paragraphs briefly discuss the fate of the trope of historical materialism and its historical agents, the classes, within the labour of historical forgetting, invention and remembrance performed by the CCP since the late seventies, asking what future the CCP envisions for China today.

 

POSTPONING THE FUTURE

A most interesting historical move made since 1979 is the discursive postponing of the future stages of socialism and communism promised by historical materialism hereby accommodating contemporary economic ambitions. Since the Deng-era the Chinese economy has thus been officially referred to by the puzzling term socialist market economy (????????). An economic system, that Deng’s successor Jiang Zemin has tried performing a considerable labour of legitimisation upon, by proclaiming it a necessity of the preliminary stage of socialism. The socialist market economy, according to Jiang, should be understood as a precondition for the development of the advanced productive forces that will eventually lead China into a socialism with Chinese characteristics (?????????), but what is especially striking is that this future stage has been postponed – the preliminary stage of socialism, which China according to official discourse is currently occupying, with its attendant socialist market economy is now expected to last for another hundred years[1]. Immediate modernist development has here been displaced unto the lesser project of attaining the moderately well-off society (????), a term interestingly borrowed from the Book of Rites, and a societal state of being that has been readily translated into per-capita GDP by both Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin[2].

Since the 80s the political program of the CCP has increasingly committed itself to encouraging economic and educational modernisation at the expense of its former ideological programme of socialist collectivism. This change in focus is expressed by the more or less complete disappearance of the formerly central ideological objects of class and class struggle from official party discourse, but also in a very concrete way in the 2004 revision of the constitutional foreword: it is here stated that the CCP now leads the Chinese people under the guidance of sange daibiao thought (??????). This line of thought, originally proposed by Jiang Zemin, points out three groups within Chinese society, the interests of whom, the CCP should now represent: 1) The advanced productive forces, 2) The advanced cultural forces and 3) The majority of the Chinese population. In contrast to this, article one of the constitution states that the PRC is a socialist state based on the people’s democratic dictatorship, led by the working class in an alliance between workers and peasants. As early as in 1981 Deng Xiaoping, avoiding distinctions between productive and unproductive labour, proclaimed that intellectuals with university credentials formed part of the working class and so lent legitimacy to recruiting intellectuals, experts and technocrats into the ranks of the CCP. But a very concrete result of the recent inclusion of sange daibiao thought into official party policy is that now even capitalists may obtain CCP membership, the official membership recruitment line reached at the 16th party congress in 2002 being to focus on inclusion of the new economic elite and parts of the growing middleclass[3]. In a sense the addition of sange daibiao thought to the constitutional foreword here indicates, using a term from Prasenjit Duara, a rift in the CCP’s regime of authenticity[4] as it introduces non-class based differentiations within the Chinese masses – the distinction between the advanced and the non-advanced members of society.

According to Ann Anagnost bridging this gap between the advanced and the non-advanced members of society has today become the key concern of the CCP. A concern it addresses through its politics of quality: population quality and education for quality (???? & ????)[5].The pedagogical project of civilizing the Chinese masses for engagement in global capitalism has thus, according to this line of reasoning, become the rationale behind the contemporary CCP. Not only are party posters urging readers to boldly build a civilized capital a common feature of the public sphere in Beijing these years, the CCP’s preoccupation with civilization is also manifest in the appointment of model households and communities and particularly salient in party discourse aiming itself at ‘culturally backward’ rural areas and migrant workers[6]

Accompanying this fascination with civilization, the last two decades has also seen a revival for pre-revolutionary history, and ‘traditional’ Chinese culture is coming to be seenincreasingly as a resource, rather than as feudal systems of oppression and superstition. That Confucianism has received official endorsement as a centrepiece of Chinese culture showed poignantly in the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. We here find a Confucian quote as the first line of speech presented in the display. Taking the form of a welcome greeting accompanied by drumming, it appears just 90 seconds after the presentations of PRC President Hu Jintao and IOC President Jacques Rogge. Actors portraying Confucius’ alleged 3.000 disciples later turn up in a celebration of learning and philosophy, which is followed by what, to my mind, was the most evocative part of the spectacle: the demonstration of the Chinese invention of movable print, used here to illustrate the historical evolution of a single Chinese character central to both Confucianism and contemporary CCP policy, namely? (harmony). Throughout the opening ceremony, which of course reached an extremely wide audience gl
obally as well as nationally – thus addressing simultaneously a global audience with a brilliant display of cultural soft power, and equally importantly a national audience with an officially endorsed version of what Chinese culture and being Chinese means – the notion of historical continuity with a dynastic past was stressed, whereas the recent past, apart from the raising of the national flag and the singing of the national anthem, was wholly left out. This is the case not only concerning omissions, which were obviously going to be made, such as leaving out the Great Leap Forward and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution from this popular display, but even the Red Army’s liberation struggle and the founding of the PRC was left out from the storyline as it skipped in one bound from dynastic times to the present.

I suggest a similar reevaluation of Chinese ‘tradition’ may be seen to be taking place within the CCP itself. Leading party members thus visited the mausoleum of that mythical forefather of the Chinese race, the Yellow Emperor, as early as in 1994 and attended the anniversary celebration of Confucius in 1995. Confucianism in particular seems to have been embraced by the CCP and recent years has seen the Confucius Culture University opening in Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius, new private schools teaching Confucian values flourishing, and the proliferation of government sponsored Confucius Institutes abroad, promoting the world-wide teaching of Chinese language and culture[7]. At the highest level of politics Confucian notions have also started to appear prominently. This was the case in Jiang Zemin’s foreign policy speeches, calling for the peaceful co-existence of unlike civilizations using the concept of he er bu tong (harmonious, not homogenous ????), as it is also in Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao’s current work on explicating their harmonious society-theory (??????), which centres on the aforementioned Confucian concept of harmony (?)[8]

CONCLUSION

Asking what is happening to China’s past and future in CCP narratives today, I should take certain reservations. Even as the CCP may be an institution with a history of- and a structure well suited to practicing governmentality, it is nevertheless the case that there is much political discussion within the party and the party accommodates different cliques with even wildly differing political outlooks ranging from the Maoist, the social democratic, the liberalist and conservative nationalist as well as technocratic capitalist outlooks. However this factionalism within the party also leads to power struggles, from which leading groups emerge, that decide the future course of the CCP. This is why we may speak of an official party line – that which is promoted in speeches by party leaders, for instance building the harmonic society – and a dominating orientation to Chinese history within CCP discourse.

Another question is in what mode one should read contemporary preoccupations with the past. Why is it that the so-called Mao craze among Chinese youth in the 90s with its ubiquitous Mao Zedong t-shirt designs and Cultural Revolution memorabilia turning cool is so easily read as (postmodern?) pastiche, whereas contemporary CCP invocations of Confucius is thought to be invested with more meaning in its interaction with an ‘authenticated’ past? Is it the commercial aspect of the Mao craze? Or does the fact that the Chinese youths involved in the Mao craze were too young to have lived experience of the Cultural Revolution preclude them from any real knowledge of that period, which would have allowed a deeper investment of meaning in their reanimation of the past? A final challenge might be termed a ‘return of the repressed’. In the case of China, the posthumous publication of former Premier Zhao Ziyang’s private journals concerning the Tiananmen Incident of June 4th 1989 just in time for yet another 2009 anniversary, the 20th commemoration of June 4th earlier this year, might pose such a challenge. Zhao’s recollections, according to media sources, were compiled on cassette tapes during his house arrest following the crackdown in 1989 and then smuggled out for publication in Hong Kong. The Tiananmen Incident being a repressed part of history, which the CCP is currently unwilling to discuss, Zhao’s journals will find no publisher on the Chinese mainland for now but pirated copies are likely to flourish.

The above reservations aside I tentatively suggest that in current CCP narratives of history we may discern a remarkable change in the trope of historical stages on the road to communism. If the evolutionism in historical materialism can be summed up in this metaphorical figure: history is as a flight of stairs, societies are steps, and revolution is ascension, then what has happened in CCP discourse is that the current step called preliminary socialism has been extended indefinitely, the next step beyond line of sight.

A contending historical trope to that of historical materialism, which now suffers from an uncertain future, may well become that of the renaissance[9]: a curve that falls from an early cultural Golden Age to a low point – most likely the century of humiliation – then rises unto a cultural renaissance. This notion of history would be free to take the entire Chinese population as its historical agent, rather than the classes used as historical agents in historical materialism and would thus perhaps be able to imagine forth a new regime of authenticity based on a shared national civilization?

I argue we may see some accommodations towards such a view of Chinese history in current CCP fascinations with population quality, civilization and Confucianism. However we judge the plausibility of such a transformation, what looms large in current CCP discourse is, using historian Paul Connerton’s terms, a forgetting that is constitutive in the formation of a new identity[10], namely the forgetting of class struggle as an ideological practice and the substitution of class discourse for something else – a something else, that has perhaps not yet fully crystallised?


[1] Hughes, Christopher R. (2006):67 Chinese Nationalism in the Global Era. London & New York: Routledge.[2] Xinhua News Agency 20.09.09: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2002-11/10/content_624884.htm[3] Hansen, M.H. & Thøgersen, S (2008):72-73 Kina – individ og samfund. København: Forlaget Samfundslitteratur.[4] Duara, Prasenjit (2009) The Global and Regional in China’s Nation Formation. London & New York: Routledge.[5] Anagnost, Ann (2004) ‘The Corporeal Politics of
Quality’, Public Culture 16(2):189-208.[6] Yan Hairong (2006) ‘Self-Development of Migrant Women and the Production of Suzhi as Surplus Value’, in Yue Dong & Goldstein, J., eds. Everyday Modernity in China. Seattle: University of Washington Press. pp. 227-259[7] Sigurðsson, Geir (2009) ‘Where to Place One’s Hands and Feet: Toward a Confucian Sociology of Tradition’, in Lodén, T., Löthman, H. & Rydholm, L., eds. Chinese Culture and Globalization: History and Challenges for the 21st Century. Stockholm: Department of Oriental Languages, Stockholm University. pp.41-61[8] Qing Cao (2007) ‘Confucian Vision of a New World Order?’, The International Communication Gazette vol. 69(5):431-450.[9] Aronsson, Peter (2004) Historiebruk – att använda det förflutna. Lund: Studentlitteratur.[10] Connerton, Paul (2008) ‘Seven Types of Forgetting’, Memory Studies vol. 1(1):59-71.


Exhibiting the Chinese War of Resistance in the People’s Republic of China

Karl Gustafsson, M.A., Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Political Science, Stockholm University

When the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was founded in 1949, there were only about 20 museums in the whole country. These museums were deemed ill-suited to the needs of the revolutionary leadership. PRC officials hence travelled to the Soviet union to learn how to create revolutionary exhibitions that could act as tools for educating the people. Until the 1980s, the number of museums dealing with the War of Resistance Against the Japanese Invaders (kangRi zhanzheng), as the war between 1931 and 1945 is usually called, was fairly modest. Since the second half of the 1980s, and especially since the 1990s, however, such institutions have mushroomed up around China. Chinese researchers sometimes claim that the construction of such museums started as a direct reaction to Japanese denial of war time atrocities. Non-Chinese observers have been more prone to emphasizing the need to stress nationalistic themes as the economic reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping led to the undermining of the socialist ideology. As Chinese were encouraged to become rich social cleavages grew and class identity, which had previously been important, became potentially subversive. After the events that took place at Tiananmen in 1989, often referred to as an “incident” by Chinese and a “massacre” by other observers, patriotism became an even more central theme in Chinese society. Patriotic sites was one among many instruments to be used in the patriotic education campaign that was launched during Jiang Zemin’s reign. These patriotic sites include not only war museums but also ancient remains providing proof of the greatness of Chinese civilization. Places such as the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the site where the Peking man was discovered all fit into this category. Revolutionary sites, for example places where revolutionary conferences were held, such as the site in Shanghai where the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was founded, make up another category. Other revolutionary sites include the former residences of great comrades. War museums make up a third type of bases for patriotic education. Among these, some deal with the War of Liberation, sometimes labelled the Chinese Civil War outside the PRC. Others concentrate on foreign aggression in the form of for example the Opium Wars, the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 and most commonly the War of Resistance. These wars, understood as “national humiliations”, are often conceptualized as a “century of humiliation”, lasting from the first Opium War until Japan was defeated in 1945.

Museums dealing with the War of Resistance are spread out over large parts of China with an emphasis on regions that made up the war theatre. Hence, regions that experienced little or no fighting during the war have no such museums while in occupied parts, along with places in which battles occurred, a large number of museums can be found. Especially in the Chinese Northeast, which was occupied by Japan since 1931, there are a large number of museums dedicated to the war. With very few exceptions, Chinese war museums are located where events took place during the war. While this arguably increases the authenticity of these museums, it means that some are located in not so accessible places. Some museums counter this weakness by targeting schools and workplaces, thereby receiving visitors in large groups.

In July 2008, 90 per cent of Chinese museums, all categories, were run by the government. In recent years, however, some private museums dealing with the War of Resistance, several smaller institutions have been set up. However, most of these do not rival the government-run ones in size. There is, however, one exception – the Jianchuan Museum Cluster outside Chengdu in Sichuan created by multi-millionaire Fan Jianchuan. Being not just a museum but a “cluster” of museums, it is an extremely ambitious project. It contains a two halls dealing with folk customs, three halls dealing with the “Red Age”, i.e. the Mao era, in a nostalgic way. The remaining halls, five in April 2009 with two more under contruction, deal with the War of Resistance. An entrance ticket to the Jianchuan Museum Cluster cost 80 yuan in April 2009. This is in stark contrast to the government-run museums dealing with the same theme, most of which, have stopped charging entrance fees after a government decision taken in January 2008, according to which patriotic and other education sites are to become free of charge in 2009. This, of course, means that it is difficult to make private war museums profitable considering the competition. Moreover, it suggests that most visitors to the Jianchuan Museum Cluster are probably relatively economically well off. However, the most important conclusion to be drawn is probably that a large number of Chinese will visit the museums that have become free of charge, thereby receiving a dose of patriotic education. Some museums, such as the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum, the Military Museum in Beijing and the War of Resistance Museum close to the Marco Polo Bridge outside Beijing where a skirmish between Chinese and Japanese soldiers on 7 July, 1937 sparked full-scale war, have received huge numbers of visitors since opening. The Military Museum received more than 40 million visitors from its opening in 1960 to the end of 1990. According to an article published in 2008, 10 million visitors had come to see the exhibition at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum since it opened in 1985. The War of Resistance Museum outside Beijing had in 2008, according to its website, received 15 million visitors since it opened in 1987. Waiving entrance fees will likely lead to even larger crowds showing up to be educated.

So what then is the content of these exhibitions? The answer to this question not only gives us an understanding concerning these exhibitions but also provides us with insights into the contents of the patriotic education campaign. In this section, the main contents of what Chinese museums teach visitors as part of the patriotic education campaign is briefly summarized. The focus will be on narrative content and the lessons to be learnt. Three main narrative themes can be discerned in these exhibitions. The first is Chinese heroism, the second Chinese victimhood and the third Japanese aggression. The order in which these themes have been listed here should not be interpreted as implying that the theme of Chinese heroism is more common than that of Japanese aggression. Moreover, it should not be assumed that specific exhibitions necessarily only feature one of these themes. While at some museums one kind of narrative dominates, most exhibitions, at least to a certain extent, contain elements of all three narrative types. It should be noted, however, that heroic narratives, in scholarship dealing with the issue, are often associated with the Mao era and that victim narratives have grown more prominent since the 1980s. This is sometimes attributed to the claim that the PRC, after its founding, was in need of heroes to show it was strong in the face of the challenges with which it was confronted. The victimhood narrative, which could be seen as closely interrelated with the narrative of Japanese aggression, on the other hand, was suppressed during the Mao era in order for the leadership not to be regarded as weak and not to jeopardize ties with Japan. Furthermore, since during this time the Guomindang (GMD) leadership in Taiwan was seen as a major threat to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) legitimacy, the GMD, rather than Japan, was depicted as the main enemy of the Chinese people. During this period, Chinese pre-1949 modern history was interpreted through the lense of class, stressing the people’s, and the CCP’s, struggle against reactionaries, such as capitalists and landlords, represented by the GMD. In the 1980s, the class dimension of the struggle was deemphasized and China’s modern history came instead to be interpreted as a national strugg
le against external enemies, among which Japan came to figure most prominently.

In the heroic narratives, the Japanese enemy is present to a much lesser extent than in the stories emphasizing Japanese aggression. To the extent that Japanese aggression is dealt with in narratives strongly stressing heroism, this is mainly in the form of Japanese strategies that the CCP’s military heroically and successfully handled. Still, the Japanese enemy is labelled an aggressor in these accounts as well. Even in these descriptions, then, there is no mistake about the nature of the actions of the Japanese military – they were despicable acts. The point is simply that these despicable acts constitute the background against which the heroic picture is painted rather than being the centre of attention. While it is possible to label some exhibitions as characterized chiefly by heroism, the line between stories about Chinese victimhood and Japanese aggression is a considerably more blurred one. This is logical since where there is a victim of war there is usually also an aggressor. At the same time, a theoretical distinction is possible. This is evidenced in that Japanese depictions of victims of for example the nuclear bombings, the aggressor is often more or less omitted. Furthermore, there is always the option of stressing sacrifice, with its volitional and heroic connotations, rather than victimhood, which lacks such implications and to a greater extent suggests the existence of an assailant.

While in the tales of heroism the focus is on the great comrades who sacrificed themselves for the motherland, when victimhood is stressed the atmosphere is more solemn. Finally, when the spotlight is on aggression, the main actors of the stories are the Japanese military aggressors, whose hideous acts are often vividly illustrated and condemned. Even though there are clear differences between these storylines regarding the aspects of the war experience that are emphasized, in the end the lessons to be learnt are strikingly similar. The moral of the stories being told is, simply put, that Chinese people should work together, united under the leadership of the CCP, to rejuvenate China and thereby create a stronger Motherland. The rationale for doing this differs depending on the kind of narrative given prominence in specific exhibitions. If aggression is highlighted it is likely that the logic will be one according to which the visitor is instructed to work for the rejuvenation of China in order for the country to be able to avoid becoming the victim of aggression in the future. In heroic narratives, the visitor is sometimes told to “carry out the behest of the martyrs”, the behest being “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”. While victimhood is rare as the basis of these kinds of instructions, reflecting the fact that among the three narrative elements it is the least common as a dominant component, in one exhibition the visitor is urged to exert herself for “the revival of the Chinese nation” because that is the best way to comfort the compatriots killed.

This brief discussion of the role of museums dealing with the Chinese war effort against the invading Japanese military and the narratives presented at these institutions illustrate how this episode in modern Chinese history has played and continues to play an important role in the PRC and in the patriotic education campaign. The past could be said to be very much alive in the present. These narratives are important ingredients in Chinese identity construction. The CCP makes sure that the stories being told about this period fit into its agenda and contributes to the legitimacy of the Party. At the same time, as is also verified by the brief historical exposition above, these kinds of stories constantly evolve and are always open to redefinition. Hence, what the future holds in store for the stories about the past is yet to be seen.


Well-deserved boomerang hits Malaysia by Anya Palm

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His job consists of getting palm fruits down, either by climbing up the meter-high palm trees or use a picking knife, a sharp seal strapped on a two-meter long stick, that he lifts up and manages around in the treetop. The knife is wildy difficult to manage and if he loses control, it comes down at high speed and impossible to stop in the fall. Death accidents are not uncommon. The three Ds in 3D stand for Difficult, Dirty and Dangerous and usually the wages are low and the hours long. Being a relatively prosperous country surrounded by very poor countries, however, Malaysia never had any problems filling these positions. They are filled by people like Ainudin, who comes from Indonesia and is in Malaysia for the second time. Last time, he was caught with no passport – his employer had confiscated it – and took a severe beating from the police, before he was shipped off back to Indonesia. –         I came home, but then I started working to get back again, because I could not find a job in Indonesia and my family is very poor, he explains. His story is very common. Till recently, Malaysia had about 2,1 million immigrant workers, mainly from Indonesia and Bangladesh, and nearly all of them worked in 3D jobs. When the economic crisis hit Malaysia all this changed drastically. In January, the government started invoking laws to rid the country of migrant workers in order to avoid skyrocketing unemployement and save jobs for the Malaysian citizens. First order of business was revoking 45,000 visas for Bangladeshi workers and then systematically terminate contracts and deport people out of the country. The  already overfilled deportation camps were strained beyond the max and in May, two Burmese workers died of illness due to poor hygiene in the camps. Despite these unpleasant events, the Malaysian government continued to tighten the foreign worker laws, craving the employer to pay a fee for every foreign worker and even send out patrols to catch foreign workers, who had gone into hiding to avoid deportation. When caught, the workers got caned, fined and was then shipped home. “Malaysians first,” was the unsympathetic slogan, the government officials repeated in newspapers, TV-rapports and radio. Useless union presidents in all sectors backed up this policy. One of the most important – Malaysia’s Trade Union Congress – simply suggested a freeze on taking in immigrants. –         I know this is not very politically correct. But in time of crisis, we have to think of our own people first, said the general secretary, G Rajasekaran at the time. During the first six months of 2009, Malaysia deported around 300,000 people. An additional half a million went into hiding in fear of deportation. Knowledge of the situation these people were thrown into – either shipped off to extreme poverty or living in a parallel world hidden from the authorities – makes it even worse to now find out that all this was in vain. Malaysian business these days, are suffering a labor shortage  – Malaysians will not take the loathed 3D-jobs and employers cannot afford the extra fee, that the government put on them, if they use foreign labor. It is scaringly incompetent governance  not to investigate the possible consequenses of own laws. When people are laid off in large numbers, it is not very difficult to foresee this is going to create a vacuum. And it is even more deterring that not even the unions backed them up. Today, the hundreds of thousands of foreign immigrants are long gone and forgotten about. The Malaysian government faces the boomerang effect of their harsh laws and has a growing labor shortage to deal with. Remaining workers are put on overtime to fill in the holes and small businesses forced to close down. This – however sad it may be – does create a window of opportunity. With the urgent need of immigrant workers, it screams to heaven that somebody should start demanding better wages and better conditions for immigrant workers in Malaysia. There is a NEED for them which Malaysia has never admitted to before. Someone should take this opportunity to use this new situation to rid the jobs from the unfortunate 3Ds and someone should make an effort to care for this massive group of people, who are by far the most vulnerable in the market. Only one question remains, though. Who?