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Marxism and China

In a rather neck-​snapping series of pro­nounce­ments, Marx­ism has moved to cen­ter stage in China.

On the 200th anniver­sary of the birth of Karl Marx, Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping has launched a high-​profile cam­paign laud­ing the impor­tance of the Ger­man philosopher.

Com­mu­nist Party news­pa­pers hailed Das Kap­i­tal, Marx’s cri­tique of cap­i­tal­ism, as “holy scrip­ture.” State tele­vi­sion aired a prime-​time doc­u­men­tary and a talk show to cel­e­brate the “great­est thinker of mod­ern times.”

DaTech3.jpgIn a coun­try that has used cap­i­tal­ism in the­ory to cre­ate an eco­nomic jug­ger­naut, China was thought in recent years to have become social­ist in name only, with lit­tle thought given to Marx.

The Wall Street Jour­nal argued that the pro-​Marx cam­paign may be an attempt “to per­suade Chi­nese to keep faith with a Com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment that he [Pres­i­dent Xi] says has employed Marx’s ideas to make China pros­per­ous and powerful.”

Marx “lived hon­estly and sim­ply, and val­ued affec­tion and com­rade­ship,” Xi said recently in a speech at Beijing’s Great Hall of the Peo­ple. He ordered party mem­bers to mas­ter Marx­ist the­ory as a “way of life” and “spir­i­tual pursuit.”

The posthu­mous cult of Marx these days serves to legit­imize the present lead­er­ship and what­ever it claims Marx­ism to be,” Daniel Leese, a China his­to­rian at Germany’s Uni­ver­sity of Freiburg, told The Jour­nal. “And only Xi Jin­ping is said to be capa­ble of syn­the­siz­ing clas­si­cal doc­trine with present realities.”

At the party con­gress in Octo­ber Xi declared a “new era” in Chi­nese social­ism, a move seen as his bid to reshape the devel­op­ment model laid down 40 years ago by reformist leader Deng Xiaoping.

Chi­nese offi­cials have long grap­pled with the con­tra­dic­tions of their state cap­i­tal­ism and pro­fessed Marx­ism. In the early 1990s, party offi­cials and aca­d­e­mics debated alter­na­tive polit­i­cal mod­els and con­tem­plated renam­ing the Com­mu­nist Party to bet­ter reflect its tilt toward state-​led capitalism.

The party didn’t change its name but has wel­comed cap­i­tal­ists to join its ranks, exper­i­mented with polit­i­cal reforms to pro­fes­sion­al­ize the civil ser­vice and allowed an expan­sion of civil society.

But Pres­i­dent Xi seems deter­mined to bring the party and the coun­try back to its Com­mu­nist roots. The cam­paign started in late April when Xi led his party’s gov­ern­ing Polit­buro in a study ses­sion focused on The Com­mu­nist Man­i­festo, the 1848 polit­i­cal pam­phlet writ­ten by Marx and his col­lab­o­ra­tor Friedrich Engels.

A pro­pa­ganda blitz ensued. State media played up Marx’s pur­ported con­tri­bu­tions to China’s present-​day pros­per­ity. While the West descended into “a new era of uncer­tainty and insta­bil­ity,” China’s expe­ri­ence “elo­quently proved that Marxism…has opened a path­way to the truth,” the party’s flag­ship news­pa­per, People’s Daily, said in a front-​page commentary.

Peking Uni­ver­sity hosted a “World Con­gress on Marx­ism,” gath­er­ing more than 120 schol­ars from some 30 coun­tries to dis­cuss “Marx­ism and the Human Com­mu­nity of Shared Des­tiny” — a ref­er­ence to Xi’s sig­na­ture diplo­matic slogan.

To reach younger Chi­nese, pro­pa­ganda offi­cials pro­duced videos and comics that focused on Marx’s per­son­al­ity and appearance.

The party’s flag­ship the­o­ret­i­cal jour­nal, Seek­ing Truth, pro­duced a short video titled “10 Little-​Known Facts About Marx.” The video high­lighted Marx’s Jew­ish back­ground and his zodiac sign, Tau­rus, and explained that his iconic beard was fash­ion­able for his time.

It’s unclear whether this fas­ci­na­tion will have a last­ing impact on China, but Pres­i­dent Xi’s inter­est in reviv­ing Marx seems more than a pass­ing fancy.

In a rather neck-snapping series of pronouncements, Marxism has moved to center stage in China.

On the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx, Chinese President Xi Jinping has launched a high-profile campaign lauding the importance of the German philosopher.

Communist Party newspapers hailed Das Kapital, Marx’s critique of capitalism, as “holy scripture.” State television aired a prime-time documentary and a talk show to celebrate the “greatest thinker of modern times.”

DaTech3.jpgIn a country that has used capitalism in theory to create an economic juggernaut, China was thought in recent years to have become socialist in name only, with little thought given to Marx.

The Wall Street Journal argued that the pro-Marx campaign may be an attempt “to persuade Chinese to keep faith with a Communist government that he [President Xi] says has employed Marx’s ideas to make China prosperous and powerful.”

Marx “lived honestly and simply, and valued affection and comradeship,” Xi said recently in a speech at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. He ordered party members to master Marxist theory as a “way of life” and “spiritual pursuit.”

“The posthumous cult of Marx these days serves to legitimize the present leadership and whatever it claims Marxism to be,” Daniel Leese, a China historian at Germany’s University of Freiburg, told The Journal. “And only Xi Jinping is said to be capable of synthesizing classical doctrine with present realities.”

At the party congress in October Xi declared a “new era” in Chinese socialism, a move seen as his bid to reshape the development model laid down 40 years ago by reformist leader Deng Xiaoping.

Chinese officials have long grappled with the contradictions of their state capitalism and professed Marxism. In the early 1990s, party officials and academics debated alternative political models and contemplated renaming the Communist Party to better reflect its tilt toward state-led capitalism.

The party didn’t change its name but has welcomed capitalists to join its ranks, experimented with political reforms to professionalize the civil service and allowed an expansion of civil society.

But President Xi seems determined to bring the party and the country back to its Communist roots. The campaign started in late April when Xi led his party’s governing Politburo in a study session focused on The Communist Manifesto, the 1848 political pamphlet written by Marx and his collaborator Friedrich Engels.

A propaganda blitz ensued. State media played up Marx’s purported contributions to China’s present-day prosperity. While the West descended into “a new era of uncertainty and instability,” China’s experience “eloquently proved that Marxism…has opened a pathway to the truth,” the party’s flagship newspaper, People’s Daily, said in a front-page commentary.

Peking University hosted a “World Congress on Marxism,” gathering more than 120 scholars from some 30 countries to discuss “Marxism and the Human Community of Shared Destiny”—a reference to Xi’s signature diplomatic slogan.

To reach younger Chinese, propaganda officials produced videos and comics that focused on Marx’s personality and appearance.

The party’s flagship theoretical journal, Seeking Truth, produced a short video titled “10 Little-Known Facts About Marx.” The video highlighted Marx’s Jewish background and his zodiac sign, Taurus, and explained that his iconic beard was fashionable for his time.

It’s unclear whether this fascination will have a lasting impact on China, but President Xi’s interest in reviving Marx seems more than a passing fancy.