Review of Joseph Y.S. Cheng (ed.)’s The Use of Mao and the Chongqing Model

Cheng, Joseph Y.S., ed., The Use of Mao and the Chongqing Model, The Journal of Shinawatra University, Vol.3, No.1 (Jan-Apr, 2016), pp.53-5.

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The Use of Mao and the Chongqing Model
Joseph Y.S. Cheng, editor
Hong Kong: City University of Hong Kong Press, 2015
ISBN: 978-962-937-240-8
XIX + 331 pp.

Chongqing is one of China’s largest cities and, since most of China’s dramatic industrialization and poverty reduction has taken place in cities, it is one of the sites of rapid modernization and economic development. That development has featured a variant of the Factory Asia paradigm, which is based on export-oriented, import substituting, intensive manufacturing with competitiveness based on low labour costs. Those low labour costs are achieved by drawing people from agriculture into industry through better wages and, after the Lewisian point of equalization of supply and demand for labour is passed, through repression of workers’ rights and exploitation through permitting a parallel workforce of illegal or unregistered migrant workers. This paradigm is often successful in achieving its goals but it is likely to be time-limited in effect as it triggers the Middle Income Trap. It is also inimical to the desire for equality of treatment promised by Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ideology which many millions of Chinese people still hold to be important. Consequently, there is scope for differences in approach from the application of the Factory Asia paradigm by enacting policies within a city that tackle the corruption that inevitably attends rapid capitalist development while reducing market failures by providing good quality low cost housing and promotion of microenterprise start-ups to help provide employment to rural migrants and university graduates who might otherwise have had to leave. One result of this was to attract 200,000 of the half a million Foxconn jobs that had been located in Shenzhen. The concept was: “Chongqing provided cheap public rental housing to Foxconn workers. This allowed it to break away from the ‘global labor arbitrage’ pattern and re-embed transnational capital in society (Zhao, 2012).”

This was always likely to be a problematic approach because of the forces lined up against just such an idea: “ … a powerful hegemonic bloc transnational capital, domestic coastal export industries, and pro-capitalist state officials – as well as neoliberal media, intellectual leaders, and their middle class followers – [which] continues to block any substantial efforts at re-orienting the Chinese development path (ibid.).” Bo Xilai, mayor of Chongqing, attempted to enlist the support of the people of the city by the changhong campaign of singing red songs. Songs, that is, that are associated either historically or ideologically with the person of Mao Zedong, who is described as both the Lenin and Stalin of China. It is quite clear that the relationship between the CCP and Mao and his legacy is both complicated and evolving. Mao has never been repudiated but he has been found culpable of some mistakes. As Sebastian Veg writes in this volume (237-75): “… the 1981 ‘Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party,’ … distinguished among five periods: the pre-1949 and 1949-56 periods, during which the line of the Party and Mao’s leadership are deemed ‘correct,’ the 1956-66 decade, marked by some errors, the responsibility for which is shared by Mao and the collective leadership, and the ‘Cultural revolution decade’ of 1966-76, which is entirely condemned, including Mao’s role. Finally, the post-Mao era was, unsurprisingly, endorsed (Veg, 2015).”

The figure of Mao remains quite capable of stirring controversy and the use of his personality through the changhong campaign to challenge policies endorsed by the CCP might well have provoked an official response. Bo Xilai’s campaign brought him considerable levels of political success (he would scarcely have become mayor of Chongqing if he had not had some measure of personal ambition and determination) and undoubtedly caused him to attract a number of enemies, especially as the result of the Strike the Black anti-corruption campaign. In the central paper of this volume, editor Joseph Y.S. Cheng (pp.181-211) describes Bo’s success in terms of living environment and housing, transport network, afforestation, safety as well as law and order and health services. However, it is evident that other authors take a different view, perhaps cynically assuming that the whole campaign was just a smoke and mirrors attempt to propel Bo to his political goals. In any case, Bo’s world began to unravel after falling out with key Strike the Black ally Wen Qiang. Just before Chinese New Year in January, 2012, Bo had his Politburo membership suspended while his wife, the celebrity lawyer Gu Kailai, was indicted for the ‘intentional homicide’ of the British businessperson Neil Heywood. Heywood had lived an unusual life cultivating contacts in numerous agencies of the Chinese government in his successful attempt to move from being a teacher of English to a consultant to companies with non-specific contacts with Britain’s MI6 spy service. Heywood was found dead and his corpse cremated without a proper examination having taken place (Watts & Branigan, 2012). A special investigator subsequently announced numerous charges against Bo Xilai and tried to obtain political asylum with the Americans in Chengdu while Chinese security forces surrounded the building. There had been rumours of torture employed during the Strike the Black campaign and son Gua Gua seemed to be enjoying an exceptionally affluent lifestyle while studying at the University of Oxford (ibid.). It was enough and Bo was finished.
What then, does the study of the confluence of the image of Mao and the Chongqing model teach us about contemporary China? One thing that is clear is that the CCP maintains a pretty strong grip on the levers of state power. Émilie Tran (pp.213-35) writes that pro-Maoist websites were swiftly closed down and “… the authorities removed actual signs (posters and inscriptions on walls) and online testimonies, practically overnight. The next day, the residents of Chongqing woke up from their ‘Red’ fever in a freshly harmonized Chongqing. In that heavy atmosphere of suspicion, they behaved as if nothing had happened, being cautious not to mention anything related to Bo Xilai and his ‘Red culture movement’ to anyone (Tran, 2015).” An informant observes that it would not have been so easy to silence the Red Guards and this is symptomatic of contemporary China, according to a consensus of papers in this collection.
Mao has become inextricably linked with the Cultural Revolution and the continued silence about that period remains an obstacle to genuine rather than inflicted harmony – Bo Xilai himself was once a Read Guard and was subsequently imprisoned for five years for no properly explained reason.

Indeed, the CCP has provided some guidance as to how Mao should be considered in the future through sanctioned feature films which, as Veg (2015) observes, portray him in more humanistic terms dealing with a wide range of the great women and men of modern Chinese history in a vista from which the masses appear to have been deleted. This is both an expression of the neoliberalism of the political elite and, also, an attempt to sever the link between Mao and the people for the purpose of further legitimizing the present regime in its current manifestation. By doing so, it is presumably the case that it will become less possible for populist leaders to obtain broad support through the use of Mao imagery and ideology.

As is common with collections of academic papers of this sort, the extent to which authors actually address both parts of the title varies from case to case. As mentioned previously, the central paper is by Cheng himself and it is this one that most closely outlines the various themes explored. However, many of the other papers do make interesting contributions in their own right and it is noteworthy that most of them appear to have been published by academic journals since the time of the original conference of 2012. The production standards are good and the quality of editing more than acceptable. It is unlikely that the book will be of widespread interest but for scholars of contemporary Chinese society and economy it has a great deal to offer.

References

Cheng, J.Y.S. (2015). The ‘Chongqing model’ – what it means to China today, in Cheng, J.Y.S., ed. The use of Mao and the Chongqing model (Hong Kong: City University of Hong Kong Press), 181-211.

Tran, E. (2015). In the red 2.0 – online reactivation of Maoist mobilization methods and propaganda, in Cheng, J.Y.S., ed. The use of Mao and the Chongqing model (Hong Kong: City University of Hong Kong Press), 213-35.

Veg, S. (2015). Propaganda and pastiche – visions of Mao in The founding of the republic, Beginning of the great revival and Let the bullets fly, in Cheng, J.Y.S., ed. The use of Mao and the Chongqing model (Hong Kong: City University of Hong Kong Press), 237-75.

Watts, J. and Branigan, T. (2012). Neil Heywood case: death, corruption, intrigue … the story so far. The Guardian (April 20th), available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/apr/21/neil-heywood-murder-gu-kailai.

Zhao, Y. (2012). The struggle for socialism in China: the Bo Xilai saga and beyond, Monthly Review, 64(5), 1-17.

John Walsh, Shinawatra University

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