On December 5, The Sankei Shimbun ran its Seiron (“Just Arguments”) column on page seven. Written by Takushoku University Advisor Toshio Watanabe, the article was entitled, “Xi Jinping Returns to the Mao Zedong Era.” It read:
In his ideologies and actions, Xi actually draws strong influence from Mao, the well-known absolute leader of the past. It seems like Mao means everything to Xi. Is China today experiencing a revival of the Mao era? If so, we should look back at the changes that occurred during that time.
Mao’s ideologies stem from utopian socialism, an idea formed during the Liberated Zone and commune era. It was a fantastical, theoretical, pure concept that was also extremely leftist. A disaster would certainly have occurred if utopian socialism were implemented in small regions that could be governed during that era, let alone when founding the major People’s Republic of China, which already had more than 500 million people right after its establishment. Mao monopolized the right to interpret socialism and did away with all forces trying to restrain its leftist tendencies, calling them “right-wing opportunists” or “revisionists.” Mao’s utopian socialism led to fierce violence, and he gained exclusive control over society.
Because the most utopian types of socialism are the most detached from reality, it was exceedingly difficult to realize Mao’s ideals in actual society. Mao could not avoid strife with the “capitalist roader” faction who warned about his reckless actions.
Utopian capitalism is an impossible dream lacking a pragmatic foundation. This continually created other political powers that were trying to restore reality. However, Mao regarded capitalist roaders merely as class enemies who defied him, which is why he was constantly involved in class warfare. His fight against class enemies included the Rectification Movement, Anti-Rightist Campaign, Lushan Conference, and more than anything else, the Cultural Revolution. Mao expended all his political energy to wage his own style of class warfare (the “permanent revolution”).
After the disastrous end of the Cultural Revolution and Mao’s death, Deng Xiaoping rose to power as a new leader working to reshape the Chinese system. His ideology of productivity was the antithesis of Mao. Deng regarded the Communist Party of China (CPC) as the vanguard for modernizing the nation, not as the advance force in class warfare. He believed the CPC should be established as the nucleus of political power, and that the revolutionary movement, which was dependent on mass movements, must be contained. This was definitely a resolute conviction, considering how the CPC’s authority was profoundly harmed by the madness of the Cultural Revolution, and that Deng had personally experienced the hardship of exile. Deng carried out economic reforms and opened up China based on this belief, which led to its rapid economic growth afterwards.
These days Xi frequently uses the phrase “common prosperity,” recycling a concept set forth by Mao in the past. Xi’s intent is likely to win support inside the CPC through socialist policies stressing the importance of sharing, more than of growth. It seems unlikely that China can be administered according to “common prosperity” in this era of declining social vitality caused by the falling birthrate and aging population. However, Xi is attempting to push forward with this concept, likely by readjusting the riches of the wealthy demographic, symbolized by parties such as major IT corporations, and redistributing it to low-income citizens. Xi believes he can accomplish this by further solidifying CPC organizations inside these companies. He has eliminated most of his political opponents with the slogan of “anti-corruption,” and now there are no leaders remaining who oppose his plans.
The capitalist roaders who held back Mao’s actions are maintaining a low profile in today’s China.
Xi implemented a 2.5-month lockdown to cope with the novel coronavirus from Wuhan. Shanghai, the largest city, was locked down two years later due to rapidly increasing infections. The CPC secretary of Shanghai in charge of the lockdown was Li Qiang, who was recently given the second-most powerful position after Xi. We cannot fathom the amount of discontent, fear, and despair felt by the citizens due to these harsh regulations that have never been imposed before. For Xi and Li, this was probably a successful experience in which they demonstrated how they could use their power to quell any sort of situation.
The Xi government will likely use its authoritarian power to suppress domestic dissatisfaction. If it perceives that it has reached its limits, it may create an external crisis. This is a common method used by dictatorships, is called “wolf warrior diplomacy.” Xi repeatedly states that Taiwan is the central point of China’s vital interests. Perhaps his reasoning is that achieving the historic feat of integrating Taiwan would allow him to recover from his domestic missteps.
More than Mao’s doctrine of utopian socialism, Watanabe sees as problematic Mao’s insatiable appetite for power – his own style of class warfare to defeat his rivals (“permanent revolution”). History clearly shows this has caused chaos and stagnation in China. Xi’s apparent return to Mao’s ideologies might invite even more disorder and stagnation. We must keep a close eye on what happens in China over the next few years.
Inequality is an issue in China. Let us look back at an article posted on Toyo Keizai Online on May 26, 2015: “Vast Disparities Caused by the Hukou System: Even Great Efforts Receive no Reward.”
Since then, harsh regulations have applied to people moving from rural to urban locations. Chinese citizens cannot decide of their own will to move, like people in Japan can. (Some readers might be thinking, “What about migrant laborers from the countryside who work in cities? They remain rural residents in the Hukou system and cannot receive the same types of social services as residents of those cities.)
Next, the article describes the specific case of a 35-year-old woman named “Ms. Xu,” who is from a rural village.
These students can access medical care, welfare, and other social services while enrolled in school. At a single glance they seem to be treated the same way as urban dwellers under the registration system, but this is conditional – they fundamentally revert to their original status upon graduation. Ms. Xu studied abroad in Japan and found a job in Shanghai, and today she is registered in a group at her employer in Shanghai. This registration is granted for work-related reasons but does not provide much stability, because these residents cannot currently receive social services or other benefits.
Urban residence was originally only for people living in cities, who are at a massive advantage compared to rural residents. People are subject to prejudices based on their Hukou status in situations such as marriage and buying condominiums. However, the most apparent type of disparity is when entering university.
Students who are registered residents of major cities are prioritized, while students from low-income rural areas are at a disadvantage. This is because of province-based quotas for the percentages of urban and rural dwellers who are accepted to universities. A prospective student is evaluated differently according to whether they are from Beijing or Sichuan.
In other words, even with the same grades, it is far more advantageous to be registered in Beijing than in a rural area.
These disparities are steadily growing. Good academic performance was enough to get into an urban university in the past, but today it is said that only around 20% of successful applicants can be from rural areas at famous urban schools like Peking and Fudan Universities.
A person who happens to be born in a rural region has to work several times harder to get into Peking University, even if they have the same grades. We should regard this as a type of inherited inequality. It’s impossible to imagine Japanese people not being able to move where they want to, or if the qualifications to get into the University of Tokyo varied according to the prefecture where they were born.
These disparities continue even after graduation. The article also mentions “Ms. Xie,” a 45-year-old woman who has a similar academic background as Ms. Xu. However, she earns a great deal more because she was born in Shanghai.
NHK also covered this issue on a special program broadcast on December 11, 2021, titled, “Migrant Workers Return Home: Vast Inequalities Between Urban and Rural Areas.” It featured Professor Shanping Yan from Doshisha University, who studies rural communities in China. According to Yan, these inequalities originally cropped up in the 1950s, when Mao was striving to switch the country from agriculture to manufacturing (the Korean War gave him a keen sense of the importance of manufacturing). He began by siphoning off funds from rural areas and investing them into major cities where manufacturing would take place. The Hukou system was originally founded as a way to exploit rural regions. With the economic reform and opening up of China in the 1970s, coastal cities experienced rapid development and started using migrant workers from the countryside. In this way rural residents have been exploited not only for their money, but also for their labor.
The CPC dictatorship was likely what enabled these constraints on Chinese citizens; democratic nations could not implement a discriminatory system like the Hukou. Japanese people have not criticized the Chinese government’s discriminatory policies, and have disregarded them as someone else’s problems, due to the economic focus on China as a factory and market with a population 10 times larger than Japan. However, I think China’s circumstances will have major impacts on Japan’s future now that this neighbor of ours has used its vast economic strength to become a strong military superpower. Japan must hope that China can resolve its internal inequalities to prevent a situation that will shake its very foundation.
The CPC is taking measures to revive agricultural communities based on the common prosperity policy described by Watanabe in his Seiron column. The NHK special points out that 600 million Chinese people still earn less than 18,000 yen a month, most of whom are rural residents. The CPC came up with its “rural development” slogan to fix this situation. The government is giving subsidies to people starting farms and businesses in agricultural villages, and is also providing no-interest loans. Its goal is to draw back migrant workers who traveled to urban areas for work. Worsening economic circumstances are destabilizing society, including protests by migrant workers in cities. However, a livestock farmer from the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region said on the program that his debts are increasing while his business remains unstable. And because many residents left their communities to find work in urban regions, there is no way to pass down agricultural and dairy farming expertise, making it difficult to restart these businesses.
There may be an outburst of civilian anger if Xi’s common prosperity and agricultural development slogans end up failing, if rural residents and migrant workers become more discontent, and if the nationwide economy deteriorates. That might lead to the return of Mao-era disorder and stagnation. Japan is in danger of becoming a vassal country of China, an increasingly imperialistic nation with a powerful military. However, both Japan and the entire world would be threatened if China – which has a massive population and economy – experienced a rapid collapse. Japan must consider and prepare for all of these scenarios.
December 19 (Monday), 5:00 p.m.