Behind the current wave of nationalistic fervour is ordinary Chinese people's anger at a cynical and corrupt regime
o Lin Chun
o guardian.co.uk, Monday 17 September 2012 19.35 BST
Demonstrators outside the Japanese embassy in Beijing as the row over the Senkaku islands, known as Diaoyu in China, escalates. Photograph: David Gray/Reuters
The 36th anniversary of Mao's death, a little over a week ago, was met by official silence – but spontaneous commemorations across China, including a long queue outside the Mao Memorial Hall in Tiananmen Square.
The next day, Wen Jiabao, the premier, spoke at a ceremony to unveil statues of Zhou Enlai, the first premier of the People's Republic, and Chen Yi, who took over as foreign minister from Zhou. He said: "Old China was totally humiliated, its territories were fragmented … The older generation of revolutionaries like Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Chen Yi founded the People's Republic and ended a hundred years of humiliation in our recent national history, laying the foundation of new China's foreign relations.
We must for ever remember their magnificent achievements, and study, carry on and develop their intellectual and spiritual qualities".
The day after that speech the Japanese government signed a deal to begin to "nationalise" the Senkaku islands, known as Diaoyu in China. The Chinese government strongly objected, and sent surveillance ships to the disputed waters. Popular feelings also ran high: anti-Japan demonstrations have spread across China, including Hong Kong. Taiwan's veteran "defending Diaoyu movement" has been boosted by implicit official support. Larger mass rallies could occur on Tuesday, the anniversary of the 1931 Japanese invasion in northern China.
However, interpreting Wen's words and the mass protests in China's streets as simply nationalistic would miss the point. Rather, as the leaders well know, accumulated social discontent with a regime seen by many as externally weak and internally corrupt has found expression in maritime disputes between China and its neighbours.
Some of the signs used in the anti-Japan demonstrations address domestic policies: there were even a few forbidden ones, with reference to the crushed Chongqing model. Many protesters carry Mao's portrait. Voices from the top and bottom of Chinese society have coincided here to call for a return to common sense.
Wen, by reputation the most "liberal" among the party's political factions, was speaking about the need to honour modern China's roots in the epic liberation struggle of the Chinese people. In the eyes of ordinary Chinese, the People's Republic has moved far from its founding promises of popular power and wellbeing, "rising" through hyper-growth, frenzied urbanisation and single-minded global integration, with grave moral, social and environmental costs: losing its soul by abandoning invaluable elements in its revolutionary and socialist legacies.
Continuities and ruptures are both evident in a comparison of the Maoist and post-Mao eras. Deng Xiaoping, who belonged to the first communist generation, led China's market transition immediately after the cultural revolution. The 1980s saw general living standards rise and 400 million peasants lifted out of poverty. Despite such pragmatic slogans as "getting rich first", Deng warned against the danger of income polarisation: "If we allow the millionaires to emerge one day, our reform project would fail."
Edited by Orisons, 19 September 2012 - 09:57 PM.