Chinese Maoists in North Korea: Paradise Lost

Despite an apparently strong showing at this autumn’s anti-Japanese protests, times are hard for China’s New Left. Bo Xilai awaits trial, Mao’s legacy faces erosion and pollution, leftist websites are under attack by “the forces of darkness“, and the country continues to hurtle down the capitalist road. The Economist accompanied a small group of beleaguered leftists seeking brief respite in North Korea.

After a long drive up a narrow dirt track through hills east of Pyongyang, a North Korean tour bus dropped the Chinese tourists near a wooded graveyard. In front of it, on a concrete pedestal, stood a bronze bust of Mao Anying, the eldest son of Mao Zedong. This was their holy grail. One by one they laid wreaths and bowed in reverence (see picture). One man kowtowed. Several wept as they delivered speeches in honour of the younger Mao, who died during the Korean war. “We must clean China up and turn it a brilliant red,” said one. Another led the group in chants of “Socialism will be victorious!”

[…] Many of China’s new middle class regard the Maoists as members of a nutty fringe. But to the poor and marginalised, as well as a few idealistic intellectuals, their views are appealing. During their four days in North Korea in October, the Maoists found a country that appeared to be following the right path: one that, in their view, Mao had started down but which his diminutive successor, Deng Xiaoping, had abandoned. “Dwarf Deng destroyed the lives of peasants,” says one member of the group, staring from the bus at new two-storey houses in the countryside on the way to Mao Anying’s memorial in Hoechang county. The suspicions of Potemkinism that constantly prey on the minds of foreign tourists in North Korea appeared not to trouble them.

[…] A retired official from a state-owned oil firm praised the “purity” of North Koreans compared with the Chinese, whose hearts were “filled with black-and-white cats”; a reference to Deng Xiaoping’s famously pragmatic dismissal of ideology, that it doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.

For a near mirror image of The Economist’s report, see ‘The Grand Tour‘ at The New Yorker, Evan Osnos’ account of an excursion around Europe with 37 ardent Chinese consumerists.

November 22, 2012 7:22 PM
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