Ever since the Internet was popularized in the late 1990s, Chinese BBS sites and blogosphere have been politically quite polarized, divided into “left” and “right” camps. But these concepts are very different from ideas of “left” and “right” in Western politics.
Here are two sample posts of how Chinese netizens themselves typically define “left” and “right”. The first post was written by netizen Minyue in a nationalistic (“leftist”) online forum Tiexue, in which someone posted a question asking others to define ‘leftist’ or ‘rightist’ in Chinese cyberspace. Translated by CDT:
The leftist camp is essentially the nationalistic camp. Every leftist agrees with such a point of view: national interests precede all other things. From this standpoint, they advocate social justice, altruism, sacrifice and objection to individualism and liberalism. There may be some upset leftists who’d defend them as valuing the nation, not the state. When you ask him which nation he belongs to, haha, the answer is the Chinese nation. Isn’t it still nationalism?
Since national interests prevail over anything else, the country’s territorial integrity must be safeguarded. So for the leftists, use of force, even nuclear force, is a ready option. Those who cry for a nuclear attack on Taiwan are of course leftists.
What are rightists like then? The rightist camp is actually the individualistic camp. All rightists would stress that individual interests take precedence over national interests. The individuals in question here not only include every citizen but also the rightists themselves. In other words, rightists feel that their own interests are naturally the highest interests, so rightists are particularly selfish. Certainly the rightists’ individualism does not mean they are not willing to do anything for the public good or to sacrifice their own interests for those of other people. They believe it’s completely at their discretion. If they are willing to, they will sacrifice personal interest for the common good. But if they are reluctant, nobody or no state power can force them to do so.
Some rightists will definitely oppose such a definition, because they feel it downgrades their well-intentioned cries for the suffering of ordinary people. Haha, but who cares? If you really want to distance yourself from individualism, it only shows that you are not a rightist. Yes, those who oppose individualism and advocate nationalism are all leftists.
Internationally, the leftist camp normally refers to the political faction that stresses the protection of the interests of the working class and the poor. In most of the countries, both the leftist and rightist camps identify with universal values. Their differences lie in the fact that leftists advocate more government intervention in the economy and more policies to help the poor, while rightists advocate “small government and big society” and value free competition and economic efficiency.
The leftist camp in the current Chinese context refers to the political faction that follows Maoism. They are arch foes of the Chinese rightists (liberals) who embrace universal values. At the same time, they are different from leftists in other parts of the world. The Chinese leftists hold up higher a fake banner of protecting the interests of the poor, but their ulterior motives have little to do with protecting the interests of the poor.
Because of different opinions about the Cultural Revolution, Chinese leftists fall into two categories – old and new leftists. The old leftists worship Mao’s thought, laud the Cultural Revolution and criticize the reform and opening-up. The new leftists believe in Marxist economics and praise Mao’s policy of public ownership, but view the Cultural Revolution negatively. They are also totally critical of China’s privatization dominated by privileged groups since 1992 and of the export-oriented economy. The new leftists talks much less about class struggle than the old leftists do. They are more nationalistic and have a strong awareness of an international scramble for hegemony.
However, both old and new leftists oppose China’s transition toward a constitutional democracy, detest market reforms and see rightists as enemies. They all neglect freedom, distort human rights, despise tolerance, love violence and instigate hatred against the rich. In contrast with the rightists’ appeals for democracy, old leftists want to see China return to the Maoist era with public ownership, while new leftists demand a re-expansion of the state economy, the restoration of a state monopoly in the economic field, and the extermination of “colonial”, “collaborationist” economies of foreign capital and private enterprises.
The privatizing reforms since 1992, which were characterized by the exploitation and pillaging of the powerful, have led to the complete marginalization of the underprivileged groups such as workers and farmers. As the “reformist” measures like forced demolitions, land seizures, layoffs and retirement intensify, the human rights of these underprivileged groups have been seriously infringed upon. Social discontent runs deep and social conflicts escalate. Many in the public, especially middle-aged and elderly people, began to miss the egalitarianism in the planned economy. On the other hand, some of the youth, faced with the scarcity of opportunities, believe that “redistributing the land after toppling the landlords” can be an easier and better solution. So populist incitement by the leftists among the underdogs has been very effective. With the connivance of those in power, the leftists have always held an advantage of discourse, association and assembly over rightists.
Those in power of course also understand the irrationality and brutal, ruthless dictatorial means of the leftists. How can they allow the leftists to once again dominate Chinese society? It is neither those in power nor the masses brainwashed by them who follow the global trend of democratization and determine the future course of the society. The job falls on the middle class and the intellectual elite of conscience.
由于对”文革”看法不同，中国的”左派”又分为”老左派”和”新左派”两大阵营。”老左派”推举毛思想、颂扬文革、否定改革开放；”新左派”信奉马主义经济学原理，称赞毛的公有制政策，但对文革持否定态度，又全面否定1992年以来权贵私有化路线，对”外向型经济”深恶痛绝。 “新左派” 比”老左派”的阶级斗争色彩较淡，民族主义色彩突出，国际争霸意识强烈。
Read more perspectives from the “right” about “nation” and “country”:
* What Has Your “Guojia” Done for the Rest of the World? by Chang Ping
* Chinese Bloggers: A Patriot Like Me by Hecaitou and Wuyuesanren