Three Ways of Looking at the PRC’s Latest Campaigns

Jeffrey Wasserstrom argues that recent campaigns by the CCP may owe as much to Chiang Kai-shek and Lee Kuan Yew as to Mao Zedong:

There’s no question that Mao left an indelible mark on China (this may be the only point of agreement among the authors and editor of all the recent books about him), but as the quotations provided above and much recent scholarship suggests, the current consumerist PRC 2.0 should not be viewed solely through the lens of Maoist legacies.

To make sense of the anti-vulgarity drive, as well as the campaign-like aspects of recent mass spectacles, such as the Olympics and the World Expo underway now in Shanghai, it is useful to look back to what two other authoritarian leaders did in their heyday — (1887-1975) and (1923- ). Recent Chinese campaigns are similar to those that Chiang launched in the 1930s, when his Nationalist Party controlled the Chinese mainland. They also resemble those that have taken place in the Republic of Singapore, during the years that Lee formally ran that city-state as its first prime minister (1959-1990) and the period since he has retired from office (yet continues to exert a strong influence on the country). And the parallels with Singapore are hardly accidental, since the strategy of its ruling elite — who have found a way to combine one-party rule and rapid development, while stressing the importance of traditional values — has been of great interest to various post-Mao Chinese leaders, beginning with Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997).

A good place to start a comparative look at the influence on contemporary China of the Mao era, the period when Chiang was the authoritarian modernizer running the mainland (1927-1949) and Singapore in the decades shaped by Lee, is with the Olympics.

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