Socialism 3.0 in China

Bo Xilai, Communist Party chief of Chongqing, has been in the spotlight for his crackdown on corruption and his efforts to create a “red movement” which harkens back to the Mao era. The Wall Street Journal blog recently reported on a move to get residents to memorize 36 “red” songs:

According to a report in Wednesday’s Chongqing Daily (in Chinese), the city has selected a total of 36 songs it wants residents to memorize and has instructed official TV, radio and newspapers to intensively promote them as part of a new local singing contest.

“These 36 songs have a diversity of styles, beautiful melodies and reflect the main themes of the times,” Chongqing Daily quoted a notice from the municipal propaganda department as saying. “They are refreshing and excellent ‘red’ songs for people to sing.”

The campaign is the latest manifestation of a “red” movement championed by Bo Xilai, the charismatic Communist Party leader in Chongqing, who has been pushing a nostalgic brand of populism as he jockeys for power ahead of a scheduled leadership change in 2012.

And the Diplomat reports that these efforts are indeed gaining the attention of the center, including Hu Jintao’s heir apparent, Xi Jinping:

But the significance of Chongqing runs much deeper than socialist gimmicks—Bo has tried to rewrite the social contract of Chongqing with an attack on economic inequality, an expansion of the state role in the economy, and political moves taken straight from Mao Zedong’s playbook.

People often say that politics in China have stood still while the economy has raced ahead. But the placid surface of single-party rule conceals vigorous debate within the Communist Party over China’s future. Policy experimentation at the local level provides fodder for arguments that will determine the shape of Chinese socialism during the next administration and beyond. The approach of the 2012 handover has spurred risings stars like Bo, a Politburo member and likely candidate for promotion to the top-rung Politburo Standing Committee, to jockey for top leaders’ attention with striking new policies.

This conversation doesn’t always move in liberal directions. China’s ‘New Left’ has seized upon Bo’s ideas to argue for a radical shift away from the market-oriented policies of the Reform and Opening period, citing Chongqing as proof that China can combine growth with economic equality in a vision of socialism that looks to a more statist past.

New Left proponents argue that Chongqing’s experience is the beginning of a path for China that will break radically with capitalist reforms begun by former President Deng Xiaoping.Theyhope to restore the state as the centre of China’s economic system with a focus on poverty reduction and to revive Maoist political techniques. In doing so, they claim to have a blueprint for a new era in China’s history.

An earlier report by John Garnaut of The Sydney Morning Herald points out the irony of Bo’s strategy given his family’s tragic history with the Communist Party.

Read more about Bo Xilai via CDT.

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