Xi’s Self-Criticism Plea Raises Spectre of Mao

Xi Jinping, China’s President, has been on a mission to improve the integrity and performance of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials across the country by encouraging ‘criticism’ and ‘self-criticism’ sessions amongst high-ranking Party cadres.

Xi wants the self-criticisms to help eradicate formality, bureaucracy, hedonism and extravagance from the CCP
Xi wants the self-criticisms to help eradicate formality, bureaucracy, hedonism and extravagance from the CCP

Plagued by top-level corruption scandals, and with a youth population increasingly intolerant of its politicians’ corruption and excess, the CCP is, in Xi’s eyes, in need of rebuke and reform.

Commentators who heralded Xi’s succession to the Chinese presidency may well find themselves disappointed at this development so early in his rule, for the notion of ‘self-criticism’ is inextricably linked with the reign of Mao Tse-Tung and the horrors of the Cultural Revolution.

Mao had encouraged criticisms as early as 1942, before the CCP had come to power. He initially used them as a means to keep his colleagues humble and cowed, to prevent them become imbued with an arrogance that came with increasing power, a power that could rival his own. Simultaneously, Mao viewed the criticisms of the CCP as a way to draw out Party ‘enemies’ who unwittingly fell into his trap, particularly if they criticised one of the Chairman’s own policies. Punishments invariably involved torture, imprisonment, detention in work camps and execution.

After the CCP won power in 1949, Mao introduced the concept of “self-criticisms” whereby Party officials were ordered to expel their own failings in front of groups of their peers, the latter adding their own criticisms to the proceedings. This not only gave the impression that all except Mao were flawed, thus preserving his superiority, but it gave the peasantry and the lower classes an outlet for their frustration and anger during the years of the Great Leap Forward, when starvation and poverty proliferated. Mao avoided criticism himself by organising collective criticisms of those officials he wanted to be deemed culpable for his own mistakes.

By illuminating the perceived weaknesses of his Party cadres through self-criticisms, Mao retained his superiority
By illuminating the perceived weaknesses of his Party cadres through self-criticisms, Mao retained his superiority

During the Cultural Revolution, self-criticism sessions were a daily event and designated ‘bourgeois’ and ‘capitalist-roader’ officials (basically anyone providing a real or imagined challenge to Mao and his deluded policies) were subjected to a barrage of vitriolic abuse which was often combined with horrific physical torture at the hands of the militant Red Guards who Mao had indoctrinated. Even senior leaders such as Zhou Enlai would be forced into self-criticisms.

Forced self-criticisms broke the will of many loyal Party members
Forced self-criticisms broke the will of many loyal Party members

Why Xi has chosen this particular phraseology – undoubtedly aware as he must be of its connotations – is debatable. One potential reason is that the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is upon us (1st October) and he is keen to show that the CCP has retained its revolutionary commitment.

A second possible reason is the fallout of the Bo Xilai scandal. Bo was a hardline leftist with a Maoist philosophy and is thought to have gained many supporters within the Chinese political establishment. This ‘shift to the left’ by Xi may be an attempt to appease those potential troublemakers angered by Bo’s imprisonment.

It may just be that Xi thinks it necessary to return to the culture of fear created during Mao’s reign to finally put an end to the ongoing corruption crisis within the CCP.

Whatever the reasoning, Xi’s self-criticism sessions have been mocked and denigrated by Chinese internet users canny enough to bypass the state-imposed firewall. Whether this will deter the President from pursuing this reinvented policy remains to be seen. Yet for those believing his ascent to power may have ushered in a period of liberal reform in China, they may have to make a reassessment.

 

 

Actions Speak Louder Than Apologies: Abbott Seeks Aboriginal Reform

New Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced the establishment of an Indigenous Advisory Council to try and alleviate the hardships suffered by the majority of the country’s aboriginal communities. Making good on a key election pledge, Abbott says that the Council will seek to provide more economic opportunities for Aborigines, hopefully enabling them to escape a spiral of deprivation, alcoholism and domestic violence.

Desperate attempts have been made to curb alcohol consumption in aboriginal communities
Desperate attempts have been made to curb alcohol consumption in aboriginal communities

To say that the indigenous issue is a sensitive one in Australia is a massive understatement. As with the Native Americans, the Aborigines have suffered great upheaval over a relatively short period of history, involving the dismantling of their traditional lifestyles by the arrival of white settlers.

Having arrived on the Australian continent from Southeast Asia some 50,000 years ago, the Aborigines lived unchallenged for millenia. The arrival of British colonists in the late 18th century brought not only the typical shock of ‘encounter’ but a swift and brutal end to aboriginal life as was known.

Aborigines were persecuted on political and racial grounds from the outset, many driven from their natural homelands by greedy land prospectors who were unafraid to use violence in a colony yet to be tamed.

In 2008, during his premiership, Labor leader Kevin Rudd offered the most sincere apology to Aborigines yet, reflecting on the “profound grief, suffering and loss” inflicted upon indigenous Australians by decades of white settlers.

In addition to the calculated acts of violence and population displacement perpetuated by the whites, there were also the inadvertent detriments. In particular, European disease and the import of alcohol onto a ‘dry’ continent ravaged the Aborigines.

With their land eaten up by white settlement, many Aborigines were forced into an unnatural sedentary life in the growing urban centres on the Australian coast where a dependency on alcohol offered an escape from their dismantled lives. This persisting problem within the aboriginal community has contributed to other woes such as unemployment and child and spousal abuse.

The confiscation of aboriginal land has had severe knock-on effects
The confiscation of aboriginal land has had severe knock-on effects

Rudd was undoubtedly sincere when he apologised, confronting a much-known yet highly guarded dirty secret for which many white Australians feel guilty. But what does an apology mean? Although well-intentioned it makes no tangible difference. One need only look at the attempts made by some Japanese politicians to apologise for their country’s culpability in initiating the Pacific Front during WWII. The Chinese and Koreans will have none of it.

Apologies also hamstring contemporary leaders who are forced to try and atone for actions not committed by their generation; it is hard, therefore, to feel a genuineness in any spoken statement of redemption.

The subjugation of the Aborigines by white settlers is hard to atone for
The subjugation of the Aborigines by white settlers is hard to atone for

Abbott seems to be aware of this and is conscious of the severity of the aboriginal plight (he spends a week living in aboriginal communities every year). His idea for reform is far more bold and, probably, easier to enact than an apology. How his Council will function and whether it will be successful remains to be seen.

There is an embedded shame in Australia, as there is in much of the USA, over the treatment of their countries’ indigenous people. It is unfortunate that this shame has only started to take form in recent decades, for had the delusion of racial superiority been quashed in its infancy the recovery of these peoples may have stood a far greater chance.

Another Dire Warning of Pakistan’s Instability: the Peshawar Church Bombing

It has been another miserable week in the history of Pakistan. At least 328 people have been killed in an earthquake in the province of Balochistan, just days after a suicide bomb attack led to 85 fatalities at a Christian church in Peshawar.

Carnage at a church which had stood peacefully since 1883
Carnage at a church which had stood peacefully since 1883

Whilst the earthquakes, landslides and floods that have plagued Pakistan in the past few years are an unfortunate consequence of natural forces, the mass violence that is perpetuated in every Pakistani province on a weekly basis is a testament to the uncontrolled forces of destruction that reside in the country.

The bombing of the Christian church was particularly unsavoury and worryingly a possible sign of things to come. Christians make up almost 2% of Pakistan’s population, a sizable minority, and believers show a devotion to their faith uncommon in many nominally Christian countries.

The relative infancy of Pakistani Christianity inspires enthusiastic devotion
The relative infancy of Pakistani Christianity inspires enthusiastic devotion

This might be attributed to the fact that Christianity in Pakistan is relatively young. It arrived with colonists when Pakistan was part of the British Raj. Unlike with China and Japan, which had been visited by prominent Jesuit missionaries from Italy, Portugal and Spain as early as the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and have long since reneged their Christian association, Christianity in Pakistan is vibrant and equally split between Catholic and Protestant denominations.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the Peshawar atrocity. This is unsurprising given the barbaric and repressive interpretation of Islam practiced by its members. Yet what is so astonishing is that leading Taliban operatives are currently being freed from Pakistani jails by the Islamabad government.

There is an argument, supported by some quarters in the US, that the release of Taliban ‘officials’ is a necessary precursor to securing peace talks in Afghanistan. Yet others have argued that convicted terrorists are being released straight back to their former cells where they can once more carry out atrocities such as the Peshawar bombing.

Violent deaths, generally through terrorist bombings, are commonplace in Pakistan and are not exclusively reserved for attacks against non-Muslims. The amount of sectarian and factional violence that occurs in the country is astonishing.

Having said that, despite frequent reports of atrocities, there appears to be a genuine malaise towards Pakistan by the rest of the world. The Peshawar church bombing, whilst causing initial outrage, has quickly been forgotten by the Western media. A similar scenario exists with Iraq where terrorism and bloodshed are so frequent that they are no longer newsworthy.

Iraqi car bombings are so frequent that they usually receive little extraordinary attention abroad
Iraqi car bombings are so frequent that they usually receive little extraordinary attention abroad

Whilst Iraq is acknowledged as a failed state, Pakistan does not seem to fall into that category. Despite harbouring Osama Bin Laden – probably with the help of the security forces -, providing a base from which the Taliban can operate into Afghanistan, and being home to a raft of terrorist cells, the instability of Pakistan is severely downplayed by the West.

There is a delusion amongst policymakers that Pakistani internal affairs must be left alone if terrorism is to be defeated in the region and peace is to come to Afghanistan. Yet America is happy enough to conduct frequent drone attacks against the tribal provinces bordering Afghanistan, eliminating Al-Qaeda operatives whilst simultaneously slaughtering innocent civilians. One could not ask for a more obvious interference with national sovereignty.

It is concerning that a country of such violent instability is commonly seen as a key diplomatic player in solving the region’s problems, particularly terrorism. A weak government is just as dangerous as a fanatical one. But events like the Peshawar bombing continually happen without a suggestion of a solution from foreign powers, often so quick to intervene in other states or pressurise indigenous governments.

Ignoring these all-too-frequent warnings is not a wise policy and the relatively youthful history of Christianity in Pakistan may all too soon be wiped out.