What will 2012 bring for China?
One thing we can count on is a revamped effort at censorship, Big Brother surveillance, and thought control. This may sound like hyperbole, but it isn't; President Hu Jintao has, in fact, been very blunt on these points. On Jan. 1, he published a major essay arguing that the West is waging cultural warfare against China in an effort to divide and destroy the Communist Party. Hollywood, Washington and Madison Avenue are in cahoots to finally bring down the Communist Party. They are engaged in an all-out war. Hu wants his nation to recognize that this war is going on, and to fight it with mindfulness and vigor.
Hu essentially called for a new Cultural Revolution.
The original Cultural Revolution was Chairman Mao's 10-year effort to revitalize communism by attacking every speck of non-revolutionary thinking, be it a foreign song, a misspoken word, or a "capitalist" thought. Hu's version of the Cultural Revolution will not be as violent nor as thorough. But as Hu makes clear, China is still in danger of falling victim to the West, and still needs to "stand up."
To understand what Hu's 2012 Cultural Revolution might look like, it is helpful to remember a bit of Maoist ideology. Mao Zedong believed that, given enough time, China could lead the people of the world into a communist paradise. It would be a struggle, and many would die, but in the end, the utopia would be well worth the growing pains.
One major obstacle stood in the way of this evolution: the imperialist forces led by the United States. Mao was not afraid of war with the West. In fact, he famously egged the Communist Bloc to launch a nuclear war, noting that there were so many people in China that even if a few hundred million died, he could rebuild on the world's ashes.
While Mao didn't fear war, he did fear the gentle allure of Hollywood and Madison Avenue. He worried that without constant propaganda, agitation and strict thought control, young minds would drift towards capitalism and consumption. He was terrified when, in 1953, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles suggested that the Cold War should not be fought with guns, but instead could be won by encouraging the "peaceful evolution" of the Soviet Union. As Damien Ma wrote in a recent post, Mao noted that "imperialism's prophesiers have pinned their hopes for 'peaceful evolution' on the shoulders of the party's third or fourth generations."
We are now seeing the rise of that fourth generation. And indeed, China itself has adopted the language of a "peaceful rise."
This is the background for Hu's essay on the culture war with the West. "We must clearly see that international hostile forces are intensifying the strategic plot of Westernizing and dividing China, and ideological and cultural fields are the focal areas of their long-term infiltration," he said in a speech upon which the essay was based.
How will China respond to these "hostile forces" that are scheming to destroy China through a "long-term infiltration" of destructive culture?
Well, China can't respond with pop-culture of its own. In the realm of culture, China simply can't compete. Their movies, literature, TV shows, and brand names are simply too pathetic. As Chinageeks put it, "in any kind of cultural competition with the West, [China is] going to be bringing a fist to a bazooka fight."
Thus, instead of genuine cultural competition (Confucius vs. Jesus; Lonovo vs. Apple; Bubble Tea vs. Coca-Cola; Zhang Yimo vs. Steven Spielberg), there will simply be violent bans on anything the lumbering Central Committee of the Communist Party deems threatening. This will include continued harsh treatment of local artists and writers (see Ai Weiwei), and a much closer scrutiny of foreigners (including more banned and censored material. See here on the censorship of a Jonathan Mirsky article in Newsweek, torn out of each copy in China by hand).
In essence, President Hu is saying that Marx cannot compete with Steve Jobs. If you put them both in a room, teenagers will become consumption monkeys rather than revolutionaries. His solution? A tepid, hopeless Cultural Revolution that seeks to promote communist culture by harassing artists and journalists.