Gracing the north gate of the just-renovated National Museum in China, abutting Tiananmen Square, a giant three-story-high bronze statue of the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius was erected this January. Then, four months later, without any official explanation or comment, it disappeared.
Beijing’s silence over the Confucius effigy highlights the thorny dilemma faced by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as it tries to refine a new form of propaganda meant to maintain legitimacy and soothe an increasingly disaffected populace.
A cherry-picked rendition of Confucianism, conveniently adapted to align with Communist Party political imperatives, has effectively been elevated to the “status of a semi-official state ideology,” according to a new report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), published on Wednesday.
This new doctrine, dubbed “CCP Confucianism,” has been deployed to shape public opinion through mass propaganda and ultimately to preserve Communist Party rule, the report indicates.
Mao-style communism has long been discredited and rejected by the Chinese people, and since the economic reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping, the CCP has lacked a convincing, unifying political ideology. Social unrest plagues large swathes of the countryside, and corruption is rife among Party officials. Chinese citizens continuously appeal for political reform.
The Chinese Communist Party has found its answer by reaching back into its archives for an old foe, an ancient character that was once upon a time condemned by the same ruling Party.
“Once a target of official condemnation in Mao-era China as a relic of the country’s feudal past and as an obstacle to the Party’s vision of social transformation,” the report reads, “Confucius has been revived in official propaganda as a national icon of China’s traditional culture, as well as a symbol of the Party’s concern for public welfare.”
Through much of the reign of terror renovating the country into a “New China,” the CCP denigrated Confucian values wholesale.
But now, by co-opting a selection of Confucian principles, the regime can justify its rule by citing the need for a “harmonious society” and “social stability,” all the while maintaining a quasi-totalitarian police state, controlling the world’s most sophisticated censorship and propaganda apparatus, and overseeing a network of labor camps that dish out cruel punishments to people with inconvenient political or religious beliefs.
Applying Confucianism is empowering the regime to strike back at citizen grievances and to operate in a heavy-handed and authoritarian manner, citing Confucius’s views on paternalism social order.
Alarmed by public reaction to corrupt cadres, Party officials in recent years have been rebranding themselves as representatives of the people and their welfare through the Confucian “emphasis on public service via loyalty to the existing social order,” says the USCC paper.
“Since Hu’s ascension to power [in 2002–2003] these messages have been actively promoted by the government’s propaganda apparatus, and Confucius is now regularly praised in the state media,” it continues.
Continued on the next page … Exporting ‘Confucianism’