The Chinese Regime Is Bringing Back Maoist Propaganda

New edition of a Chinese history textbook no longer says the Cultural Revolution was started in error
September 15, 2018 Updated: September 23, 2018

Since the economic reform period that began in the 1970s, the Chinese Communist Party has taken an ambiguous attitude towards the legacy of Mao Zedong, the dictator who ran China between 1949 to 1976, and whose rule culminated in the traumatic and destructive Cultural Revolution.

But recently, as the CCP looks to strengthen its ideological grip over its cadres and Chinese society more generally, it has brought some propaganda staples from the Mao Zedong era such as the revolutionary  “eight model operas,” and history textbooks have been revised to portray his rule in a more positive tone.

According to a Sept. 13 report by Chinascope, Chinese internet users discovered that the new edition of eighth-grade Chinese history textbooks published by the CCP-controlled People’s Education Press, omits the word “erroneously” in its description of how Mao began his final and longest-lasting political campaign, the Cultural Revolution.

During the Cultural Revolution, people from all walks of life, including Party members, were subject to grueling criticism, public humiliation, and sometimes deadly violence. The campaign also devastated China’s traditional culture. Following Mao’s death, later CCP leaders criticized the Cultural Revolution and reversed some of its ravages.

But while the old edition of the textbook says that Mao Zedong “erroneously believed that there was revisionism in the Party’s Central Committee” and launched the Cultural Revolution, the new edition emphasizes the dangers of capitalism and highlights the campaign’s communist ideological background:

“In the mid-1960s, Mao Zedong believed that the party and the country were facing the danger of capitalist restoration. To this end, he emphasized ‘taking class struggle as the key’ and trying to prevent it by launching the ‘Cultural Revolution.’ In the summer of 1966, the ‘Cultural Revolution’ was in full play,” the new edition text goes.  

While the CCP no longer follows Mao Zedong’s interpretations of communism, it still venerates communist ideology and Karl Marx. Party members and regimes officials are obligated to read the Party’s publications, watch its television programs, and browse Party websites, as indicated by an “urgent notice” issued to local officials by the CCP authorities in Luodi, Hunan Province, Radio Free Asia reported on Sept. 13.

On Sept. 11, the state-run China News Service reported that the revolutionary Chinese propaganda opera “Legend of the Red Lantern” would be performed on Oct. 4 and Oct. 5 in Nanjing, eastern China. The report focused on the fact that all performers in the opera were born in the 1980s and 1990s, and how the performance could educate younger generations in the history of the CCP.

“The Legend of the Red Lantern” is one of the “eight model operas” planned by Mao’s wife Jiang Qing. During the Cultural Revolution, they were among the only accepted forms of performing arts throughout China. Set in during the Japanese occupation, the “Legend of the Red Lantern” follows the story of several communist guerrillas that martyr themselves for the revolutionary cause.