In our continuing series on the upcoming 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, we turn today to a piece in Hong Kong’s media. The following editorial, which appears in the latest edition of the newsweekly Yazhou Zhoukan, was written by the magazine’s editor-in-chief Yau Lop-Poon (邱立本).
In the editorial, Yau relates the CCP’s grand new propaganda film, Founding of a Party (建党伟业), also known in English as Beginning of the Great Revival, to the recent unrest across the border in Guangdong.
“Ninety-some years ago, the people of China pursued the dream of social and economic justice, but today these are still in sight but beyond reach, they are still beautiful fictions on the silver screen,” Yau writes.
This is a major film spangled with stars. All those beautiful leading actors and actresses, all of those explosive and thrilling scenes, all of the clever and moving dialogue is enough to move audiences for the Founding of a Party. But what most moves many people still is the slogan shouted out [in one scene] by a young revolutionary: “Long live the workers!”
Perhaps many of those Sichuanese migrant workers who were in the midst of the mass incident that broke out in the [county-level[ city of Zengcheng in Guangzhou in recent days might have thought of such a slogan. There are an estimated 250 million migrant workers in China, who can no longer stand being pressed into the lower echelons of society, whose fate has become that of “second-class citizens.” If they saw this massive film the Founding of a Party, it would certainly resonate strongly.
Here we see too a great contradiction between historical ideas and brutal realities [of the present day]. Ninety-some years ago, the people of China pursued the dream of social and economic justice, but today these are still in sight but beyond reach, they are still beautiful fictions on the silver screen.
This has also sparked controversy among Chinese intellectuals in recent years. Will Chinese development return to the [ways of] the Mao Zedong era, when “class struggle was like the ropes of the fish net and upholding the class struggle [resolved] all minor issues.” Or will it rely on mechanisms of free competition, holding up GDP before all else in the midst of international division of labor?
If we understand the return to Maoism as the left, and the idolization of GDP as the right, well then, is there not a third road for China today that surpasses right and left?
In fact, there are more and more nongovernmental actors [in China] who are searching for ideas and experiences that go beyond that conflict between left and right, who want to avoid being deceived by ideologies, and want also to avoid being hijacked by financial interests and special interest groups. They want to return to the ideals of the founding of the republic, but also to learn from the historical lessons of humanity. They want human dignity to be protected, and they don’t want to see the rights of the people trampled in the name of the nation. They care for the protection of the rights of the underprivileged.
The most important opening in the past 30 years of economic reform and opening has in fact been the opening up of free migration, so that the people are no longer slaves to their household registration. This also encouraged tens of millions of migrants to leave the neglected countryside and head to coastal cities, doing their part for the modernization of China. But because there were no supporting measures [or mechanisms] this meant that migrants were swept up in the vortex of second-class citizenship, and it fostered ever greater social tensions.
The key was that the government did not provide the same level of public goods to citizens across the country. From basic education and public healthcare to housing, migrant workers have been overlooked, and they face the bitter fact that “some are more equal than others.” This has led too to mutual opposition among various groups.
These recent clashes between Sichuanese migrants and locals in Chaozhou and Guangzhou stand as a major warning. They are a reminder of just how dangerous is the tangling of class and regional frictions, which has the potential to erupt into a much larger scale crisis. These tens of millions of migrant workers who go far away from home, working across the country, have become the revolutionary force upon with Mao Zedong relied back in those days, ready to strike out against organs of power. They feel that their long-term suppression has already reached a point where it is no longer acceptable. They want to stand up and face off with the authorities. They remind us of the Communist Manifesto, which reads: “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”
For this reason, no time whatsoever can be wasted in giving back to migrant workers across the country their rights as citizens, and no reason whatsoever can be given for delay. This is more than a moral question. It is the very crux of political stability.
[There is a saying] that chaos begins in Sichuan [NOTE: In Chinese history, Sichuan was notorious difficult for the center of power to control, and unrest often broke out there first]. If the “armies of Sichuan” that are now dispersed throughout the country first rise up, this will certainly set off more deep tensions. In the hot summer of Guangdong, as flames blazed on the night streets, we could hear the echo of the slogans shouted by Mao Zedong and others 90 years ago: “Long live the workers!”