Why China's 'mass line' movement is headed for a dead end

Chang Ping says the 'mass line' education campaign is little more than a Mao-inspired attempt to incite the masses to toe the party line, and doomed to failure in today's China

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 August, 2013, 2:20am

Last weekend, Guizhou vice-governor Chen Mingming commented on his Sina Weibo microblog on a shooting case in Miami, Florida. A subsequent exchange with another blogger led him to say: "Some people curse their own country every day, but they continue to stay here rather than move to the US! [They should] go to America as fast as they can! But first they should have plastic surgery, so they won't be recognised as Chinese."

One blogger suggested that such criticism stems from people's love of country - the deeper the love, the harsher the criticism. But Chen retorted: "Some people don't love their own country, and feel upset about being a Chinese. So just let them go to the US, the faster the better! Human scumbags!"

Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party has been steering a "mass line" education campaign, aimed at broadening and cultivating contacts with the masses.

On April 19, the Politburo resolved to spend about a year carrying out the campaign in groups from the top down within the party, starting from the second half of this year. The party has set up an office to lead and conduct the campaign, while two party websites have jointly launched a website for the mass line movement.

Relevant educational activities and meetings have since been held across the country to this end. Official news items are beginning to appear tagged with a "mass line" label.

On June 18, the day the party officially launched the campaign, President Xi Jinping addressed the issue in a long speech, calling mass line the party's "ruling lifeline" that must guide all its work.

Xi cautioned party members against staying aloof from the people, and said the year-long campaign would be a "thorough clean-up" of undesirable work styles such as formalism, bureaucracy, hedonism and extravagance. He urged cadres to constantly reflect on their own actions, by "watching from the mirror, grooming oneself, taking a bath and seeking remedies".

People consider all that to be a copy of what Mao Zedong was doing during his rectification movement in Yanan , which was intended to clean up the team and deal with political opponents.

But what exactly is the "mass line"? The concept originated with Karl Marx, and the party first used the term in its Central Committee's Instruction Letter to the Front Committee of the Red Army's Fourth Army, dated September 1929. The letter says: "The party's fundraising work should be done through the 'mass line'; not by the Red Army alone ... The properties confiscated from landlords and despotic gentry shall become the main source of supplies for the Red Army, but this must be done through the 'mass line'. Attention must be paid to this way of work, even if the work has to be completed within the shortest period of time."

The mass line concept was pushed to its extremes during the Cultural Revolution. Some described it as "provoking the mass to fight against the mass". From then on, colleagues exposed and denounced each other; family members cut off their relationships and students criticised and denounced their teachers. Moral tragedies took place every day.

Yet, while any reflection about the Cultural Revolution is strictly prohibited on the mainland, the mass line movement is now regarded as an important, acceptable part of Maoist thought.

In reality, it is a way of mobilising the masses to do the dirty work. As the letter put it, the Red Army need not loot with their hands properties from landlords and the well-off class. They simply motivated and organised the masses to get the job done.

Chen Mingming has obviously violated some unspoken rules for the mass line movement

The Communist Party is well versed in this tactic, with the latest example being huge numbers of so-called "50-cent" paid bloggers, or government-trained blog monitors, who pretend to be the mass public while continuing to incite the people. At times, they emotionally eulogise government leaders. At other times, they angrily insult political opponents, calling them "traitors" and asking them to "scram back to the States!"

Chen Mingming has obviously violated some unspoken rules for the mass line movement. He didn't work subtly by inciting the masses to do the party's dirty work. Instead, he openly swore. But, of course, he would not be held responsible for that.

Some people think these officials are not stupid; the central government in fact needs displays of such loyalty.

In fact, Chen is not the only one to have violated the unspoken rules. Government officials chant the slogan of mass line education on the one hand, and on the other are arresting people's champions such as activist Xu Zhiyong .

This only shows Xi's attempt to transplant a Maoist movement won't work. Times have changed, and the mass line movement can only lead to a dead end.

Chang Ping is a current affairs commentator writing on politics, society and culture. This commentary is translated from the Chinese