18th Party Congress

Maoists print newspaper to spread views after Utopia website shut

Maoists sympathetic to hardliner Bo Xilai disseminate their views the old-fashioned way

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 November, 2012, 4:49am

Faced with the shutdown of leading leftist websites earlier this year, supporters of the late Mao Zedong are spreading their views the old-fashioned way: printing a newspaper.

A small but dedicated group of Maoists have for the past six months printed and distributed an eight-page monthly newsletter to promote the ideas of the Communist Party patriarch. Its circulation remains small - about 100 copies - but is still likely to worry authorities jittery about any re-emergence of hardline party ideology.

The newspaper, China Maozedong Paper, which began free delivery to retired cadres and military personnel in May, is attempting to pick up where mainland-based Maoist websites, such as Utopia and Maoflag, left off.

The websites were abruptly shut down in the wake of Bo Xilai's removal as Chongqing party boss in March amid a sprawling murder and corruption scandal. Bo's promotion of Mao-era culture, such as his controversial "red songs" campaign, had made him a darling of party hardliners, and some in Beijing feared he might attempt to harness that support in a play for power.

Unlike the now defunct websites - which would publish articles critical of the business-friendly central government - the new newspaper eschews contemporary politics and focuses on the life, history and philosophy of Mao.

One recent issue featured a piece summing up Mao's achievements and claimed there was no corruption, prostitution or drug trafficking during his 27-year reign. Another article said China suffered a "great loss" when the party turned against Mao after his death in 1976.

"The media does not convey a correct perception of Mao," said a source close to the newspaper. But he added: "There would be a lot of trouble for the paper if we did things like Utopia did. We will not use Mao to comment on the current government."

The paper, which costs less than 20,000 yuan (HK$25,000) a month to produce, is financed by donations, the source said. Its founders registered the publication in Hong Kong. because they believed it would not get the necessary publication serial number on the mainland.

The Communist Party has a complicated relationship with its late leader. Mao is widely credited with restoring China to a position of strength after the century of colonialism. His portrait still hangs in Tiananmen Square and "Mao Zedong thought" remains a founding tenet of the party's constitution. But many - especially those who lived through the horrors of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution - reject the more extreme elements of his ideology. Concerns about a leftist revival have grown more pressing after the market-based economic boom that has made China richer, but also more unequal.

In March, Premier Wen Jiabao issued a rebuke to Chongqing, just days ahead of Bo's ousting. "Any policy measures we take must be based on experience, on lessons we have learned from the past, and serve the people," he said.

Beijing leaders were reportedly further alarmed in September when Mao posters suddenly appeared at government-sanctioned rallies against Japan's efforts to buy the disputed Diaoyu, or Senkaku, islands in the East China Sea.

"Authorities fear any spread of Mao's ideas, because they do not have much confidence in themselves," said Ding Xueliang, a Chinese politics expert at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. "The suppression leads to a weird situation in which you cannot criticise Mao, but also cannot spread Mao's ideas," Ding said. "This has resulted in a distorted discussion about Mao, which is not healthy."

Mao supporters say they have reservations about the opening-up policies that China has been pursuing for more than three decades.

They also question Bo's removal from the party, even as the party prepares to prosecute him for corruption and unspecified charges related to his wife's murder of a British businessman last year. "What has Bo done wrong?" the newspaper source asked. "The media gave a thumbs up to Bo's campaign in Chongqing, but that changed overnight once he was ousted. It is very puzzling."