Following the announcement that China's Communist Party has proposed scrapping term limits for the presidency, effectively setting Xi Jinping up as president for life, the online reaction within the People's Republic was initially voluble and irreverent. But authorities quickly cracked down, barring certain words and phrases from Sina Weibo search results. The absurd overkill in what was blocked betrays an obvious fear of the masses on the part of China's ruling elite. California-based China Digital Times of course informs us that the very titles of George Orwell's novels 1984 and Animal Farm have been suppressed. This is hardly surprising. It's almost heartening that despots around the world still find Orwell so dangerous that they have to ban him. But some other samples of the verboten verbiage are more revealing—and enigmatic.
Among blocked terms is the phrase "Xi Zedong"—implying that Xi is trying to set himself up as the new Mao. Of course this is a little ironic, given how thoroughly China's contemporary capitalist state has betrayed the legacy of Mao. Some phrases are going deeper still into history—such as "oppose Qing, restore Ming" (????), a rallying slogan of 19th century anti-Qing Dynasty activists. "Wheel of history" (?????) also reveals fear of social explosion or even a new revolution—an oft-displayed tendency of the regime. Another book title is Dream of Returning to the Great Qing (????)—a 2006 work by Jin Zi, of which we would like to know more (and can find little online). Was this actually published in the PRC? And was it openly Qing-nostalgist? "Personality cult" (????) is obvious enough.
But what are we to make of the temporary banning of the letter N (since lifted, apparently)? The blog Language Log takes a stab at it:
This is probably out of fear on the part of the government that "N" = "n terms in office", where possibly n > 2; as in "liánrèn n jiè ??n?" ("n successive terms in office"), which would be forbidden anyway because of the liánrèn ?? ("continue in office") part.
Amusingly, Winnie the Pooh (????) has also been barred, because images of the portly teddy-bear have been used to mock the rotund Xi. Cyber-dissidents and authorities in China have long been playing a game of cat-and-mice, with the dissidents adopting strange new euphemisms and code to stay ahead of censors. This has resulted in such surrealities as the bannning of the phrases "grass mud horse" and "big yellow duck"—leaving many in the West bewlidered.
ChinaWorker.info reminds us that no matter how much Xi may be playing to nostalgia for the Great Helmsman, his state continues to be a thoroughly capitalist one. The 13th National People's Congress opened its plenary session this week in Beijing—initiating two weeks of "furious rubber-stamping" (as the dictatorship has already decided which policies will be adopted). This will almost certainly include the president-for-life proposal. And what kind of people sit in the NPC?
Among the 5,130 appointed ‘delegates’ attending the NPC and its sister body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, there will be 104 dollar billionaires (45 in the NPC and 59 in the CPPCC). Their total net worth amounts to US$624 billion (4 trillion yuan), which is more than double Ireland's GDP. This is the richest "parliament" in the world by a very big margin.
Just like everywhere else in our crisis-ridden capitalist world, the rich are getting richer and doing it faster. The 104 billionaires wielding "votes" in Beijing's halls of power this week have increased their combined wealth by almost 20 percent in the past year as a result of Xi Jinping’s policies. Since Xi took office their wealth has more than doubled (from 1.84 trillion yuan in 2013 to 4 trillion).
This is despite the government's pledges to tackle poverty and close the wealth gap. There are no proposals on the NPC agenda for a wealth tax, for nationalisations, for confiscation of millions of empty houses or other measures to trim the obscene wealth of the billionaires and use the resources for the benefit of ordinary people.
Communism, eh? Note that the very CCP constitutional revision that called for extending Xi's power also embraced market liberalization and supply-side economic reform. Another one to file under #OrwellWouldShit.
Many have assumed that China's fundamental contradiction is slowly but surely eating away at the CCP dictatorship: China embraces corporate globalization and (within proscribed limits) the Internet, while still attempting to maintain the old totalitarian system where political freedoms are concerned. But in the emerging fascist world order, there is less reason than ever to assume that a ruthlessly unrestrained capitalism need imply any democratic opening.