In July, the Chinese Communist Party will celebrate its centenary. The birthday presents it gave itself included re-written party history and a hotline for Chinese people to snitch on fellow citizens who dare to raise any questions about the newly revised party history. Such behaviors remind everyone the CCP cannot be considered a trustworthy partner in addressing international affairs, such as finding the true origin of the coronavirus.
The CCP was founded in 1921 at the International Settlement area in Shanghai, an area managed by the British that housed Western businesses, politicians, and visitors. It was the only place in China where free press and dissent were much more tolerated. The area helped foster a press boom with the publication of hundreds of Chinese-language newspapers. It also became a hotbed for radical ideas, including Communism.
Both Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai — future leaders of the Chinese Communist Party — avoided the Chinese government’s persecution by living in the International Settlement in the early 1920s. There, they met other like-minded radicals.
They founded the CCP at the French Concession in late July of 1921, intending to start a Communist Revolution in China with the goal of driving out all foreign “invaders.” Since its founding, the CCP’s history was written in blood — from purges and power struggles to policies that inflicted immense suffering on China’s people.
To maintain its legitimacy, the CCP has constantly been re-writing history to serve its political agendas. For instance, the CCP continues to blame the weather, not the CCP’s disastrous socialist policies, as the cause for the worst famine in human history (1959-1961), even though the weather during those years was mild.
An estimated 40 million Chinese people perished in the famine. The CCP continues to hide official records of the famine from Chinese people and researchers, so no one knew the exact number of fatalities. In government-sanctioned Chinese history books, the famine is referred to as “Three Years of Natural Disasters.”
The CCP also re-wrote the history of World War II, claiming China defeated Japan under CCP leadership. Even some Chinese scholars disagree, saying the party was engaging “in wholesale distortion of history.” They pointed out that the CCP’s army was nothing but a ragtag of guerrilla fighters back then. The Nationalist government led a united front to achieve the hard-won final victory.
While the Nationalist Party’s troops took the most casualties in direct combat against Japanese forces, the CCP was busy growing its territories and the size of its army. During Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka’s visit to China in 1972, CCP leader Mao told Tanaka the CCP wouldn’t have come to power if not for the Japanese invasion of China.
A more recent example is how the CCP re-wrote the history of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. The whole incident has been airbrushed down to a few sentences in today’s Chinese history books, which denounce the 1989 pro-democracy movement as an anti-government riot influenced by hostile foreign forces.
The CCP claimed no shots were fired on the eve of June 4, when the Chinese troops and their tanks rolled onto Tiananmen Square, and no one died from the military’s activities. Chinese who have grown up since 1989 believe the government’s lie that any photos or other evidence of the massacre were forgeries created by the CIA.
New Lies for the CCP’s Centenary
Now, as it approaches its centenary, the CCP completed another round of rewriting the party’s history to burnish its image in a new edition of a booklet titled “A Brief History of the Communist Party of China.” According to Radio Free Asia, the latest edition deleted chapters on the famine, the CCP’s agricultural collectivization movement in the 1950s that contributed to the famine, and deleted information about often cruel “anti-rightist” political campaigns targeting intellectuals.
In its previous edition, the booklet admitted Chairman Mao “should bear responsibility for starting the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), which turned out to be a ‘serious disaster’ for the Chinese people.” In this new edition, however, readers won’t find any criticism of Mao. Instead, the booklet praises Mao for launching the Cultural Revolution to fight corruption and blames the internal turmoil on many of Mao’s “correct ideas about how to build a socialist society weren’t fully implemented.”
In truth, plenty of evidence has shown that Mao launched the Cultural Revolution to regain power, purge his political enemies (real or imagined), and “purify” Chinese society with a bloody revolution. The movement resulted in mass destruction of Chinese culture, China’s economy, and the social fabric of Chinese society, ultimately leading to the needless and tragic deaths of more than 20 million lives. The movement only ended when Mao died in 1976.
Why would the CCP tell such blatant falsehoods about Mao and the Cultural Revolution? The answer lies with the CCP’s current leader, Xi Jinping.
‘The Chairman of Everything’
Xi is the most ambitious, aggressive, and ruthless dictator China has seen since Mao. In many ways, Xi models his leadership style directly after Mao, launching a sweeping anti-corruption campaign to aid his effort to purge his political rivals, cement his control of power, and win popular support from the Chinese public. Taking Mao’s saying, “power comes from the barrel of a gun,” to heart, Xi got the People’s Liberation Army firmly under his control through a series of reorganizational measures.
Xi eliminated term limits for his current position to be leader in China for life and has slowly, but surely, concentrated power in his hands by putting himself in charge of almost every essential government body — a culmination of actions that led foreign media to name him “the chairman of everything.” Worse, as Xi demands absolute obedience and loyalty not only from his party members but also from the general public, the Chinese people have been subjected to increased surveillance, censorship, and the worst crackdown on dissent since Mao’s Cultural Revolution (1966–1976).
Xi brazenly embraced efforts to build a cult of personality like that last seen in China under Mao. There are songs including lyrics such as “To follow you [Xi] is to follow the sun,” and videos presenting him as a “man of the people” and a great leader.
The party’s propaganda machine has showered him with great titles: the “Core of the Party,” the “Helmsman of the Nation,” the “Leader of a Great Country and Architect of Modernization in the New Era.” These were superlatives last used to address Mao. The entire nation has been called to “unite tightly around President Xi.”
Like Mao’s, Xi’s portraits are ubiquitous. Like Mao’s little red book, the collection of Xi’s speeches and instructions has been a national bestseller and is compulsory reading even for schoolchildren.
Re-writing the history of the Cultural Revolution and Mao’s role in it is really about cementing Xi’s legitimacy and authority. Any criticism against Mao can be laid against Xi. Therefore, to make sure no one challenges him, Xi decided to turn Mao into a flawless saint.
Destroying Social Bonds
Nevertheless, rewriting history didn’t seem to go far enough for Xi. He wants Chinese people to forget the past they knew and be fully committed to the party’s new version of history. Radio Free Asia reports the Chinese government has set up a hotline for Chinese people to “report each other to the authorities for failing to toe the party’s freshly revised line on matters of history.”
Turning people close to you into government informants was first introduced during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, when children were encouraged to report on their parents, spouses were pressured to report on each other, and neighbors were coerced to sell out neighbors. Such practices destroyed the social bonds used to connect people and resulted in a trust deficit that still affects Chinese people’s relationships with one another to this day.
Xi and the CCP may think they are so powerful they can bend history and truth to their will. History, though, is about things that already happened. As someone lamented, “the past cannot be changed, forgotten, or erased.”
There are already many credibly sourced books about the true history of the CCP and the atrocities it has committed, such as Frank Dikötter’s “A People’s Trilogy,” a series of books that covers the CCP’s history from 1945 to 1976 and the impact of Communism on the lives of Chinese people in China. Also numerous memoirs, including my “Confucius Never Said,” have documented ordinary Chinese people’s sufferings on a personal level. No matter how much the CCP tries, it cannot erase all of them.
The CCP’s attempt to re-write history and turn Chinese people into government informants will cause anger and frustration among the Chinese people, further damage the CCP’s international reputation, and reinforce the belief that the CCP is not a trustworthy partner. After celebrating its centenary, the CCP will begin its new century on very shaky ground.