By Liu Xin
Recently, Xia Guozan, a resident from Jinzhou, Central China’s Hubei Province, has asked for an open apology from a TV host Liang Hongda on his WeChat and Sina Weibo accounts several times, not for personal disputes but for Liang’s “insulting remarks” on an iconic People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldier highly praised by late leader Chairman Mao.
“We should keep fighting until that bastard [Liang] loses all reputation and finally disappears from the public’s sight,” Xia wrote in one of his posts, after reposting an article on how Liang has defamed Lei Feng.
Lei Feng was a PLA soldier promoted as an icon representing selflessness and loyalty to the Party in a campaign in 1963.
Liang said in a TV program that all heroes are made to meet political needs and Lei staged photographs in an effort to be in the limelight. These remarks have irritated many netizens, including Xia. Many of them swarmed into Liang’s Sina Weibo account, calling him “an US lackey” or writing that Liang “wants to subvert the State.”
The controversy escalated as Liang’s supporters tried to defend him and commented that Mao’s loyalists are trying to “repeat the history for a new Cultural Revolution (1966-76).”
This is not the first time for the public to see furious debates between Mao’s loyalists and Mao bashers. But recently, a few Mao bashers were evicted from office, which led to some concerns the supporters are gaining more power.
It’s unclear why Xia, in his 40s, chooses to support Mao. He gave ambiguous answers when asked by the Global Times reporter. He prefers to be called “a member of the patriotic netizens” instead of a Mao loyalist. On his WeChat account, he shares more than 10 articles a day about how certain groups have betrayed the country by defaming top leaders.
“We will always find those who have made offensive remarks online, trying to divide our country by defaming the national heroes and insulting our great leader Mao Zedong,” he said.
The “patriotic netizens” usually label these people as “anti-Mao traitors” and a list posted on Xia’s account includes Mao Yushi, an 84-year-old economist known for his criticism of Mao Zedong, He Weifang, a Peking University professor who often posts criticism on Mao, Yuan Tengfei, a Beijing history teacher who declared that “the only thing Mao had done right since 1949 was his death” publicly and Bi Fujian, a former anchor from the China Central Television who was dismissed from his post after a video of him taunting Mao circulated online.
Among all these people, Mao Yushi and He Weifang have been regarded as “the principal foes” because “their remarks have overreached the scope of free discussion and have violated the Constitution,” Wang Qingquan, a 76-year-old resident from East China’s Jiangxi Province who claimed to be a Maoist, told the Global Times.
Mao Yushi and He Weifang’s Sina Weibo accounts have always been the battlegrounds for Maoists to launch political debates with their supporters.
Xia said by expressing his ideological views under their Sina Weibo accounts, he finds people with same views and becomes comrades with them.
These nationalistic netizens would extend their friendship from Sina Weibo to WeChat, make daily exchanges on the news of “these anti-Maoist traitors” and share articles that criticized them to each other.
“More people have joined us. Our influence on the social media has grown gradually to fight against these public figures whose followers include officials and celebrities,” said Xia.
Xia also said that one of their victories is to see He beginning to delete many of his posts on Sina Weibo recently.
The Global Times reporter also found that Mao Yushi’s Sina Weibo has been closed for unknown reasons. According to the Hong Kong-based Mingpao, a think tank established by Mao Yushi and other scholars was also closed by Beijing authorities.
Aside from Sina Weibo, some websites have also become the base camp for these netizens, including Utopia, a leading Maoist website and szhgh.com, a website that highlights “singing the red songs to foster healthy societal trends.”
Wang said that he sometimes wrote articles for Utopia and reposted articles from the two websites to friends and relatives, hoping more people would know “it is wrong to smear our leader.”
Taking to the streets
Fighting against online slanders and circulating nationalistic articles is not all they’ve done. Recently, their protests have gone into the real life.
On Xia’s Weibo, he has listed the informants’ hotline numbers of the State Administration of Press, Publicans, Radio, Film and Television and the Television Station of Liaoning. He calls for Mao supporters to keep trying the numbers to report Liang on his inappropriate anti-Mao comments.
Xia said that he hopes the top watchdog for China’s film and television industry and the television station where Liang works would deal with Liang.
The two institutions could not be reached for comments on whether they would respond to these netizens’ requests as of press time.
Two people were sacked or asked to retire in the middle of January after their online criticism of Mao Zedong triggered furious protests. They were Zuo Chunhe, a deputy director of the Shijiazhuang Bureau of Culture, Radio, Film, TV, Press and Publication in North China’s Hebei Province, and Deng Xiangchao, deputy head of the School of Art at Shandong Jianzhu University.
Zuo was fired for “posting wrong remarks on Sina Weibo” that were considered a “serious violation of political discipline” after he had called Mao a “devil” and dubbed the annual commemoration of Mao’s birthday “the world’s largest cult activity” on his Weibo account.
Pictures circulating online show Mao supporters protesting in front of the building of Zuo’s bureau. Protesters were holding Mao portraits and banners that read “Down with the anti-Mao traitor Zuo Chunhe.”
Zhang Qianfan, a law professor with Peking University, sees these signs as dangerous in a torn Chinese society. Zhang wrote for Financial Times Chinese edition on the issue of Deng being sacked that “the leftists will become more and more radical.”
Aside from staging protests, some of these netizens would also gather and organize other activities to make their voice heard by more people.
Liu Detang, 57, a resident in Nanchang, East China’s Jiangxi Province hosted a conference in a park on January 15 to “wrathfully criticize He Weifang and Deng Xiangchao on their evil anti-Mao behavior.”
“We displayed their anti-socialism and anti-Party words and deeds under the guise of freedom of speech to the public. Some citizens told me that they would be alert to people like He and also tell their children to do so,” Liu told the Global Times.
Liu also mentioned that it is one of their routines to organize citizens who are concerned about State affairs every Sunday afternoon in the park and publicize the theories of the Communist Party of China, socialism and Maoism.
“It’s not our decision to fight back if they keep defaming the leaders and smearing our country. It’s like if there is a fly around you, you are going to swat it,” Liu said when asked whether they would hold similar conferences in the future.
People torn by Mao
All these incidents have caught the attention of some scholars who are labeled liberal or rightists and they warned the authorities the possibility of another Cultural Revolution. Zhang Ming, a professor from Renmin University of China made public comments that if the authorities keep dealing with people who are protested against by Maoists, there will be no peace and stability.
Guo Songmin, a leftist and Maoist ideologue, told the Global Times that they used filthy languages to insult historical figures, which has severely harmed people’s feelings considering Mao’s high prestige among patriotic people.
Guo also said that the active responses from these institutions have also put an end to the monopoly of the elite on the right to speak. “The mainstream of the media has neglected the voice of the patriotic netizens for a long time and now the development of the social media has lowered the threshold for them to be heard and exert their influence,” said Guo.
But Zhang Hongliang, a professor at Beijing’s Minzu University of China, who also held optimist views on the development of the “patriotic netizens” warned that all the protests should be expressed within legitimate and rational scope and they should be aware of manipulation by the rightist politics from some western countries.
“It is better to launch a mechanism for better communications among the authority, the media and the patriotic netizens. It could help dispel misunderstandings and educate the netizens,” said Zhang.
“I don’t know how the later generations would evaluate us, but I believe what we have done is right and worthy,” Xia said.