Recently, the editorial board of “Wen Shi Zhe” on the mainland wrote to Xi Jinping to report on the 70 years of running the journal. Xi Jinping wrote back on May 10, saying that it is necessary to “strengthen the backbone and bottom of being Chinese, so that the world can better understand China and understand China”. In response, the Voice of America recently interviewed experts to discuss what signals Xi Jinping was releasing.
The journal “Literature, History and Philosophy” of Shandong University was founded in May 1951, and is the first university literature newspaper and the longest-running comprehensive humanities and social science academic journal after the Chinese Communist Party came to power.
In 1954, Li Xifan, a 26-year-old college graduate, and Lan Ling, a 23-year-old high school teacher, wrote an article entitled “A Brief Essay on the Dream of the Red Chamber and Beyond”, criticizing the red scientist Yu Pingbo’s “A Brief Essay on the Dream of the Red Chamber” published in Beijing’s New Construction magazine in March of the same year.
These two “little people” criticizing big people received instructions from Mao Zedong, then leader of the Chinese Communist Party, that “this struggle against the bourgeois idealism of the Hu Shi school, which has poisoned the youth for more than thirty years in the field of classical literature, may be launched.” This led to a nationwide movement to criticize Hu Shih.
And Xi Jinping’s letter of reply to the Wen Shi Zhe was greatly touted and reported by the Communist Party and official media.
In an interview with the Voice of America, Song Yongyi, a leading scholar of China’s Cultural Revolution and professor emeritus at California State University, Los Angeles, argued that Xi’s letter to the magazine had the appearance of a “dongxian” response.
Song said that although Xi Jinping would like to start a movement like Mao Zedong, China does not have the “soil” and figures like Hu Xijin and “Pinky” lack the strength and level of power.
He believes that Xi Jinping “wants to control the intellectual community and make academia a tool of the Party, and I’m afraid he has done a lot of that. And this letter, I think, is a signal. But a campaign like this one specifically means that he wants to make academia a ‘handmaiden’ of politics, academia a tool of politics.”
However, “I think there are still difficulties whether he can launch such a specific campaign in the end. First, he did not have a specific target. In the past, this target Hu Shih was very obvious, but now in the end who to criticize? You can’t figure out. You say you have to have a backbone, to have a bottom, you to whom it? I’m afraid you to Trump, Biden? This is not the domestic well.
“The first thing you need to do is to take advantage of the young people, the little people. Li Xifan and Lan Ling were both small people at the time, fresh out of college, right? The Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution are not to mention.
“But in the academic world to unleash such use of the little people, I’m afraid the level of five hair is not enough, Hu Xijin’s level is also very far from. After all, Li Xifan has a few tricks up his sleeve, and Yao Wenyuan also has a few tricks up his sleeve. Those people just shouting slogans can, you launch this campaign in the academic world is more difficult.”
Then there is the lack of moral high ground, he said, “You can certainly mobilize students in schools to expose teachers to see if they have some anti-American statements and so on, but this will also be massive on the intellectual community. Is Xi Jinping determined to do this? Can it be mobilized? (Maybe) it can be mobilized. Because now there are many confused people among the students, not much worse than the Red Guards back then. But the countervailing force is also very strong.”