Numb in China, part 7: 东方红，太阳升
Lost in Maoist Disneyland
According to the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, the country is ‘a socialist state’ and ‘a people’s democratic dictatorship that is led by the working class,’ one that ‘has eradicated the system of exploitation of man by man.’ But some observers are unconvinced. While China claims to be pursuing socialism with Chinese characteristics, a form of socialism that responds to China’s distinct culture and history, it’s been pointed out that those Chinese characteristics bear a striking resemblance to ordinary global capitalism. Is the red flag still flying here? Are the proletarians in control? What’s the difference between socialism with a straight face, and socialism with a wink?
From now until mid-September, Numb at the Lodge will be in China, investigating these questions and more. Paid subscribers can join us in a brain-melting tourist odyssey across the past and future of Chinas real and imagined. This is a travel blog now.
Today I’m writing from Nanjiecun in Henan Province, China’s last Maoist village.
In the 1980s, just as the rest of the country was embracing private enterprise, Nanjie went in the other direction: it announced that it was returning to full communal ownership of production. Today, the place has fully kitted itself out in the garb of the Cultural Revolution. There’s an enormous white marble statue of Mao in the town square, flanked by portraits of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin. There are public loudspeakers on every street, and every morning they play The East is Red. Apparently, workers still engage in lengthy after-work political education sessions. Obviously, I had to go.