China’s Absurd History of Class Struggle

Yu Hua, March 18, 2014

There are many angles from which to describe the Communist Party’s governance in China, and one of them is through the lens of class struggle.

In Mao Zedong’s era, there were neither landlords nor capitalists in China. After 1949, landlords and capitalists were considered representatives of the exploiting class. The land owned by landlords was confiscated during land reform, and the factories owned by capitalists were taken during the public-private partnership period.

My grandfather once owned over 200 acres of land, which he inherited from his ancestors. However, he did not inherit their diligence and frugality; instead, he indulged in eating, drinking, and having fun, selling a few acres of land each year. By 1949, he had nearly sold off all his land.

In this way, he sold off his landlord status, and the people who bought his land became the new landlords. They were subjected to endless denunciations in the long days that followed, and their descendants did not dare to walk with their heads held high. My father was fortunate, and I am also fortunate. My father and I should both thank my grandfather for his lack of diligence.

In the material scarcity of the Mao era, everyone was poor, including the former landlords and capitalists, many of whom were even poorer. In that era, where everyone was equal in poverty, there were no classes, and therefore no class contradictions. Yet, we shouted every day, “Never forget class struggle.”

This slogan covered the walls of cities and villages in China. It was printed on our cups when we drank water, painted on the walls when we went to the bathroom, and even on our pillowcases, so that we would remember to “never forget class struggle” even in our dreams.

Today’s China is vastly different from Mao’s era. Classes have reappeared, and so has struggle. We can see real stories from two extremes in media reports:

For instance, a dishwashing worker at a five-star hotel was fired for trying to take home leftover food to nourish her college-attending son, accused of stealing hotel property. Her sadness stemmed not from losing her job but from the waste. She said, “The food was still good, but they made me throw it away. It’s a sin!”

In another city’s hotel, a rich man treated guests to a meal that cost 200,000 yuan (over $30,000). The hotel, wary of his credit card, insisted on cash payment. After a dispute, the rich man called an employee to deliver 200,000 one-yuan bills. The hotel had to mobilize all its staff to count the money. The rich man sat on a sofa, flipping through a magazine and smugly saying, “I can afford to eat; can you afford to count?”

Furthermore, in early January, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate released its anti-corruption report: from January to November 2013, they filed 27,236 cases of embezzlement and bribery, involving 36,907 people, with 21,848 major cases and a total amount of 5.51 billion yuan. The government used this to showcase its determination to fight corruption.

However, in April 2013, Yuan Dong from Xinyang, Henan Province, along with three other anti-corruption activists, held a banner in Beijing’s Xidan commercial center, demanding officials disclose their assets. They were detained by the police for “illegal assembly,” and the anti-corruption action was forgotten.

Over the past 30 years, China has undergone dramatic changes. Abnormal development has led to a wide gap between the rich and the poor, and rampant corruption has led to conflicts between those in power and the public. Today, Chinese society is full of contradictions, and the slogan “Never forget class struggle” has been replaced by “Harmonious society” and “Peace overrides everything.”

The once resounding slogan “Never forget class struggle” has faded away, leaving to join Mao Zedong in another world. For the rulers, mentioning class struggle again would be akin to digging their own graves.

Thus, over the past 64 years, China has written an absurd history of class struggle. In the past, there were no classes, yet the rulers demanded that the people “never forget class struggle”; today, there are classes, yet the rulers demand that the people “must forget class struggle.”