In the centuries since the founding of the Communist Party of China, from the perspective of official propaganda, high-level party leaders demanded that party members be more vigilant, stating that the biggest threat seems to be neither “US imperialism” nor “Taiwan independence,” but the so-called “historical nihilism.” What is historical nihilism? When did the historical nihilism discussed by the CCP originate? Why does the historical issue become the intractable knot that makes the CCP sincere and fearful? BBC Chinese interviewed experts, consulted historical materials, and sorted out the following.
In late February 2021, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Xi Jinping emphasized at the “Party History Study and Education Mobilization Conference” that it is necessary to “clearly oppose historical nihilism” and “clarify the vague and one-sided understanding of some major historical issues in the history of the party.”
More than a month later, the “Illegal and Harmful Information Reporting Center” affiliated to the National Internet Information Office (Central Cyberspace Administration of China) in Beijing opened a special area for reporting “historical nihilism and harmful information” on its official website, APP, and other channels to accept complaints about “distorting party history.” “, “Assault on the leadership of the party,” “defame heroes and martyrs,” and deny reports of “revolutionary culture.”
The Office of the Cyberspace Administration of China also stated on May 8 that in the special action “Clearness and Rectification of Online Historical Nihilism”, it had dealt with “a large number of illegal and illegal accounts that spread harmful information of historical nihilism”, and “supervised and guided various websites and platforms to self-regulate. More than 2 million pieces of illegal and illegal information have been cleared.”
Looking back at more than 30 years since 1989, the CCP has repeatedly cracked down on “historical nihilism.” And this “protracted war” seems to be still going on in full swing. The entanglement between the CCP and history seems to be “continuous cutting and chaos.”
What is historical nihilism?
Recently, Ge Jianxiong, a distinguished professor of Shanghai Fudan University and a well-known Chinese historian, gave lectures and answers to questions on historical nihilism, which aroused huge controversy.
Professor Ge Jianxiong first described how Chinese emperors used to distort historical events to serve themselves, and then explained that history always serves reality. The final conclusion is to quote Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan as saying that “to oppose the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party through history” is history. Nihilism.
The above statement may provide a theoretical explanation for the CCP’s “Party History Study and Education” in the party to commemorate the centenary of the founding of the Party, vigorously promoted “great achievements”, and confessed the unofficial view of history to strictly guard against death. .
Some scholars of Chinese Communist Party historians explain historical nihilism in this way: on a general level, this concept generally refers to the denial of country, national history, and national culture; second, in a specific sense, it specifically refers to denial of modern history, the history of the Communist Party of China, and the establishment of the new China by the Communist Party of China. history.
An article published on China’s official “China Internet Joint Rumor Refusal Platform” page celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China stated that the party’s attitude is to say “no” to the former; to the latter, the party’s attitude is to “clearly oppose it.”
Recently, Chinese officials, scholars, and the media have often used this old saying to warn themselves: If you destroy a country, you must first go to its history. Historical nihilism has been mentioned to a high degree that concerns the life and death of the regime and the direction of the development of Chinese society.
Thirty years of indelible clouds
Neither Mao Zedong nor Deng Xiaoping, the first and second generation leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, explicitly mentioned the issue of historical nihilism. According to Zhang Lifan, a well-known Chinese historian, the current anti-historical nihilism of the Chinese Communist Party began in 1989 more than 30 years ago.
That year, great changes took place in China and the world. Eastern Europe has the downfall of communism, and China has the Tiananmen Square “June 4th” incident. A series of political turmoil has violently impacted the thinking of the Chinese people, and serious differences have appeared even among the top leaders of the Chinese Communist Party.
Soon after the storm, the top CCP clearly stated that it must oppose historical nihilism.
In December of that year, Jiang Zemin, the third-generation leader of the CCP, who was promoted from the secretary of the Shanghai Municipal Party Committee to the General Secretary of the CCP due to his effective suppression of protests and demonstrations during the June Fourth Movement, stated that “bourgeois liberalization” led to “national nihilism” and “historical nihilism.” The proliferation of “ism” is one of the factors that mess up the party’s ideology.
Academia also generally believes that this is the first time that the General Secretary, as the highest leader of the Communist Party of China, explicitly proposed to oppose historical nihilism.
Since then, any viewpoints that are inconsistent with the CCP’s orthodox historical view may be labeled as nihilism at any time.
When Hu Jintao, the fourth-generation leader, was the leader of the Communist Party of China, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China also repeatedly raised opposition to historical nihilism. After the fifth generation of Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, he has further strengthened his control on historical issues.
On January 5, 2013, Xi Jinping delivered a speech at the seminar on learning and implementing the spirit of the 18th National Congress of the CPC Central Committee. He called historical nihilism as the main reason for the disintegration of the former Soviet Union. He also called hostile forces at home and abroad “attack, vilify, and slander. In the history of the Chinese Communist Party, the fundamental purpose is to overthrow the leadership of the Communist Party.
Since then, Xi Jinping has repeatedly reiterated that he must “clearly” oppose historical nihilism. Today, eight years later, this struggle that Xi Jinping attaches great importance to is still continuing, and Beijing has not said that it has achieved any “phased victory.”
“Two can’t deny”
Dr. Zhang Qiang, who specializes in Chinese politics at the University of Oxford, analyzed the BBC’s Chinese language and believed that the CCP’s entanglement on historical issues has been most concentrated in Xi Jinping’s efforts to resolve the issue.
In his speech in January 2013, Xi Jinping put forward for the first time the “two irresponsible” formulations, that is, “the historical period after reform and opening up cannot be used to deny the historical period before reform and opening up, nor can the historical period before reform and opening up be used. Deny the historical period after reform and opening up.”
This statement itself is considered a contradiction by many scholars and experts familiar with the history of the Chinese Communist Party.
Bao Tong, secretary of the former General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Zhao Ziyang, clearly stated in an interview with the BBC that “reform is to change Mao Zedong’s system.”
The Mao Zedong era “takes class struggle as the key link.” The Chinese people were impoverished, but the authorities continued to launch political campaigns. The great famine caused by the “Great Leap Forward” caused tens of millions of Chinese to starve, and the Cultural Revolution brought China’s national economy to the brink of collapse. the edge of.
After Mao Zedong’s death, cronies including his wife Jiang Qing went to jail one after another. Deng Xiaoping almost completely abandoned the policies of the Mao era, initiated economic reforms and opened up to the outside world.
Although reform and opening up are almost completely at odds with Mao Zedong’s ideas, the CCP has never completely denied Mao’s historical heritage.
To deny Mao completely, the CCP fears that this may have an incalculable impact on the legitimacy of its seizure of power and governance; however, Xi Jinping is commonly called “both neither deny” in “the first 30 years and the next 30 years.” It is just an expedient measure, and it also highlights the contradictions of the CCP’s historical outlook;
If “denial of the historical period before reform and opening up” is strictly prohibited, then in the “Resolution on Certain Historical Issues of the Party Since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China” in 1981, the CCP proposed to “completely deny the Cultural Revolution”, and it should have been classified as “During Xi Jinping’s time.” Historical nihilism”.
A piece of hot potato
In the protracted battle of the CCP against historical nihilism, “revolution” has become a hot potato.
The CCP’s official discourse on historical nihilism basically criticizes the “Farewell to Revolution Theory.” The Chinese Communist Party’s orthodox historical outlook has always praised revolutions, but has scorned any “reforms” or even “incomplete revolutions.”
But under the political pressure after June 4th, some Chinese intellectuals began to reflect on the so-called “radicalism.” In the early 1990s, Marxist philosopher Li Zehou put forward the argument of “Farewell to Revolution.”
In an interview published in Mainland China in 1994, he said: “Political radicalism was pushed to the extreme in the late 1980s”, and Tan Sitong of the Reform Movement of 1898 was the “beginning of modern radicalism.”
He also said: “The Revolution of 1911 was messed up and was the result of radical thoughts: the Qing Dynasty was indeed a decayed dynasty, but the existence of this form still made a lot of sense. I would rather take it slowly and pass the reforms advocated by the constitutionalists at that time. Coming to force it to embark on the path of modernization and “salvation”.”
Such remarks that run counter to the CCP’s orthodox revolutionary theory have been unanimously condemned by the CCP’s theoretical circles, and are still severely criticized as one of the important manifestations of “historical nihilism.”
In an era when Beijing believes that “stability is overriding everything,” “revolution” has long become a sensitive topic. On the one hand, the CCP’s propaganda agency had to severely criticize the “Farewell to the Revolution” in order to maintain the legitimacy of the CCP’s revolution. On the other hand, it was afraid that the gap between the rich and the poor and corruption would cause more and more “mass incidents”. .
From the founding of the party to the founding of the government, the revolution brought a great deal to the CCP. Today, worries about the revolution have made it the hottest potato in the anti-nihilism.
A hot drama
Since the 1990s, the CCP’s propaganda agency has been authorized to criticize the revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen, and praised Yuan Shikai, who restored the monarchy, to publish in public publications.
In 2003, CCTV broadcasted the TV series “Towards the Republic” during prime time. The play described the Empress Dowager Cixi and Yuan Shikai very positively, while praising Sun Yat-sen. According to Ma Shaohua, the actor who played the role of Sun Yat-sen, the crew actually positioned Sun Yat-sen as an “unthinking “angry youth” and a “pooping stick” at the time.
Because of the huge impact of the play, it caused a strong backlash from the veterans of the CCP’s theoretical circles, and even wrote directly to Hu Jintao. Therefore, CCTV had to delete it along with the broadcast and canceled subsequent broadcasts.
However, the report said that the historical view of the play was not made by the crew and the TV station, but was directly approved by the Central Propaganda Department.
“Southern Weekend” once revealed that the crew specially hired Wen Xuande, deputy secretary of the Hunan Provincial Party Committee, and Li Mu, deputy director of the Central Propaganda Department’s Arts and Culture Bureau, as consultants. The “Leading Group” reviewed it and passed it after four revisions.
The CCP’s self-contradiction on the issue of “revolution” was even more vivid when commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Revolution of 1911 in 2011.
At that time, even though the People’s Daily praised the Revolution of 1911 as “opening the floodgates of China’s progress,” its tabloid “Global Times” published a social commentary entitled “Commemorating the Centenary of the 1911, Farewell to the Revolutionary Complex”, which brought about the war in modern Chinese history. , Including Japan’s invasion of China, are all blamed on this revolution.
The editorial said: “In the first few decades after the Revolution of 1911, China went through wars with countless deaths. At that time, China was full of “isms”, and different interests and paths were fiercely competing. China could be ravaged by Japan for more than ten years. , More than half of the reason is that China’s “world chaos” at that time, this kind of “chaos” gave Japan incredible opportunities.”
The editorial said the Chinese “maybe they should change their minds” and “be patient and give themselves decades or even hundreds of years of calm and unhurried development.”
A knotty knot
The arguments of “Global Times” are at odds with the orthodox historical view of the party newspaper “People’s Daily”. This argument, which should have been classified as “historical nihilism,” was published in the sub-paper of “People’s Daily”.
When Xi Jinping criticized historical nihilism, he said that “hostile forces at home and abroad” used history to instigate the overthrow of the leadership of the Communist Party and the socialist system. However, content criticized as nihilism, such as “Towards a Republic”, are mostly the works of intellectuals within the system, many of which are published in official media and public publications, and are even directly reviewed and approved by the Central Propaganda Department. .
Judging from the above examples, the Communist Party’s criticism of “historical nihilism” to a large extent seems to be “self-talking.”
Dr. Zhang Qiang of Oxford University pointed out that the current CCP must not only maintain the legitimacy of violent revolutions, but also the general public to abandon the revolution to ensure its stability in governance; it must maintain the leftist spiritual leader Mao Zedong and adhere to the path of powerful capitalism.
It is necessary for others to face history squarely, and it is not allowed to publicly debate the series of mistakes made by the CCP in history…
This entanglement of mentality, coupled with the tearing of ideology, may be the real reason why historical issues continue to be a difficult knot faced by the Chinese Communist Party in power.