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Is Xi bringing back Mao’s Cultural Revolution? Much debate over ‘common prosperity’ goal

A fight between Global Times editor and blogger followed Xi’s launch of the 'common prosperity' campaign in which middle-income households are prioritised.

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Xi Jinping’s common prosperity campaign wants to create an “olive-shaped social structure” in which “middle-income households are the mainstay of the economy”. Zhejiang province has been chosen to become the “pilot zone of common prosperity” by 2025.

Xi’s common prosperity campaign has received support from sections of Chinese society, but there is a fair degree of uncertainty about its direction. Some have even drawn a comparison with Mao’s Cultural Revolution era.

The announcement of the common prosperity campaign has initiated a debate among leading media figures in China. A tussle that played out in public over common prosperity was between Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin and a blogger named Li Guangman.

“According to the plan, the annual per capita disposable income of all residents in Zhejiang will reach 75,000 Yuan ($11,570) by 2025. Payment for labour will account for more than 50 per cent of GDP by 2025, and the ratio of residents per capita disposable income to per capita GDP will continue to increase during the period, the plan said,” according to the China Daily on the plan to promote common prosperity in Zhejiang.

An analysis of People’s Daily headlines highlights that the word “common prosperity” in Chinese language news reports began to pick up between August and September 2020.

For this year’s China Charity Day, which falls on 5 September, people and corporations were encouraged on social media to donate more towards common prosperity this year. The hashtag “China Charity Day” was viewed 100 million times on Twitter-like social media site Weibo.

There is a competition between Chinese provinces and major cities to collect the most for Charity Day. At the 11th “China Charity Award” in Beijing, it was announced that Zhejiang province won 11 awards and donated the most to the campaign. Xi Jinping served as Governor and Party Secretary of Zhejiang before moving to Beijing in 2007.

But not everyone feels like being generous.

Also Read: Borders are at the heart of Xi Jinping’s ‘new era’

Criticisms of Xi’s campaign

“A poor friend with only 100 yuan can give you 50 yuan. And then to fantasise how much your billionaire friend will share with you, you must be a fool. People have to be pragmatic and walk on the road to common prosperity. They also have to work hard on their own,” said a Weibo user from Hong Kong on the idea of philanthropy.

Li Guangman, a teacher and a blogger, wrote a “self-media” article – a term used for blog posts on the Chinese internet – with the title Everyone can feel that a profound change is underway. The article became prominent because it was shared by People’s Daily Online, Xinhuanet, China Central Television and China Military Net. It’s very uncommon for Chinese State media to publish a blogger’s article. This means some within the Chinese State media appreciated the article.

“This reform will clean up all the dust. The capital market will no longer become a paradise for capitalists to get rich overnight, the cultural market will no longer become a paradise for female gun stars, and the news and public opinion will no longer become a position to worship western culture. Red will return, the hero will return, and blood will return,” Li Guangman wrote in the article.

The nationalistic Chinese social media users attacked Hu Xijin for criticising Li Guangman and standing against the people. Hu Xijin called Li Guangman’s conclusion about “profound change” because of the common prosperity campaign a “misjudgment and misleading”. Hu Xijin’s article was briefly blocked from being shared.

“Are we trying to eliminate capital? No, we just want to put capital on the right track that is beneficial to the national economy and people’s livelihood. So, what happened to Gao Xiaosong and Zhao Wei in the end? Look at the facts, look at the attitude and slowdown. Is China going to change? Isn’t the market economy going? China is always changing, and China will only get better,” wrote Sima Nan, a television commentator who staunchly defends the Chinese Communist Party’s position. Gao Xiaosong and Zhao Wei are two celebrities whose work has been removed from Chinese streaming platforms for unknown reasons.

Also Read: President Xi Jinping’s political ideology to be taught in China’s schools, colleges

Focus on the wealth of celebrities and entrepreneurs

The campaign has brought a sharp focus on the wealth of the leading celebrities and tech entrepreneurs.

“Look at Annabel Yao’s mansion, I can’t imagine how we can achieve common prosperity, I don’t want to look at my smartphone,” said a Weibo user in response to a video. The video shows Annabel Yao’s mansion and her inheritance from the Huawei fortune. Yao is Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei’s daughter and Meng Wanzhou’s (half-sister). Yao recently started a singing career, and her wealth from the Huawei fortune has been in focus.

A photoshopped picture of Jack Ma, Pony Ma (Ma Huateng), and other Chinese tech billionaires wearing commoner’s clothes in the 1970s style went viral on social media.

Major corporations and celebrities have sought to stay on the right side of the common prosperity campaign by donating large sums of money.

The hashtag “Ali will invest 100 billion yuan to help common prosperity” was viewed 420 million times on Weibo. Alibaba recently announced the company would donate 100 billion yuan – or $15.5 billion – towards the social and economic programs.

Also Read: National security or China Inc? Xi is cracking down on global dreams of homegrown companies

A new stock exchange

On 3 September, Xi Jinping announced a new stock exchange for small and medium-sized enterprises in Beijing. The action has raised concern among some social media users.

“Shenzhen’s financial industry is now challenged. The significance of the reform and opening-up (China’s economic reforms) special economic area in Shenzhen is gone. This is the whole of Pudong area. The common prosperity area is located in Zhejiang and Beijing. After that, Shenzhen will become one remote corner. The centre of the country has never been in the north. Now the existing status is no longer guaranteed. Now even the attraction for moving to Shenzhen among the new talent has declined,” wrote a Weibo user while expressing concerns about shifting centre of economic activity to Zhejiang and Beijing under the common prosperity campaign.

Central Finance Office of the Central Committee of the CCP has sought to reassure people that the campaign doesn’t want to “kill the rich and help the poor”.

“Common prosperity is the prosperity of all people, not the prosperity of a few people; it is the material and spiritual life of the masses who are rich in material and spiritual life, not just material wealth and spiritual emptiness; it is common prosperity that still has a certain gap, we don’t want to create uniform egalitarianism with equal wealth,” said Han Wenxiu, the deputy director of the Central Finance Office.

Xi Jinping’s campaign has dealt a blow to the leading Chinese technology companies. All signs suggest Xi has big plans for the Chinese economy and society.

The author is a columnist and a freelance journalist. He was previously a China media journalist at the BBC World Service. He tweets @aadilbrar. Views are personal.

(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)

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