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China’s ruling party censors its past as the centenary approaches

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SHANGHAI: In the house where Mao Zedong and 12 others met 100 years ago to found the Chinese Communist Party, President Xi Jinping recently led his politburo by reciting an oath to uphold the principles and “sacrifice everything” for the party and the village.
Shanghai’s dark courtyard from 1921 is now a lavish memorial hall, a focal point as China celebrates on Thursday the centennial of the party that controls the world’s most populous nation and the world’s second-largest economy.
The site of that first party congress now chronicles China’s “humiliation” at the hands of warlords and imperialists, its “awakening” in the early 20th century, and its resurgence after the party’s victory in 1949 in a civil war that sent Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists into exile in Taiwan.
The commemorations in what has become an upscale neighborhood of boutiques and restaurants reflect something broader: a myth-making project to amplify China’s message at home and abroad, aligning with Xi’s call this month. to tell more positive stories about China.
But even as China celebrates, it erases.
A moving video montage highlights China’s proudest achievements, including its first atomic bomb, the construction of prestigious infrastructure, and the recent unmanned mission to Mars.
The major upheavals of the 20th century that Reckon historians killed millions are ignored: the “Great Leap Forward” famine of 1958-1960, the decade of chaos in the 1966 “Cultural Revolution”, and the repression that killed hundreds or even thousands of people. -democracy activists in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
“There is a lot of its history that (the party) must forget,” said Robert Bickers, a party historian at the British University of Bristol. “He has put in a lot of effort throughout his 100 years to ensure that there is a consensual text of a story that should be celebrated.”
Neither the State Council’s Information Office nor the CCP Party’s Literature and History Research Office responded to faxed requests for comment.
‘Historical Nihilism’
The party has long sought to control history. That effort has intensified with Xi, who has spearheaded a campaign against “historical nihilism,” defined as any attempt to use the past to question the party’s leadership role or the “inevitability” of Chinese socialism.
The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has established a specialized history unit to disseminate the official version of the past. This year, Beijing established a hotline for citizens to report historic nihilism to the authorities.
Glenn Tiffert, a historian at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, said this campaign reflects the party’s insecurity and is rooted in Xi’s fears that it could collapse like his Soviet counterpart, ousted in 1991.
“It seems to be a particular concern of yours from the beginning,” he said. “It is part of a more systematic and integrated approach to reestablishing the party’s authority and ensuring that it does not go the way of the Soviet Communist Party.”
Despite Xi’s efforts to emphasize the continuity of the party’s century-long efforts to rejuvenate China, the new memorial hall shows that the party has strayed far from its roots.
While describing its first decades as a triumph of Marxist ideas, there is no mention of the theoretical contortions that allowed the party to shed the collectivism of the Maoist era and launch market reforms that transformed its economy into the second largest in the world and also a . of its most unequal.
A list of party “facts and figures” published by the Shanghai Official Gazette this month barely mentions ideology, saying the party’s mission is “to seek happiness for the Chinese people and rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
“It is no longer about the belief in communism, it is about delivering the goods,” Tiffert said. “And to sustain that, they want to cover up all the missteps.”
Yang Xuzhen, an 89-year-old woman visiting the memorial hall in a wheelchair, was happy to recall the party’s achievements and said that the organization she joined seven decades ago had rescued her from forced labor and servitude.
The Communist Party “has helped change a lot in this country, especially for rural people, poor people and all minorities,” he said.
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