New Left in China

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The New Left (Chinese: 新左派) in the People's Republic of China is a school of intellectual thought that is critical of capitalism and aspects of the Chinese economic reforms and in favour of elements of Maoist-style socialism, which includes significant role for state planning, the preservation of state-owned enterprises, and a renewed spirit of collectivism. It is also correlated with increased Chinese nationalism after a period of 'low-profile' presence on the world stage during Deng Xiaoping's era. It is seen as a response to problems faced by China during its modernization drive since the 1980s, which has led to mounting social inequality between the coast and the hinterlands, as well as between the rich and the poor.

Its relationship with Maoism and capitalism is complex. Some schools of thought suggest that the New Left wants to return to the mass political movements of the Mao Zedong era and an abandonment of capitalist practices, while others believe that it blends the open markets of capitalism while still maintaining socialist aspects of the community, particularly in rural China.[1]


The Chinese New Left's origins lie mainly in scholarly people and other intellectuals. They tend to think that the social problems faced by China are caused not only by capitalist loopholes and corruption, but also by the excesses and oversights of Mao Zedong's era. While opposed to capitalism, New Leftists recognize both the strengths and weaknesses of capitalism, and recognize its major and necessary influence on China. Although the capitalist system is fixed in the West, China has the opportunity to learn from Western mistakes as its system is still in flux. Cui Zhiyuan, a leading New Leftist intellectual, believes that it is imperative that socialism and capitalism are not viewed as opposing one another.[2]

Zhang Xudong has said that "an advocate for New Deal- style economic and social policies in China was considered to be a liberal in the 1980s, but 'New Left' by the century's end." This overlap suggests that the ideals set forth by New Leftism most strongly resemble the "democratic socialism" and "humanistic Marxism" of the 1980s.[3][4]


The name was first applied in the late 1990s. While the term "New Left" implies a belief in Mao's interpretation of Marxism, the school's most well known thinker, Wang Hui, explains the origin of the term:

The first stirring of a more critical view of official marketization goes back to 1993... But it wasn't until 1997-98 that the label New Left became widely used, to indicate positions outside the consensus. Liberals adopted the term, relying on the negative identification of the 'Left' with late Maoism, to imply that these must be a throw-back to the Cultural Revolution. Up until then, they had more frequently attacked anyone who criticised the rush to marketization as a 'conservative' - this is how Cui Zhiyuan was initially described, for example. From 1997 onwards, this altered. The standard accusatory term became 'New Left'...[5]

Actually, people like myself have always been reluctant to accept this label, pinned on us by our adversaries. Partly this is because we have no wish to be associated with the Cultural Revolution, or for that matter with what might be called the 'Old Left' of the reform-era CCP. But it is also because the term New Left is a Western one, with a very distinct set of connotations – generational and political – in Europe and America. Our historical context is Chinese, not Western, and it is doubtful whether a category imported so explicitly from the West could be helpful in today's China.[5]

Intellectuals reacted against 'leftism' in the 80s, blaming it for all of China's problems, and right-wing radicals use the words 'New Left' to discredit us, make us look like remnants from the Maoist days.[2]

Human rights[edit]

A critical value of New Leftists is the belief in the universality of human rights. Hu Ping argues that the most important of all human rights is that of freedom of speech. During the Great Leap Forward production of grain decreased and it became evident that many people began to starve. Simultaneously, as reported by the newspapers, the next harvest would present an ample yield. Hu wrote:

At that time, people on the verge of starvation were not allowed to call out that they were starving. Many people who publicly did this were labeled counterrevolutionaries. It was not permitted to mention that the many millions of people who died had died from starvation. Many officials who reported to higher levels that people were dying from starvation were labeled rightist opportunists. Today when one mentions freedom of speech some people believe that this is just something of special value to intellectuals, especially those intellectuals who are not content with their lot. The tragic example of the three-year-long famine is the most forceful rebuttal of such a view.[6]


A sub-group of this strand of New Leftists are more radical, adhering to Marxism as originally interpreted by Mao and as executed during approximately the first twenty years of the PRC's existence. They believe firmly that China is, and has been for some time, moving away from the communist path, which has resulted and will continue to result in the rise of capitalists who will further exploit peasants and workers, as they did in China before 1949. Similarly to the worldwide Maoist movement, this strain of New Leftists are against the Chinese government's policy of "openness" and economic reforms; correspondingly, they do not consider Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward to have been wrong-headed in an ideological sense, even if they do oppose the actual outcomes and on-the-ground policies of those early experiments.

These New Leftists are also against capitalist "so-called" democracy and look favorably on the "revolutionary Maoism" of a generation ago, in contrast to the corruption and money-centeredness they see in current Chinese society. Many of these New Leftists also regret the erosion of guaranteed employment, education, health care, and other former gains of the Chinese Revolution that have been largely lost in the new profit-driven economy. The New Left collection of Chinese tend to look at themselves, like most socialists, as defenders of the people against a dehumanizing and inherently corrupt capitalist system.

Zhengzhou incident[edit]

On December 24, 2004, four Chinese protesters were sentenced to three-year prison terms for distributing leaflets entitled "Mao Forever Our Leader" at a gathering in Zhengzhou honoring Mao Zedong on the anniversary of his birth.[7] Attacking the current leadership as "imperialist revisionists," the leaflets called on lower-level cadre to "change (The Party's) current line and to revert to the socialist road." The Zhengzhou incident is one of the first manifestations of public nostalgia for the Mao era to make it to the international press, although it is far from clear whether these feelings are widespread. In any case, it is an example of Marxist Chinese New Leftism in action.

Chinese New Leftists are often criticised by liberal intellectuals, such as Liu Junning, who consider China not to be liberal enough, both economically and politically. These liberals tend to think that inequality and the widening gap between rich and the poor are serious problems, but that these problems exist in every developing country. Democracy and personal freedoms are seen by these liberals to be important for China, although perhaps not attainable in the near future. These liberals largely consider themselves to be classical, not modern, liberals. The liberal critics and Chinese New Leftists have fiercely debated throughout the mid-1990s and early 2000s. At the heart of this debate is the conflict between liberal representative democracy, based on the Anglo-American political tradition, the English Glorious Revolution and the American Revolution, and the Scottish enlightenment, which is favoured by the Liberals; and conceptions of direct democracy, based on the Jacobin traditions of the French Revolution, the French enlightenment, in particular Rousseau and the Maoist socialist-democratic concept of the mass line[citation needed].

Guangzhou Incident[edit]

In November 2017 a group of Maoist students (e.g. Zhang Yunfan) and workers was arrested in Guangzhou for organizing Maoist salon.

Land issues[edit]

On Friday 13 May 2011, National Public Radio's website published a story about Nanjie Village,[8] saying that it is a prime example of recent "re-collectivizations" inspired by Mao's original ideas and paying active tribute to him. "The furniture and appliances in each home are identical, including the big red clocks with Chairman Mao's head, radiating psychedelic colors to the tune "The East Is Red." [Villager] Huang Zunxian owns virtually nothing in his apartment. The possessions are owned by the collective, right down to the couch cushions." The report also says that "Some villages around the country have followed Nanjie's example and re-collectivized," but doesn't give any examples of other such villages.

In the 1990s, rural industry began to stagnate and China's immense peasant population became viewed as a hindrance to China's development. Popular demand for further modernization, urbanization, and marketization, began to outweigh the successes seen by the previous instated Township and Village Enterprises. Cui Zhiyuan and Gan Yang began to instate small rural industries and collective not only to mediate the increasing socioeconomic gap, but also as an alternative to the model of large scale capitalism.[9]

Since 1996, Hegang city has had the most laid-off workers, yet has registered the highest rate of economic growth in China. Cui Zhiyuan suggests that the cause of this phenomenon is due to its utilization of "combining public land ownership and the market." In this way, Hegang city has focused on stimulating its real estate market as a means to stimulate the development of related industries.[10]

Amongst the established Chinese Communist Party's current ideology, it is significant that the idea of privatising China's countryside land outright has not so far been accepted, instead keeping it in public hands. Currently, most Chinese non-urban land is used privately but cannot be sold, unlike Chinese urban property.

In 2008, the Third Session of the Seventeenth Central Committee of the Party (Chinese: 中国共产党第十七届中央委员会第三次全体会议) initiated a new round of land privatization reforms,[11] but these measures were ultimately quite limited, for the transfer and trading of land remains ambiguous and not "officially endorsed and encouraged".[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cui, Zhiyuan. "How to Comprehend Today's China." Contemporary Chinese Thought. 37.4 (2006). Print.
  2. ^ a b Mishra, Panka. "China's New Leftist." New York Times [New York] 15 010 2006, Magazine n. pag. Web. 9 May. 2012. <>.
  3. ^ Zhang, Xudong, "The Making of the Post-Tiananmen Intellectual Field: A Critical Overview." In Whither China? Intellectual Politics in Contemporary Chin, ed. Xudong Zhang (1-75). Durham: Duke University Press, 2001, p.16.
  4. ^ Gan, Yang "Zhongguo ziyouzuopai de youlai" (Origins of the Chinese Liberal Left). In Sichao: Zhongguo 'xinzuopai' jiqi yingxiang (Ideological Trends: The Chinese "New Left" and its Influence), ed. Gong Yang (110-120). Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe, 2003.
  5. ^ a b One China, Many Paths, edited by Chaohua Wang, page 62
  6. ^ Angle, Stephen, and Maria Svensson, ed. The Chinese Human Rights Reader. 1. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 2001. 430. Print.
  7. ^ Maoists in China Get Three Year Prison Sentences for Leafleting: A Report on the Case of the Zhengzhou Four, Monthly Review, January 2005.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Carter, Lance. "A Chinese Alternative? Interpreting the Chinese New Left Politically." China Study Group. Insurgent Notes 1, 07/03/2010. Web. 9 May 2012. Archived from original.
  10. ^ Cui, Zhiyuan. "How to Comprehend Today's China." Contemporary Chinese Thought. 37.4 (2006): 5. Print.
  11. ^ The resolution reached on the rural land reform, in simplified Chinese can be found at <>.
  12. ^ Jialin Zhang, China's Slow-motion Land Reform, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Feb 1, 2010, available on <>.

External links[edit]

  • Lim, Louisa (March 2, 2006). "The high price of illness in China". BBC news. BBC.
  • Pel, Minxin (February 23, 2006). "China is stagnating in its 'trapped transition'". Financial Times. Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei). (Subscription required (help)).
  • Kahn, Joseph (March 12, 2006). "A sharp debate erupts in China over ideologies". New York Times. The New York Times Company.
  • Hui, Qin (March–April 2003). "Dividing the big family assets". New Left Review. II (20).
  • Crane, Sam (October 14, 2006). "New Left or Old Mencius? (blog)". The Useless Tree.
About Chinese 'New Left' theorist Wang Hui