Chinese New Left

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Chinese New Left
Traditional Chinese中國的新左派
Simplified Chinese中国的新左派

The Chinese New Left (Chinese: 中国的新左派) is a school of political thought in the People's Republic of China that criticizes capitalism and some aspects of the Chinese economic reforms. It is in favour of certain elements of Maoist socialism, including the significant role of state planning, the preservation of state-owned enterprises, and a renewed spirit of collectivism. The ambiguity of the term "New Left" in China arises from its broad spectrum. Generally speaking, New Left can be applied to describe anyone who embraces leftist theories, ideals and traditions, ranging from Marxism to socialism, postmodernism and other schools criticizing liberalism.[1]

The "New Left's" relationship with Maoism and capitalism is complicated. Different schools of thought suggest that New Left wants the return to mass political movements of the Mao Zedong era and an abandonment of capitalist practices, whereas others believe that it blends the open markets of capitalism while still maintaining socialist aspects of the community, particularly in rural China.[2] Overall, New Left supporters, like Cui Zhiyuan and Wang Hui, are sceptical towards neoliberalism and democratic capitalism.


The concept of New Left arose in the late 1990s. After failures of liberal movements in 1980s, Deng Xiaoping’s 1992 trip to Shenzhen and the 14th Party Congress in 1992, scholars and commentators began to adopt a more critical standpoint on marketization and its consequences, including (but not limited to) social and economic inequalities between the coast and the hinterland territories, the urban and the rural areas, as well as between rich and poor people.[3] New Left theory believes that the deep challenges of the market economy stem from the fact that under the Chinese economic reform, the market economy has increasingly become the dominant economic formation, and China's socialist economic reforms have already brought China completely into global capitalism and relations of productions.[4]

The development of New Left 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. Some scholars believe that, based on its unique and drastic historical, economical and political changes during 20th Century, China cannot simply adopt a social democratic capitalistic model as many Western countries do.[5] Considering modern Chinese history, critics argued that the New Culture movement (1915–1922), in its embracing of “enlightenment,” had gone too far by identifying “the West” with “modernization”, stating that China needs to find its own path to modernity.[3]

As New Left movements are usually concerned with social inequality issues in China, some scholars believe that although the Chinese New Left is not yet mature, its movements are likely to embed themselves as a deep structural feature of Chinese society in the next century, assuming the tendency towards polarization continues in China.[6] Strikes, sit-ins, and slow-downs, coupled with peasant risings, though sporadic due to government suppression, are on the rise and may probably become more organized with the development of New Left.[6]

While being skeptical and critical of capitalism, New Leftists recognize its major and necessary influences on China, including discussion of strengths and weakness of capitalistic models. Cui Zhiyuan, a leading New Leftist intellectual, believes that it is imperative that socialism and capitalism are not viewed as opposing each another.[7] Zhang Xudong has said that "an advocate for New Deal-style economic and social policies in China was considered to be liberal in the 1980s, but as 'New Left' by the century's end." Such overlap suggests that the ideals set forth by New Leftism most strongly resemble the "democratic socialism" and "humanistic Marxism" of the 1980s.[8][9]

"Beijing Consensus"[edit]

The phrase "Beijing Consensus" was coined by Joshua Cooper Ramo to frame China's economic development model as an alternative — especially for developing countries — to the Washington Consensus of market-friendly policies promoted by IMF, World Bank, and U.S. Treasury.

The debate at that time revolved around management buyouts (MBOs) and the protection of private property, but it actually regarded the issues of “privatization” and “socialism.” Discussion was so heated that both Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao went out of their way at the NPC meeting in 2006 to reiterate their support for reform and opening. The debates over MBOs and property rights were themselves extensions of the highly ideological debate about “socialism” versus “capitalism” that emerged following the Tiananmen crackdown and it was only quieted in the wake of Deng Xiaoping’s 1992 trip to Shenzhen and the subsequent 14th Party Congress in 1992. Deng’s call for an economic reform unleashed the market forces but also a series of often wasteful and duplicative investment of that everyone, whether private citizen or government entity, tried to cash in. It was in the wake of this upsurge of market activity that the “New Left,” a loosely knit group of young intellectuals, emerged and began developing a new critique of China’s developmental path.[3]



Economics plays a significant role in the discussion about Chinese New Left, the development of which is, in the first place, closely associated with the Chinese economic reform. In general, many supporters of New Left believe that a new left economical model should be found in order to tackle China's dependence on exports and savings, reduce the growing economic gap between rural and urban areas as well as stimulate private business through public ownership and state planning. The capitalistic free market model applied in most social-democratic programs is not desired because, instead of challenging and reforming the institutions of the existing forms of market economy and representative democracy, it merely seeks to moderate the social consequences of structural divisions and hierarchies. Therefore, a suitable and sustainable market model is vital for leftist movement in China.[10]

Cui Zhiyuan, a well-known New Leftist economist, believes that a labour-capital partnership, based on the ideas of James Meade and John Maynard Keynes, can be used to introduce a certain degree of flexibility in the labour market. Outside shareholders own capital share certificates and inside workers own labour and share certificates, which replace a fixed-wage arrangement and thus reduce the areas of conflict of interest between workers and capitalists, since any decision that will improve the situation of one group by raising the rate of dividend on its share will automatically raise the rate of dividend on the shares of the other group.[10]

Meanwhile, many New Left intellectuals hold confidence and expectations in outcomes of current ongoing collective economic development planning, anticipating the rural industry development in many regions that would indicate a transitional avenue to modernization or whether they constitute a new model of modernization.[5]

Human rights[edit]

Some New Leftists in China state that universal human rights are a critical value. Hu Ping argues that the most important of all human rights is the freedom of speech. During the Great Leap Forward, grain production decreased and it became evident that many people began to starve. At the same time, as reported by the newspapers, the following 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 labelled as counter-revolutionaries. It was not allowed to mention that the many millions of dead people who died for starvation. Many officials who reported to higher levels that people were dying from starvation were labelled as right opportunists. Today, when one mentions the freedom of speech, some people believe that this is just something of special value to intellectuals, especially those 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.[11]

Other members of the Chinese New Left, particularly since the Great Recession, have rejected the centrality of human rights and "universal values" in general. These theorists have argued for the construction of a distinct, authoritarian Chinese political civilization separated from Western intellectual traditions.[12]


A sub-group of the New Leftists are more radical, adhering to Marxism as originally interpreted by Mao and executed during approximately the first twenty years of the PRC's existence. They believe firmly that China is, and has been for long 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 favourably on the "revolutionary Maoism" of a generation ago, in contrast to the corruption and greediness 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. New Left Chinese intellectuals tend to look at themselves, like most socialists, as defenders of the people against a dehumanizing and inherently corrupted capitalist system.


Although many New Left intellectuals are against certain Maoist approaches, the term "New Left" nonetheless implies some agreement with Mao's interpretation of Marxism. As the term "New Left" is associated with the "ultra-leftism" of the Cultural Revolution, many scholars and intellectuals supporting socialist approaches and reforms but opposing the radical and brutal approaches during Maoist period are not completely accepting the label of "New Left".[6] Some also are concerned about the fact that adopting the concept of leftism implies that China, though historically and contextually different from the West, is still using a Western model to strategise its reforms, and would be inevitably limited by how the West defines the "Left". Wang Hui, one of the school's most well-known public intellectuals, explains the origin as well as his own skepticism of this 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'...[13]

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.[13]

Related movements and incidents[edit]

Zhengzhou incident[edit]

On 24 December 2004, four Chinese protesters were sentenced to three-year prison terms for distributing leaflets entitled "Mao Forever Our Leader" at a gathering in Zhengzhou honouring Mao Zedong on the anniversary of his birth.[14] Attacking the current leadership as "imperialist revisionists," the leaflets called on lower-level cadre to "change the current line (of the Party) and to revert to the socialist road". The Zhengzhou incident is one of the first manifestations of public nostalgia for the Mao era reported by 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 as not liberal enough, both economically and politically. These liberals tend to think that inequality and the widening gap between rich 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 as classical, not modern, liberals. The liberal critics and Chinese New Leftists have fiercely debated throughout the mid-1990s and early 2000s. The core 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 the ideas of Rousseau and the Maoist socialist-democratic concept of mass line.[citation needed]

Chongqing Model[edit]

In October 2007, Chinese politician Bo Xilai was promoted to party chief of Chongqing, a troubled province in China with high levels of pollution, poor public health and unemployment. Bo Xilai began a policy of expanding state-owned industries in contrast to the rest of China which had been becoming more capitalistic. Labelled as "The Chongqing Model", Bo underwent an economic reform of the area that focused on expanding state influence in the economy, anti-corruption campaigns, and the promotion of "Red Culture". The policy also supported strong public welfare programs for poor, unemployed, and elderly citizens.[15][16]

In 2008, Bo Xilai enacted the Red Culture Movement which promoted Maoist culture in opposition to the capitalist culture that characterized Chinese reformists. During this period in Bo governance, radio and television played Maoist propaganda, students were organized to "return to the countryside" and promote the singing of "red songs".[17]

From 2009 to 2011, Chongqing began the prosecution of alleged Triad members referred to as Chongqing gang trials.[18] It is estimated that the 4,781 individuals were arrested during the crackdown.[19] The prosecution was extremely controversial, regarding the use of torture, forced confessions, and inhumane treatment of witnesses.[20][21]

In 2013, Bo was found guilty of corruption, and sentenced to life imprisonment. He is incarcerated at Qincheng Prison. Bo was removed as the party chief of Chongqing and lost his seat on the Politburo.[22]

Maoist Communist Party of China[edit]

In 2008, a group of workers and students formed the Maoist Communist Party of China, an underground, non-recognized political party opposing the government of ruling Communist Party.[23][24] The alleged manifest of the party was released on the internet with the title The Ten Declarations of the Maoist Communist Party of China, in which the party questions the legitimacy of the CPC and advocates a reversal of the Deng Xiaoping reforms and a return to socialism.

Nanjie Village and land reform[edit]

On Friday 13 May 2011, National Public Radio's website published a story about the Nanjie Village,[25] 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 colours 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 the 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 collectives not only to mediate the increasing socio-economic gap, but also as an alternative to the model of large scale capitalism.[26]

Since 1996, Hegang city has had the most laid-off workers, yet it has registered the highest rate of economic growth in China. Cui Zhiyuan suggests that the cause of this phenomenon is due to its use 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.[27]

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 17th Central Committee of the Communist 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,[28] but these measures were ultimately quite limited, and the transfer and trading of land remain ambiguous and not "officially endorsed and encouraged".[29]

Guangzhou incident[edit]

In November 2017, a group of Maoist students (e.g. Zhang Yunfan) and workers was arrested in Guangzhou for organizing a Maoist salon.[30][31]

JASIC protests[edit]

A number of Maoist and Marxist leaning students participated in the Jasic Incident of 2018, protesting in favour of the workers of the factory and advocating for workers rights.[32] The students formed the JASIC Workers Solidarity Group which included #metoo advocate Yue Xin.[33][34] On 11 October, fifty student advocates were arrested, their whereabouts are unknown.[32] Political suppression has been expanded to universities, factories and the wider public.[35] The leading students of the JASIC protests have also been detained and received punishment along with forced education by CPC.

Maoism and Neo-Maoism have been increasingly popular after the rise of Xi Jinping, among millennials and poor Chinese people and they are more frequently reported by foreign media.[36][37][38][39] Due to the CPC oppression on movements and protests in favour of proletarians, political tension between CCP and New-Leftist groups increases.[40]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Goldman, Merle (2015). "Review of China and New Left Visions: Political and Cultural Interventions". The China Journal (73): 266–269. doi:10.1086/679242. ISSN 1324-9347. JSTOR 10.1086/679242.
  2. ^ Cui, Zhiyuan. "How to Comprehend Today's China." Contemporary Chinese Thought. 37.4 (2006). Print.
  3. ^ a b c "Debating "the China Model"". Hoover Institution. Retrieved 2019-04-14.
  4. ^ Hui, Wang; Karl, Rebecca E. (2002-03-07), "Contemporary Chinese Thought and the Question of Modernity", Whither China?, Duke University Press, pp. 161–198, doi:10.1215/9780822381150-006, ISBN 9780822381150
  5. ^ a b Hui, Wang; Karl, Rebecca E. (1998). "Contemporary Chinese Thought and the Question of Modernity". Social Text (55): 9–44. doi:10.2307/466684. ISSN 0164-2472. JSTOR 466684.
  6. ^ a b c Zhao, Bin (March 1997). "Consumerism, Confucianism, Communism: Making Sense of China Today". New Left Review (222): 43–59. ISSN 0028-6060.
  7. ^ Mishra, Panka. "China's New Leftist." New York Times [New York] 15 010 2006, Magazine n. pag. Web. 9 May. 2012. <>.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ a b Dallmayr, Fred R; Zhao, Tingyang (2012). Contemporary Chinese political thought : debates and perspectives. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813136424. OCLC 757463443.
  11. ^ Angle, Stephen, and Maria Svensson, ed. The Chinese Human Rights Reader. 1. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 2001. 430. Print.
  12. ^ Han, Sang-Jin; Lü, Peng (2012). "Chinese crisis management: Consolidated authoritarian capitalism as a new brand of political regime?". In Van Beek, Ursula; Wnuk-Lipinski, Edmund (eds.). Democracy Under Stress: The Global Crisis and Beyond. Cape Town: African Sun Press. pp. 152–3.
  13. ^ a b One China, Many Paths, edited by Chaohua Wang, page 62
  14. ^ Maoists in China Get Three Year Prison Sentences for Leafleting: A Report on the Case of the Zhengzhou Four, Monthly Review, January 2005.
  15. ^ "China's Falling Star". 2012-03-19.
  16. ^ Chun, Lin (22 April 2012). "China's leaders are cracking down on Bo Xilai and his Chongqing model | Lin Chun". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 December 2018.
  17. ^
  18. ^ LaFraniere, Sharon (27 March 2012). "Crime Crackdown Adds to Scandal Surrounding Former Chinese Official". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 March 2012.
  19. ^ "Police held in China gang probe". BBC News. UK: BBC. 21 August 2009. Retrieved 12 November 2009.
  20. ^ Spegele, Brian (5 October 2012). "China's 'New Left' Grows Louder". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  21. ^ Buckley, Chris (22 July 2017). "From Political Star to 'a Sacrificial Object' in China". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  22. ^ "Bo Xilai", Wikipedia, 2019-04-06, retrieved 2019-04-29
  23. ^ "After India, Nepal, China under Maoist threat? - Times of India". The Times of India.
  24. ^ "中国出了个中国毛泽东主义共产党". Radio Free Asia (in Chinese).
  25. ^ "Retro Communes: China's New Utopia?".
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ Cui, Zhiyuan. "How to Comprehend Today's China." Contemporary Chinese Thought. 37.4 (2006): 5. Print.
  28. ^ The resolution reached on the rural land reform, in simplified Chinese can be found at <>.
  29. ^ Jialin Zhang, China's Slow-motion Land Reform, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Feb 1, 2010, available on <>.
  30. ^ "Justice for the Eight Comrades".
  31. ^ "100 Chinese sign letter calling for release of Maoist intellectual". 2017-12-23.
  32. ^ a b "Young Marxists are going missing in China after protesting for workers". CNN.
  33. ^ Zhe, Parson Young and Zhan Dou. "China: JASIC workers' struggle reveals rising class tensions".
  34. ^ "Fears for young Marxist activist missing after police raid in China". South China Morning Post.
  35. ^ "Chinese campus crackdown on young Marxist activists expands in major cities". 2018-11-14.
  36. ^ "Why Beijing isn't Marxist enough for China's radical millennials". South China Morning Post.
  37. ^ Zhe, Zhan Dou. "Chinese authorities increase crackdown on workers and students".
  38. ^ "China's Leaders Confront an Unlikely Foe: Ardent Young Communists".
  39. ^ "China: JASIC workers' struggle reveals rising class tensions".
  40. ^ "佳士工潮启示录:毛左对习近平构成挑战". Radio Free Asia (in Chinese). Retrieved 2019-04-29.

External links[edit]

About Chinese 'New Left' theorist Wang Hui