Mao II: China’s rising generation

What is China up to? It has declared dominance over the tiny symbolic islands in the East China Sea and challenged its neighbors and the U.S. It is pulling the visas of New York Times and Bloomberg reporters. At the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic, I couldn’t help but notice that all present, including former President Hu Jintao, standing at the podium were wearing Mao suits. China watcher Gordon Chang says China faces a fall ahead. But possibly what we are seeing in China today is not a fall but a restoration of the original paradigm, which may be worse: It is a Mao-era restoration.

The work of historians William Strauss and Neil Howe has been widely commented on in recent times by Al Gore, Tom Brokaw and many others. They may have successfully solved a riddle of historic generations. The authors harkened back to the Romans' use of the idea of “saeculum” meaning “century” claiming that history runs in historic cycles of about 100 years. 

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The postwar generations, you might say, alternate light and dark, from the political in the first, to the cultural and spiritual in the next. Then they return again to the first. Here, the first generation postwar brings Eisenhower, new roads, and rising prosperity. Then a generation exhausted by the burdens of war turns a corner and heads to San Francisco in the Summer of Love. The third generation, tiring of the hippies, recalls the first in remembrance and feeling. It is the Reagan generation that reestablishes the victory values of the first, then onward and upward to the end times.

China today runs a parallel with us, as on Oct. 1, 1949, Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong declared the creation of the People’s Republic. If Reagan in this theory might be seen as a reconstruction of the '50s, the original paradigm, China’s threatening movements today might well be seen as a restoration of China’s original revolutionary thinking, possibly reawakened at the recent plenum. 

In Communist China’s 64 years, we have seen the revolutionary generation extended by the “cultural revolution” which really expanded Mao’s reach well beyond his generation and caused untold suffering by doing so. It was not until 1978 that Deng Xiaoping became the “paramount leader” of the People’s Republic, bringing wealth and prosperity to China through market reforms and capitalist strategies and the repudiation of revolutionary values of Mao.

But China today may be seen as about to return to the austerity of the revolutionary fathers lest the newly enfranchised capitalists and the 130 million recent migrants from country to city become decadent and westernized. It would neutralize and destroy the mythology of the early revolutionary days and the creation myth of Mao’s revolution.

What rose in Germany in the early 20th century with the Kaiser and Hitler was primarily a restoration of the old medieval grandfathers to hold back the rising tide of modernism. The same happened with the rise of Franco in Spain, whose followers were called “nostalgicos” as they held on to the past.  What we could see rising now in China is the repudiation of the western ideas that flourished with Deng and a return to the revolutionary values of Mao and the People's Republic. It is an era of Mao II rising.