Kapok | The warning behind the praise

Eric Sautedé

In the morning of May 9, while addressing a large audience supposedly representative of the Macao population, Chairman of the National People’s Congress Zhang Dejiang insisted on a task the government of the Macao SAR had to carry out: “Contradictions within the society never cease to exist; among poor people contradictions exist; among rich people contradictions exist; among majorities contradictions exist; among minorities contradictions exist; contradictions are to be found everywhere, regardless of time and place; what is crucial is how we correctly identify, get hold of and properly handle the issues, the difficulties and the contradictions.” In a sentence of only a few lines, “contradictions” — it has to be plural as there are many of them — appeared seven times!

For anybody slightly familiar with the history of Communism in China, the use of the word (maodun) rings a particular bell.

First because it is markedly associated with Mao Zedong himself, who expanded on an original text from 1937 (“On Contradictions”) to develop his thinking in one of his most famous speeches entitled “On the correct handling of contradictions among the people,” delivered in February 1957. Given the comparisons that now exist between Mao and Xi Jinping, and that Zhang’s southern tour is perceived as a preparation for that President Xi will embark on at the end of June, it is no overstretch to consider that Mr Zhang was actually uttering Mr Xi’s words.

Second because in the 1957 harangue, Mao famously explained that “letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend [was] the policy for promoting progress in the arts and sciences and a flourishing socialist culture.” It was a confirmation that criticisms were welcome, thus echoing the call for intellectual renaissance and freedom expressed by Guo Moruo, the intellectual from whom Mao had taken inspiration.

Third because by drawing a line between what was termed “antagonistic contradictions” and “non-antagonistic contradictions”, Mao was indeed enriching the Leninist approach to class struggle, indicating that some contradictions — the ones that exist “within” — were acceptable, and even welcome as unavoidable, as long as they did not transform into contradictions “between” the people and what Mao called “the enemy”. As a first example of enemies, Mao mentioned “Japanese imperialists, their Chinese collaborators and the pro-Japanese elements”, which is rather ironic considering how some families in Macao started to build their fortune during World War II.

Of course, when it comes to the Hundred Flowers Campaign, one has to be extra careful: when Mao realised there were more than a few people expressing their discontent with the direction the Party was taking and that he was himself being targeted, contesters were rapidly hushed and soon persecuted. The tactic thus backfired, and the ones who suffered the most were those who had believed, reluctantly at first, the openness to be genuine. Yet, if Mao’s former physician Li Zhisui is to be trusted, it is only because the criticism became massive that the campaign turned tragically sour. Ultimately lingers the idea that some “contradictions” — political, economic and social — can become unacceptably unsettling if they are not handled properly.

Bearing in mind the context has changed, I cannot help thinking that the very fact only six “representatives” were able to openly express their opinions after Zhang Dejiang’s address serves as confirmation that behind the overall praise might lie a warning: if the contradictions were to become more antagonistic in nature, wouldn’t the Macao Chinese Chamber of Commerce (Kou Hoi In), the Federation of Trade Unions (Lei Cheng I), the Kaifong (Leong Heng Kao), the Women’s General Association (Wong Kit Cheng), the rising Fujian faction (Si Ka Lon) or Chui’s henchmen (Eva Lou) be held responsible?

Let’s hope that these self-proclaimed “representatives” will not interpret the message as an invitation to tighten the screws: after all, the recent by-census indicates that about a quarter of Macao holds a tertiary degree… No more is ignorance bliss!

Categories Opinion