Chinese TV Host Punished for Insulting Communist Leader Mao Zedong

President Xi Jinping tightens grip on Chinese society with escalating crackdown on dissent

Bi Fujian,
Bi Fujian / AP
August 10, 2015

A popular TV personality in China will be punished for insulting Communist Party founder Mao Zedong at a private dinner, according to state media reports, the latest example of Chinese authorities’ sweeping ideological campaign against dissent.

Authorities said on Sunday that Bi Fujian, a talent show host on China Central Television, had demonstrated a lack of "political discipline" when he made the comments about Mao in April. Bi reportedly included a vulgar insult about Mao in a revolutionary song at the event and said that, "he has ruined us all."

Marion Smith, executive director at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C., said in an interview that Bi is one of several figures in Chinese media and academia who have been targeted in recent months for challenging party orthodoxy. Xi Jinping, China’s president and party leader, is viewed as more ideological than some of his predecessors and has moved swiftly to repress human rights activists, minorities, and all forms of dissent in the country.

"This is something a lot of China watchers thought we wouldn’t see again," Smith said about Xi’s crackdown on dissidents.

"Xi Jinping is really hearkening back to Deng Xiaoping or Mao."

Deng, who was China’s leader in the 1980s and ‘90s, essentially promised the Chinese people that he would institute some market reforms and boost economic growth as long as they didn’t agitate for political rights, Smith said. The changes helped produce a burgeoning Chinese middle class of more than 300 million people.

However, a majority of China’s population has not benefited from the economic boom, which has recently shown signs of stalling, he said. Chinese stock prices have plummeted as its markets suffer from risky deals and a lack of professional investors and savings options.

"All these things taken together, you see the limits of this kind of grand bargain between Deng Xiaoping and the people of China," he said.

And while some Chinese citizens have prospered in recent years, none have been granted free speech rights or the ability to criticize their government. Deng ordered the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 that killed thousands, crushing the most potent threat to the party in decades.

Now Xi is tightening the party’s control of society through several measures, including more ideological instruction at universities, the suppression of Western values, and the jailing of human rights lawyers.

"To criticize Mao as a bloody murderer and tyrant is to delegitimize the Chinese Communist Party: the party of Deng Xiaoping that ordered the troops into Beijing to crush the pro-democracy—and many just anti-corruption—protesters," Smith said.

"It’s the same party," he added. "There is absolute continuity of culpability."

Smith said the fact that Americans and their leaders have generally paid less attention to the victims of the Chinese Communist Party, as opposed to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, is "no accident." China has devoted significant resources to programs that attempt to influence how Americans think about the country’s government, such as the dozens of "Confucius Institutes" that partner with U.S. universities.

"That suppression [of free speech and academic inquiry] has extended outside of China and is now a problem here in the United States," he said.

U.S. leaders’ hopes that more trade and business investment in China would translate into more political freedoms have also failed to materialize, Smith said. Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, admitted last year that the company had to be "open to compromising" some of its values to expand in China.

"Our brands don’t necessarily translate into political freedom in China," Smith said. "That is a shame, and it is an indictment of our own commitment to our values."

Smith said that, by failing to acknowledge China’s human rights abuses and its increasingly aggressive military actions, U.S. leaders run the risk of underestimating the threat posed by China.

"We better wake up to the fact that we don’t want China to be our enemy, but we need to very much understand that they’re not our friend," he said.

"By treating them as our friend, we make it more likely that there will be a confrontation."

Published under: China