During the extensive political indoctrination of the Cultural Revolution, people in China were mandated to precede any conversation by reciting memorised quotes from Mao’s Little Red Book— even beggars had to say “Imperialists and reactionaries are all paper tigers!” or “Serve the people!” before carrying on with what they wanted to say. Now, almost 50 years afterwards, this tradition of memorising political texts seems to have been revived and carried forward by the local government of Wuhan, an important industrial city in Hubei Province.
Located in central China, Wuhan is rumoured to have been forcing its eight million residents to recite the twelve so-called ‘core socialist values’– namely prosperity, democracy, civility, harmony, freedom, equality, fairness, rule of law, patriotism, respect, integrity and friendship. A text message apparently sent by a college administrator circulated on microblogging platform Weibo in December last year. The message pressured students to “prepare for inspections” and told them this was a “serious political mission.” Students would face collective punishment if just one of them couldn’t recite the slogan when asked by inspectors.
The requirement was not only applied to college students. Taxi drivers, street vendors, even retirees are all required to be able to write down the 12 words from memory.
The “core values” were first addressed in the work report of the 18th Communist Party of China National Congress on 18 November 2012, and later became official doctrine in a document published by the CPC Central Committee General Office in late 2013..
Unhappy residents and critical intellectuals have soon turned China’s burgeoning social media into a stage for expressing their dissatisfaction and grievances, as well as displaying their witty political satire.
“I will not recite no matter what the punishment will be,” one Weibo user said, demonstrating a hardened resolve not to comply. “This is my Freedom,” the user continued.
Ironically, although words like democracy, freedom, equality and justice are part of the values, they are increasingly designated de by the governmental censors as “sensitive keywords” that are likely to be instantly deleted from online postings for fear that their connotations might undermine recent attempts to consolidate ideological control.
Renmin University political science professor Zhang Ming subtly ridicules the campaign, “Some places are forcing citizens to memorise the ‘core values’. It is not necessary. In fact, freedom, democracy, justice and rule of law are what people are expecting. When people see them in reality, they will remember them without any difficulty,”
“Memorising the twelve slogans is neither here nor there. Rather, it is the forcible manner of the campaign that leaves people under the impression that the whole thing is like a publicity stunt,” said Ji Yinan, a sophomore student who now lives in Wuhan. He also said that the twelve values, displayed all across the city, have been tattooed onto the memory of its residents.
The campaign began on 14 October 2014, as the city government organised a rally for senior officials for the upcoming triennial selection of “National Civilised Cities”, an honorary title which some regard a pool of economic and political collateral. . During the rally, more than 400 attending officials were caught off guard by a sudden quiz: write down the 24 characters from memory. Humiliation was spared as over 300 officials passed the test, but many local officials performed badly.
While the campaign faced a barrage of criticism, there was no slowdown in its fanaticism. Two pictures posted online showed a different approach. The caption read: ‘Restaurants on local snack street shut down in Wuhan’s bid to become ‘civilized city’. The street, home to dozens of local restaurants, snakes through a busy neighbourhood of downtown Wuhan, near Wuhan University of Technology. The entrances of some restaurants were blocked from view by wooden boards.
The owner of one restaurant said in an interview with Southern Metropolitan News that he received a notice from his landlord, demanding the restaurant o close between December 21 and 30. “People are saying that the inspection will last for a few days, and the signboards outside are not in a unified form, so it looks a bit disorderly.” It seems the spectre of the old-fashioned communism has never gone away.