What Good Does Revolution Do?

A commentary by Bao Tong
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china-painting-mao-zedong-young-pioneers-1952.jpg A painting of Mao Zedong greeting members of the Young Pioneers of China, a mass youth organization for children aged six to 14, in 1952.
CCI/The Art Archive/The Picture Desk

I propose the implementation of social reforms to bridge the gulf between the richest and the poorest in our society.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that this gulf wasn't created during the [pre-1949] old regime, nor by hostile foreign forces. It is the product of our current sick society. The second is that I don't buy Mao Zedong's belief that revolution can level it.

Some people have great confidence in our current social system, and sing its praises time and again. But anyone who is stuck in poverty will say it stinks.

Twenty-five percent of families in our country hold just one percent of its wealth.

The facts speak for themselves, and the root of the problem lies in our current, flawed social system, which some regard as sacrosanct.

But we can't take our cue from those who persist in talking about self-confidence while still professing compassion in the face of such a deep crisis.

This system is a double-handed one, although both hands are equally harsh. One is busy manufacturing billionaires, while the other cranks out poverty.

So why not revolt against this system, which has developed so many problems? Have we forgotten the teachings of Chairman Mao, or the so-called truths of Marxism? What happened to "rebellion is always justified?"

I haven't forgotten them, but I don't believe that revolution is the way to change society.

'What good do they do?'

Of course rebellion is justified, but there is nothing good to be gained from it, unless you are one of those deviant types who takes a perverse delight in human conflict.

Revolutions throughout history have been carried out by people who were forced into them as a matter of life and death, because there were no other options left to them.

It is truly a feat of heroism to stage a rebellion, and for that reason I tend to agree and sympathize with them.

But what good do they do? Great tragic acts, like works of art, have the power to move the human heart, to sound a warning bell for the whole of society and to make everyone stop and think.

But can they really change a society for the better? The history of China over the past 2,000 years is full of rebellions and uprisings, but all that they achieved was an endless cycle of violence.

There may have been a sense of satisfaction when they toppled one dynasty and set another in its place, but not one of these rebellions, in the history of China at least, ever succeeded in changing a social system for the better.

Let's not even mention the dissolute lifestyles of those who ruled by divine right, or their murderous henchmen. Let's look at the example of the Hongwu Emperor (1328-1398), chosen by history out of a pack of possible warlords. After he took the throne, his sons and grandsons may have enjoyed the splendor as they became established as rulers of the whole country, but the vast majority of Chinese people remained in the same state of dire poverty under Ming rule that they had been mired in since time immemorial.

Our textbooks tell us that this was because the revolutionary masses had no access to the guiding principles of Marxism, nor to the correct guidance and leadership of the Communist Party.

But wasn't it the staunch leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and the incomparable theories of Marx, Lenin, Mao and Deng Xiaoping that brought us the huge divide between rich and poor that we have today?

'Savior of the Chinese people'

On Sept. 16, 1949, when Mao was on the threshold of victory, he wrote an article titled "The bankruptcy of the idealist conception of history," in which he criticized then-U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson.

Puffed up with pride, he sought to teach both Chinese and Americans a lesson, claiming: "We are the refuters of Acheson's counterrevolutionary theory. We believe that revolution can change everything."

More than six decades have passed. But what did the Chinese revolution change?

It definitely changed everything for Mao as an individual, conferring upon him the power of a super-tyrant, the title of "savior of the Chinese people," his moment of glory on Tiananmen gate, and his eternal sleep in a glass coffin.

But he didn't change the closed, confined world of Zhongnanhai [party headquarters] for a commonwealth of free people. Instead, he specialized in unrelenting terror campaigns, turning the country into a vast arena for blood sports, and leading his people into the paradise of universal poverty.

He did nothing to change the pyramid structure of wealth and privilege. He just gave us a new pyramid to replace the old one, with the words "The party leads in everything" emblazoned at the peak to justify its absolute power.

That's why I don't believe the oracle when it tells us that revolution changes everything. I am in favor of making improvements. I don't think that a few more revolutions will drag three hundred million Chinese people out of poverty.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Bao Tong, political aide to the late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing.


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