One of the more entertaining items of news this week was the erecting of a giant golden statue of Chairman Mao in Tongxu county in rural China. The slightly excessive statue was erected to commemorate the former Chinese leader and the influence he had in propelling China towards modernisation. Yet it raises the issue of a new trend called ‘Mao worship’ which is currently gaining traction in China, and reveals the astonishing power decades of propaganda and indoctrination have had on China’s population.
The statue cost a small fortune to build, coming in at £312,000, and is located in Henan Province, an area which was one of the worst hit by famine during Mao’s efforts to rapidly industrialise China. There are no exact figures but tens of millions of people died during the “Great Leap Forward,” and so it seems natural to question how and why people are commemorating their former leader. Mao prioritised his own ideology and goals over the well-being of his people, and I find it hard to understand the motives behind remembering a man who killed more of his own people than anyone else in history.
The reality is, however, that Mao’s three decades in power have never been open to critical assessment by the Chinese population. The Communist Party of China has never revealed facts, such as the death toll resulting from Mao’s policies, as the government’s own legitimacy is based on Mao’s legacy and it relies on Mao’s image to maintain support.
It seems as if the lack of honest press in China, free from censorship and from global sources, has caused the majority of the Chinese public to be indoctrinated into maintaining a specific view of Chairman Mao. The cumulative effect of decades of censorship and propaganda forced down the throats of the Chinese public, allied with the current government’s legitimacy issues and the continued presence of Mao in Chinese society has resulted in the phenomenon of ‘Mao worship.’
the government’s own legitimacy is based on Mao’s legacy
Mao’s following is so extreme that in 2013, at celebrations to commemorate the 120th anniversary of Mao’s birth, one individual was quoted as saying, “Mao is a god in the East.” This view of Mao and his role in people’s lives has led Xi Jinping, the current President of China, to say, “revolutionary leaders are not Gods, but human beings.” However, whilst downplaying Mao’s transcendent nature, the government only has itself to blame for allowing people’s views to escalate to this level. The suppression of freedom of thought and speech in China, especially in the media, denies the public the chance to learn the truth about Mao and the failures of some of his policies.
It is not just China which continues to suppress freedom of thought in the 21st century; North Korea and Iran use the same policy, and it is most apparent in the Middle East in areas controlled by the terror group ISIS. These countries’ governments use propaganda to indoctrinate their populations into a specific way of thinking, suppressing freedom of thought and demanding loyalty to their cause. For example, in North Korea, televised audiences were seen uncontrollably weeping after Kim-Jong-Il’s death as the population knew there would be severe punishments for anyone who was not openly distraught.
When considering ISIS in particular, it is worrying how successful the terrorist organisation’s propaganda has been in recruiting new members, and especially its members devotion to their extremist ideology.
For example, there were reports of an ISIS member publicly executing his own mother this week because she had attempted to persuade him to leave the terror group. Examples like this, or the British man who executed five prisoners and threatened David Cameron force us to confront how such an extreme group has been able to effectively brainwash so many.
However, we cannot separate the propaganda used by the terrorist organisations from the impact the West’s actions have had. Killing innocent civilians in raids on Syrian towns and cities will only serve to incite hate against Western countries, potentially radicalising younger generations. This combined with well-publicised attitudes and remarks by individuals such as Donald Trump and Katie Hopkins fuel the extremist group’s rhetoric and provide it with all they need to gain the attention and following of vulnerable, impressionable young adults.
Living in a country where blatant propaganda has no real role means that we often forget about the power and impact it can have on individuals. We are fortunate to have freedom of speech in Britain, enabling us to criticise and nullify any effective attempts at propaganda, unlike in China or the Middle East. Contrast this with China’s sustained propaganda campaign during Chairman Mao’s rule, or ISIS’ use of propaganda in the Middle East where propaganda is a tool and a weapon. It is used to ensure people show their loyalty to an extreme ideology and dangerously makes such extremism the norm.