China’s recognition of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx is strange on several levels. First, it comes during what many believe and the facts support in large measure, which is a capitalism-inspired economic miracle for the country. Second, it honors a man whose economic theories were largely discredited and whose philosophical grasp of human nature misguided, the human cost of which have been the deaths of untold millions, and counting, in the regimes that were and still are beholden to Marxism and its closely related socialist ideology. And in fact it was under the leadership of Chairman Mao Zedong, founder of the Chinese communist regime, that Maoism, a close relative of Marxism, produced human death and suffering that dwarfed most others, including those of Hitler and Stalin. Yet China’s supreme leader for life, Xi Jinping, seems to be promoting Marx as some kind of rallying symbol for the nation in all kinds of celebrations.
When I was in China with a group about ten years ago for a cultural exchange and meetings with several Politbureau-level leaders, I had the sense that they somehow know that they are living a lie which is on borrowed time. And they probably feel threatened by a rebound of Confucianism, the rapid growth of Christianity, and the fear of another Tiananmen Square debacle, which would no doubt doom the regime. So maybe it isn’t too surprising that they would use Marx’s bicentennial as a focal point to remind the nation that in their adopted form his ideas have enabled it to return to greatness and as a way to demand loyalty to the ruling party.
Chinese historian Daniel Leese describes it this way: “The posthumous cult of Marx these days serves to legitimize the present leadership and whatever it claims Marxism to be, and only Xi Jinping is said to be capable of synthesizing classical doctrine with present realities”.
It remains to be seen how long this lie can hold out.