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Li Guangman: How an Obscure Electric School Teacher Scared Millions of Chinese

Li Guangman. From WeChat
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Massimo Introvigne | Bitter Winter

The main Chinese Communist Party media reprinted a blog article claiming that Xi Jinping is preparing a second Cultural Revolution—this time against the rich.

China is full of leftist bloggers, who hail Chairman Mao and reminisce about the good old days of the Cultural Revolution with nostalgia. If they exaggerate, they are punished and prevented from posting. What is happening now, from August 29, is however, totally different.

On that date, one Li Guangman published a post under the title “Everybody can feel that a profound change is taking place” (每个人都能感受到,一场深刻的变革正在进行!) on his WeChat blog page. Li put together different facts: the prosecution for tax evasion and other crimes of prominent Chinese millionaire entertainment celebrities; the regulations promulgated by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) on August 27 against fan groups supporting celebrities; the crackdown by regulatory authorities on Jack Ma, the most famous billionaire of China, and his Alibaba group; the investigations launched against other large companies and super-rich citizens; new rules on rentals limiting the profits of real estate moguls; and Xi Jinping’s speeches about “common prosperity.”

Li suggested that all these developments should be read together. “What these events tell us, Li wrote, is that a monumental change is taking place in China, and that the economic, financial, cultural, and political spheres are undergoing a profound transformation—or, one could say, a profound revolution. It marks a return from ‘capitalist cliques’ to the People, a shift from ‘capital-centered’ to ‘people-centered.’ It is, therefore, a political transformation in which the People will once again be front and center, and all those who obstruct this people-centered transformation will be left behind. This profound transformation also marks a return to the original intent of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), a return to a people-centered approach, and a return to the essence of socialism” (translation by China Digital Times).

“This transformation will wash away all the dust, Li continue: capital markets will no longer be paradise for get-rich-quick capitalists, cultural markets will no longer be heaven for sissy-boy stars, and news and public opinion will no longer be in the position of worshipping western culture. It is a return to the revolutionary spirit.” If this revolution had not ben started by Xi Jinping, “we would have brought destruction upon ourselves, much like the Soviet Union back in the days when it allowed the nation to disintegrate, its wealth to be looted, and its population to sink into calamity.”

It was a typical “leftist” blog post, of which there are plenty. Rather than being mildly disciplined as it happened in similar cases, however, Li had his post republished by the CCP’s daily newspaper People’s Daily, the government’s Xinhua News Agency, the national television CCTV, China Youth DailyChina News Service, and the daily newspaper of the People’s Liberation Army. News items published by these media are then reprinted by hundreds of provincial and local newspapers. In short, the CCP made sure that Li’s post reached the whole Chinese population, which made somebody wonder whether it had not instigated it in the first place.

Who is Li Guangman? In his blog, he described himself as born in 1957 and a former teacher at the Huazhong Electric Workers College, a job he characterizes as “boring and depressing.” The pinnacle of his career was being made editor of the Huazhong Electric Power News. He then retired, and started being active as a blogger.

Li Guangman, or more precisely the fact that his blog post has been reprinted by all the most official CCP media, has scared both Chinese capitalists and foreign investors. Li’s article was interpreted to mean that a new Cultural Revolution is underway, this time targeting the rich and the famous.

Li’s text was criticized by economist Zhang Weiying, who argued that such a second “Cultural Revolution” would end up destroying Chinese economy just as the first one did. Although Zhang’s article was circulated by other economists, he is regarded as a dissident of sort, and his opinions do not carry a great weight within the CCP.

More significant is the criticism of Li’s text by Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of the Global Times, the international propaganda mouthpiece of the CCP. Hu accused Li of trying to set China’s clock back to the time before Deng Xiaoping’s “reform and opening up” that followed the Cultural Revolution, and called the text “misleading.”

Normally, Hu Xijin is a faithful interpreter of the feelings of Xi Jinping’s circle. Yet, if his opinion of Li’s article was shared by the power that be in the CCP, the article would have been eliminated from the Web sites of the official Party media. It wasn’t, and it continues to be republished.

It would not be the first time that the CCP sends contradictory messages to test the waters and gather domestic and international reactions. What is certain, as the China Media Project wrote, is that “it is likely that for months if not years to come, observers of Chinese history and current affairs will weigh the significance of an article” written by an obscure electrical college teacher.

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