Shanghai View: Happy Birthday CPC!

Posted: June 25, 2011 in Whose World Order?
Tags: , , ,

A short post for Whose World Order? on the pending birthday of the CPC. I am planning on doing another one on the upcoming film that is being released to coincide with it. Will undoubtedly be a big melodrama – Chinese friends are already warning me about it.

Shanghai View: Happy Birthday CPC!

Date: 24th June 2011  |  Author: Raffaello Pantucci,

Categories: China,
Tags: , ChinaShanghai

July 1st marks the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) 90th Birthday, and the country is gradually gearing up for the big event, with large red Communist party flags going up all over the place. I noticed a giant flag appear on the huge shopping mall near me: a somewhat incongruous location for the hammer and sickle logo of socialism to appear, but strangely in keeping with the slightly surreal nature of this anniversary.

The mall itself has a certain history. Ba Bai Ban (八佰伴) was one of the first giant malls to appear in Shanghai (and I believe China), established in December 1995 by a Japanese company. It has eight floors of retail space and is somewhat comparable to something like Selfridges in London – selling high end consumer goods with concessions inside dedicated to recognisable brands like Hugo Boss, Zegna, and so on. According to a factoid I picked up online, it remains a leader in terms of volume of sales, shifting the most goods nationally for a single day’s sales on December 31st, 2008.

So to see the giant symbol of socialism to appear on it is a bit strange, though apt within the general contradiction of viewing Shanghai as a city in a Communist state. The city is awash with conspicuous consumption, with Ba Bai Ban long having been overtaken as the most high-end mall in Shanghai. Liujiazui, the most recognizable part of Shanghai, is littered with giant malls, an Apple Store and- I noticed the other day – a new Ferrari and Maserati showroom, which is soon to open.

Yet at the same time, Shanghai-ren are still proud of their Communist heritage. The city boasts the location of the first Communist Party of China National Congress, and has one of the three main national Party schools in it. But even the site of the first CPC meeting has been swept up in China’s more capitalist recent history, located as it is in the middle of Xintiandi, one of the city’s most affluent tourist attractions. It is surrounded by branches of Starbucks, and some of the Shanghai’s priciest restaurants whose prices top (or match) London’s best.

This contradiction exists at an ideological level too. For a planned central government to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship is bizarre, but the very ongoing existence of Party Schools is also strange. Senior individuals, or individuals who are tipped for the top, have to pass through these institutions of higher learning before they ascend further. As far as I can tell, while they are there they are drilled in the latest party doctrine and reminded that Mao and Marx are still their ideological forefathers.

I was asking around the institute whether people are excited about the CPC birthday, and for the most part received blank stares. Everyone is aware of it, and everyone will attend the big party meeting that is going to take place, but few seemed that enthused – dismissing it as “politics.” This is likely because, as they tell me, they are not getting a national holiday to mark the anniversary. That decision is probably intended to emphasise that it is industry and not indolence that should be celebrated, though I imagine productivity will be quite low.

For the time being, however, everything is going red, and the hammer and sickle is emblazoned everywhere. The newspapers are full of stories praising the CPC and looking forward to next period of high growth and success. An unnamed party official recently claimed that party membership has risen to 80 million – more than the population of France – though it remains the case that most people join because they think it will advance their careers. Whether it really makes any difference or not, the fact that people think it does shows the ongoing power that the CPC continues to have after nine decades.

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