As the Umbrella Revolution unfolded and thousands of Hong Kong students and activists occupied various streets of the city demanding genuine universal suffrage, the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing and their allies in Hong Kong looked in dismay and astonishment, unable to understand what was happening. They condemned the democracy movement, which they considered an illegal act of subversion aided by foreign forces. Yet they didn’t seem to take the true motives behind this popular protest seriously.
If they had analysed these motives, they would have soon discovered that there are plenty of reasons why the people of Hong Kong might be dissatisfied with the status quo created by the ‘one country, two systems‘ model. One of them and, in my opinion, the most important one, lies in the ideologisation of society which the Communist state considers an integral part of its ‘socialist’ system, and which it is trying to extend to Hong Kong in subtle ways.
Just like every Communist regime, the CCP government, too, aims not only at monopolising the armed forces and the government, but also at entering into the most private sphere of every individual: the mind, the heart, and the conscience. Although the liberalisation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), brought about by the era of reform and opening up launched by Deng Xiaoping, has reduced the interference of the state in the private lives of the common citizen, the Party has by no means renounced its claim to have the monopoly of the ‘truth’. To a certain extent, indoctrination is now even more successful than it used to be under Mao Zedong, because it is backed up by an unprecedented improvement in the country’s material progress and international prestige.
The fact that the Beijing government intends to stick to ideology as a tool for political and social mobilisation is increasingly clear. For example, President Xi Jinping has recently urged the universities to “shoulder the burden of learning and researching the dissemination of Marxism”, in a move to tighten ideological control on the institution that is most likely to encourage free and critical thinking. Another example is a campaign launched in the city of Wuhan; citizens have been urged to “internalize core socialist values through mandatory recitation sessions around the city, as a part of the efforts to bid for the title of ‘national civilized city’.” The desire of the Communist leadership to insulate the country ideologically from the rest of the world led it to block foreign websites and e-mail providers, including Gmail.
But the most popular ideological element of Communist state-building is – counterintuitively – nationalism. While Communist doctrines themselves appeal to only one part of the population and have been, in fact, disproved by the opening up and reform policies, nationalism represents a more cohesive ideology that allows the CCP to gain a broader consensus among different social and intellectual groups.
However, the strategy of instilling nationalist ideology into a population that for decades was free to choose its own identity will be met and has been met with resistance, to which the leadership in Beijing is reacting by striking an ever more aggressive tone.