Ever since Deng Xiaoping effectively de-radicalized China in the 1980s, there have been many debates about which path China would follow. Would it democratize? Would it embrace capitalism? Would its economy become a powerhouse despite continued CCP rule? One debate that did not occur in any serious way, however, was whether Maoism would undergo a resurgence.
Against all expectation, however, events of the decade suggest that Mao Zedong has made a political comeback. As Jude Blanchette details in China's New Red Guards, two worrying trends in contemporary China point to this revival. First, an increasingly popular and hard-edged form of nationalism that is reflexively anti-Western has taken root. The second is an unapologetic embrace of extreme authoritarianism that draws direct inspiration from the Maoist era. China's assertive stance in the South China Sea and anti-Japanese rhetoric represents the former, and the massive crackdown on liberal thought since Xi Jinping assumed the presidency represents the latter. The result is plain to see: a more authoritarian and more militaristic China.
Centered around a cast of nationalist intellectuals and activists who have helped unleash a wave of populist enthusiasm and nostalgia for the Great Helmsman's policies, China's New Red Guards not only will reshape our understanding of the political forces driving contemporary China, it will also demonstrates how ideologies can survive and prosper despite pervasive rumors of their demise.
Jude Blanchette is Senior Advisor and China Practice Lead at Crumpton Group. Previously, he was assistant director of the 21st Century China Center at the University of California, San Diego.