11/30/2023, 12.40
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From Mao to Xi: Fengqiao's Experience of Social Control and Repression

by John Ai

A practice used as a tool of class struggle during the Cultural Revolution. The president has decided to revive the old model of social governance promoted by Mao 60 years ago, mobilising the masses to 'solve problems at the local level'. In reality, it is a way to control discontent and the economic crisis. Fears of strengthening surveillance.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - Beijing has recently returned to promoting the so-called "Fengqiao Experience" at local government level, presenting it as the reference model for governance on a social level. A method in vogue at the time of Chairman Mao Zedong, which consisted of exploiting citizens in groups to monitor and reform those labeled as "class enemies". In early November, Chinese Supreme Leader Xi Jinping received representatives from across the country to promote the Fengqiao experience from the grassroots and promised to continue implementing a policy that dates back to the times of the Cultural Revolution.

The experience of Covid

It originated in a small town called Fengqiao, in the eastern province of Zhejiang. During the cultural revolution of the 1960s, the city's leaders mobilized the masses by involving them in the class struggle, with a view to "strengthening the dictatorship towards class enemies". Mao Zedong had focused attention on the ways to develop to allow people to participate in the class struggle, ending up praising the model which "does not transfer conflicts to a higher level but resolves them at the local level". Since then the Fengqiao Experience began to spread but, with the advent of the Reform and the Openings, it returned to oblivion and the philosophy was very rarely mentioned by the Chinese authorities.

About twenty years ago, when Xi was still only the leader of Zhejiang province, he had already begun to promote the Fengqiao Experience as a method for maintaining social stability. This year, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the creation of the experience, Xi himself returned to visit the city of Fengqiao in September and has since appeared determined to revive his ancient style of social governance.

No other senior Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader spoke openly about Fengqiao's experience after Mao's death. However, since Xi came to power it has come back into vogue and is often cited by the authorities and the official media. In particular, the president seems to appreciate the concept that problems are solved at the grassroots level, at the local government level. And even scholars have returned to praising "experience" as an effective mechanism for implementing blocks and lockdowns to control the Covid-19 pandemic in the last three years. At the same time, analysts believe that the Fengqiao Experience means giving greater law enforcement powers to local administrative bodies and allowing people to fight among themselves just like the "class struggle" during the Cultural Revolution.

The use of modern technologies

According to official media reports, the representatives who promoted the revised practice according to Xi's dictates earlier this month came from local government bodies including the police, petition bodies, justice, employment and food quality. The heads of the anti-corruption, public security, national security and political and legal affairs committees were also present. Analysts also fear that through broad use of expertise authorities may tighten surveillance over society and the concept of “solving problems locally” may serve to blunt criticism and make it more difficult for complaints to reach high levels. hierarchies.

Furthermore, China's Ministry of State Security is promoting it to preserve national security; in this regard, a hotline and an online reporting platform would be launched to encourage people to report suspicious behavior that damages national security. This is further proof of the fact that the Beijing authorities, at central and local level, are exploiting all digital and technological tools to strengthen surveillance on individuals. Camera networks with facial recognition technology can more easily track people's movements. The concrete prospect is that the authorities can apply the Fengqiao Experience with the help of the latest and most modern technologies available in the Xi Jinping era.

Widespread even abroad

According to the comments, the purpose of emphasizing this practice is actually to shift people's attention from the economic problem and give priority to social struggle instead of development in the context of a clear economic slowdown. The essence of the Fengqiao Experience is to release enforcement power to local government organizations and let the local level control administrative discretion and legal judgment, so that the management of disputes among the people does not fall on the shoulders of the government. Furthermore, a fight at the grassroots level will ensure the political security of the most important leaders. Law enforcement power can be abused by unqualified people, which also means a further expansion of state power. A model that finally seems to be catching on abroad too: last year Chinese police stations were discovered in many foreign countries. The "foreign" version appeared in the official media and demonstrated that there is a cross-border application of the law by the Chinese authorities. According to official media reports, the Fengqiao Experience is implemented by local Chinese community leaders in various countries and overseas police stations.

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