In China, The Communist Party's Latest, Unlikely Target: Young Marxists
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
In China, a growing number of young people are joining Marxist groups that are dedicated to helping the country's working class. You might think this would thrill the leaders of the People's Republic, a nation founded on the ideals of Marxism, yet they are not thrilled, as NPR's Rob Schmitz reports from Beijing.
ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: As a freshman at Renmin University, one of China's best schools, a student could have joined one of many clubs offered at the school. But it was the university's Young Marxists club that inspired this student the most.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: (Through interpreter) I'm from a working-class family. Very few students of my background could have made it to my school. I like that this group pays attention to the issues of workers and farmers, so I joined.
SCHMITZ: The student, who doesn't use his name for fear of retribution by authorities, joined his classmates to study the works of philosopher Karl Marx and to put his ideas into practice.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: (Through interpreter) We organized a tai chi group for campus workers, a square dancing group and night classes for them. We had a free clinic, too.
SCHMITZ: Helping the proletariat, serving the people - slogans as old as communism itself in China echoed by leaders all the way back to Mao and underscored by China's current leader, Xi Jinping, like in this speech celebrating the bicentennial of Marx's birth.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT XI JINPING: (Through interpreter) As Communists, we should incorporate Marxist classics and principles into our lifestyle and treat Marxism as a spiritual pursuit.
SCHMITZ: Xi Jinping has taken to reminding his countrymen that Marxism is behind the economic and political strides China's made. State-run media has also taken his cue...
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MARX WAS CORRECT")
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Foreign language spoken).
SCHMITZ: ...Like in this new talk show, "Marx Was Correct," where guests discuss current events through a Marxist lens, never failing to reach the conclusion that Marx was and indeed still is correct. But this August, it was hard to tell who was correct when Chinese police arrested 50 young Marxists for helping organize workers at a welding equipment factory in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen fighting for better working conditions.
SCHMITZ: Another student at Renmin University who also doesn't want her name used was among them.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #2: (Through interpreter) After the raid, police from my hometown, my parents, my grandparents, relatives and my old high school teachers came to take me home.
SCHMITZ: When they tried to force her to write a confession, she ran away. Weeks later, police found her again.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #2: (Through interpreter) They overpowered me, threw me into a car and kept me hostage. I went on a hunger strike. My parents finally drove me to a hospital where they injected nutrients into my body.
SCHMITZ: Now that she's back, Renmin University has placed her on a blacklist and assigned people to monitor her. University officials didn't respond to interview requests from NPR. The student says they have a lot to answer for.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #2: (Through interpreter) These bureaucrats only think of their political resumes as they destroy socialism. They want us to study Marxism, not to practice it or fight for its cause because that creates too many problems for them.
SCHMITZ: These students are not alone. Young people belonging to Marxist groups are being banned or blacklisted by local authorities throughout China.
ZHANG LIFAN: (Through interpreter) I think this shows China's Communist Party is not able to justify itself.
SCHMITZ: Historian Zhang Lifan says young people being arrested for practicing Marxism, the official ideology of China's Communist Party, poses the latest conundrum for China's leadership.
ZHANG: (Through interpreter) Since the current leader came to power, colleges have established Marxist study centers, and the party is brainwashing the youth with Marxist theory. But by doing so, you're giving them a tool to fight against the government.
SCHMITZ: A tool young people can use to defend themselves when authorities arrest them, says Zhang, like a child using an ancestor's tombstone to defend himself against an abusive parent.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: (Foreign language spoken).
SCHMITZ: The first student we met in this story says he learned this lesson over the summer when he chose to work at a toy factory to beef up his Marxist credentials. Instead it was a lesson on the realities of working at a Chinese factory.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: (Through interpreter) I had to sign a contract giving up my social benefits or else they wouldn't hire me. We worked 16 hours a day with hardly any breaks. When workers were injured, nobody helped them.
SCHMITZ: When he stood up for his co-workers, a manager punched him and refused to pay him. The factory owner called Renmin University to complain, so the university sent a teacher to retrieve him. Now he's on the school blacklist, too, and so is his entire Marxist group. Renmin University has cracked down on them. Ask him what China's leader, Xi Jinping, would say about the situation at Renmin University.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: (Through interpreter) I think he'd definitely side with us. We've studied his theories, too. And if you look closely, you'll find that what school officials are doing is against his ideas.
SCHMITZ: He says Xi Jinping has told his generation to implement Marxism, and that's exactly what they're doing. Rob Schmitz, NPR News, Beijing.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.