Mao: Perpetually Rolling in His Grave

In the midst of the stock market slump, several news organizations have taken the time to note that China now has more stock traders than CCP members. A story in Bloomberg opens with "Stock investors of the world unite! For the first time in modern China, you outnumber the Communists." 

The Washington Post picked up on the Bloomberg lede: "There are now officially more stock market investors in China than there are Communist Party members, Bloomberg reported this week. But if capitalists definitively rule China, they have had a very rough few days."

And then there's this video report from CNN:  "Here's something Chairman Mao probably wouldn't approve of: China now has some 90 million stock trading accounts. There are current around 88 card-carrying members of the Communist Party. That means there are officially now more capitalists than communists in China."

The BBC found the comparison too good to pass on: " even bigger club than the 88-million strong Chinese Communist Party is the 90-million strong army of individual investors on the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock markets."

Two things stand out to me here. The first is the common trope of comparing the size of Group X to the membership of the CCP and using this as a proxy for party legitimacy. There are many such reports about the size of the Christian population in China overtaking CCP membership (here, here, and here).

Two things strike me as interesting about this framing device. The first is that it's hard to see what comparing the size of the CCP to Group X accomplishes. The premise of the above reports is that "stock traders > CCP members =  end of history." Yet by definition, as an elite governing party, its membership will always be limited. If it wanted to, the CCP could  expand its ranks to 91 million, thus overtaking the stock traders, but would this mean that communism has retaken the high ground?

But more interesting to me is the way that Mao Zedong still looms large in the reporting of journalists and writers. Moves of repression or power centralization are often compared to the Mao era. Moments of liberalization or "Westernization" are similarly juxtaposed with the heady days of Maoism when Activity X wasn't permitted. The phrase "Mao would be turning in his grave" is one of the most jarring manifestations of this posture. In fact, it's almost a boilerplate for any piece on Chinese politics to reference Mao or the Mao era.

My book is making the case that Mao still matters for China, but perhaps I'll need to add a chapter on how Mao still looms large in the US as well.