Mao and Chinese Nepotism – The Economist

I find a particular section (reproduced below) from The Economist’s The search for civic virtues: The unkindness of strangers particularly interesting.

As a history student, I was taught that the massive traditional Tomb Sweeping ceremony that occurred at Tiananmen Square after Zhou Enlai’s death in April 1976 (sparking what is known as the Tiananmen Incident) was evidence that Mao’s debilitating Cultural Revolution had not modernised Chinese culture as Mao had allegedly hoped to do. “The Four Olds” persisted.

Instead of arguing that Mao had indeed fundamentally changed Chinese culture, The Economist suggests that he accentuated and reinforced an inherently Chinese characteristic: nepotism. In China, loyalty to one’s family is paramount in one’s social and working life. Instead of breaking up the family unit as Mao tried to, the trauma of the Cultural Revolution discouraged people from “sticking your neck out for other people”. The article argues that this shift is for the worse, in light of various tragedies amplified by Chinese social media demonstrating what is perceived as a loss of virtue in Chinese society:

Yet the Chinese still operate, more than the people of countries where trust is stronger, through networks of kin, hometown acquaintances and work colleagues. Outside such networks, people do not always see it as their responsibility to help strangers, however acute their need. China’s traumatic years under Mao Zedong only reinforced the instinct. The Communist Party destroyed people’s relations with many institutions, including, sometimes, their own families. Speaking or acting in public for the sake of others at a time of political persecution might have deadly consequences. This has added to what Charles Stafford, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics, calls an abiding “anxiety”…

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