China’s modern history was marred by a dark and painful era of extremism like the “Sahwa” (Awakening) Movement to which we bore witness. In China, too, it was given a deceitful name: the "Cultural Revolution". The difference lies in that China ridded itself of this ideology before we did.
The Cultural Revolution was a case of ideological extremism that disrupted the country for more than a decade and threatened its stability and development. Then, on one sunny day, the Chinese people woke up to good news: the authorities had decided to get rid of extremism and extremists. Shedding the garb of communist militancy, China began its metamorphosis into a modern, practical state that is fueled by economy and driven by the objectives of developing the country and serving its people, no longer subject to the whims of a select few who were still living in the past and hating the present.
It is an experience worth considering. It notably carries many parallels with our own experience: like us, China went from suffocation and slow death to openness and recovery, and finally to competing on the world leader stage. It went from being a state ridden with failure and famine to a country that embraces innovation without limits, achieves unprecedented development, and floods international markets with its products. China would not have been the great state we know today had it not abolished the "Chinese Communist Awakening". China did not get rid of its Communist doctrine, but rather put it in its right place instead of everywhere.
The beginnings of the Chinese story are largely like our story in Saudi Arabia and some Arab countries. China arrested Communist inspectors; cleansed the curricula of extremist notions; allowed everyone the same opportunities without ideological sorting; transformed Communist Party schools into technical and technological institutes; proclaimed scientific research as the reference instead of ideological memorization and allowed people to sing and dance to whatever music they liked.
Later, millions of Chinese engaged in a process of great revival whose fruits we see today. The extremists vanished, as did their rhetoric, which was marked by a monopoly of the truth and hate speech. They described those who opposed them as a reactionary imperialist alliance and considered them to be out of the communist sect, just as here they described them as Westernized, modernist, and secular. The authorities refrained from interfering in people's social lives and imposing its choice on what they wore, after conditioning society for years to a specific lifestyle to distinguish it from the rest of the world, only selling half-sleeved uniform shirts.
The Communist Sahwa advocates encouraged students to attack their teachers, burn libraries, destroy museum collections, and pursue local officials in towns and villages. They marched in processions in the streets and chanted loudly on their megaphones about the favors of communism and disgraces of imperialism. They dragged officials who did not comply across the street and made them march in public humiliation parades. They "smashed everything that could be considered of a bourgeois or feudalist nature" and considered "everyone who studied in the West or lived part of their life there as a target of the struggle."
History was also not spared of their hegemony, as they renamed streets and squares to reflect the spirit of the Cultural Revolution. After their elimination, Chinese cities restored their maps to reflect the pre-Cultural Revolution era.
Deafened by a radical ideological rhetoric, China walked for more than a decade on a path of darkness with no final destination but chaos. This dark era of China’s history is recounted in the novel Wild Swans, which talks about three women and three generations. The last part of the novel relates that period in shocking detail.
It is not difficult for us to understand what the Chinese have gone through and suffered at the hands of communist extremists. Many Muslim countries have experienced a state of religious extremism that led to terrorism, clash, and chaos, and those societies that survived the violence were not spared the exclusionary ideological extremism.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.