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Mao Zedong & Little Red Internet

SHENZHEN, China — Most of us are reluctant to talk politics in business meetings. Obviously for foreigners visiting China, that goes double. In particular, we’re careful not to bring up anything related to China’s political past…such as the Cultural Revolution.

And yet, I’ve seen the taboo broken — at an industry forum last week in Dongguan. During the tail end of a presentation, I saw a slide, projected on large screens in a conference room, that read “Internet Philosophy vs. Mao Zedong Philosophy”.

And I thought, “Holy Kuomintang, Batman!”

It was but a moment. The presenter never dwelled on the delicate subject and he moved on quickly.

Nevertheless, that single slide drew from the Chinese audience in the room (I think I was the only foreigner there) a moment of nervous laughter, a few murmurs and a lot of curious expressions.

By pairing Internet companies — symbolizing China’s bright future – with Mao, who represents China’s dark past, the slide’s author (whoever he was) boldly connected the dots between China’s current infatuation with “Internet philosophy” and China’s past immersion in Mao Zedong’s little red book and its cult of personality.

Knowing that China’s Internet giants — Tencent, Alibaba, Baidu, Xiaomi — have attracted so much adulation from the Chinese people and media, this struck me as an unusually creative narrative.

The point-by-point comparisons of Internet giants and Mao Zedong were spot on.

For someone like me who isn’t versed in Mao’s philosophy, some points still made more sense than others, however.

It turns out the author of the Mao/Internet listicle was a blogger named Wuhui Wei. His piece has been making the rounds in Chinese social media for some time.

Following is a rough translation of listicles on Internet philosophy vs. Mao’s Philosophy:

  1. Focus on “middle to lower class” (Internet) vs. focus on “farmers” (Mao)
  2. Creation of “fans” (Internet) vs. creation of “party members” (Mao)
  3. Battle over “moral values and functions” (Internet) vs. “internal fight over direction” (Mao)
  4. “Must-have” mentality (Internet) vs. “fight with lords to appropriate farmland” (Mao)
  5. “Down-to-earth” language that values authenticity (Internet) vs. “the vernacular of the masses” (Mao)
  6. “Quick comebacks and counter attacks” (Internet) vs. “surround the city from the countryside” (Mao)
  7. “The user is always the center” (Internet) vs. “serve the people (Mao)
  8. Fanatical focus on “faster iterations” of new products/technologies (Internet) vs. “Win or lose, take decisive action first, win the battle long term” (Mao)
  9. Belief in “perfection” (Internet) vs. faith in pure “communism” (Mao)
  10. Promotion of “Big data” (Internet) vs. the “planned economy” (Mao)
  11. “Close the loop” (Internet) vs. “united front” (Mao)
  12. “Trial and error” (Internet) vs. the national experiment of “Cultural Revolution” (Mao)

Common threads
The slide, perhaps created with a sly tone of self-mockery, suggests the two philosophies don’t exactly stand at polar opposites. They actually share similar values and are, at several points, almost identical.

To read the rest of this article, visit EBN sister site EE Times.

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