You may have already read about this in The Economist, but James and I spent a surreal Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks ago in a Maoist seminar. Yes, Maoist. If people in western democracies are a little querulous now about the superiority of the capitalist system, China's Maoists are emerging, dancing, from the woodwork. The seminar took place in the offices of the Mao Flag website. There is a vast poster of Chairman Mao spread across the front of the room (if you look at the picture below, you can just see him) and a gold bust of Mao on the windowledge. And the bookshelves are stacked with the works of…. well it's not Ben Bernanke. The office is an anonymous hotel room in a fairly grotty hotel in central Beijing, and two hundred people or so packed into it that afternoon. (A handful of police were smoking cigarettes in the lobby downstairs, but it's not clear whether or not they were there to keep an eye on things – another far left meeting on the same day had been cancelled by the authorities.) When James and I arrived, there was a murmur of 'laile', which in this case probably translated as 'the foreigners are here'. But they were the most polite bunch of anti-imperialists I have ever met, insisting that I sat down, and making space for James to perch on a desk. When a very elderly gentleman eventually left, he insisted that James take his chair.
The speaker, a charismatic Mao-lookalike with the glint of obsession in his eyes, raged against western imperialism and capitalism. The audience, which ranged in age from student to the elderly, did not look entirely convinced. But they were interested. The speaker predicted a cataclysmic struggle between pro-democracy rightists and leftists like himself. That's a long way off, but that the meeting happened at all, and that the room was full to sweaty, dizzy bursting point, and that similar meetings have been forbidden, all says to me that the economic crisis means that debate and disagreement are rife.