President Donald Trump meets with business leaders on Monday in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. Photo: AP
As the US is reeling from the schism deepened by Donald Trump's rise to power, the Chinese public on both ends of the leftist-rightist political spectrum have found their own ways to read into the new US president.
As the Chinese try to understand the unprecedented US president, the populist tone in his inauguration speech that claims to "give the power back to the American people" has resonated with the revolutionary catchphrases of late Chairman Mao Zedong among the conservatives.
On the other hand, Trump's pragmatism seen in the statement that he does not seek to impose Western ideology on other countries and his prioritizing development of the domestic economy, has led some people to liken him to reformist Chinese statesman Deng Xiaoping, who transformed China by putting aside ideological struggles and pushing forward with reform and opening up.
"Every man sees this world according to his own experience. And Chinese people's political experience is largely based on his or her interpretation of Mao and Deng's legacies," said Jin Canrong, associate dean of the Department of International Studies at the Renmin University of China.
"Trump's dissatisfaction toward bureaucrats and interest groups and his direct call [on Twitter] for the public to rebel against the establishment does remind Chinese people of Mao. But his focus on economic development, his lack of interest in ideology, and his drawing back from global input bear some similarities to Deng," Jin said.
Ever since Trump's inauguration, the Chinese public has been picking up familiar tones that remind them of Mao Zedong Thought. However, Mao's divisive legacy in today's China has landed Trump with both praise and criticism.
"The best parts of Trump's speech are imbued with Chairman Mao's thoughts … The historic significance of Trump's speech is no less than the Declaration of Independence," said an article on WeChat public account Canghaishibei, with an apparent leftist inclination. The article said Trump's address has "class struggle" at its soul, although the words were not explicitly stated. The speech is thrilling for many in China, it claims.
Mao critics in China have criticized the speech, with some saying they were deeply disappointed as Trump's populist rhetoric reminded them of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).
Over the weekend, memes began to circulate on Sina Weibo. Trump was photoshopped into Cultural Revolution-themed posters, dressed in a Mao-style suit and standing against a background full of red flag-waving proletarian workers, peasants and soldiers. The cover of the little red book in the posters was changed to read The Art of the Deal, authored by entrepreneur Trump.
Chinese audiences were also surprised to find Chairman Mao's shadow on both camps in the US. A picture went viral on Weibo showing American protesters holding signs that read "Women hold up half the sky," a famous Mao quote, in the Women's Marches across the US.
During an anti-Trump protest in Chicago last year, demonstrators were captured in a photo carrying a red flag with prints that read "Dare to struggle, dare to win," another Mao slogan.
"Maybe Mao thoughts are part of our soft power and, like it or not, his quotations have been successfully exported," an online user commented.
'Student of Deng'
Meanwhile, other online posts have also been searching for Trump's inner connections with Deng. "If we look at Trump without pre-established impressions, we can see that a theme of Trump's beliefs is to focus on the US' own affairs … From this perspective, Trump is truly a student of Deng Xiaoping," reads a paper released by the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies under the Renmin University of China in November.
It called on people to transcend discussions of populism or other questions set by the West and analyze Trump from a new perspective.
"Both Trump and Deng are at a historic crossroads where they want to bring about major changes in domestic and foreign affairs for their countries," reads the article.
No matter what rhetoric Trump makes, his true colors must be for the US interest, some Chinese netizens say, cautioning that China should be vigilant about his policies.
For China, "the US was a hypocrite in the past, but now it is a true rogue," commented an online user on news portal guancha.cn.