As China enters new era, how much of Mao will stay?

BEIJING Tue Nov 6, 2012 4:38pm EST

1 of 5. A statue of the late Chairman Mao Zedong is seen at Dong Fang Hong Square in Nanjie village of Luohe city in China's central Henan province in this September 25, 2012 file photo. In 1981, five years after his death, China's ruling Communist Party began to save history from Mao Zedong. Today, speculation about whether it is poised to finish the job has cast a spotlight on one of the most emotive debates simmering inside the party - how much of Mao can it erase without undermining its authority.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Lee/Files

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BEIJING (Reuters) - In 1981, five years after his death, China's ruling Communist Party began to save history from Mao Zedong.

Today, speculation about whether it is poised to finish the job has cast a spotlight on one of the most emotive debates simmering inside the party - how much of Mao can it erase without undermining its authority.

The debate is also a proxy for the more tangible battle inside the party over the direction and extent of future reforms.

Recent omissions of the term "Mao Zedong Thought" from some policy statements have piqued speculation that the party might remove it from the party charter when it amends the document at the 18th Party Congress, which starts on Thursday.

To critics, boilerplate references to "Mao Zedong Thought" have been devoid of meaning for years. Mao, after all, thought revolution and communism - not harmony and capitalism. It seems clear which path the party has chosen for China.

Supporters, however, note that "Mao Thought" long ago was expanded to encompass much more than just Mao's individual, and often radical, cogitations. It was, at its essence, a set of arguments that originally justified the pursuit of Marxist revolution in poor, agrarian China.

Supporters believe to this day that it underpins the party's legitimacy and grounds it in a set of guiding principles.

This year's downfall of Bo Xilai, the former leader of the western city of Chongqing who once had prospects for higher office, is a consequence of the battle within the party, experts say.

After his appointment in 2007, Bo turned Chongqing into a showcase of pro-Mao "red" culture and his policies for egalitarian, state-led growth. Bo's wife has been convicted of murder and he has been expelled from the party, accused of corruption and abuse of power - charges frequently used to discredit disgraced officials.

"It's not a question of whether they think about it or not," a source with ties to the leadership said of removing "Mao Zedong Thought" from the party constitution.

"It's a question of whether or not they have the guts."

The party's policymaking Central Committee approved an amendment to the party's constitution on Monday that would update the document "to reflect the party's latest theoretical achievements in localizing Marxism and practical experience", the Xinhua news agency reported. Details were not made public.

The new leaders expected to be anointed at the 18th Party Congress, however, have given few hints that they will espouse radical change. Incoming President Xi Jinping and the presumed Premier, Li Keqiang, are seen at best as cautious reformers.

However, sources have said Xi and outgoing President Hu Jintao successor are pushing the party to adopt a more democratic process for choosing the new leadership this month, which would be a major reform.

INCREMENTAL STEPS

The party has been inching away from Mao since 1981 when it issued a pivotal historical resolution admitting that the revolutionary leader, who had been treated like a god during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, had made some large mistakes.

"The horizons of the re-evaluation have continually been pushed back," said Rebecca Karl, a New York University history professor who has written a book on Mao.

By the 1990s, Mao's errors were understood to include not just the Cultural Revolution, but also the 1958-61 Great Leap Forward, which caused a famine that killed as many as 30 million people. The line was later pushed back to include collectivization in the early 1950s, Karl said.

At the same time, party congresses have been used to formalize incremental policy steps away from much of what Mao stood and fought for, analysts say.

The concept of "Socialism With Chinese Characteristics" was added to the party constitution in 1992 and "Deng Xiaoping Theory" made its way in five years later, formalizing China's turn toward the market.

In 2002, the charter was amended to allow entrepreneurs into the party and assert that the party represents the interests of all Chinese people, not just workers and peasants.

Meanwhile, "Mao Zedong Thought", which originated in the 1930s, continues rhetorically to be recognized as one of the party's guiding principles, an extension of Marxism-Leninism tweaked for China.

The term was introduced into the party charter first in the 1940s but was removed in the late 1950s after de-Stalinization started in the Soviet Union, dismantling the dictator's cult status. The term was re-installed in the late 1960s and has been a part of the constitution since.

"Mao Thought" has been bent and re-shaped time and again over the decades to serve the politics of the day. In practical terms "it has been completely gutted", said Karl.

REMOVING MAO

That does not make it meaningless, though.

"The erasure of 'Mao Zedong Thought' with the continued presence of the party erase the guarantee - however notional, however rhetorical, however far-fetched - of the arrival of socialism somewhere down the road," she said.

Han Deqiang, a Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics professor and founder of the neo-Maoist organization Utopia, says removal of Mao thought would also pull the rug out from under the party.

"If you take out 'Mao Zedong Thought', then the regime not only has no electoral legality, but would also have no historical legality. Where will its legitimacy come from?" he said.

Mao, the man, remains a potent symbol. His Mona Lisa smile hangs over Tiananmen Square and on banknotes.

Keeping Mao without retaining an element of "Mao Zedong Thought" in the ruling ideology would require some fancy rhetorical footwork and, potentially, some honest discussions party leaders may not be ready for, including about the Great Leap and the Cultural Revolution--politically sensitive topics that are rarely discussed publicly.

"If they are unable to truthfully face up to what happened at that time then they are definitely still going to be bound by Mao Zedong Thought, and will not be able to let it go," said Zhang Sizhi, a lawyer who defended Mao's wife Jiang Qing in her 1980 trial as a member of the "Gang of Four".

(Additional reporting by Benjamin Kang Lim, Ben Blanchard and Adam Jourdan; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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Comments (8)
DeanMJackson wrote:
The article reads, “Today, speculation about whether it is poised to finish the job has cast a spotlight on one of the most emotive debates simmering inside the party – how much of Mao can it erase without undermining its authority.”

The authority of the Chinese Communist Party will be present even in the near future AFTER the fraudulent collapse of the Chinese Communist government, which will be the next major disinformation operation within the “Long-Range Policy” (the last major disinformation operation was the fraudulent collapse of the USSR), the “new” strategy all Communist nations signed onto as the only credible strategy to defeat the West with.

Until the real liberation of China takes place, Mao will always be there in the shadows via the “new” strategy he and other Communist leaders/strategists helped develop back in the late 1950s:

“Since at least the early 1970s, the Communist party of China has been poised to create a spectacular but controlled “democratization” at any appropriate time. The party had by then spent two decades consolidating its power, building a network of informants and agents that permeate every aspect of Chinese life, both in the cities and in the countryside. Government control is now so complete that it will not be seriously disturbed by free speech and democratic elections; power can now be exerted through the all-pervasive but largely invisible infrastructure of control. A transition to an apparently new system, using dialectical tactics, is now starting to occur.” — Playing the China Card (The New American, Jan. 1, 1991).

Nov 06, 2012 4:40pm EST  --  Report as abuse
dae wrote:
I don’t quite follow. Remaking China into one of the world’s superpowers, with robust economic growth by anyone’s standards, the modernization of society, and unprecedented personal freedoms should be enough to legitimize any government. The problems China faces, environmental degradation, corruption, nepotism, income inequality are endemic throughout the world. They are not restricted to China. By those criteria no government on Earth is legitimate. China is doing much better than nearly all other countries in break-neck economic development lifting 100s of millions out of poverty and establishing a gigantic middle class as large as the total population of the US. It has gone from an agrarian to an urban society in one generation. Now it is beginning to address environmental, social and economic justice concerns. I say kudos to the Chinese for what they’ve accomplished and are poised to accomplish in the future.

Nov 06, 2012 5:31pm EST  --  Report as abuse
trasisi wrote:
LOLOLOLOL!!! @dae, go back to censoring your people man. it doesn’t work in the rest of the world and it is BLATANTLY obvious you write entries like that your single-party govt leaders. yes, there is corruption outside of china. no, china isn’t a bastion of freedom. sorry. that’s called reality. i know plain english with facts that weren’t made up by the powerful can be difficult to understand, but can you follow the logic that a govt that is bought and sold at all levels is not going to be considered legitimate or are you going to censor me because i don’t follow the will of the party of Mao? you know, the guy who ensured the death of 40-70 MILLION people which is equivalent to the number of jews HITLER killed. be proud of that leader bro, and censor the living daylights out of your free brothers back home.

Nov 06, 2012 7:11pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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