The Legacy of Mao

Yiu Chung WONG, Willy Wo-Lap LAM

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Despite accusations that the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) and other horrendous policies of Mao Zedong led to the deaths of some 40 million Chinese, the image of the charismatic Great Helmsman looms large not only in the country’s history but also its future. As Cui Jian, China’s talented rock singer, pointed out a few years ago, as long as the giant portrait of the Chairman is still hanging over the rostrum of Tiananmen Square, the Cultural Revolution – and the Maoist phase of Chinese history – has not really ended (Cui 2014). The year 2016 being the 50th anniversary of the start of the GPCR (1966– 76), there is much speculation among intellectuals and liberal cadres whether the Ten Years of Chaos might make a comeback. Retired cadre Yu Youjun spoke for many when he noted during a lecture at Sun Yat-­ Sen University in Guangdong Province that “the soil for the Cultural Revolution is still fertile.” Yu, a former governor of Shanxi Province and party secretary of the Ministry of Culture, indicated that “especially when the people have no reasonable and profound knowledge of Mao’s mistakes, the GPCR may partially recur, under certain historical conditions” ( Global Times 2015). Yet Mao is of much more importance than historical interest. Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping, who is deemed a “closet Maoist,” is restituting many of Mao’s norms and ambitions with gusto. It was perhaps not coincidental that two of the most influential Western publications ran in the spring of 2016 similar cover stories comparing Xi to Mao. “Chairman Xi: China’s President makes like Mao,” said Time magazine. “Beware the cult of Xi,” intoned The Economist . (Both issues were banned in China.) A popular YouTube paean to Xi, entitled “The East is red again; the sun is once more on the rise,” asserted that “Xi Jinping is the successor of Mao Zedong,” and that he is “the people’s Lucky Star” and “the Nation’s Guide” ( 2016). This chapter looks at Mao’s successful adaptation of Marxism and Leninism to Chinese soil. This is despite the fact that by most definitions of Marxism, China of the 1920s and 1930s was not “ripe” for a revolution with workers as the vanguard. The Chairman’s genius lay in his applying Lenin’s idea of the revolutionary party as well as “dictatorship of the proletariat” to establish the CCP and to enable the party to assume near-­ absolutist powers over all sectors of society. Deng Xiaoping’s deMaoification campaign, including economic and political liberalization policies, will be examined. However, the Chief Architect of Reform's repressive measures, which culminated in the Tiananmen Square massacre, showed that the so-called Maoist credo of zero tolerance for dissent was alive and well. How former general secretaries Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao handled the remnants of Maosim will be discussed in detail. This chapter ends by examining President Xi's , restitution of important Maoist norms such as ideological campaigns and suppression of freedom of expression - and how this will impact the development of the party-state apparatus in the coming decade or so.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge handbook of the Chinese Communism Party
EditorsWilly Wo-Lap LAM
ISBN (Electronic)9781134847440
ISBN (Print)9781138684430
Publication statusPublished - 18 Aug 2017


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