The de-Maoization of China

2002-11-09Asia Times

BEIJING - It is the congress of de-Maoization.

Mao Zedong is the father of modern China. He saved the Communist Party of China (CPC) from extermination in the 1930s, and led it to victory a decade later. Yet he was repeatedly and bitterly defeated in the three following decades while ruling the country and trying to develop China (the Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s) or establish communism on the ground (the Great Cultural Revolution in the 1960s). A warrior, not a ruler, a philosopher, not a statesman, his long, heavy shadow was obscured, however discreetly, in the news conference before the opening on Friday of the 16th Party Congress.

The new director of the Information Bureau under the State Council, Ji Bingxuan, quoted Deng Xiaoping's thoughts and Jiang Zemin's theory of the Three Represents as the main political references of the party ideology. He was forgetting what until the 1997 congress five years ago, when Deng's thoughts were enshrined in the Party constitution, had been the CPC's only real compass - Mao's thoughts. This was certainly no slip of tongue in a country that for centuries kept a Ministry of Ceremony, although the lack of reference could have been easily defended by arguing that Deng's and Jiang's ideas were a development of Mao's.

Certainly, papers and websites about the current congress and preparations for the change in the Party constitution that will put the Three Represents alongside Deng's and Mao's theories show all three leaders - Jiang, Deng and Mao. But there is no doubt that the goal of altering the constitution twice in two congresses in a row, the 15th and the 16th, adding Deng's and Jiang's theories on top of Mao's, is to erase Maoist ideological influence. The party, very much like a church, needs to change its ideology/theology in order to proceed later with relevant political reforms.

However, these changes can't be an utter betrayal and denial of the past. The present leadership has gained its present posts thanks to Mao's feats. Their very actions for ideological reforms are now possible thanks to an interrupted chain of events going back to the heroic Long March. In other words: their very erasure of Mao is justified by the fact that Mao brought the Party, and thus them, to power. However, their dependence on Mao's legacy is today much weaker than their predecessors'. Mao brought the country to the verge of collapse, and when he died its economic size had decreased comparatively. The international political status of China in 1976 was minimal, as Mao himself implicitly recognized by seeking first the support of the Soviet Union and then that of the United States. In the past 20 years these leaders - Deng and Jiang - have succeeded where Mao failed: developing the country.

This contrasting legacy thus imposes a de-Maoization and yet not a clean cut from the old man, whose portrait still hangs on the gates of Tiananmen, while his mausoleum still occupies the center of the square. Furthermore, a bunch of Long March veterans well in their 80s, often spurned by their younger ideological siblings, remind the present leadership of their personal debt to them.

However, Jiang in his speech to the congress underscored that "the persistent implementation of the Three Represents is the foundation for building the Party, the cornerstone for its governance and the source of its strength". A whole chapter of his speech was dedicated to his theory, while ignoring Mao and paying tribute to Deng. This was because, as Jiang remarked: "Keeping pace with the times means that all the theory and work of the Party must conform to the times, follow the law of development and display great creativity. Whether we can persist in doing this bears on the future and destiny of the Party and state."

In fact the challenge ahead for the party is to retain power, and to do that it is necessary to keep the economy growing, something that demands the active support of the efficient non-state sector. Here Jiang said that it was necessary that "the public sector and non-public sectors of the economy should not be set against each other and that they can very well develop side by side ... All sectors of the economy can very well display their respective advantages in market competition and stimulate one another for common development." They were coded words meaning that the state sector should no longer compete and take resources away from the weaker private sector.

The last chapter was dedicated to Taiwan, which was encouraged once more to accept the principle of "one China". Jiang did not launch any threats and further argued what appears as an important overture to the principle of unification. Taiwan and the People's Republic are both part of one China, he said, shunning the usual wording according to which Taiwan should simply come back under the mainland's aegis. In other words, while according to the previous formula Beijing was superior to Taipei, the new formula implies an equal footing for the two.

It is difficult to see that the new idea will work in Taipei any time soon, but certainly this could be another olive branch to the United States, which is very attentive about any show of force or provocation by either side of the Taiwan Strait. If Beijing is mellowing its position, showering the island with sweet words and shelving the old saber-rattling, Taipei has no reason to step up its diplomatic initiatives and thus force a drift away from the mainland.

These are political tasks that could well keep the Communist Party in power. And on all these fronts, Maoism is just a hurdle. (2002-11-09 Asia Times)


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