Hu Jintao

Look to past for guidance on future

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 April, 2011, 12:00am


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Later this year, the mainland will launch elaborate ceremonies to mark two historic and politically sensitive anniversaries - the centenary of the 1911 Revolution which led to the collapse of the Qing dynasty and founding of a republic, and the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party.

The leadership will no doubt take advantage of the celebration of the 1911 Revolution anniversary to preach national unity with Taiwan. In particular, both sides of the Taiwan Strait will eulogise the pivotal role of Dr Sun Yat-sen, hailed as 'the pioneer of the revolution' on the mainland and 'the father of the nation' in Taiwan.

Meanwhile, the party's 90th anniversary will give mainland leaders the perfect opportunity to praise and boost the legitimacy of the party by highlighting the tremendous progress made - lifting several hundred million people out of poverty and turning the economy into the second largest in the world. Already, the mainland's state-owned television channels are full of dramas and documentaries portraying the role of Mao Zedong in founding the party and the People's Republic while ignoring his disastrous policies that led to the deaths of tens of millions during his reign.

The celebrations are not without risks, as both the conservatives and liberals are now using the two occasions to cite Sun and Mao to strengthen their arguments for where the country will go next.

Liberals invoke Sun's Three Principles of the People - nationalism, livelihood and democracy - to argue that while the mainland has made great strides in nationalism and livelihood, it still has a long way to go with democracy, calling for more political restructuring.

The conservatives are taking advantage of the widespread discontent against the widening income gap and rampant official corruption to revive and rally support for Maoism, including many of his ultra-left ideas.

Adding to this politically charged atmosphere is the intense political manoeuvring gathering momentum in the run-up to the Communist Party's 18th congress in autumn next year when the current leadership under President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao will give way to a new generation of leaders, including Vice-President Xi Jinping and Vice-Premier Li Keqiang.

Jockeying for power, some senior officials represented by Bo Xilai, the Chongqing party secretary and a son of the party elder Bo Yibo, have tried to claim the revolutionary credit, pushing red songs and revolutionary films eulogising Mao. This has worryingly lent strength to the revival and popularity of the ultra-left movement, which blames reforms for the multitude of problems facing the mainland today.

To a certain extent, the mainland faced similar ideological confusion at the beginning of the reform drive in the late 1970s. It was Deng Xiaoping who launched the campaign of 'free people's minds' to remove the Maoist ideological opposition and put the country on the path to growth.

Following the June 1989 crackdown on the student protests, Deng again took the dramatic step of declaring 'whoever refuses to carry out reform must step down' in his famed southern tour, thus paving the way for the nation's economic take-off.

Over the past 10 years, however, many analysts have argued rightly that the mainland's political and economic reforms have largely stalled, as the current generation of leaders under Hu and Wen started to promote social harmony and policies to put the people first. Although they still claim to uphold Deng Xiaoping's theory on every important occasion, the need to maintain social stability has become an overriding priority. Admittedly, as many officials have pointed out, the mainland's reforms have reached 'the deep-water zone', meaning that 'crossing the river by feeling the stones', as Deng prescribed, no longer works.

Indeed, over the past few years, leaders have repeatedly said the mainland's development was at a critical juncture, as its current growth model was unbalanced, unstable, unco-ordinated and unsustainable.

In fact, leaders can find effective solutions by revisiting and following Deng's theory and pursuing further economic and political reforms in another round of 'free people's minds'.

As mainlanders remember Sun and Mao on those important occasions, they should further appreciate the importance of Deng's reform theory in guiding China's future growth.