Mao debate is far from dead and buried

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 October, 2011, 12:00am


Thirty-five years after his death, Mao Zedong remains at the centre of a raging political debate between liberals and conservatives on the mainland.

A group of leftists has in the past week launched fresh attacks against the Communist Party's mouthpiece for running a controversial editorial on National Day in which Mao's name was conspicuously absent.

Leftists, nostalgic for the Maoist era and critical of reform and opening up, said the People's Daily editorial was another attempt by party liberals to promote their agenda of belittling Mao's historical role and denouncing the tumultuous Cultural Revolution. The editorial did make mention of Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, either directly by name or by reference to their political legacies.

Leftists found it even more irritating that it praised Dr Sun Yat-sen for his leadership of the 1911 revolution, which marked the end of imperial reign in China and led to the foundation of the Republic of China, which relocated to Taiwan after the Kuomintang lost the civil war in 1949.

'Are we celebrating the founding anniversary of the People's Republic of China or that of the Republic of China?' asked Fan Jinggang, who runs Utopia, one of the mainland's leading neo-Maoist websites. 'Shouldn't we at least mention Mao, the founding father of the PRC, apart from lavishing praise on Sun, the father of the ROC?'

Like other leftists, Fan said the National Day editorial, which often requires the approval of the top leadership, was important for its possible political undertones. 'It can't be just a coincidence. But it remains unclear who is behind this dirty trick, or if they have political motives,' he said.

Zhang Jun, another leftist, said the editorial was the latest in a three-decade drive from within and outside the party to play down Mao's contribution to it and the country.

He also lashed out at a seminar in August marking the 30th anniversary of a landmark party document that blames Mao for the political havoc of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.

The seminar raised eyebrows after a group of mainland scholars and government advisers - including Hu Deping , son of the late reformist leader Hu Yaobang - launched an unusual broadside at the revival of Maoist leftism and called openly for political reforms.

Liberal intellectuals said the leftists were making a fuss over nothing but expressed concern about a conservative, leftist backlash in recent years. They said Mao had rarely been mentioned in People's Daily National Day editorials since 2002, when Hu became the party's general secretary.

Political analysts warned that resurgent leftists could further delay long overdue political reforms and cast doubt on the leadership transition scheduled at next year's party congress. 'The history of the PRC has proven that Maoism will bring only calamities to the country and its people,' said Zhang Ming , a liberal scholar at Renmin University.