• Tue
  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 11:15am
Column
PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 December, 2013, 4:48am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 December, 2013, 4:48am

The Chinese people will not allow a return to the old Maoist days

The leadership is warming to leftist rhetoric as a way to shore up the party's legitimacy amid unprecedented pressure from social discontent

BIO

Wang Xiangwei took up the role of Editor-in-Chief in February 2012, responsible for the editorial direction and newsroom operations. He started his 20-year career at the China Daily, before moving to the UK, where he gained valuable experience at a number of news organisations, including the BBC Chinese Service. In 1993, he moved to Hong Kong and worked at the Eastern Express before joining the South China Morning Post in 1996 as our China Business Reporter. He was subsequently promoted to China Editor in 2000 and Deputy Editor in 2007, a position he held for four years prior to being promoted to his current position. Mr. Wang has a Masters degree in Journalism, and a Bachelors degree in English.
 

On Boxing Day, President Xi Jinping is expected to lead the mainland's top officials, both incumbent and retired, to sing the praises of Mao Zedong on his 120th birthday at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Xi is to give a keynote speech lauding the country's most famous son and expounding the implications of his legacy, which will be carefully studied at home and abroad for his own true political colours.

He will have to tread a careful line in delivering his narrative at a time when he has shown a propensity for Maoist rhetoric in moves aimed at consolidating his power and tackling corruption. At the same time, he has also tried hard to push ahead with reforms aimed at giving market forces "a decisive role" in the economy. This has given an increasingly distinct impression that he is going "left" in ideology but "right" in economic development. Such a mixed message has seen both the liberals and Maoist conservatives scrambling for every opportunity to push their own agendas and influence over where the mainland is heading.

In a sense, the ideal solution should have been for Xi to play down the wrangling between the Maoists and liberals and continue the "white cat, black cat" pragmatic approach favoured by the late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping .

But why has the mainland leadership warmed to the Maoist rhetoric?

The answer may lie in the need to shore up the legitimacy of the Communist Party by stirring up nationalism at a time when it is under unprecedented pressure because of rampant corruption and widespread social discontent over a widening income gap and injustice as well as increasing international concern over China's rise.

Despite the atrocities and calamities Mao's policies brought to the nation, Mao still occupies a unique place in the history of China as he ended the civil war, united the country, founded the People's Republic and enabled the Communist Party to become one of the longest ruling parties in the world. From a nationalist perspective, Mao ensured that the Chinese people had finally and truly stood up following decades of "shame and humiliation" brought about by Western imperialism.

For the new generation of leaders, repudiating Mao as many liberals have argued would be equal to repudiating the legitimacy and the origin of the party.

On the other hand, despite the Maoist rhetoric and Mao's influence over the party and across the country, it is impossible for another Mao Zedong to rule China, as Li Rui , one of Mao's former secretaries, rightly pointed out in an interview with the South China Morning Post.

Moreover, while the leaders may find it expedient to cite Mao and adopt his tactics to consolidate power and shore up the party's grip, the history of the party over the past 30-odd years has shown that the forces that prevent it from turning "left" would always in the end prevail over the Maoists. But such constant wrangling means that the mainland's progress has been, and will be, uneven.

Much has been reported and written in the overseas media about the worrying trend of mainlanders worshipping Mao almost as a god and longing for the corruption-free egalitarian days under his reign.

This is partly because of discontent over widespread social ills and partly because of the party's efforts to suppress the dark history of Mao's reign of terror in the 1950s and 1960s.

But thanks to greater openness, the explosive growth of the internet and the mainland's integration with the outside world, more and more mainlanders have grasped a better and deeper understanding of the history of the party and the country.

As mainlanders become richer and hundreds of millions join the middle class, they have become a formidable force to push for progress in the country, demanding more transparency, accountability and rule of law to protect their property and rights.

Even for mainlanders who claim they long for Mao's era, most merely want a greater effort to root out corruption, narrow income inequality and tackle injustice to achieve a more equitable society.

As they watch aghast at what is unfolding in North Korea where Kim Jong-un had his uncle executed and unleashed a wave of terror against ordinary people in the name of the party and loyalty to the leader, the last thing mainlanders want is to go back to the dark old days.

xiangwei.wang@scmp.com

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scmpbeijing1
An interesting take on Mao's contributions. He ended the civil war--isn't he the one who started it? Isn't he the one who let his armies hide as the KMT battled the Japanese essentially alone? And he enabled to Communist Party to be the world's longest ruling Party? Who does this benefit, other than corrupt Party leaders? Some 30 million died as a result of the Great Famine, and how many others died from other political campaigns launched by Mao? And what Western powers were around when Mao came to power? They'd already been defeated long before that. Mao did nothing to end humiliation. And he did far more to humiliate the Chinese people than did any Western colonialists.
lamlm38
A maniac who had more blood on his hand than Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin combined!!! how on earth would the Chinese ppl celebrate his name is just mind boggling!
kctony
How can any one admire a leader who let his people starved? 30 million perished. The stupidity just boggles my mind.
While the Soviet Union and the USA were competing in technology, Mao was pushing the Chinese people towards illiteracy. What had my school teacher uncle ever done wrong to deserve "re-education" in some remote village 600 miles away and the government had no decency to inform he had lost his 4 year old son at home? The only mistake he ever made was choosing to go to university in China after the war.
To me true hypocrites are the ones proclaiming themselves Chinese patriots but at the same time living under the supreme comfort of western lifestyles the two-systems provided them.
'
chaz_hen
"Much has been reported and written in the overseas media about the worrying trend of mainlanders worshipping Mao almost as a god and longing for the corruption-free egalitarian days under his reign."
Yeah...under his reign, corruption, abuse of power and shagging little girls was only something HE could enjoy.
captam
@"Despite the atrocities and calamities Mao's policies brought to the nation, Mao still occupies a unique place in the history of China as he ended the civil war, united the country, founded the People's Republic and enabled the Communist Party to become one of the longest ruling parties in the world."
If only the Hong Kong "democrats" and the West would read history and learn about this, putting Mao into fair perspective. But they won't because they have been brained washed by their decadent governments, politicians and biased writings in newspapers and school text books.
They are unable to appreciate that "communism" is but a name with many facets. Yes Marxism was doomed to failure (He failed to think it through). On the other hand, balanced and well-managed single-party socialism which embraces capitalism, minus its excesses (the latter so evident in the West), can be more successful than decadent multi-party democracy.
We have recently seen a rash of letters and articles attacking those of us who query democracy but I challenge these writers to first read modern Chinese history first before jumping up and down and spitting at those of us who think otherwise about universal suffrage being God's gift to mankind.
lexishk
"Corruption with Chinese characteristics" then? Get real.
lexishk
So we can f*** it up like he did? Maybe we could try thinking for ourselves instead.
lexishk
Your last sentence is very resonant and I think quite true.
whymak
lexishk:
Your reading comprehension leaves much to be desired. Apparently, you ignored words like religious, sectarian and imperialist in my core statement, not to mention that you quoted a piece of Wiki trash to support your argument. This is not to be confused with a blanket condemnation of Wikipedia, which I often use as a stepping stone for detailed information.
Accuracy of information aside, the nature and relevant scale in death tolls must be cast into a proper perspective.
Past Chinese dynastic violence frequently began with widespread famines originated from either failed governments or acts of God. Civil wars usually accompanied the termination of "Heaven's mandate" of an emperor. It's hard to differentiate between death tolls from starvation and war actions.
Unlike the ancient history that Wiki piece did no research on, casualties of Thirty Years War, World Wars, Vietnam and Gulf wars are well documented. About 40% of population in German states perished with people descended into cannibalism. The struggle between Catholics and Protestants was only one of several themes of power struggles among Holy Roman Empire, Spanish Hapsburgs and German states.
I highlighted one aspect that differentiates Chinese civilization from the European, whose culture I greatly admire. My intent is call attention to hateful tones expressed here toward China and her people, but not to demonize the West.
lexishk
whymak, I take no issue with your critiques of Christianity but to equate it with Western society in general is grossly ignorant and incorrect. Moreover, your remarks about the scale of slaughter perpetrated by various cultures are far off the mark. Take a look at this list and educate yourself on Chinese killing Chinese throughout history: ****en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_and_anthropogenic_disasters_by_death_toll

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