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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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This article is now closed to comments

lucifer
Unlike a political figure such as George Washington, a Brit, who is credited along with the continental congress with the founding of the United States and is not connected to any single Party. Mao is seen predominately as the founder of the ruling Party even though he was not. With the demise of the Party, Mao will go by the waste side as well.
LunarRepublic
As much as I can acknowledge the positive sides of Mao's leadership of China (among other things, he actually contributed to equality between genders in China, and banned the practice of foot-binding), I can't bring myself to support a man who was responsible for the death of my great grandfather and so much misery to my own grandparents. My grandmother's father had his shop confiscated and they had to eat grass due to food shortages, while my grandfather saw his own landowner father killed through broken glass.
They were fortunate enough to sneak through the border to Hong Kong, but they nearly died in the process. My grandfather swam all the way from Shenzhen to the New Territories, while my grandmother's family traveled by land for days eating only crackers.
Credit is where credit's due, but the last thing I want is for China to devolve back to Mao's politics. China's made great strides since then, but it's still horrible when it comes to its human rights record. Its government promotes Mao's contributions, but it barely even acknowledges the magnitude of his atrocities.
whymak
scmpbeijing1:
慕容雪村 is just another self-hate Chinese. There are more of them than one can shake his fists at.
It's perhaps a waste of time to rebut brainwashed, fanatical simpletons. Their worldview is plain enough. Their universe consists of only absolute good and absolute evil. They tolerate nothing in between. Goodness could only originate from their self centric beliefs in True Democracy and Universal Values -- whatever that gibberish means. Obviously, they have never been schooled in math, logic and science. Then too, they are only semi-literates, who possess only minimal reading comprehension.
Whoever doesn't agree with them is therefore evil. This is always their be-all-end-all argument. Many "debaters" here fit this description.
Incidentally, why do you quote this absolutist fanatic?
lib_prc

I figured it out...Mr. Mao was uniquely positioned to sing like Frank Senatra, "I did it my way!"...
whymak
kctony:
I had relatives in China during Great Leap Forward. Some were landowners 地主 and were subjected to public trials, self criticism 清算,公審 and deprived of whatever limited civil rights permitted in Mao's era. Yet no one to my knowledge had died from famine.
Your mindless regurgitation of Western propaganda of 30 million deaths is a disgrace. Read what I wrote today in:
www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1390108/debunking-myths-mao-zedong#comment-56440.
A "slave" is one who has been brainwashed. You seem to fit the bill.
scmpbeijing1
If you're able to read Chinese, take a look at what Murong Xuecun, a leading mainland Chinese writer, has to say, opinions that many Chinese share. It's obvious not all mainland Chinese have been brainwashed. 慕容雪村:
毛的真正贡献在于:1、把支部建在连上,建在村里、建在每一条街道之中,从此无人不被"领导",再也没有了"化外之地",使中国变成一个完全的极权社会;2、摧残传统文化,宣传读书无用,公开蔑视知识,迫害读书人,再加上新闻管制、出版审查和洗脑教育,把中国变成一个低智和反智社会;3、通过监视、窃听、鼓励告密等措施,把中国变成一个密探横行的社会;4、用积年的「群众运动」,让民众不敢"乱说乱动",把中国变成一个羊群社会;5、宣扬仇恨,鼓吹战争,公开地宣传暴力和残忍,使中囯变成一个戾气流布的法西斯国家;6、强制把民众分成互相对立的阵营,挑动他们互相仇恨、互相猜疑甚至互相杀戮,实际是无差别地迫害每一个人,再加上数以百万计的军队、武警、民兵预备役充当狱卒,把中国变成一个巨大的集中营。
tobychun
Actually the Chinese would easily allow a return to Maoist days. All you need to do is tell them that their feelings have been hurt and they will follow blindly. China's leaders could start a cultural revolution tomorrow if they wanted to, the people would fall for it hook line and sinker. Fortunately the leaders today are not as self absorbed as Mao was.
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.
ajasondeng@gmail.com
If you know Chinese history more deeply, you may know it is more than apparent that diversity in terms of ideology, philosophies etc. is really the thing drives advancement. The quick-action-bestowed single party rule plays decisive role in urgent situations, for instance the tackling of breakout of new viruses, the quick response to natural disasters, but not conducive to the peaceful development. How can a person count on himself to eliminate mistakes? or at least correct mistaken behaviors if the his position is unchallengeable. Synergism (or embrace and respect individual differences so as to achieve better outcome) is an old saying and representative of Chinese culture. The life itself also speaks for it, diversity is the prerequisite for evolution, it ensures the advancement in spite of errors.
Moreover, the bettered single-party socialism as you mentioned which embraces capitalism, but at the same time minus its excesses, this idea to me is nothing but vague. Reducing excesses really rely on independent audit and oversight, not self-imposed restraint.
Multi-party ideology seems unavoidable if it comes to ensure stability and peaceful development. Even though i do recognize some irreplaceable advantages of single-party socialism like swift responsiveness.
shouken
kctony:
Sorry to boggle your mind but I want to say here that one aspect of Mao wins my unswerving admiration. He wanted to give a classless society to China, something truly unprecedented in the nation's history. This is why (at least my reading of him) Mao launched endless "thought reeducations" and "class struggles" to prevent an elite class from emerging and gaining traction in society. He hated vested interests and people gaining power through old prerogatives; always on the side of the underdogs, he calls for cultural revolutions from the bottom up. Seeking to perpetually unsettle the "establishment", he turned on his own "Party", because he sensed that without incessant and blistering reminders, the Communist Party would change color. And I think he was prescient. How many people in China believe the Communist Party is still communist? (This is not deny that many CCP members and officials are no less dedicated to public service than their western counterparts; but people everywhere like to trash their governments.)
------
As for your "He would have owned a few race horses and drinking Baudeaux and plotting ways to reduce China's population to 1 billion" comment, I do not know where to begin. While it will be true for some current CCP officials who have long since betrayed their ideals, it will be sheer ignorance to cast Mao in that light.

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