Leaders call on Mao in challenging times

Xi Jinping is not the first president to invoke the late chairman for the purpose of establishing his own credentials - a move that carries risks

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 December, 2013, 3:18am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 December, 2013, 10:23am

The celebrations of the birth and life of Mao Zedong yesterday were intended to help justify the policies of the current leadership of Xi Jinping , who faces challenges similar to the late leader's, analysts said.

By reciting Mao's famous quote that "we will never become Li Zicheng", a farmer rebel leader who overthrew the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and ruled China for 43 days before he was driven out by the Manchurians, Xi was restating the Communist Party's resolve to maintain control.

Mao's remark, which he made before leaving for Beijing to see the People's Republic of China set up, was an effort to draw a lesson from history, said Pu Xingzu, a professor of politics at Fudan University in Shanghai.

Xi similarly quoted Mao in his speech in Beijing yesterday to warn the party of the same, or even greater, challenges facing its rule today.

"Mao had been questioned before whether he could end the cycle of changing dynasties and Xi is clearly troubled by the same question," Pu said. "The Communist Party has ruled China for more than six decades, but is still faced with the question of whether its rule will last. The situation now is even more challenging, with new scenarios."

What impairs the party's rule most is corruption and abuse of power, and that it serves a small fraction of society, Pu said. Xi has unveiled his own campaign calling on cadres to toe a "mass line", a Maoist organisational strategy that stresses close contact with the grass roots.

As such, Xi's speech commemorating Mao was largely to support his own agenda.

"Mao is a tool for everyone, his followers, as well as reformists," said Zhang Lifan , a historian and political commentator. "Those in power commemorate Mao to justify their legitimacy and power."

However, there were risks for Xi in drawing on Mao. "If Xi fails to reform, he might end up being disliked by Mao's followers and the reformists," Zhang said.

Commentator Zhang Ming , a professor at Renmin University, noted that Xi was not the first leader to invoke Mao while consolidating power. Xi's predecessors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao also drew on Mao to push their own agendas.

"Xi's worship of Mao and his conservative speech is detrimental to his reform," Zhang said. "He promised overall reform but his affirmation of Mao's policy will attract criticism."

What distinguished Xi's commemoration speech from is predecessors was his silence on political reform, Pu said. One possibility was that Xi was hoping to first consolidate his power and establish his legacy through economic reforms.

"If Xi hasn't mapped out political reform by the beginning of his second term, a lot of people will be disappointed," Pu said.

Watch: Animation: Mao Zedong and his Chinese dream