The Three Gorges could be China's grandest monument to Maoism. While the main slogan chanted by leaders gathered for the damming of the Yangtze on Saturday was 'Raise high the flag of Deng Xiaoping Thought', the hero of the 240 billion yuan-project (HK$224 billion) was none other than the Great Helmsman.
It was Mao Zedong's genius to harness the empire of the spirit. Every Chinese should and can become a Lei Feng, the 'unstinting screw of the revolution'. Comrades should also emulate Yugong, the proverbial 'fool who moves a mountain' with his bare hands.
Much of the late chairman's incomparable statecraft lay in waging qunzhong yundong, or mass movements: to achieve those great leaps forward, the Old Hundred Surnames must give their all to the national effort.
Never mind that this belief in spiritual prowess seemed to contradict Marxism, the vaunted 'science of dialectical materialism'. Moreover, Mao's insistence on mind over matter smacked of the bourgeois sin of 'subjectivist idealism'.
On a more practical level, his theory of mass mobilisation led to a harsh suppression of dissent and a Stalinist style of rule by diktat.
It is not surprising that, in his congratulatory remarks at the Sandouping dam site, President Jiang Zemin saluted Mao's instructions about the mountain-moving Yugong.
'Socialism has the superiority of concentrating national resources and accomplishing major goals,' he said.
Footage of thousands upon thousands of workers gouging out hills, building dykes and altering shorelines evoked comparisons with the mind-boggling engineering feats of Mao's days.
It is perhaps unfair to label the Three Gorges a Great Leap Forward-style undertaking.
After all, state-of-the-art design and equipment from the West have been used. Yet the Three Gorges has remained controversial - 32 per cent of legislators had reservations when debating it in 1992 - because it reeks of the Maoist proclivity for mowing down dissent.
The oppositionists have alleged, not without reason, that the scheme was, in a sense, a by-product of the June 4, 1989, 'turmoil'. Among the most vocal anti-damming activists were dissident intellectuals who fled the country, were arrested, or kept a low profile after the crackdown.
To buttress their claim that the nay-sayers had seen the light, the propaganda machinery last week trotted out hydraulic engineer Pan Jiazheng, who told the press he had been convinced by the Government's painstaking research. Alas, Mr Pan had signed on as a senior consultant to the project.
Representatives of the eight democratic parties showed up at last weekend's ceremony to dramatise national unity.
Glaringly absent, however, were leaders of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, two bastions of anti-Gorges sentiment.
Also not invited were representatives of the estimated 1.3 million inhabitants who would be displaced by the works. They never had a chance to say no when told by the Government to move out.
The Maoist shadow over the 'hydro-electric works of the century' seems out of place, because the leadership has claimed new triumphs in the modernisation of administration.
At the 15th Party Congress last September, Mr Jiang vowed to replace 'rule of personality' with a Chinese-style 'rule by law'.
He also pledged to build up institutions and mechanisms to render decision-making 'democratic and scientific'.
The Three Gorges, however, will hardly be the last testament to Maoist-style governance. Take, for example, the hottest undertaking of the rest of the decade: transforming 370,000 lumbering state-owned enterprises (SOEs) into market-oriented businesses.
While inspecting unwieldy factories in Liaoning in July, Executive Vice-Premier Zhu Rongji declared that this job would be attained in three years. The economic tsar was unfazed by criticism that the leadership was relying on a qunzhong yundong-style campaign to offload money-losing dinosaurs and convert the healthier ones into shareholding companies.
When challenged about his 'everything will be nice and well in three years' slogan, Mr Zhu said: 'This goal must be reached and can be reached . . . If we are united and have a unanimous understanding, we have all the necessary conditions for lifting SOEs from poverty.' His remarks recalled those of Mr Jiang when he investigated industrial basket cases in the northeast two years ago. The president told the managers and workers to 'forge ahead in spite of difficulties and stick to plain living and hard struggle'.
'If we insist upon developing a lofty spirit, difficulties can be overcome and miracles can be created,' he said.
Here, appeals for 'new Lei Feng' and calls for mass mobilisation seem to have upstaged democratic and rational decision-making.
A quasi-Maoist mindset also suffuses the top item on the political agenda this year: fighting corruption.
Western experts have argued that graft can only be eradicated via institutional means: the establishment of a Hong Kong-style independent organ against corruption to replace the questionable system of party apparatchik doing the investigation as well as adjudication.
In the past year, however, Mr Jiang has claimed that the key to clean government is to instil in party members a 'Marxist worldview', the ability to 'counter the decadent ideas of the West' and other sugar-coated bullets of capitalism. The leadership has also unleashed qunzhong yundong to urge citizens to snoop and report on the monkey businesses of cadres.
To modernise, China needs a judicious mix of revolutionary zeal and the rule of law; mass enthusiasm and 'Western-style' democracy.
The apparent success of the 15th congress and the Three Gorges notwithstanding, the Jiang team has yet to show it can strike the golden mean.