To include Mao, or not to include Mao? That is the tough question China's rulers are facing as the nation prepares for the once-a-decade leadership transition in two weeks.
The omission of Mao Zedong's name from a recent Xinhua statement has triggered speculation as to whether the Communist Party's 18th congress, which begins on November 8, will make a historic decision about how much emphasis to accord one of the party's founding fathers, as the practical impact of Mao's legacy on the party wanes.
The statement, issued after the party's 24-member Politburo met on Monday, made references to President Hu Jintao , his predecessor Jiang Zemin , and Deng Xiaoping , the architect of China's transformational "reform and opening up" policy, but did not mention Mao. The statement also said the congress would revise the party constitution to incorporate "significant" theories.
Analysts are divided on whether the omission was an indication that the party leadership had reached a consensus on Mao's controversial theories.
"This is not a new development. The omission has happened before in the past decade," said Professor Steve Tsang, who teaches contemporary Chinese studies at the University of Nottingham, where he is also director of the China Policy Institute.
Tsang said the practice of citing the "contributions" made by successive generations of top leaders had become too long and unwieldy to include the full citation from Karl Marx to Hu.
"Do not read too much into the omission," said Professor Liu Kang, director of Duke University's China Research Centre.
Liu said the party was uncertain about its ideological legitimacy but still tended to preserve its ideological continuity. "The party is unlikely to deliberately trigger a political controversy and jettison a figure on whose memory it depends for legitimacy and continuity," he said.
The party announced yesterday the planned naming of four halls in the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong in Tiananmen Square after revolutionary places related to Mao.
The places are Jinggangshan and Yanan , which were Red Army headquarters; Shaoshan , Mao's birthplace; and Zunyi , where Mao was appointed top leader of the Red Army.
Some analysts agree that the omission of Mao's name from the recent statement may hint at a pivotal change in the party's outlook, even as time is running out for the government to fix structural flaws in the way the country is run.
Zhang Ming , a political scientist at Renmin University, said it had become imperative, and therefore likely, that the party would reach a decision on whether to acknowledge Mao's ideology, particularly after the Bo Xilai saga this year.
Bo, a high-flying Politburo member until his recent downfall, had gained considerable popularity through his Maoist revival campaign.
"The party as a whole is extremely averse to the idea of another Mao appearing, and they understand that China's future depends on overcoming its attachment to Mao," Zhang said.