Moving away from Mao’s thoughts, a great leap forward for new China
China’s former chairman Mao Zedong’s remains lie embalmed in a mausoleum at the vast Tiananmen Square in the middle of Beijing. A dress code doesn’t allow for short skirts and headgear but many queue up every day to lay down flowers and their respect at the tomb. At the Square, a huge Mao photograph keeps a watch on the thousands that come to visit it; these are symbols that define China for many.
But Mao, many feel, is on his way to become less than an iconic symbol, a mere badge, as the next generation of leadership gradually takes over in the coming months. That the Communist Party of China (CPC) might subtly move away – to some it’s just a moving away more – from Mao’s thought was indicated in two recent important Party documents prepared for the upcoming 18th Congress – neither mentioned Mao’s much revered thoughts.
The name dropping becomes more symbolic as the documents were prepared by the powerful Politburo of the Party.
“The Party should hold high the banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics, be guided by Deng Xiaoping Theory and the important thoughts of the “Three Represent,” and thoroughly carry out the Scientific Outlook on Development, according to the statement.
“(The Party should) emancipate the mind, continue reform and opening up, gather strength, overcome difficulties, forge ahead on the socialist path of Chinese characteristics unswervingly and strive for the full establishment of a moderately prosperous society,” a statement from CPC Central Committee said Deng Xiaoping put forward the idea that China could be both Communist country and adopt and execute market-based reforms; the “three represents” refers to former President Jiang Zemin’s policy formally allowing capitalists to join the CPC.
Some indications that Mao’s thoughts could be sidelined were seen by experts earlier this year when there was a spurt in online discussion about how many people died during the Great Leap Forward between 1959 and 62. The GLF refers to an economic and social campaign between 1958 and 1961, which aimed to transform the country from a poor, agrarian economy into an industrial one.
Even a nationalist newspaper, Global Times, carried articles discussing the number of deaths.
“According to the latest edition of the History of the Communist Party of China published last year, the population nationwide in 1960 was 10 million lower than for the previous year. However, no exact data about the three years in question has been released,” Global Times newspaper had reported.
“Yang Jisheng, a former Xinhua News Agency senior reporter who spent over 10 years researching the subject, estimates the number of deaths at 36 million. This figure is backed up by Mao Yushi, a well-known economist,” the newspaper added. Yang’s book, Tombstone, had grabbed headlines after his research claimed that the deaths were caused by policies and not natural disasters.
Cao Siyuan, a constitutional and economic scholar and director of Siyuan Think Tank, had told the Global Times that the major reason for many scholars to highlight this part of history is to stress the importance of political reform at the Party’s upcoming 18th National Congress, as many of them see that poor governance contributed to the famine.
That analysis might come true as ‘reforms’ are discussed widely in CPC organs.
For example, a commentary in the Study Times, run by the Party’s Central Party School – supervised by Xi Jinping who’s set to take over as President form Hu Jintao – talked about how China could learn from the Singapore model.
“Since 1968, the People’s Action Party (in Singapore) has won consecutive elections and held state power for a long time, while ensuring that the party’s high efficiency, incorruptibility and vitality leads Singapore in attaining an economic leap forward,” said the article by Song Xiongwei, a lecturer at the Chinese Academy of Governance. Coming in a Party journal, the commentary cannot be taken to be random.
A July speech by Hu where he talked about economic reforms is being widely quoted in commentaries in the state media; so is a quote by Premier Wen Jiabao where he speaks about mistakes of the Cultural Revolution.
And, of course, the fall and fall of Bo Xilai was another indicator; as Chongqing’s mayor he had put up large banners spouting Mao-era slogans, introduced daily television broadcasts that heralded the glories of orthodox socialist ideas and choirs performing “red songs in parks”.
Mao’s giant photo at Tiananmen could be soon looking at an increasingly different China, which is less keen to look back at him.