Don’t Write Off Mao Just Yet

While the foreign media has reported that the Chinese Communist Party may downplay Mao Zedong Thought at its upcoming 18th Party Congress, The Diplomat’s Mu Chunshan warns against reading too far into such speculation:

To begin with, following the Bo Xilai’s dismissal and resulting turbulence within the CCP, party leaders are interested above all else is maintaining a united front in public. Abandoning Mao Zedong Thought will have the opposite effect—namely, it will redouble lingering doubts about the unity of the political leadership.

In fact, such a move would likely further destabilize the party by creating discontent among the armed forces. Whatever can be said of the CCP more generally, the People’s Liberation Army still uses Mao Zedong Thought as the basis of its legitimacy. After all, it was Mao who argued that “”political power comes from the barrel of a gun.” Thus, PLA training still includes classes on Mao Zedong Thought and sings traditional songs that advocate “holding high the banner of Mao Zedong Thought.” It is therefore hard to reconcile reports that the CCP intends to abandon Mao Zedong Thought with the general expectation among observers inside and outside the country that the PLA will emerge from the leadership transition more powerful than before.

Equally misguided is the widespread belief in the West that abandoning Mao Zedong Thought would shepherd in fundamental reforms. For decades now the CCP has presided over unprecedented changes in China all the while heaping praise on Mao Zedong Thought at each Party Congress. Put differently, referring to Mao Zedong Thought is completely irrelevant to the question of reform.

While Mao may have long departed, The South China Morning Post reports that Chinese social media buzzed last month when his nephew made a public appearance at a national water conservancy site that Mao once championed.