Mao Zedong: the Giant Shadow over the Contemporary Politics of China

Written by He Qinglian
(translated by krizcpec)

In recent years, the clouds over China's future is thickening. Whether as an alternative political model for future China or as a historic question that cannot be sidestepped, Mao Zedong and his governing approach is getting more frequently into the view of the public. 

On August 27 this year, over a hundred liberals inside the Communist Party of China and intellectuals attended a seminar marking the 30th anniversary of "The Resolution on certain historical problems of the Party since the founding of the People's Republic" (关于建国以来党的若干历史问题的决议), and again they stated that a correct understanding of the Cultural Revolution and Mao Zedong is crucial for present politics of  China. 

Perspectives to understanding the historic roles of Mao Zedong
Beijing's reluctance to face the history and its use of various propaganda machine to deliberately magnify the bright side of Mao Zedong's political carrier would result not only in the misunderstanding of Mao among the young generation, but also profound confusion in the political thinking of the Chinese people.
Mao Zedong and the CPC revolution and ruling of the country under his leadership should be understood from at least three perspectives. That three perspectives are:
  1. the understanding and reflection on Mao from the inside of the Communist Party of China;
  2. the study of the practical role Mao played in the spiritual and material progress of Chinese civilization from the perspective of Chinese historical development, a perspective that is above the interest of one party; and,
  3. the significant impact Mao had on the international community, and in particular the so-called revolutions in Asia, Africa, and Latin America
The first perspective listed above, the understanding and reflection on Mao from the inside of the Communist Party of China, is the one perspective that is most important; effort to understand Mao from the second perspective cannot truly begin until after the ruling of the Communist Party of China has come to an end I'm afraid; as for the third perspective, there have been a lot of researches on that, only that the vast majority of the Chinese people have no way to access this information.

In fact, Beijing's propaganda on the reflection on Mao and the Cultural Revolution is at this stage completely in the wrong direction. Even if it was in the right direction, the reflection this time could in no way reach the same depth of thought the Communist Party of China did in 1981.

The only thorough self-examination of the CPC in its history
The Communist Party of China published in 1981 a historic document, The Resolution on historic problems of the Chinese Communist Party since the founding of the People's Republic of China (the Resolution), after a lengthy, in-depth internal discussion. 
From March 1980, twenty-odd “top intellectuals” inside the Communist Party of China, headed by Hu Qiaomu and presided by Deng Xiaoping and Hu Yaobang, worked together to come up with the draft of the resolution, which was discussed for a month starting October 1980 by 4000 higher ranking party cadres and then reviewed and repeatedly revised by over forty senior party members. The draft resolution was eventually passed in June 1981 during the Sixth Plenary Session of the 11th CCPCC.

At that time, the secretary of the NPC panel, Guo Daohui (renowned jurist, one of the three party elders who advocated the rule of law) was responsible for the compilation of briefings related to that discussion and had the opportunity to learn about how it proceeded.

In an article published in 2010 issue 4 of Yan Huang Chun Qiu (《炎黄春秋》), he revealed some of the details of that discussion.

The discussion was about how to evaluate the seventeen years before the Cultural Revolution, the thoughts of Mao Zedong, and Mao's personal contributions and mistakes. The draft of the Resolution stated that in most cases, the party line during the seventeen years before the Cultural Revolution was correct, and had achieved great accomplishments. However, the participants did not fully agree with this conclusion. They argued that since 1949 the Communist Party of China had been organizing political campaigns non-stop and resulted in huge deviation, with millions, even tens of millions of people became victims. This was not the party's faults, they said, but rather they were the mistakes of Mao.

Many of the comments in evaluation of Mao's thoughts were very profound. For example, Hu Keshi of the Central Committee of the Communist Youth League said that there were no such thing as “systems” in Marxism-Leninism, theories that Mao did not “fully develop”. And how did he come up with “systems”? Even if these “systems” were really there, they were unscientific or even anti-scientific, such as the “theory of continuous revolution”, “bourgeoisie within the party” and so on.

Li Weihan, the first principal of the Party School of the CCPCC, listed the ten mistakes of Mao that involved the structural defects in Mao's knowledge, including—
  • he was only familiar with the agricultural society, and not the industrial society;
  • he knew only Chinese sewn books and had no clue of the modern and contemporary scientific knowledge, humanities and social sciences of the West; and,
  • turning “self-reliance” into “xenophobic exclusion of foreign things”
Another topic being discussed was the way Mao acted and thought, which participants thought to be related to the many political incidents that took place since 1949.

Senior party member Li Jiebo for one thought that Mao started the Cultural Revolution not because he wanted to oppose revisionism or prevent it from appearing in China, but to instigate persecution upon potential opponents and get rid of those he did not trust.

And Hu Keshi thought that Mao was a master in using trickery to manipulate his subordinates. Before the Cultural Revolution began, Hu twice heard Mao's talking in person. On one occasion Mao said he wanted to “fish”, which he meant to engage in the “open conspiracy” of drawing the snake out of its hole. On another occasion, Mao said he wanted to launch the “peeling of bamboo shoots policy”, so as to peel off layer by layer the dissidents inside the Communist Party of China.

Another participant, a pioneering economist Sun Yefang said, Chairman Mao was not familiar with the writings of Marx and Lenin, but rather the Twenty-Four Histories of China. He read too many sewn books and employed in internal party struggles the political trickery used by emperors, generals, chancellors of feudal states.

Others pointed out that Mao was often inconsistent and denied what he himself had said and put the blame on others out of political needs.

While some others suggested that Mao Zedong tended to become jealous easily and would take action to strike those who were more famous or had more accomplishments than he was, and said one such victim was Marshal Zhu De, who was regarded as the founder of the Chinese Red Army and the tactician who engineered the victory of the People's Republic of China during the Chinese Civil War; Xia Yan the noted playwright summarized the reasons behind Mao's mistakes in one sentence: “While he would not hear any advices, he was more than willing to listen to flattery; and as a person, he was suspicious, capricious, untrustworthy in nature and would pretend to act in good will while he was actually plotting something sinister.”

Xia added some pointed out during the Anti-Rightist Movement in 1957 that what Mao was afraid of was not the coalition of Zhang Bojun and Luo Longji, both regarded as Rightists; but rather the probability of a Chinese “Khrushchev” emerging from inside the Communist Party of China [and threatens his authority].

It is without question the reliability of the memories of these top officials who had worked under Mao directly for a long time. Their understanding of Mao would of course be a lot deeper than that of the chief bodyguard, nurses, and maids who served only unimportant duties around Mao and were easily impressed by his trivial benevolence on a whim. These people were not able to judge Mao as a state leader by his wisdom and statecraft.

Sadly, the speeches made in this discussion were classified as “top state secrets” and shelved. Ordinary researchers have no way to access them. And the Resolution that was passed later on followed mainly the views of Deng Xiaoping and Hu Qiaomu, who presided the writing of the draft Resolution, the views of the majority of the participants were not adopted. 

The question in the history of human civilization that cannot be answered: Why dictators worship Mao?

Pro-government scholars in China these days talk with delight the huge impacts the “great leader” Mao Zedong once had on the world. He Mingxing, a specialist in the history of China's external propaganda, wrote an article which entitled “The Spread of Mao Zedong's writing around the world—the huge cultural heritage the 'Red Century' had bequeathed to the contemporary China”. In that article, the author listed out those “revolution leaders” of Ethiopia, Benin, Madagascar, and Ghana who were influenced by Mao's thoughts as the “good pupils of Chairman Mao”. He sidestepped a critical issue deliberately: most of these “good pupils of Chairman Mao” later become dictators, bringing upon their countries and people great disasters.

Among these “good pupils of Chairman Mao”, some became leaders of their countries through democratic elections first and once their cabinets were formed they waited for the right opportunity to realize dictatorship; even more of them, however, headed straight for dictatorship through the revolutionary road. From revolution leaders to dictators, these people didn't seem to need any change in the way they thought and acted. The only difference was whether or not they had powers in their hands.

I had gone through the parallels of Muammar Gaddafi and Mao Zedong in my article “From revolutionary to dictator, who does Muammar Gaddafi resemble the most”; in this article I would focus on Pol Pot, the leader of Khmer Rouge, so that readers could have an idea of what “good pupils of Chairman Mao” were like.

If other pupils of Mao Zedong were mainly indirectly influenced by Mao's thoughts, then Pol Pot was taught personally and cultivated vigorously by Mao. In 1952 and 1957, Pol Po secretly went twice to China for training and had read all of Mao military writings, from “armed separatism [of the workers and peasants]” to “Encircling the Cities from the Rural Areas” and so on. Pol Pot had decided that Mao's thoughts would be the guiding ideology of the Cambodian revolution.

In [1963] Pol Pot was elected the general secretary of the [Workers Party of Kampuchea], he went to Beijing in person for the third time to “seek the truth of revolution”. During his three-month training session in Beijing, Pol Pot received from Chen Boda, Kang Sheng and others systematic lectures on the theories and experience of “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun”, class struggles, Dictatorship of the Proletariat, and Proletarian Internationalism.

In February 1966, Pol Pot returned to Cambodia to begin his revolutionary work. He renamed his party as the Communist Party of Kampuchea. In 1975, he overthrew the pro-American Lon Nol government with his “Khmer Rouge movement” and established a one-party dictatorship. He was the prime minister of Democratic Kampuchea from 1976 to 1979.

The “fruit” of Pol Pot's learning from Mao Zedong was: during his three-year-and-eight-month reign, the population of Cambodia was drastically reduced by a third (International Statistical Yearbook 1995).

Judging by the speed of killing, Khmer Rouge surpassed the Great Purge orchestrated by Joseph Stalin; judging by the breadth of victimization, Khmer Rouge surpassed the Cultural Revolution of China; judging by the brutality and savagery, Khmer Rouge surpassed Nazi Germany; and judging by the consequential destruction it did to its nation and people, Khmer Rouge surpassed Rwanda.

All historians find it hard to define the nature of this unprecedented carnage in human history. “Genocide” is not accurate as it means deliberate and systematic mass murder. What happened in Cambodia was not about races; it was not about regions; it had nothing to do with interests; nor was religion a cause; and it could not be attributed to ideology either. Except for Pol Pot's delirium before his death—“I did not massacre, I was just fighting”, there is no theory or writings to illustrate or explain what was the purpose of this massacre so far.

During the time when the massacre took place, it was said that China had in total provided Khmer Rouge with up to one billion U.S. dollars in aid. And the whole world, except the Chinese people, knew the relationship between Khmer Rouge and Mao as well as the Communist Party of China.

When it comes to overturning the traditional Chinese culture, Mao played a role bigger than any other persons in Chinese history. The anti-human, anti-humanity, anti-civilization, and anti-rationality characteristics shared by the “good pupils of Chairman Mao” and the harm done to the Chinese people by the Cultural Revolution which was started by Mao Zedong himself—all these are not far away.

But in order to maintain the one-party dictatorship, the authorities in China not only intentionally ignore this period of history, but also deliberately deceive the people and feed the young generation of Chinese an image of Mao that is completely at odds with the historical truth.

Such a political move would not only do harm to the contemporary China, but also result in a gloomy outlook for the country's politics.

If this boulder of Mao Zedong that is blocking the light is not removed, China would remain stuck in this authoritarian road for a long time to come.