Mao versus Deng versus Xi

Mao versus Deng versus Xi, by Steven Saville.

In 1961, Deng Xiao Ping uttered what is perhaps his most famous quotation: “I don’t care if it’s a white cat or a black cat. It’s a good cat so long as it catches mice.” This was interpreted to mean that being economically successful is more important than being loyal to any particular ideology.

Deng’s view that having a productive economy was more important than adhering rigidly to theories that were failing in practice brought him into conflict with Mao Tse Tung. …

From a purely political perspective, Mao was practical. His policies generally had disastrous economic effects, but in addition to maintaining power he was able to stay popular with China’s peasant class (his political support base). … The revolutionary feeling was sustained via a series of dramatic programs and policy shifts, chief among them being:

1. “The Hundred Flowers Campaign” of 1956-1957 …

2. “The Anti-Rightist Movement” of 1957-1959: Those who accepted Mao’s invitation to express anti-communist opinions under the “Hundred Flowers Campaign” were eliminated (purged, imprisoned, killed). Quite likely, the “Hundred Flowers Campaign” was just a ruse to identify anyone who could possibly be a threat to Mao.

3. “The Great Leap Forward” of 1958-1962…

4. “The Cultural Revolution” of 1966 through to Mao’s death in 1976: Ostensibly a movement to topple the “ruling class”, spread power more evenly and stamp out counter-revolutionary activities, this was Mao’s most blatant attempt to keep China in a perpetual state of revolution. During the “Cultural Revolution”, anyone considered to have skills above those of the average person became a likely target for persecution. In addition, formal education all but ceased, countless works of art and historical buildings were destroyed, and Mao’s “Little Red Book” of quotations effectively became the bible. The result was social and economic chaos.

Fortunately for China, Deng was able to gain control of the Communist Party following Mao’s death. The reforms he implemented showed that even a modicum of economic freedom can go a long way towards improving living standards. …

The present — back to the modern Mao:

China’s political leaders between Deng Xiao Ping and Xi Jin Ping, the current leader, were really just place fillers. It’s clear that Xi is the most important leader of the Communist Party of China (CPC) since Deng.

Xi seems to be more like Mao than Deng, in that he places the supremacy of the Party above all other considerations and puts a strong emphasis on Communist ideology. …

Like Mao, Xi is attempting to galvanise support behind himself and the Party (Xi is now defined as the “core” of the Party) by promoting the idea that China and the Chinese people are under threat. In this regard he is being helped by having a ready-made enemy in the form of a US government that clearly is trying to contain China both economically and militarily. …

Unfortunately for Xi, innovation, which he correctly perceives to be lacking in China, won’t happen at the command of government.

Also like Mao, Xi does not tolerate any dissension. All views must be consistent with the goal of having a population unified in its beliefs in “socialism with Chinese characteristics” and the primacy of the Party in all aspects of life. Hence the draconian treatment of millions of Muslims in Xinjiang Province, the severe policing of opinions expressed in social media and the setting-up of the world’s largest domestic surveillance network.

In a way, China has come full circle. However, Xi has far greater technological and economic resources at his disposal than Mao could have ever dreamed of.