China hints at reform by dropping Mao’s legacy

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China’s ruling Communist Party has dropped its strongest hint yet that it will move in the direction of reform, removing a once standard reference to late leader Mao Zedong in statements ahead of a generational leadership transition.

Report by Reuters

Mao has always been held up as an ideological great in party communiqués, which also normally mention Marx, Lenin, one-time paramount ruler Deng Xiaoping, former President Jiang Zemin and President Hu Jintao.

The politburo, a powerful decision-making council with two-dozen active members, said early in the week a party congress next month would discuss amending the party’s constitution.

Previous amendments, including one implicitly allowing party membership for capitalists, have formed the guidelines for important economic and political reforms in the world’s most populous country.

But, crucially, the politburo in its statement on the issue left out what had been standard wording citing Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought, which adapted the original theories of Marxism that grew out of industrial Europe to the conditions of largely rural China when Mao took over in 1949.

“It’s very significant,” Zheng Yongnian, the director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, said of the removal of a reference to Mao Zedong Thought and the implications of that for the direction leaders were taking.

“Before the fall of Bo Xilai, that direction was not so clear. But now it’s become quite clear. I mean, less Maoism, but more Dengism.”
Bo, a former high-flying politician supported by leftists, was ousted this year in China’s biggest political scandal in two decades.

By removing Mao Zedong Thought, the top leaders were signalling a push for reforms, Zheng said, in the same way Deng introduced market reforms in the late 1970s that turned China from a backwater into an economic powerhouse.

There was also no reference made to Mao Thought in a previous announcement on the date of the party congress.

Doctrinal differences between reformist and leftist factions reflect an internal debate about the direction of the new leadership whose taking up of the reins of power starts at the congress opening in Beijing on November 8.

The debate has been under the spotlight since the rise and subsequent fall of Bo, who, as party boss of the southwestern city of Chongqing, drew support from leftists critical of aspects of the market-based reform agenda.

China heads into the congress with the economy heading for its slowest annual growth rate in at least 13 years, while social stresses, such as anger over corruption, land grabs and unmet welfare demands, stir protests.

State media, as well as experts close to the government, have made increasingly strident calls for bold reform to avoid a crisis, though nobody seriously expects a move towards full democracy.
This week, for example, the Study Times, a newspaper published by the Central Party School which trains rising officials, lauded Singapore’s form of closely managed democracy and its long-ruling main party for having genuine popular support.

“If you want to win people’s hearts and their support, you have to have a government that serves the people,” it wrote.

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