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How Mao created China’s capitalist revolution [Straits Times] #RisingChina #Reform #Mao


Reform made of sterner stuff… crossing China’s ideological chasm from the old to new.

One of the most interesting and paradoxical explanations originates with Mao, the very person who had such a destructive effect on China in the last decades of his life. By razing the edifice of old China as relentlessly as he did, Mao may have actually cleared the way for Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s subsequent reforms, thereby playing a role in China’s rebirth that Mao could never have imagined while alive.

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How Mao created China’s capitalist revolution
By razing China’s old value system, he cleared the way for Deng’s reforms
By Orville Schell And John Delury for the Washington Post.
Source – printed in Straits Times, published Jul 27, 2013

20130728-081831.jpg
A statue of Mao Zedong in Shenyang, Liaoning province. No leader in 20th-century China was more totalistic and unrelenting in attacking traditional culture than Mao. By force-marching Chinese society away from its old ways, he presented Deng with a vast construction site on which the demolition of old structures and strictures had been mostly completed, ready for reform and opening up. — PHOTO: REUTERS

IN HIS opening remarks at the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, an annual meeting between high- ranking United States and Chinese officials, Vice-President Joseph Biden spoke about his first visit to China in 1976, the year that Chairman Mao Zedong died.

“It was already clear then,” he said last week, “that China stood on the cusp of remarkable change.”

That was 37 years ago, when China was still one of the poorest countries in the world – even after a century of experimentation with one formula after another for making the nation wealthy and powerful again.

It was by no means clear back then whether the incipient changes Mr Biden sensed would really take hold. Few imagined that by the early 21st century, China would be in a position to challenge the US economically, militarily and even in the contest for soft power.

So, after spending so many generations mired in a cycle of failed reform and revolution, how did China finally manage to chin itself up into its present period of prolonged economic dynamism?

Please click here to read the entire article at the Straits Times.

One of the most interesting and paradoxical explanations originates with Mao, the very person who had such a destructive effect on China in the last decades of his life. By razing the edifice of old China as relentlessly as he did, Mao may have actually cleared the way for Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s subsequent reforms, thereby playing a role in China’s rebirth that Mao could never have imagined while alive.

No leader in 20th-century China was more totalistic and unrelenting in attacking traditional culture than Mao. Under his despotic rule, China’s Confucian heritage and old social values system were subject to a series of relentless assaults unequalled in history.

Since the early 20th century, reformers such as the public intellectual Liang Qichao and political leader Sun Yat Sen had recognised that China’s modernisation would require the destruction of the old to make way for the new. They sought to transform a docile populace into an energetic and patriotic citizenship and turn a xenophobic ruling class into a cosmopolitan and modernist elite.

But none of Mao’s predecessors had been able – or willing – to muster the same ideological boldness, much less the organisational fortitude and leadership ruthlessness, to challenge China’s thousands of years of continuous culture aggressively enough to actually neutralise tradition’s drag on modernisation.

As a young man, Mao was a disciple of both Liang and Sun, but was made of far sterner stuff. He ultimately embraced a far more extreme form of revolution – one that insisted on constant, violent upheaval. Where others succeeded only in muting the influence of China’s ancient culture, Mao nearly extirpated its very roots, and thus its hold on several subsequent generations of Chinese.

His successive political and ideological campaigns, culminating in the riotous Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution that ended with his death, all but severed the bonds of tradition that had fixed father over son, husband over wife, master over student, family over individual, past over future, and continuity over change.

The Cultural Revolution, launched by Mao in 1966, was a lost decade of violent criticism sessions against parents, teachers and party cadres, of urban youth being sent down to rural backwaters, and of vicious power struggles among top leaders.

Mao’s mass campaigns such as “Criticise Confucius and Lin Biao” and “Destroy the Four Olds” made Chinese tradition itself into the enemy of the revolution.

The bonds of that tradition had tormented earlier reformers, many of whom confessed to being unable to escape it themselves. Lu Xun, a master of modern Chinese literature, admitted to “constantly rediscovering in myself… odious thoughts that the ancients recorded in their works”.

A profound influence on Mao, Lu hoped at least the next generation could be spared: “Let the conscious man assume the heavy burden of tradition, let him arch his back under the gate of darkness to allow his children to escape into the free space and light where they may spend their days in happiness and lead a truly human life.”

It was that “gate of darkness” which Mao sought to demolish.

But, so powerful was the hold of the past that later in their lives the first generations of reformers were almost all ineluctably drawn back into the “gate of darkness” of traditional values and culture from which they had so energetically sought to escape.

Liang, Lu, and even Communist Party founder Chen Duxiu all returned to Chinese classical scholarship late in life, finding solace in the ancient texts as they faced their mortality and a society stubbornly resistant to change.

Seen through such a historical lens, the wrecking ball of Mao’s revolution can appear in a different light, as an instrument that was savage but necessary to clear the way for whatever might follow.

It is true that Mao’s final two decades were to a horrifying degree “lost” years for China. Tens of millions of people endured persecution in the name of Mao’s “permanent revolution”; tens of millions more died from the famine caused by his reckless economic policies.

As Chen Yun, Mao’s comrade in arms since the 1930s, summed up his legacy: “Had Chairman Mao died in 1956, there would have been no doubt that he was a great leader of the Chinese people… Had he died in 1966, his meritorious achievements would have been somewhat tarnished, but his overall record was still very good. Since he actually died in 1976, there is nothing we can do about it.”

Looked at through the cold eye of history, however, it may have been precisely those periods of Mao’s most uncompromising nihilism that demolished China’s old society, freeing Chinese from their traditional moorings. His brutal interim was perhaps the essential, but paradoxical, precursor to China’s subsequent boom under Deng and his successors, catapulting the Chinese into their present single-minded and unrestrained pursuit of wealth and power.

Even Harvard’s John Fairbank, the founder of modern Chinese studies in the US (and by no means a Mao enthusiast), could appreciate the purgative virtue of Mao’s permanent revolution.

“In the old society teachers were venerated by students, women were submissive to their husbands, and age was deferred to by youth,” he wrote in 1980. “Breaking down such a system took a long time because one had to change one’s basic values and assumptions accepted in childhood.

“The times called for a leader of violent willpower, a man so determined to smash the old bureaucratic establishment that he would stop at nothing.”

For better or worse, Mao was such a man – modern China’s “perennial gale of creative destruction”, in economist Joseph Schumpeter’s famous phrase; or, as Liang Qichao had yearned at the dawn of the 20th century, a leader willing to “carry out harsh rule, and with iron and fire forge and temper our countrymen for 20, 30, even 50 years”.

In 1966, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution to prevent China from “taking the capitalist road”, yet ironically his efforts ended up having precisely the opposite effect.

By force-marching Chinese society away from its old ways of doing things, Mao presented Deng with a vast construction site on which the demolition of old structures and strictures had been mostly completed, making it shovel-ready for Deng’s bold new policy of reform and opening up.

Mao’s epic destructiveness, which was supposed to prepare China for his version of utopian socialism, instead paved the way for its transformation into exactly the kind of capitalist economy that he reviled during his lifetime, but also a nation that he, like every modern Chinese reformer before him, dreamed of fashioning: a strong and prosperous one.

The question for Chinese leaders now is what exactly they intend to do with their newfound and hard-fought wealth and power – and the challenge for the US is how to best help shape the answer in ways beneficial for both nations’ people.

WASHINGTON POST

Orville Schell is Arthur Ross director of the Centre on US-China Relations at the Asia Society.

John Delury is assistant professor at Yonsei University’s Graduate School of International Studies.

This essay is adapted from their new book, Wealth And Power: China’s Long March To The Twenty-First Century. The book is available at Kinokuniya at $34.50 with GST

BACKGROUND STORY

It may have been precisely those periods of Mao’s most uncompromising nihilism that demolished China’s old society, freeing Chinese from their traditional moorings.

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Filed under: Beijing Consensus, China Dream, Chinese Model, Culture, Domestic Growth, Education, Government & Policy, History, Ideology, Influence, Maoism, Modernisation, Nationalism, New Leadership, Public Diplomacy, Reform, Social, Soft Power, Straits Times, Strategy, Tao Guang Yang Hui (韬光养晦), The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities

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