In the context of the Bo Xilai trial, much has been made about Xi Jinping’s Maoist tendencies in recent weeks. Earlier this month, for instance, the Wall Street Journalran an article about the potential for political reform under Xi that was entitled, “China's Leader Embraces Mao as He Tightens Grip on Country.” Similarly, the always insightful John Garnaut had a piece in Foreign Policy that rightly argued that Mao’s influence in the modern CCP has not ended with Bo’s downfall.
Xi’s Maoism has understandably elicited alarm in light of the enormous devastation Mao wreaked upon China throughout his lifetime. Indeed, Mao was not unlike the Imperial Japanese he fought against in that he claimed to free the Chinese nation from one form of imperialism, only to condemn it to a fate that was in many ways just as bleak.
But while Mao was certainly ruthless, he was also ruthlessly effective, fundamentally transforming China with astonishing speed multiple times during his rule. Of course, in Mao’s case these transformations were often ill-devised if not downright malicious. But Mao’s power, like all forms of power, was objective in the sense that it could have been used for good or evil.
Which is why Xi’s Maoism may not be a bad thing entirely. Of course, no one wants to see anyone gain as much absolute power as Mao had. Deng and the Eight Immortals were right to try and prevent any single individual from wielding as much power as Chairman Mao. But thanks in part to their efforts, it doesn’t seem like a realistic possibility that Xi will ever become the absolute dictator Mao was. READ MORE