Following in Mao’s footsteps

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Following in Mao’s footsteps

After Chinese President Xi Jinping took leadership at the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party, the first place he visited was Shenzhen. He dedicated flowers at the statue of Deng Xiaoping on top of Mount Lianhua and planted the same type of tree that Deng had planted during his southern tour in 1992. These moves were considered Xi’s pledge to faithfully follow and develop Deng’s opening and reform policies.

Many of the sites that Xi visited afterwards are associated with Mao Zedong. Right before the Spring Festival this year, he visited Jinggang Mountains, where Mao had set up a soviet base and stronghold for his revolution. In three years in power, Xi visited Gutian, Zunyi, Yanan and Xibaipo, historic sites associated with Mao. Xi frequents places related to Mao more than his predecessors.

Xi’s governing style is also reminiscent of Mao. Lately, he increasingly cites Mao’s words. On Feb. 25, Xi ordered party members to study “The Work Method of Party Committees,” written by Mao in 1949. It includes 14 points, such as “Learn to play the piano.” Just as all ten fingers are used in harmony to play good music, a leader should be able to control and coordinate his or her members.

Official news agencies joined the bandwagon by reporting 18 quotes of Mao that Xi has liked to use since he was a local government official. These are useful not to learn Mao’s words but rather to learn Xi’s intention. Every day, People’s Daily publishes a number of articles urging the study of Xi’s teachings and directions. You can easily find red signs bearing the same message in government offices. The frequency and intensity is clearly different than that felt in the time of his predecessor.

From the early days of his administration, Xi emphasized Mao’s “mass line,” and revived the “self-criticism” in government agencies. In sessions called “democratic life meetings,” officials and party executives criticize themselves and one another. Moreover, in his anti-corruption and ethics reinforcement campaigns, as well as his control of the media as evidenced by visits to state-run outlets, Xi is certainly pulling from Mao-era ideas and policies.

In the end, Xi has two role models: Mao and Deng. Xi follows Deng’s economic theories but the administrative style harkens back to Mao’s line. The observers of China I meet in Beijing like to say that the ghost of Mao is hovering over the continent of China 40 years after his death.

JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 19, Page 26

*The author is the Beijing bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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