While Xi clearly worships Mao as a ruler of China, he made his first trip following the route of Deng Xiaoping on his famous southern tour to Shenzhen, Guangdong Province. That tour was Deng’s reassertion of his economic policies after the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Xi Jinping visited Deng’s memorial and highly praised Deng’s contribution to China’s economic reforms. On his visit, Xi followed his own rules. He brought his daughter and wife but very few officials along with him and kept a low profile during his visit, with a minimum of media coverage.
Interestingly, Xi declared during and after his visit that Deng’s aphorism of “crossing the river by touching the stones” is still the formula for the success of reform in China. This saying means there are no existing rules to follow. The leader chooses whatever works to his and the Party’s advantage.
In the name of creating a communist society, Mao’s almost three decades of rule took wealth and power from the Chinese people and gave it to the CCP.
Deng’s era successfully kept power tightly in the Party but distributed the majority of the wealth to the well-connected families and their friends. Of course, people who work for those who control the wealth benefit as well under the name of building a socialist society with Chinese characteristics.
Xi has been given the name of “reformer,” but in talking about reform, Xi talks about punishing corrupt officials and making administrative reforms. He has been silent about political reform.
Without a free press and an independent judiciary, though, fighting corruption is a losing battle. Instead of political reform, what the Chinese people are seeing is stricter control of the Internet and censorship of the press.
Mao and Deng stand for two opposite approaches. Mao formed farming collectives; Deng broke them up, letting individuals farm their own plots. Mao ordered backyard steel furnaces be made; Deng opened China up to foreign investment and large-scale economic projects.
Xi seems to have found a way to reconcile between the different “renaissances” Mao and Deng each brought to the Party. Speaking to the 300 top leaders of China, Xi Jinping stated that Mao’s first 30 years and Deng’s second 30 years are continuous efforts by the Chinese people pursuing socialism with Chinese characteristics.
Xi also claimed the first and the second 30 years of communist rule are not contradictory to each other. Obviously, neither Mao nor Deng would agree with him if they were alive today.
This periodization of the Chinese regime into two eras conveniently erases the terms of Xi’s immediate predecessors—Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. They are treated as extensions of the Deng era. Xi appears as the ruler of his own era.
Xi’s autonomy in his history of the CCP allows him to determine his own stance to the two giants, Mao and Deng. Xi can decide to use Mao’s thoughts and Deng’s theories in whatever way suits him best.
Apparently, Xi is hoping to use Mao to fight anyone who challenges the power of the communist regime or calls for political reform, while using Deng to push for economic and administrative reforms.
Xi figures he needs both Mao and Deng to deal with the crisis his regime is in right now, and he knows he is neither.
Michael Young, a Chinese-American writer based in Washington, D.C., writes on China and the Sino-U.S. relationship.
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