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The growing disparity between haves and have-nots has revived a nostalgia for Maoist egalitarianism and idealism. The Maoist discourse is well known to Chinese people.
The disgraced leader Bo Xilai tried to revive Maoist songs and slogans in his “sing red strike black” campaign to mobilize the people through Maoist nostalgia (singing Maoist songs) in order to strike back at organized crime and special (“black”) interests. His attempted revival of Mao sent shivers through the body politic that had suffered the excesses of the Cultural Revolution and his policies were stopped.
Yet Xi Jinping has also revived aspects of the Maoist discourse, raising doubts among China-watchers about possible changes in the Dengist reform policies or a possible return to Maoist policies.
It is in this context that we need to understand that the construction of a new political paradigm and its concomitant discourse is giving new meanings to traditional terms.
In the case of Confucian terminology, the use of “moderately prosperous society” is an example. The Party is referring to World Bank definitions of low, middle and high income countries when it calls for a “moderately prosperous society”, not to classical Confucian concepts, even though the term comes from a Confucian text.
Some refer to the revival of Maoist discourse as Maoism 2.0 and to the campaign against corruption in the Party ranks as Cultural revolution 2.0 but there are significant differences.
In 1963, the first Socialist Education Movement went beyond the ranks of the Party to carry class struggle to the population at large. The current education and anti-corruption policy applies to the ranks of the Party and has not spilled over into a general persecution. So far today it has been restricted to Party members.
The anti-corruption policy of the Xi administration has been interpreted by some foreign observers to be a means of consolidating control within the Party and purging enemies. That might be the case if what were happening was an anti-corruption “campaign” that might come to an end, but there are reasons to believe that it may in fact be a long-term “policy” and not just a “campaign”.
Xi’s recovery of some of the Maoist discourse has been seen as a strategy to ward off “traditionalist” or “hard-line” critics within the CPC, but there is no evidence of retrocession in the policy of reform and opening up. Perhaps Xi is “talking the Mao talk” but “walking the Deng walk”.