Has the previously inscrutable leader of China, Xi Jinping, begun to show his true colors?
A recent editorial on Guangming Daily, one of the Communist Party’s mouthpiece newspapers, revealed that in a January meeting, the new Chinese leader had pointed out:
Had Deng Xiaoping completely repudiated Mao Zedong in 1981, would our Party have been able to survive? Would the socialist system have been able to survive in our country? No, they would not have been able to survive, and that would have led to chaos in China.
While it is not news that Xi has a conservative streak, these remarks have seemingly dashed all hopes that Xi will make a clean break with the legacy of Mao. On Chinese social media, one’s view on Mao is often a litmus test for political preference, with those on the liberal and reformist side condemning Mao’s destructive policies, and those on the conservative side holding up Mao as a champion of the underclass. The two camps often engage in intense flame wars over treatment of Mao-era history.
Some liberal Internet users expressed their disappointment toward Xi. One wrote on Sina Weibo, China’s favorite microblogging platform, “Xi has gotten a lot of applause since he came to power. Maybe too much applause; now he has started to talk nonsense.” Another wrote, “He has made it clear. The current system and the Communist regime’s hold on power is more important than the interest of ordinary Chinese — that’s how I understand his remarks [on Mao].”
Other users agree with Xi. One wrote:
I think repudiation of Mao would bring about chaos, because there are people who miss Mao a lot, especially the poor and middle-aged or elderly people in the cities. Mao is deeply rooted among the people, and even has supporters among the younger generation. The conflict is quite real. If Mao is repudiated now it would bring about ideological clashes and worsen our social divisions.
Xi has so far enjoyed a honeymoon period — people from polar opposites of China’s political spectrum all have seen something in Xi that gave hope he would pursue their particular agenda. For example, those angling for political reform pointed to the purge of his father, one of Mao’s top lieutenants, during the Cultural Revolution, but their opponents pointed to Xi’s upbringing as a “princeling” born into the Communist Party’s de facto aristocracy.
Maoists should not celebrate too soon, however; Xi’s remarks seem to be a defense of Deng more than a tribute to Mao. Nonetheless, Xi has shown himself to be a stalwart protector of the Communist regime, one whose worst fear is to become the Mikhail Gorbachev of China. His “Chinese dream” may be a broad, catch-all term, but any political reform that upsets the current system is unlikely to be a part of it.