‘Mao will lead China forever’ was the title of a very famous poster during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution led by the Great Helmsman who, in Problems of War and Strategy, affirmed: “Some people have ridiculed us as the advocates of omnipotence of war. Yes, we are: we are the advocates of the omnipotence of the revolutionary war, which is not bad at all, but good and is Marxist.”
This was one of the many ‘thoughts’ of ‘Chairman Mao’.
One can ask, will this continue to lead China forever?
"To include Mao or not to include Mao? That is the tough question China's rulers are facing as the nation prepares for the once-a-decade leadership transition", writes Cary Huang in The South China Morning Post.
One can understand that Xi Jinping, the expected new leader of China does not really believe in Mao’s cult.
Xi was nine years-old when he saw his father, Xi Zhongxun, then PRC’s Vice-Premier unfairly purged by Mao.
This happened in September 1962 as Mao was preparing to go to war with India. What a traumatic experience it must have been for young Xi!
Xi Zhongxun only reappeared in 1978, when Deng Xiaoping gave him the task to start economic reforms in China's coastal areas.
Let us return to 1958.
It is today fashionable to speak of crimes against humanity. One of the greatest, known as the 'Great Leap Forward', began in China in February 1958 and resulted in the largest man-made starvation in human history. By initiating his Leap Forward, Mao Zedong's objective was to surpass Great Britain in industrial production within 15 years; every Chinese had to start producing steel at home, with a backyard furnace. In agriculture, Mao thought that very large communes would cater for a many-fold increase in the cereal production to make China into a heaven of abundance. Introduced and managed with frantic fanaticism, it did not take much time before the program collapsed.
In 1959, one man raised his voice against the general madness and sycophancy. This was Peng Denhai, Defence Minister and old companion of Mao during the Long March. Marshal Peng, who was a simple, honest and straightforward soldier wrote a long personal letter to Mao on what he had seen in the countryside and the misery of the people. Mao immediately 'purged' Old Peng for daring to criticize him. The Great Leap Forward was to continue for 3 years and it is today estimated that between 40-50 million died of hunger in China during those three years.
As tension kept increasing on the Indian border in the early 1960’s, did Nehru realize that China was a starving nation?
Moreover, the ‘great’ Indian Intelligence Chief, B.N. Mullik was blissfully unaware that by the end of 1961 Mao was practically out of power?
Dr. Zhisui Li, his personal physician recounts that the Chairman was: “…depressed over the agricultural crisis… Mao was in temporary eclipse, spending most his time in bed”.
In January 1962, Mao's position remained grim, Dr. Li noted: “In January, when he convened another expanded Central Committee work conference to discuss the continuing disaster, his support within the party was at its lowest.”
It is only by the Fall of 1962 that Mao would return with a bang. The conflict with India was closely linked with his comeback.
Mao decided to first ‘fix’ Marshal Peng; for the purpose, he used the Machiavellian Kang Sheng, later responsible for the security and intelligence during the Cultural Revolution, to do the dirty job.
The pretext was the Gao Gang affair. Gao, a senior Communist leader and at one point in time, Mao’s heir-apparent had been the victim of the first major purge within the CCP in 1953-54. Mao believed that Marshal Peng had been involved in the Gao Gang episode in the 1950’s.
The easiest way to get Peng out was to attack one of his closest collaborators, Xi Zhongxun, who had served as his Political Commissar, when the First Field Army entered Eastern Tibet in 1949.
Kang Sheng suggested a flimsy pretext (Xi Zhongxun would have edited a novel mentioning a character similar to Gao Gang). In The Origins of the Cultural Revolution, the US scholar Roderick MacFarquhar wrote: “At the 10th-Plenum [September 1962], Kang Sheng was thus free to lead the attack on Xi, and thereafter to lead the second special case review commission in its investigation of the supposed 'anti-party group' led by Xi.”
Thus for no fault of his, Xi Zhongxun, Xi Jinping’s father, was ‘sent in the wilderness’.
During the last few days, China’s watchers have been analyzing the omission of Mao Zedong's name in a Xinhua communique about the CCP's 18th Congress, which is to begin on November 8.
The statement issued by the 24-member Politburo made references to President Hu Jintao , his predecessor Jiang Zemin , and Deng Xiaoping, the architect of the ‘reform and opening up policy’, but no trace of Mao.
The future will tell us if the Constitution is amended and Mao’s name is forever dropped, but one can understand that Xi Jinping, the next leader of China, has some doubts about the greatness of Mao’s Thoughts.