Masking Mao’s legacy and diplomacy in Diaoyu

looks at how the legacy of Mao Zedong has had a detrimental effect on China and its revolutionary nostalgia in the Diaoyu crisis

Photo credit: Houbazur via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo credit: Houbazur via Flickr Creative Commons

To this day, Mao Zedong remains an ethereal figure in Asian politics. His giant portrait hangs ominously over the gate of Beijing’s Forbidden City like that of an emperor. His body, still lies in the grandiose Chairman Mao memorial Hall in the centre of Tiananmen Square, the granite plain that is emblematic of this country of more than 1.3 billion. His picture holds pride of place in many houses across China.

Indeed, an airbrushed iconography decorates Mao as a symbol of strength, a man born a peasant – who later developed a penchant for jump suits – who rose to lead the unity of a warring nation.

The reality is quite different. Mao’s poor personal hygiene (his failure to bathe for 25 years), his 50 odd-personal estates while others lived in abject poverty and his habit of having fresh fish delicacies transported one thousand kilometres from Wuhan simply to satisfy an Epicurean indulgence are just some of the reasons to question his pervasion into modern China.

It is worrying therefore that he has recently re-emerged as the face of resistance and defiance. More than three decades after his death, Mao’s image was carried aloft during protests against Japan over the disputed Diaoyu Islands.

One young woman from Mao’s home village in Hunan province lamented how weak she thought her country’s leaders have become and suggested that if Mao were still alive then China would just take the islands.

But despite this reverence amongst China’s would-be revolutionaries, Mao’s remains a flawed legacy, one characterized by despotism and an orgy of political violence that killed millions of innocent people. For those who see strength in his round face, others remember dread, deprivation and brutality.

China suffered during high-profile campaigns introduced by Mao, such as the “Great Leap Forward,” where millions of people died through starvation or persecution during a catastrophic attempt to modernize China between 1958 and 1961.

Another calamitous period, known as the “Cultural Revolution” aimed to revive the revolutionary chi of Communism. Millions of young people were forcibly removed from cities to learn from peasants in the countryside, viewed as ideological role models by Mao, causing massive social and pecuniary disruption.

Today, the same country that couldn’t feed itself under Mao has enjoyed thirty six years of the most consummate fiscal growth, the dictator’s death no doubt the trigger for such unparalleled economic renaissance.

With this in mind, it seems any revolutionary nostalgia that currently overshadows the Diaoyu crisis as well as China as a whole, is truly misguided by a masked memory of what Mao was really like. Regional stability in the Pacific hangs in a delicate balance over the sovereign rights of these islands, and we can only hope that the Chinese government ignores the advice of any Maoist protests.

Mao was not a liberator. He was a tyrant who hid behind the guise of socialism to carry out ultimately authoritarian aims. If China is to truly develop, it must do so by absconding from the constraints of Mao, starting with diplomacy in Diaoyu. Certainly, given the current economic situation in Japan, it seems unlikely that they will risk extending tensions with their main trading partner and Asia’s leading economy. Minister of Commerce Chen Denning is right to maintain a hard line stance on an aversion to force.

In 1985, Tiziano Terzani wrote, “At the centre of China lies a corpse that nobody dares remove.” In 2012, maybe it’s about time somebody did.

22 comments

  1. For goodness sake the West doesn’t have heck of a right to talk about Mao. Yes, he had failed plans and made people starve-before Mao whole families worked for landlords non-stop. In US it’s just the blacks who are slaves and in India its just the kids. In China the whole damn family had no rest. Yes he did kill millions of people. But I can’t think of why the West has any justification for giving such a rant as the Communists drove out the 8 nation alliance which actually nearly killed China off to the level of Maoris in NZ or the indigineous in Australia or the natives in America. And btw, since China is suck a programmed propaganda machine, I don’t see the West advocating freedom for the Ryukyus, whom Japan took over, nor do I see some articles on US biological testing on numbers amounting to 6 digits.

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  2. Cool. China worships Mao and he killed people. So what? The allies in WWII LOOTED thrice as many people to death-mind you, lOOTED, not killed, as there ever were Jews in Germany. When has the West ever presented a fair view of Japan-when their politicians visit Class A war criminals at Yakusuni ever single year? Or when has US stopped whining about 9/11 and taken a look at how much it persecutes Arabs with Israel even though it’s not their land dispute? And mind you go have a search on the internet-US had concentration camps in WWII as well, though not for the same reasons as the Nazis.

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  3. “Today, the same country that couldn’t feed itself under Mao has enjoyed thirty six years of the most consummate fiscal growth, the dictator’s death no doubt the trigger for such unparalleled economic renaissance.” Talk about BS? The reason Mao rose to power was because China couldn’t feed itself under the corruption of the KMT. The reason Deng Xiaoping was able to carry out reforms in the first place was because the Communists took over the KMT as China’s central government in the first place. Talk about negligence of history.

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  4. Yes. Giant portrait of Mao. Students interrogated for ripping portrait of Mao. Such a diatribe aims not at fair journalism but only to distort China’s relative position compared to the rest of the world. How many of you have even heard of the man who got arrested because he wore a shirt which had the image of Obama shot to death? Exactly. That given the suffering of the Chinese is an internal affair which did not affect you. So what if we still worship him? Does it affect you? Your past presidents tried to give our land to Japan after WWI, in the 1953 San Francisco treaty back door deal, started the Vietnam War, Afghanistan War, Iraq War, biological testing, guatemala bay, becoming a massive militant state-spending more on weaponry than the next 10 powers combined-and you ask China for transparency. We can never predict what happens with US cause it never stops fighting, never stops propagandadizing, never stops bragging.

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  5. So USA is not a politically indoctrinated retard? You go mad at slavery of blacks in your civil war, but you can’t lend an ear to the Communists in China-who have their whole families stuck working 15 hour days for landlords. You’re quick to talk about Mao’s corruption, yet you ignored the fact that when Mao wasn’t corrupt and the KMT was ruining China, US sent all types of aids to the KMT to defeat Mao just because Mao was Communist. That was in the days when KMT retreated out of Shanghai and Nanjing to avoid the Japanese just so they can save their forces to fight Mao, who is a Chinese himself. And USA supported this man? Learn you’re own history before you rant non top about who other countries choose to worship.

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  6. 14 Nov ’12 at 11:59 am

    Rohan Banerjee

    Obv obv obv

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  7. It’s Guantanamo Bay not Guatemala Bay

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  8. Please explain to me why Tibet is a non-stop yacking issue for US while Kashmir and Okinawa is unnoticed? In fact do Americans even know about Kashmir and Okinawa? Exactly. Maybe because India and Japan suck up to USA and that’s why big brother US don’t pick on them. And please outline a reasonable case for Chinese aggression on Diaoyu? An assertive stance does not equal aggression. The Japanese were the first to arrest our fishermen under 50 years of status-quo. They were also the first to repeat this diplomatic mistake by pressing it further by building lighthouses and selling the island. I ask you how is China the aggressor?

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  9. I wonder why USA thinks it has the right to label others as aggressive. USA was about to attack Pakistan after its protest about intrusion of airspace. USA was about to sanction India because it didn’t join in with the Western saction of Iran. In the case of Diaoyu, China has full right to be actively aggressive taken into consideration that at least the issue is the nation’s own. But US? It messes with everybody else’s business and takes an actively aggressive stance not only to those who oppose it’s outer-terrestrial conflict, but even those with a neutral stance. Before you talk about somebody moving Mao’s body, maybe USA should move its fat ass off the areas of conflict that don’t belong to it.

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  10. 25 Nov ’12 at 11:21 am

    Rohan Banerjee

    1. I am not the USA
    2. Stop commenting back to yourself – write a riposte if you really feel that strongly. Nouse are always looking for new writers.
    3. Stop commenting on my piece that you clearly haven’t read.
    “Minister of Commerce Chen Denning is right to maintain a hard line stance on an aversion to force.”
    I was commending China’s hitherto diplomacy and siding with them. My criticism was levelled at Maoist nostalgia.
    4. Oosh.

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  11. 26 Nov ’12 at 12:09 am

    Lyrical Gangbang

    roooohaaaaaan chill out no need to get stressed each time some drone from the middle kingdom posts

    strizzy.

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  12. 1. I have read the piece.
    2. My stance is not to support or deny your support for Chen Denning’s aversion to force. He is Minister of Commerce and sees things from a commercial side. It is that Maoist nostalgics have a fully justified craving for force given no country is obliged to follow peaceful diplomacy just because there is a UN around. Take a look at the last 50 years. Just because WWIII hasn’t broken out doesn’t mean anyone who uses force isn’t morally acceptable, or is mentally nuts.
    3. The nation isn’t steeped in Maoist Nostalgia and. One generation after Mao, and Deng Xiaoping is able to criticize his policies freely. And isn’t it comforting to know that USA never tells Taiwan to remove its Chiang Kai Shek memorial, the leader of the Republic of China who killed Communists while the Japs were roaming free, who gave Nanking and Shanghai to the Japs, who slaughtered more Taiwan natives than the PRC did to Mainland in the Cultural Revolution.
    4. His hardline stance towards war was a Maoist success, which, mind you, made the difference between us Chinese and the American Indians, so that we still survive now-impressive feat when taking the 8 nation alliance into account. This was a man who slashed off the Japanese army when China was so poor gold is used to trade for bullets.
    5. Mao has gone quite a bit worse, but the context IS that people were starving even more under the KMT and landlords prior to Mao’s corruption and bad policy making, hence why Maoist nostalgia is ripe.
    6. And what does Mao’s economic policies and cultural persecution have to do with his military philosophy? The latter ideologies are not only seperated, and proven very successful against India, KMT, Vietnam and Japan in the past.
    7. Any craving for force in China has to be linked to Communist aggression, and yet USA can’t get its head out of 3rd party issues that don’t even concern itself. What are we to say to USA then? Proverbs Old T : “Like a man who pulls a dog by its ears; so is he who muddles in others’ business”. If Maoists in China deserve your criticism, then will you kindly remind USA that the arbitrary expansion of USA’s security pact in 1953 is of a far greater aggression than any Maoist because USA is meddling in issues not of its own, and backstabbing itself too as it automatically revealed that USA was not confident of Japanese sovreignity over Diaoyu even in 1951, and yet we have half the Pentagon advocating fighting with China over Diaoyu. Before you brush off the Maoists as an indoctrinated bunch who can’t assess the circumstances, take in mind the Pentagon doesn’t even need one like Mao to transform itself into a war machine.
    8. China is neither as Maoist or Communist now as USA is pure capitalist. If USA was an ideal capitalist, you wouldn’t have a mimum wage requirement at all.

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  13. 9. Mao forcibly sending people to labour in the countryside is sure better than Chinese getting shipped to US and UK for labour in the days of the 8 nation alliance.
    10. The Great Leap Forward is a heck lot better for the average person than pre-Mao days. That given the former times one had no land, no food, and landlords whipping them. The latter had land, no food, and no landlords whipping them.
    11. The dictator’s death triggered the economic growth which would not have come had the dictator not lived in the first place, because Deng Xiaoping would not have been able to succeed him if the land was still ruled by KMT/landlords/8 nation alliance. China would either be in the hands of the corrupt KMT or had the whole nation turned into colonies by the 8 nation alliance.
    12. With this in mind, it seems that the Maoists cannot be simply deemed as misguided since they lived through this period and has had far more experience with Mao than the writer of the article, but rather that despite Mao’s faults, they recognize that Mao is of an overall contribution to the country and they recognize that his military talent is his one exceptional strength.
    13. As the author noted, it seems absurd for Maoists to proclaim war over our large exporting partner, Japan. But of what absurdity is the Maoists, when we’ve got fully democratized Americans in greater proportions than the Maoists advocating joining in the scrap on Japan’s side, their justification being a non-legally binding backdoor deal in 1953, and China their largest trading partner and largest debt holder. Surely the Maoists are not worth a mention, when you consider the lack of brains of the typical US patriot, in far greater numbers than contemporary Maoists. Just look at a Diaoyu forum. 70% of USA are crying for a fight.
    14. To quote the famous educationalist John Taylor Gatto, “a major historical sign of a falling empire is the constant craving to fight”, as America does, pretty much. No revolutionaries nor tyrants required to provoke it, and yet it does better than the Maoists.

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  14. My apologies. Thus ends my pice. I didn’t know how to do a riposte on the site. I’m quite computer illiterate by modern day standards. Oh yeah, you’re not the USA. It wasn’t directed personally. My point was that non-stop attention fixing on Mao style military hard-line stance of Diaoyu is all over the US, when Noda’s elections in Japan are a much harsher and dangerous factor to aggression, or even the bunch of war mongers at the Pentagon who butts into 3rd Party business. Maoists are no harm when Japan’s politicians have visited the Yakusuni Shrine, which houses the largest bunch of Class A war criminals of WWII in history, just to provoke SK, CHN over Dokdo and Diaoyu. My apologies as you weren’t personally a China basher, but why can’t the general public change the focus someday? There’s more interesting and relevant stuff to the Diaoyu stance than the Maoists.

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  15. ITT: “What part of ‘Asian Values’ and ‘You can’t apply normal standards to China’ don’t you understand, imperialist?”

    Ghastly.

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  16. funny how much censorship goes on when your previous 4 points got owned yesterday

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  17. Look here. All my suspicions confirmed. 4/12/12 US Senate passed a unanimous decision that the 1953 back door treaty with Japan includes the Diaoyu Islands. It is absolutely sick for you people pretending the Maoists are causing the trouble. I ask you what does USA want China to do when it says “not enough transparency?”. We notify the US of every single military system, such as the complete inclusion of Chinese air force arsenals at this year’s Zhuhai airshow. We say we will not do a first strike regarding territorial issues. Taiwan is binded to us by the legal document 1992 Consensus. What do you people want? What is transparency to you? USA can run all over the place and cause havoc, and your media panics at one Sino Russian navy exercise. Remind yourselfs how many exercises you’ve conducted and you wonder why people call you a violent nation.

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  18. There you go. Finally someone from our nation-Mo Yan wins a Nobel prize-and USA just won’t shut up because he’s Communist. Yeah sure, he has some strange views on sensorship, but there’s plenty of Americans who don’t give a thought to wikileaks exposing USA’s dirty secrets. And so much for censorship. Personal comments about corporate entities in the US has landed many people million dollar fines. Even if they were simple negative analysis or speculation they law bends for the rich. And by the way, if USA’s senate decision to reinforce the 1953 back door deal gets further approval from the House of Representatives us Chinese will cripple your market. Lay a finger on Diaoyu islands and we’ll stick a DF21D up your aircraft carriers’ ass.

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  19. 9 Dec ’12 at 3:33 pm

    Everybody in the world

    tl;dr

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  20. If it’s not long enough, USA thinks we’ve got no valid arguments. If it is long enough, USA says they cbf. Btw your Nipponese allies have deployed fighter jets in response to our marine serveillance plane. Perfect timing. Now we have an excuse to bring our air force their as well. We have 600 4th gen equivalent modern fightre planes while Japan has 240. Japan’s F16s won’t last against our armada of SU27s. The IAF’s simulations between F16 and SU27 never even had 1 win for F16s in the history of mankind. Even if your backdoor deal of 1953 does get passed by the House of Representatives, we’ll make your people cry for retreat using our DF-31A MIRVs from the second artillery. Only one nation ever brought USA to negotiations by force. And that’s the Chinese in the Korean War and Vietnam war. Never forget that Americans. And only 1 nation ever brought the Soviet Union to the negotiating table by force also. That’s our border war during the SU-China split. If USA’s citizens forced its government out of the Vietnam War, how much more will they rage against the Pentagon for forcing themselves into a war with China? Therefore, bill passed or not, we will make you surrender within a month of fighting.

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  21. Americans over here. Let us reason. What right do you have in asserting Japan’s so called “right of juridiction” behind the 1953 San Francisco treaty? Right of jurisdiction is based on SOVREIGNITY and nothing else, not some retarded statement saying “I’ve patrolled this island for 50 years since taking advantage of the win in the first Jap-Sino War and the civil wars in China after that”. And besides, why doesn’t USA sign a protection treaty with Korea regarding Dokdo?

    You warmongers will never learn to leave others alone until us Chinese and Americans are both cut off the list of superpowers. Then you are happy ain’t you? Achieved your goal? Russia can then take complete military hegemony. And who is USA to claim our submarine technology old? Perhaps you have forgotten this?-
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-492804/The-uninvited-guest-Chinese-sub-pops-middle-U-S-Navy-exercise-leaving-military-chiefs-red-faced.html

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