`Mao a terrific personality in Chinese history`

Dr Jagannath Panda, an expert on China, in conversation with Kamna Arora of Zeenews.com.

Founded with just 50 members in 1921, the Communist Party of China is now the largest political party in the world with 80.269 million members. On July 01, the flourishing party celebrated its 90th anniversary. China has come a long way under the CCP, which seized power in 1949. China was then led by Mao Zedong. It took the country years to get onto the path of reform after 30 years of famine and Cultural Revolution. The Dragon finally opened up after the death of Mao in 1976. China is today the world`s second-largest economy.

At a time when Arab Spring is shaking the Middle East, the CCP tried hard to woo China`s 1.4 billion citizens by kicking off a campaign ahead of its anniversary. It organised concerts, TV shows, a propaganda film, commemorative coins, and even a red games sporting competition. However, in the end, Chinese President Hu Jintao had to acknowledge the need to fight state corruption to keep hold of public support.

In an exclusive interview with Kamna Arora of Zeenews.com, Dr Jagannath Panda, an expert on China, discusses the complexity in today’s China about Mao’s legacy, and successes and failures of the CCP.

Dr Jagannath Panda is Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi. He is also the author of the book titled `China’s Path to Power: Party, Military and the Politics of State Transition` (Pentagon Security International, 2010).

Kamna: What is the status of China`s Communist Party in its 90th anniversary? Has it lost its charisma or still enjoys people’s support?

Dr Panda: The Chinese Communist Party has reached an important juncture with its 90th anniversary celebration. Though the Party has gone through many changes since its inception, the core elements of the Party still remain intact. Building a “socialist structure” or an official slogan for “socialist harmonious society” is still regarded an important task. There is a widespread concern to establish “socialist harmonious society” among the top leaders including the current President Hu Jintao and the future leaders like Xi Jinping and Le Keqiang. The Party’s attempt here is to engage the interests from all quarters, particularly of the socio-political actors, legal communities, labour and the military. That speaks about the moderate nature of the Communist Party in today’s context.

Though it is difficult to argue outrightly that the Party has lost its charisma, it is definitely safe to argue that the Party is no more the same charismatic party that it used to be during the revolutionary period of China. Many political ideologies and institutions still hold their fundamental values for China since the revolutionary period; and these are still found clearly in the Chinese constitution and various governing institutions and associations under the Communist Party.

However, what is interesting to note here is the Chinese idea of establishing “socialist harmonious society or world” is linked with China’s global affairs and foreign policy strategy. To revive its charisma in the 21st century, top leadership in the Communist Party has tried to leave some landmark imprints on China’s global strategy through implementing thoughts like “peaceful rise” (heping hueqi) and “harmonious world” (hexie shijie). These thoughts are interesting Chinese formulations, as these are mainly instrumental thoughts in conveying to the people of China and the world the message that the reference point of the idea of “peaceful rise” is that China would like to grow within the status quo and international norms rather than pushing hard for any alternative world order. Similarly, the idea of “harmonious world” represents an extension of China’s domestic efforts at building a “harmonious society”. Though it is impossible to settle on what could be the final character of the Chinese Communist Party, the democratic elements within the Communist party offers stimulating ideas at many policy levels for debate in the light of the significant consequences they imply for world politics. The impact of the Chinese Communist Party is huge, both internally and externally.

Kamna: Do you think the current leaders in the party have managed to live up to the original ideals of the founders of the party?

Dr Panda: Current leadership in China are trying to maintain a right balance between the original ideas and the contemporary realities. The sense of establishing a “socialist democracy” in which the “government must act in accordance with law” has been pushed systematically by the Party since the days of Deng Xiaoping. The concept has in fact become a major segment of the Chinese political process.

Leaders like Jiang Zemin propounded the “three represents” to uphold the legitimacy of the Communist Party which supposed to represent the “most advanced mode of productive force, the most advanced culture and the interests of the majority of the population”. Similarly, establishing a society based on the “rule of law” is an interesting attempt among the contemporary leaders. However, it seems that instituting the rule of law in an authoritarian system like China leads to paradoxical outcomes, like the formation of “socialist democracy”. Despite the absence of full-fledged rule of law, perhaps the most striking feature among the current leadership in China is the realisation of the significance of law, legalisation of the process and the institution, and a necessity to form a legal order. This is clearly observed at different scales and in different forms.

At the moment, the Chinese case presents a cautious approach to its institutional politics, because both the surface of the politics and problems are structural in nature. Therefore, while the Chinese Communist Party may abstract sufficient time to institute an interest-based political order and transition, all these trends seems to uphold Party’s legitimacy, promote economic growth, strengthen military and maintain a balance between domestic and global security challenges.

Kamna: How do you read this when the party says Mao`s ways led to chaos in entire society?

Dr Panda: This has been a debate in China always. Some Chinese call Mao as a ‘good leader’ and some call him as a ‘bad leader’. But the consensus remains in China that Mao is a terrific personality in Chinese history and restored most of the Communist path. However, what is important to note here is that Mao’s legacy remains debatable in China today and China’s effort of building a “socialist democracy” seems paradoxical given the nature of Party control over its monolithic social and political system in a post-Leninist state. To put it in other words, Stanley Lubman’s allegory of the “bird in a cage” is a reminder of this limit. The complexity in today’s China about Mao’s legacy and its political discourse is broadly divided into three mainstream categories; the official formulations, neo-conservative intellectuals; and liberals. That speaks about China’s confusing state of affairs today.
Kamna: What are the successes and failures of the largest political party in the world?

Dr Panda: The most impressive achievement of the Communist Party today is China’s steady and quick economic growth over the past three decades. In fact, the grand success of the Chinese economy- fostering growth in many aspects- seems to defy conventional wisdom. Further, a wide-ranging programme of institutional and political reforms is currently underway, with the strengthening of citizen’s rights, building legal structure, preparing a modern and advanced military, and citizen participation in governmental and political processes. The Chinese Communist Party’s leading role in the Chinese political discourse is abhorrent to the liberals, who view the system of multiparty competitive elections as best suited to complex societies comprising different groups with often contradictory interests. However, this is not easy to bring systemic changes to China so easily where the problem is structural, and when the Communist Party is at helm.

The Communist Party is open to the democratic ideas; but not open to the democratic system. That has been the problematic part of the Chinese Communist Party in China. Issues like human rights, media censorship and one-Party structure brings the Communist regime to the bad lime-light. It often highlights the Chinese Communist Party’s failure to rise to the contemporary social realities. Problems like unemployment, corruption, lack of social freedom often highlights the failure of the Communist regime in China. These not only discloses several deficiencies in the political system but also highlight why China’s global posture still remains suspect even today.

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