x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

China rulers hint at reform by dropping reference to Maoism

Hints of new direction as late leader left out of policy statement.

BEIJING // China's ruling Communist Party has dropped its strongest hint yet that it will move in the direction of reform, removing a once standard reference to the late leader, Mao Zedong, in statements ahead of a generational leadership transition.

Mao has always been held up as an ideological great in party communiqués, which also normally mention Marx, Lenin, one-time paramount ruler Deng Xiaoping, former president Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, the president.

The politburo, a powerful decision-making council with two dozen active members, said on Monday a party congress next month would discuss amending the party's constitution.

Previous amendments, including one implicitly allowing party membership for capitalists, have formed the guidelines for important economic and political reforms in the world's most populous country.

But, crucially, the politburo in its statement on the issue left out what had been standard wording citing Marxism-Leninism and Maoism (formerly known as Mao Zedong Thought), which adapted the original theories of Marxism that grew out of industrial Europe to the conditions of largely rural China when Mao took over in 1949.

"It's very significant," Zheng Yongnian, the director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, said of the removal of a reference to Maoism and the implications of that for the direction leaders were taking.

"Before the fall of Bo Xilai, that direction was not so clear. But now it's become quite clear. I mean, less Maoism, but more Dengism."

Mr Bo, a former high-flying politician supported by leftists, was ousted this year in China's biggest political scandal in two decades.

By removing references to Maoism, the top leaders were signalling a push for reforms, Mr Zheng said, in the same way Deng introduced market reforms in the late 1970s that turned China from a backwater into an economic powerhouse.

There was also no reference made to Maoism in a previous announcement on the date of the party congress.

Doctrinal differences between reformist and leftist factions reflect an internal debate about the direction of the new leadership whose taking up of the reins of power starts at the congress opening in Beijing on November 8.

The debate has been under the spotlight since the rise and subsequent fall of Mr Bo, who, as party boss of the city of Chongqing, drew support from leftists critical of aspects of the market-based reform agenda.

China heads into the congress with the economy heading for its slowest annual growth rate in at least 13 years, while social stresses, such as anger over corruption, land grabs and unmet welfare demands, stir protests.