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Mao's past mistakes show need for open government
Global Times | December 25, 2011 22:20
By Li Jie
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Today is the 118th anniversary of the birth of Mao Zedong, the founder of the People's Republic of China.

There's a prevailing viewpoint that Chairman Mao rendered great services before the founding of the PRC, but that was overwhelmed by the mistakes he made afterward.

We shouldn't come to conclusion on Mao's merits and mistakes based on superficial evaluations. The core issue here is whether the mistakes he made in his later life were unavoidable in his exploration of a better road for China or whether he committed unforgivable "crimes."

We all agree that Mao had made mistakes after founding the PRC. However, the first principle to distinguish mistake and guilt is to see what his motive is. What Mao did was aimed at seeking China's prosperity rather than acting for himself.

For example, he went against economic laws and hoped to achieve quick results through the Great Leap Forward movement (1958-60). He made the decision in the mid-1950s after the Korean War, believing that a world war wasn't coming any time soon. He thought there was 15 to 20 years' peace of time for China's development. Therefore, he wanted to seek this historical opportunity.

Meanwhile, Mao had his own concerns. He often said to foreign guests that he would like to see China developing rapidly before he passed away. This was also one reason that he rushed for quick results in China's economic growth.

Another important principle is to see whether he would rectify his mistakes on his own. During the Great Leap Forward years, there was severe famine and people starved to death. But Mao tried to correct his mistakes.

The Cultural Revolution (1966-76) was another mistake made by Mao. What astonished us then was that even Mao could ever make a mistake. I was in my 20's then. At that time I believed whatever Mao said and did was correct and thought he was a god. If Mao could make mistakes, who else could we trust? Such thoughts confused me.

Just as the Party's central committee concluded in a resolution issued in 1981, Mao's positive contribution to the building of a new China was much greater than his mistakes.

Of course, we need to look at his mistakes in an objective manner. We should not cover up his problems. And we cannot make the same mistakes again.

Some talk about personal grudges in Mao's toppling of then-Chairman Liu Shaoqi and General Peng Dehuai. It's true that Mao made a mistake in doing so. But it's not really about personal hatred. Actually the problem lay in the difference of their so-called political routes. Mao disagreed with Liu and Peng's ideas as to how to develop the country.

Many people, especially Western scholars, often refer to Liu and Peng as victims of power struggles. In fact at that time Mao was the only one who enjoyed unchallenged power. There was no point for him to "take back" any power.

The main reason the Cultural Revolution happened and ran out of control was because of the absence of collective decision-making in the Party. Blind worship of Mao took over, and he enjoyed unchecked power.

This is a historic lesson. Now the Party leadership is taking the right path in promoting democratic and scientific decision-making that follows standard procedures. Only in this way will we be able to avoid tragedies like the Cultural Revolution from happening again.

The report of the Party's 17th National Congress says that power should operate in the sunshine. This sunshine is democracy. Only with the supervision of the people can people's power be used for the people and controlled by the people.

This piece is excerpted from an interview with Li Jie, vice director of the Literature Research Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, by People's Daily Online, published Thursday.

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