China Power

Why the CCP Won’t Abandon Mao Zedong Thought

The CCP, concerned with stability and avoiding social tensions, seems certain to continue the tradition.

As the 18th CPC National People’s Congress approaches, Western media outlets have reported that the Communist Party will break with tradition by not mentioning Mao Zedong Thought at its historic meeting. To be sure, there is no way to be certain. Nonetheless, both history and contemporary social and political realities make it almost certain that the CCP will not turn its back on the writings of its founding leader.  

To begin with, following the Bo Xilai’s dismissal and resulting turbulence within the CCP, party leaders are interested above all else is maintaining a united front in public. Abandoning Mao Zedong Thought will have the opposite effect—namely, it will redouble lingering doubts about the unity of the political leadership.

In fact, such a move would likely further destabilize the party by creating discontent among the armed forces. Whatever can be said of the CCP more generally, the People’s Liberation Army still uses Mao Zedong Thought as the basis of its legitimacy. After all, it was Mao who argued that “"political power comes from the barrel of a gun." Thus, PLA training still includes classes on Mao Zedong Thought and sings traditional songs that advocate “holding high the banner of Mao Zedong Thought.” It is therefore hard to reconcile reports that the CCP intends to abandon Mao Zedong Thought with the general expectation among observers inside and outside the country that the PLA will emerge from the leadership transition more powerful than before.

Equally misguided is the widespread belief in the West that abandoning Mao Zedong Thought would shepherd in fundamental reforms. For decades now the CCP has presided over unprecedented changes in China all the while heaping praise on Mao Zedong Thought at each Party Congress. Put differently, referring to Mao Zedong Thought is completely irrelevant to the question of reform.

Nor is Western speculation of whether the CCP will break entirely from Mao Zedong Thought new. In fact, in 2009, during the run-up to the National Day parade marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, many foreigners made this prediction. Then, like now, many predicted that the party would use the occasion to praise the decision to open up under Deng Xiaoping and not make a single reference to Mao Zedong Thought. In actuality, students and teachers from Tsinghua University joined with the Armed Police Force in holding a mass procession led by Mao Zedong Thought.

Given such a track record, reports that Mao Zedong Thought will be dropped at the 18th National Party Congress should be viewed skeptically. The CCP, concerned as it is with stability and avoiding social tensions, is almost certain to continue the tradition.