According to sources speaking anonymously to Reuters, today’s festivities were planned to be “toned down,” consisting of three bows before a statue in Beijing and a visit to his mausoleum. Nationally, it is traditional to celebrate Mao’s birthday by cleaning the many statues of him throughout the country. No parades or raucous cheers, only subdued veneration months after China moved forward of economic reforms far from the heart of Maoist economic policies. Theater events were renamed to less grandiose titles, and other events canceled altogether.
President Xi, whose father was imprisoned during Mao’s reign and personally suffered the consequences of the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward, is quickly making his mark with expansive economic reforms that could make China an even more potent financial power. Just last month, Xi’s government pushed through expansive reforms that would scale back the nation’s one-child policy and allow for more private ownership of business. Such reforms have not sat well with the most hard-left communists at the top of the country’s government, who are now wary thanks to Xi’s decision to mark Mao’s birthday with what he said should be “solemn, simple, and pragmatic” events.
To balance out the understated commemoration, Xi sent the Standing Committee, the board of directors of sorts of the Communist Party, to a more lively event that a Reuters source described as meaning to “placate leftists after reforms.” Communist leaders worried that Xi might try to swing the country to the right economically– even as China continues to expand its increasingly imperialist foreign policy– might be right to worry. The party newspaper People’s Daily wrote today, according to the AP, that the best way to cement Mao’s legacy would be to accept further capitalist reforms (of course, the reforms were not referred to as “capitalist”). According to a Washington Post report, Xi is seen as someone attempting to consolidate power more than he is following any ideological rulebook, and slowly trying to scale back the fervent admiration of Mao among communists who choose to look the other way at the millions killed under his reign helps cement that view.
That is not to say that China is anywhere near being a North Korea, where the party leaders and the party leader might lose trust enough to eliminate each other. What it does demonstrate is that Xi appears to be walking a tightrope in trying to bring China into competition with the United States for global economic dominance, and that he and his leadership have come to understand that a communist system will not put them anywhere near superpower status. While not yet open to giving up the repression they routinely exert on their people, there appears to be an attitude of permissiveness with economic issues, where anything that helps China become a more dominant economic force needs to occur, even if it defies Chairman Mao. And if that means reeducating the Chinese people into worshipping Mao with slightly less enthusiasm, that seems to be a sacrifice some at the head of the Chinese Communist Party are willing to make.