Talk: 50 Years since Mao’s Little Red Book: The Scholarship of Ascendant China and its Heritage
Mao’s little Red Book 1made up of epigrammatic quotations is a fearsome relic- it captures nuggets of thinking, it traps sentiments about a cultural revolution gone wrong but also this horrible shakedown that started the Chinese Renaissance since the “Four Modernisations Policy” of the 1970s.2 Is it time to discuss its importance 50 years after its first appearance in 1964?
Whereas for most critics China’s subsequent success was predicated on a departure from Mao and Maoism, the Gang of Four and its Shanghai networks and the excesses of its Red Guards3, many saw it as a “step back”, a “leap backwards”4. Giovanni Arrighi argued recently a mid-point-that it involved some continuity and a marked departure. In his Adam Smith in Beijing5he argues that the reforms during the Deng era were successful because “it (the Cultural Revolution inaugurated by Mao) consolidated the rural foundations of the Chinese revolution and laid the groundwork for the success of the economic reforms.”
It is ironic how the language of the book seems so out of date- “imperialism and its running dogs”, “power comes through the barrel of the gun”, “imperialists are a paper tiger”6- and yet, Maoism as an encompassing idea is spreading rapidly in South East Asia among marginalized and poor peasants. This talk will address a large swathe of history up to and including the moment when Britain in the late 19th Century consolidated its hegemony in the world system, when it was a vigorous and “real” tiger. I am doing so to lay bare the implications of Chinese ascendance then and now. So instead focusing on the enduring politics that echo the Little Red Book I will be reflecting on the scholarship on China’s ascendance to throw some light on its ambiguous legacy.
1 Mao ze Dong (1990), Quotations from Chairman Mao, London: China Books and Periodicals. The book was first published in Beijing in 1964.
2 See Mark Selden (ed-1979),The People’s Republic of China: A Documentary History of Revolutionary Change, New York: Monthly Review Press. p.651ff
3 For sobering assessments see Jung Chang and Jon Haliday (2005) Mao: the Uknown Story, London: Random House and Alexander Pantsov and Steven Levine (2012) Mao:the Real Story, New York and London: Simon and Schuster.
4 See Charles Bettleheim (1978), A Great Leap Backwards: China After Mao, New York: Monthly Review Press.
5 Giovanni Arrighi (2007) p.375
6 There are 33 short chapters of “best practice” on: the Communist Party; Classes and Class Struggle: Socialism and Communism; The Correct Handling of Contradictions among the People; War and Peace; Imperialism and All Reactionaries are Paper Tigers; Dare to Struggle and Dare to Win; People's War; The People's Army; Leadership and Party Committees; The Mass Line; Political Work; Relations between Officers and Men; Relations between the Army and the People; Democracy and the Tree Main Fields; Education and the Training of Troops; Serving the People; Patriotism and Internationalism; Revolutionary Heroism; Building Our Country through Diligence and Frugality; Self-reliance and Arduous Struggle; Methods of Thinking and Methods of Work; Investigation and Study; Correcting Mistaken Ideas; Unity; Discipline; Critism and Self-Critism; Communists; Cadres; Youth; Women; Culture and Art; Study