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Special Feature: Mao Today: A Political Icon for an Age of Prosperity

Mao Zedong in ContemporaryChinese Official Discourse andHistory

Arif Dirlik
p. 17-27


Rather than repudiate Mao’s legacy, the post-revolutionary regime in China has sought to recruit him in support of “reform and opening.” Beginning with Deng Xiaoping after 1978, official (2) historiography has drawn a distinction between Mao the Cultural Revolutionary and Mao the architect of “Chinese Marxism” – a Marxism that integrates theory with the circumstances of Chinese society. The essence of the latter is encapsulated in “Mao Zedong Thought,” which is viewed as an expression not just of Mao the individual but of the collective leadership of the Party. In most recent representations, “Chinese Marxism” is viewed as having developed in two phases: New Democracy, which brought the Communist Party to power in 1949, and “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” inaugurated under Deng Xiaoping and developed under his successors, and which represents a further development of Mao Zedong Thought. The Hu Jintao leadership has made an aggressive effort to portray “Chinese Marxism” as the most advanced development of Marxism that might also serve as a model for others. These interpretive operations have salvaged Mao for the national revolution and the legitimacy of the Communist Party. But it also presents a predicament in keeping alive memories of Mao’s policies, which the Party is not always able to control in political memory, as has been illustrated most recently in the Chongqing experiment.

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Bibliographical reference

Arif Dirlik, « Mao Zedong in ContemporaryChinese Official Discourse andHistory », China Perspectives, 2012/2 | 2012, 17-27.

Electronic reference

Arif Dirlik, « Mao Zedong in ContemporaryChinese Official Discourse andHistory », China Perspectives [Online], 2012/2 | 2012, Online since 30 June 2015, connection on 08 May 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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About the author

Arif Dirlik

He most recently served as the 1922 Rajni Kothari Chair in Democracy, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi. His most recent book-length publications are Culture and History in Post-revolutionary China, and two edited volumes, Sociology and Anthropology in Twentieth Century China and Global Capitalism and the Future of Agrarian Society.

By this author

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