Mao Tse-tung's controversial 'Little Red Book' will be reprinted in China

Some see the reprinting of the "Little Red Book" as the harbinger of a revival of Maoist philosophy in China.

The 'Little Red Book' of quotations from Mao Tse-tung is being reprinted in China in November.

A controversial political manifesto is being republished in China and some observers say it represents a revival of old political ideology in modern China.

Communist leader Mao Tse-tung’s “Quotations from Chairman Mao,” better known as “Little Red Book,” is being republished in China in November, decades after Maoism faded in the communist nation.

The move marks the 120th anniversary of Mao’s birth. But it also signals a slightly more ominous development: Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s embrace of Maoist philosophy.

According to the UK’s Guardian, “The re-emergence of ‘Quotations from Chairman Mao’... comes amid an official revival of the era's rhetoric. China's leader, Xi Jinping, has embraced Maoist terminology and concepts launching a "mass line rectification campaign" and this week even presiding over a televised self-criticism session.”

Some have likened China’s mass line rectification campaign – an attempt to disavow corruption and reinforce the Communist Party’s ties with the masses – to Mao’s “mass line” campaigns to purge the party of corrupt leaders.

The founding father of the People’s Republic of China, Mao transformed the nation into a single-party socialist state. According to some historians, he was also responsible for the deaths of some 40 to 70 million Chinese through starvation, forced labor, and executions.

A follower of Marxist and Leninist ideology, Mao was widely influential in China. The 1966 “Quotations from Chairman Mao,” a book of select sayings from Mao’s speeches, became required reading in China as well as one of the most printed books in history. More than a billion copies of the “Little Red Book” were printed during China’s Cultural Revolution, making it the second-most printed book in the world after the Bible, according to some sources.

The book fell from favor as China embarked on a path of reform, but the book – and, perhaps, the ideology it represents – is returning.

In addition to original content, the republished book will include previously unpublished sayings of Mao, as well as rectify distorted quotes and quotes wrongly attributed to him.

Its publishers say they have no political motivations in republishing “Quotations,” but some see it as a revival of Maoist ideology.

Daniel Leese, author of “Mao Cult” and an expert on China’s Cultural Revolution at the University of Freiburg in Germany, told the Guardian the book was a “trial balloon” from Maoist sympathizers. “If they hadn’t seen how the general tone towards the Maoist heritage had changed, I don’t think they would have dared,” he said. “This is party internal politics popping up in the public sphere.”

Echoed political scientist Zhang Ming, “[Chinese leader] Xi believes in Maoism. He wants to completely revive Mao’s policy and he has already started it.” 

Those who agree with Ming say the “Little Red Book” is a first step.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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