Deng Xiaoping was purged twice by Mao Zedong during the cultural revolution, and exiled by Mao for being too moderate and at odds with Mao's insane and genocidal actions. After the death of Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev denounced him and De-Stalinized Russia. As evil as Stalin was, Mao was arguably even more of a monster and Deng knew it and tried to bring some moderation and improvement after Mao's evil. So to my question: Why didn't Deng Xiaoping De-Maoize China after Mao's death?

In fact, the opposite occurred. Even though Deng presided over the shut-down of Madam Mao and the Gang of 4, he perpetuated Mao's personality cult and encouraged the continued hero-worship of Mao by the Chinese people. Deng, like other top communist leaders who knew Mao, knew well what a monster Mao was and that he was responsible for multiple man-made famines, large-scale atrocities, violence, torture, and all manner of human rights violations.

After Mao's death, Deng could have exposed the truth about Mao to the world, torn down his gigantic portraits, and De-Maoized China just as Khrushchev de-Stalinized the Soviet Union. But he didn't.


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    It is difficult to explain the "why not", but charges of regimes are not usually that easy. A couple of ideas: a) he was surrounded by people who had risen during Mao's rule, so he would risk antagonizing them; specially the gang of 4 that still had a lot of power b) he himself was a result of Mao's regime, a delegitimation of Mao could end with his own deligitimation. In the SU, the legitimation of the Revolution was Lenin, with Staling as succesor, making it easier to denounce Stalin while keeping the claim to Lenin's legitimacy untouched.
    – SJuan76
    Feb 15 '17 at 0:12
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    A dead hero is a useful propaganda tool. A live hero can go on to do embarrassing things. With Mao safely dead, what reason was there to demonize him, rather than to co-opt his legacy?
    – Mark
    Feb 15 '17 at 2:18
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    US propaganda? Everything I know about Mao comes from 3 sources (which all agree with each other): (1) The Unknown Mao, by Jung Chang (2) Wild Swans, by Jung Chang, and (3) Wikipedia. That is hardly "US propaganda". Feb 15 '17 at 4:29
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    I havent read it but : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mao:_The_Unknown_Story#Criticism . Seems like this book might be a case of "Tell the haters what they want to hear"
    – axsvl77
    Feb 15 '17 at 4:51
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    Khrushchev could elevate Lenin in contrast to Stalin. Deng didn't have that option. The CCP was 100% identified with Mao. @axsvl77 You're right that the Communist party's achievements were considerable, before 1965 anyway. But Mao shouldn't get credit, all the good ideas were Deng's, Peng's, Liu's and Zhou's. And Mao did his best to reverse those achievements and damage those who made them.
    – Ne Mo
    Feb 15 '17 at 9:14

Let's be more specific about what we mean by "de-Stalinization", "de-Maoization" and what they actually entail. Just because we don't call it de-Maoization doesn't mean there weren't drastic political changes after Mao's death, analogous to Stalin's death.

True, Mao's images weren't taken down nearly to the same extent as Stalin's were. I assert that this is because of Mao's status as a national founder - because such individuals are so intertwined with a nation's identity, they are somewhat above criticism, despite their numerous sins. But this topic merits a book-length treatment on its own.

Instead, let's look at what Deng did do:

  • Repudiated the Cultural Revolution, and attributed some blame for it on Mao
  • Officially criticised Mao, saying that he was "seven parts good, three parts bad"
  • Rehabilitated those who were wrongly purged during the Cultural Revolution, reformed party policies to shore up his support
  • Weakened the positions of his political opponents, many of whom benefited from the Cultural Revolution
  • Reversed economic policies by beginning market reforms

Soon he was the de-facto paramount leader of the country. If there is one way to describe Deng, I think he was above all a very pragmatic person, as evidenced by his many ideologically-inconsistent policies, and his famous quip "It doesn't matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice." When he has ultimate power and can enact his policies without opposition, what further need is there to demonise Mao?

Now let's look at de-Stalinization; note that even Khrushchev wasn't completely consistent in his criticism of Stalin; the pre-1934 abuses like the famine or the struggles with Trotsky etc. were ignored. So when you look at why these powerful politicians do what they do, above all you need to look at what their intent was, what they stand to gain or lose.

Khrushchev's aim was, as with Deng, to consolidate his power. Unlike Deng, Khrushchev can be somewhat reckless, as seen again later with the Cuban Missile gambit which spectacularly failed. Here the "secret speech", highly critical of Stalin, caused shock and disillusionment throughout the Soviet states and contributed to revolts in Poland and Hungary later. One could argue that, even though Khrushchev wasn't thorough in his criticism of Stalin, he went too far given how intertwined Stalin is to the legitimacy of the USSR. Indeed, soon after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the erratic Khrushchev was ousted and replaced by the more conservative Brezhnev.

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    A really interesting thought occurred to me while reading your last paragraph; it is entirely possible that Deng learned not to make the same mistakes as Khrushchev. After all, it was destalinization that eroded Soviet influence in China, so Deng was keenly aware of the aftermath.
    – axsvl77
    Feb 16 '17 at 3:41
  • Nicely done, congusbongus. Feb 17 '17 at 3:15

This question includes a classic stereo type about Chinese people - that they are subservient and obedient to the whim and whimsy of government rule. People loved Mao - and they still revere him today. A simple diktat from the government would not cause everyone to instantaneous change their minds.

In the early 1980's, historian and scholars - with Deng's approval - changed the official interpretation of Mao's 2 big mistakes. The Great Leap Forward and the Cultural revolution came to be reported as what they were - horrible tragedies, and mistakes caused primarily by Mao. Is that de-Maoization? Or factual historical revision?

Between about 1800 and 1949, China, and the Chinese people had a ton of chronic problem. Mao and the CCP effectively ended the problems and restored a drug free economically growing stability. I'll list the problems that were in memory:

  1. Qing dynasty after 1800 was too corrupt to handle difficult problems
  2. The powerful English Navy supported drug dealers selling opium in China, and undermined much of Chinese society by forcing an open market on drugs, while undermining the Chinese economy through trade imbalance.
  3. European incursions to take colonial prize cities
  4. The Taiping revolt
  5. The first Japanese -Chinese war in 1895
  6. Russia territorial expansion in the 1860s
  7. Russian claims in historical Manchu provinces
  8. Multinational suppression of the boxer rebellion
  9. Many famines
  10. Instability after the fall of the Qing
  11. Drug dealing warlords controling large portions of Chinese territory
  12. The corrupt Foreign-sponsored GMD government in collusion with financeers
  13. Japanese invasion during WWII.

In 1980 (and today too), many people still remembered the misery of pre-1949; Mao and the CCP brought stability, security, and economic growth to China. The 120 year threat of foreign invasion was done, WWII was done, the civil was was done. Hospitals were being build, modernization was taken at full speed. This was a major accomplishment, all while maintaining territorial integrity.

The fact is, the people remember these accomplishments. The fact that you, and American propaganda, don't like him is an emphasis on the Great Leap forward and the Cultural revolution. Most conversations I have had with people who lived through these horrible events blamed Mao and the CCP directly for them. But they also maintained that things were still much better in 1965 than before 1949; and in the 1980s they continues to revere Mao.

I've spent a considerable amount of time in China. In the Town I live in (Population ~ 1 million) I have seen large organized protests. They are common even! How, do you think, are they dispersed? Easy - the mayor comes out after a couple days, asks what the problem is, the people tell him, and he makes a policy change to make them happy. For example, there was a neighborhood about to be eminent domained. Most people are happy to be eminent domained as they really cash out - but this neighbor hood wanted to be continue. The 30 people when to hang out in front of city hall for 5 days, then the mayor came out, and a few hours later the problem was solved.

In summary

Despite the stereotypes, Chinese people are not obedient drones who obey the government; they make decisions about their own future based on their observations. Mao was very popular in the 1980s, and it was not possible to remove him from public affection. Deng could fix the historical record about the GLF and CR, but did not convince everyone to dislike a popular figure.

Another point: Deng and the CCP required continued popularity to remain in power. Attempting to fully discredit Mao would have undermined their own authority.

  • 3
    Broad claims, not a single ref. -1
    – Ne Mo
    Feb 15 '17 at 9:18

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