Chapter 2: Was Mao Really Necessary? An Economist’s Perspective
* WHY THE QUESTION AND HOW I ANSWER IT We are all aware that, twenty years after Chairman Mao’s death, his giant portrait still hangs aloft at the Tiananmen Square, and that the Mao mausoleum in Beijing has comfortably survived its builder, Mr Hua Guofeng, the hand-picked heir apparent, who, after serving for the interregnum in 1977–78, had entirely vanished into political oblivion. There is no doubt that, as the founder of the People’s Republic of China, Mao is guaranteed a permanent place in the Chinese pantheon, and that, to historically minded Chinese, Mao will always be revered as the Chinese hero who liberated the country from a century of imperialist plunder and humiliation. However, there is also little doubt that the legendary Chairman, increasingly revered as a distant, historical ﬁgure, is becoming an abstraction, remote from the detailed examination of his real role in China’s development. As a matter of fact, for many, if not the majority, of Chinese, Mao’s contribution really consisted in the founding of the People’s Republic. After that, he is best remembered for the débâcle of the Great Leap Forward and the havoc brought about by the Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1976. To be speciﬁc, in economic terms, the post-1949 Mao is now widely considered to have been more a negative rather than a positive ﬁgure. This perception or conclusion of the post-mortem has in fact become so popular, and so deeply ingrained in everybody’s mind, that it is now almost...
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