reform (ideological justifications)


reform (ideological justifications)
The late 1970s marked the beginning of sweeping economic, cultural and social changes in China. Given the crucial defining role of ideology in Chinese society, the post-Mao reformist leadership was well aware that the retreat from Maoism and the reorientation of policy towards rapid and sustained economic and technological modernization needed to be justified in theoretical terms. The ideological reorientation and intellectual evolution that it initiated aimed at rejecting ultra leftist orthodoxy in favour of an interpretation that both rationalized the new policies of liberalization and provided a critique of past errors like the Anti-Rightist campaign, Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution and Mao’s cult of personality.
The discussions on ‘practice as a criterion of truth’ launched in 1978 were meant to justify a more flexible and utilitarian orientation in policymaking and obviate the need to seek legitimacy from the canon of Marxism—Leninism—Mao Zedong Thought. Additional debates on the source of knowledge, stages of socialism and feudal culture attempted to trace the philosophical and social roots of leftist radicalism and repudiate its disruptive emphasis on class conflict and continuous revolution. The new Party line of the decreased salience of classes and class struggle in Chinese society legitimized the elite bureaucrat and intellectual agents of change and at the same time permitted the rehabilitation of millions of people who had been persecuted during the political campaigns of the Maoist era.
In the short term, the ideological offensive was quite successful in discrediting past policies and theoretical orientations as well as providing a wide measure of popular support for the post-Mao coalition.
In the longer term, the intellectual evolution that had been set in motion proved difficult to control and restrict within the limits prescribed by the leadership. The debates on epistemology became a fertile breeding ground for scepticism and doubts about the validity and relevance of Marxism, which would be emphasized prominently in the 1980s by Liu Zaifu, Jin Guantao and others. Furthermore, the extolling of scientific methods and practical verification undermined the Party elite’s hitherto unassailable monopoly over truth and provided critics, like the astrophysicist Fang Lizhi, an avenue to press for complete intellectual autonomy and refute the ‘guiding role’ of any ‘supreme principles’, including those of Marxist philosophy. The shift in focus from social classes to the individual subject in the emerging intellectual discourse of alienation, subjectivity and practical philosophy (see Marxist Humanism) strengthened the positions of those who advocated moving China in the direction of a market economy, rule of law and a pluralist democratic system. For Chinese intellectuals the ideological reorientation encouraged in the immediate post-Mao era marked the beginning of a period of creativity, intellectual liberation and reconstruction prompted by critical questioning of orthodoxy and a new interest in other non-Marxist intellectual traditions. However, for the political elite whose goals were far more limited, these ideological developments were threatening and destabilizing, and ended up undermining rather than enhancing its legitimacy and claims to power.
Misra, K. (1998). From Post-Maoism to Post-Marxism: The Erosion of Official Ideology in Deng’s China. New York: Routledge
KALPANA MISRA

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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