As China enters new era, how much of Mao Zedong will stay?

Mao Zedong

In 1981, five years after his death, China's ruling Communist Party began to move slowly away from Mao Zedong and his philosophy.

Today, speculation about whether it is poised to finish the job has cast a spotlight on one of the most emotive debates simmering inside the party - how much of Mao can it erase without undermining its authority.

The debate is also a proxy for the more tangible battle inside the party over the direction and extent of future reforms.

Recent omissions of the term Mao Zedong Thought from some policy statements have piqued speculation that the party might remove it from the party charter when it amends the document at the 18th Party Congress, which starts on Thursday.

To critics, boilerplate references to Mao Zedong Thought have been devoid of meaning for years. Mao, after all, thought revolution and communism - not harmony and capitalism. It seems clear which path the party has chosen for China.

Supporters, however, note that Mao Thought long ago was expanded to encompass much more than just Mao's individual, and often radical, cogitations. It was, at its essence, a set of arguments that originally justified the pursuit of Marxist revolution in poor, agrarian China.

Supporters believe to this day that it underpins the party's legitimacy and grounds it in a set of guiding principles.

This year's downfall of Bo Xilai, the former leader of the western city of Chongqing who once had prospects for higher office, is a consequence of the battle within the party, experts say.

After his appointment in 2007, Bo turned Chongqing into a showcase of pro-Mao red culture and his policies for egalitarian, state-led growth. Bo's wife has been convicted of murder and he has been expelled from the party, accused of corruption and abuse of power - charges frequently used to discredit disgraced officials.

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