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The Role of Ideology

In the early 1950s, Mao borrowed Stalinist social and economic principles in promoting development. When these methods failed to produce immediate and spectacular results, Mao adopted a masscampaign style of development derived from his experiences as a guerrilla leader. When applied to post-1949 problems, however, the style produced chaos. Mao's writings and speeches degenerated into rigid dogma that his followers insisted be followed to the letter. Deng, conversely, advocated a flexible and creative application of Marxist principles, even claiming that Marxism, as the product of an earlier age, did not provide all the means for addressing contemporary issues. Rather, he advocated taking a highly empirical approach known as "seeking truth from facts" in order to find the most effective means of dealing with problems. In Deng's approach, ideology itself was not the source of truth but merely an instrument for arriving at truth by experimentation, observation, and generalization.

To effect such a basic revision of Maoist ideology, Deng had to de-mystify Mao and reduce the towering image of the "Great Helmsman" to more human proportions. This was largely accomplished in June 1981, when the party's Sixth Plenum of the Eleventh Central Committee reassessed Mao's place in the history of the Chinese revolution. In the years after 1981, the leadership nevertheless continued to revere Mao's image as a revolutionary, nationalist, and modernizing symbol, especially when that image aided development of Deng's reform program (see China and the Four Modernizations, 1979-82 , ch. 1).

Data as of July 1987