Dialogue  April-June, 2005, Volume 6  No. 4

Maoism Unmasked

Prakash Singh

Maoism has undergone a complete metamorphosis in the land of its birth. Mao talked of upholding the rights of ethnic minorities, supporting national liberation movements and establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat, but China has moved far away from these principles. The ethnic minorities have been trampled, the liberation movements crushed and capitalist economy introduced under the garb of socialism in a frenetic bid to catch up with the West.

In international relations, China has followed the imperialist path brazenly in a very planned manner. To start with, they manipulate the historical accounts to show that a particular area was part of the Chinese kingdom during some period in the past. In the second stage, they start showing that area as part of their territory in their maps – there is, in other words, cartographic aggression. And, in the third stage, they start staking their claim by sending patrols and throwing their weight around. As stated by Brahma Chellaney:

“As the fairy tale Middle Kingdom, China has for long presented itself as the mother of all civilizations, weaving legends with history to foster an ultra-nationalistic political culture centered on the regaining of supposedly lost glory…

With 60 percent of its present territory comprising homelands of ethnic minorities, China has come a long way in history since the time the Great Wall represented the Han empire’s outer security perimeter. Territorially, Han power is at its zenith today. Yet driven by self-cultivated myths, China continues to chase greater territorial and maritime claims”.1

The treatment of Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia provinces is illustrative.


Tibet was an independent entity from the earliest times. In the seventh century, the Tibetan armies moved north, east and west from the area around the Yalu river in the region near the present day Lhasa. They conquered much of Central Asia and, by the eighth century, “the Tibetan Empire was the most feared political power in Asia”.2 For a short period in 755, Tibetans even captured Changlan, the then capital of China, forcing the Chinese emperor and his court to flee from the city. In the eighth and ninth centuries, the Tibetan kingdom extended across Central Asia and included large areas of present day China. Internecine strife however divided the Tibetan Empire and shrunk its authority.

The only time Tibet was part of China was under the Yuan dynasty from 1279 to 1368. The Yuans were Mongols, but the Chinese official history, to buttress its expansionist claims, projects the Yuan dynasty as Chinese. The Mongol empire ended in the mid-fourteenth century. It has been rightly said that Korea, North Vietnam, Northern Myanmar  and large parts of Siberia were all part of the vast Mongol empire, but these areas have never been claimed by China. In any case, as pointed out by Dr. Michael C Van Walt Van Pragg, an international lawyer, the respective relationships between the Mongols and the Tibetans and between the Mongols and Chinese must be understood in the correct perspective:

“While China was militarily conquered by the Mongols, the Tibetans and the Mongols established the historically unique ‘priest patron’ relationship, also known as CHO-YON. The Mongol aristocracy had converted to Buddhism and sought spiritual guidance and moral legitimacy for the rule of their vast empire from the Tibetan theocracy. As Tibet's patrons they pledged to protect it against foreign invasion. In return Tibetans promised loyalty to the Mongol empire. The Mongol-Tibetan relationship was thus based on mutual respect and dual responsibility. In stark contrast, the Mongol-Chinese relationship was based on military conquest and domination. The Mongols ruled China, while the Tibetans ruled Tibet.”3

The Dalai Lama, in 1639, formalized the Cho-Yon relationship with the Manchu emperor. The Manchu empire started disintegrating by the middle of the 19th century and, in 1912, after its fall, Tibet declared its independence and conducted itself as a fully sovereign nation. The International Commission of Jurists' Legal Enquiry Committee on Tibet, which examined Tibet's legal status, concluded that “Tibet demonstrated from 1913 to 1950 the conditions of statehood as generally accepted under international law” and that from 1913 to1950 the “foreign relations of Tibet were conducted exclusively by the Government of Tibet, and countries with whom Tibet had foreign relations are shown by official documents to have treated Tibet in practice as an independent state.”

The Chinese Liberaton Army invaded Tibet in 1949-50 on the basis of a “doctrinaire misinterpretation of historical facts’. A ‘Seventeen-Point Agreement’ was signed between the Chinese and the representatives of the Dalai Lama whereby the control of Tibet’s external affairs was ceded to China, which guaranteed that internal governance, cultural and religious systems and institutions would remain under the Tibetan administration. The Agreement was later rejected by the Tibetan government on the ground that its representatives had been coerced into signing it. In any case, all its provisions were violated and the guarantee of autonomy proved illusory. The Tibetans rose in revolt and conducted guerilla warfare against the Chinese, but the uprising was ruthlessly put down. The 14th Dalai Lama eventually fled to India in 1959 along with his 80,000 supporters. In the crackdown which followed, even the Chinese figures record 87,000 deaths. According to Tibetan sources, as many as 4,30,000 were killed in the uprising and the subsequent years of insurgency. The reports of the Amnesty International and other human rights organisations bring out that the Chinese followed a policy of genocide in which thousands of monks and nuns were executed, a very large number of monasteries and temples demolished, and the Tibetans were forbidden to express or practice their religious beliefs. There was some improvement in the situation after 1979 when Deng Xiaoping became leader of the Chinese Communist Party. The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyasto, speaking recently to the Newsweek correspondent, said that he was greatly “concerned about this Chinese population transfer into Tibet” and added that “it will be very difficult to preserve our culture, and also our environment”.4 On another occasion, he said: “Time is running out. We need some sort of action to protect Tibetan culture and environment”.5 


The relations between China and Xinjiang have been marked by “cultural and religious conflict, bloody rebellions, and tribal dissensions.” As brought out by Owen Lattimore in his historical account, the region was under the effective control of China only intermittently.

The Hans established the Silk Road through this area over which caravans carried silk to Rome in exchange for precious metals, glassware and woolen cloth. Around 1000 AD, Arabs came to the region and converted many to Islam. Turkic became the language of the basins. Genghis Khan conquered Xinjiang in the 13th century. Later, in the 17th century, the Qing dynasty integrated the area into the Chinese empire and, in 1884, constituted it as Xinjiang province. After the Chinese Revolution of 1911, Xinjiang witnessed an era of warlordism which lasted till mid – 1940s. Muslim uprisings rocked the region from 1931 to 1949, but these were put down by the Chinese Communist forces. The Chinese thereafter embarked on a plan to change the demography of the region. Han Chinese were moved in large numbers to the province with the result that their percentage in population rose from 5 in 1949 to 38 in 1990. This was naturally resented by the Turkic people of the region.

In June 1981, Uighur demonstrators attacked the Han settlers and even a PLA army base in Kashgar. The situation became so serious that the then Vice Chairman, Deng Xioping, visited Xinjiang and stayed there for nine days to resolve the crisis. In 1985 and 1986, Uighur students organized public demonstrations in Urumchi, demanding ban on nuclear testing in Lop Nor and against the settlement of Hans in Xinjiang. In 1989, Muslim students in the University at Urumchi protested against the Chinese policy of birth control imposed on the non-Han people and raised slogans like ‘Han people leave Xinjiang’. In April 1990, anti-Chinese riots were sparked off after the local authorities banned the construction of a mosque near Kashgar airport. The riots spread to other towns and were described as “armed counter-revolutionary rebellion” in the local television broadcasts. The activists of Islamic Party of Eastern Turkestan proclaimed jihad to “eliminate infidels” from Xinjiang, the party’s declared objective being to establish an independent Islamic Republic of Xinjiang. In 1996, there were several reports of bomb blasts and clashes between the Muslim separatists and the security forces in Xinjiang.6 The Chinese arrested about 3,000 Uighurs. The biggest riot in the province took place in Yining town near Kazakhstan border on February 5-6, 1997 during the festival of Ramazan, when more than 1,000 youth demanding independence and shouting anti-China slogans took to streets and indulged in arson and beating/killing of Hans. About 10 Hans were beaten to death and over 100 Hans injured. This was followed by a bomb blast in Beijing on March 7, 1997 in which 30 persons were injured. Uighurs claimed responsibility for these attacks. The Chinese brutally suppressed the dissidents, taking strict measures against ‘separatism’ and ‘religious extremism’. Mosques were leveled, clerics were arrested and ‘illegal’ books and audio cassettes confiscated. There were reports of torture, forced confessions and unfair trial procedures. After 9/11, China blamed Uighur activists of having links with the Al Qaida and the Taliban. Additional Chinese military units were moved to the region and Beijing prevailed upon Washington to label Uighur groups as terrorists.

Inner Mongolia

Inner Mongolia, as part of the Great Mongol Empire, was never a part of China. From the day Genghis Khan founded the Mongol Empire in 1206 to the death of the last Grand Khan of the Mongols, Ligdan Khan, in 1634, the Mongol nation had been an independent state for more than 400 years.7 In 1911, following the collapse of the Manchu Empire, the Chinese warlords took advantage of the Mongols’ weakness. Outer Mongolia was able to proclaim its independence in 1921, but Inner Mongolia came under the warlords’ control. Later, the People’s Liberation Army overran Inner Mongolia and the Chinese, on May 1, 1947, declared the setting up of the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region. It is one of China’s largest administrative regions. The Inner Mongolians have been brutally suppressed by the Chinese in a number of ways:

          Ø   Over 2,50,000 Mongols were killed and thousands of Mongolian Buddhist temples were destroyed

          Ø   Han Chinese in large numbers were settled in Inner Mongolia

          Ø   The Mongols, hitherto dependent on the grasslands, were forced to abandon their homes and move to remote places

          Ø   The Chinese government forced the Mongols to learn Chinese language and adapt Chinese culture

          Ø   The Mongols were compelled to limit their families through the enforcement of birth control policy

          Ø   Dissidents were put down as ‘counterrevolutionaries’ or ‘separatists’

An Inner Mongolian League for the Defense of Human Rights, founded by Mongolian scholars and students in 1981 seeks to focus international attention on the maltreatment of the Mongolians by the Chinese, protect human rights in Inner Mongolia, struggle for true autonomy in social, political and economic spheres and, finally, to establish a free and independent Inner Mongolia. The League has its headquarters in Germany and chapters in France, UK and USA.

The Union of Human Rights in Inner Mongolia, the Inner Mongolia Revival Movement and Inner Mongolian Youth Centre, in a joint appeal issued in 1996, called for “help and support for the peoples of Inner Mongolia, Tibet and Xinjiang who are fighting for freedom and independence” and demanded that China free “thousands of innocent Tibetans, Uighurs, Kazakhs and other non-Chinese” from detention and halt “policies against the people of Inner Mongolia, Tibet and Xinjiang to eliminate them by Sinicising them by force”.8

South China Sea

The Chinese claims over the South China Sea region has brought it into conflict with not only Taiwan but also Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Brunei. The region is the world’s second busiest international sea lane and contains oil and gas resources strategically located near large energy consuming countries. The area has more than 200 small islands, rocks and reefs, the majority of them located in the Spratly and Paracel Island chains. The Spratlys link the Pacific and the Indian Oceans. The Chinese refer to the Spratly Islands as the Nansha islands and claim these on the basis of archaeological evidence. Malaysia occupies 3 islands in the Spratlys, Vietnam has control over 28 islands while Philippines claims 8 islands. In 1976, China enforced its claim upon the Paracel islands by seizing them from Vietnam. In 1988, Chinese and Vietnamese navies clashed at Johnson Reef. In 1992, Vietnam accused China of drilling for oil in the Vietnamese waters in the Gulf of Tonkin. In 1994 again, there was confrontation between the navies of China and Vietnam. In 1995, China occupied Philippine-claimed Mischief Reef. In 1996, there was a gun battle between the Chinese and Philippine vessels near Campones Island. Indonesia is not a claimant to any of the islands, but Chinese and Taiwanese claims in the South China Sea extend into Indonesia’s continental shelf. Brunei claims part of the South China Sea nearest to it as part of its continental shelf and Exclusive Economic Zone.

Anti-Secession Bill

The Chinese parliament, on March 14, 2005, passed a law giving its army the legal basis to attack Taiwan. The law, according to the official Xinhua news agency, calls for the use of “non-peaceful means and other necessary measures to protect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”. This will be necessary “in the event that the ‘Taiwan independence’ secessionist forces should act under any name or by any means to cause the fact of Taiwan’s secession from China”. USA and Japan have expressed concern over the enactment. The law, according to them, is tantamount to authorization of war as it allows the adoption of “non-peaceful” means against the island, if necessary.

And so, the Chinese Juggernaut continues to roll on. The very people who shouted against American imperialism are themselves blatantly following imperialist policies, though there is a difference of shade in the two imperialisms. The US seeks to expand its areas of influence. Ferguson’s book, Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire, states that the US has 752 military installations in more than 130 countries, but it is “an empire in denial” in the sense that the US does not colonize and does not send settlers to distant lands. The Americans would “rather consume than conquer”. The Chinese, on the other hand, excel in misinterpreting and distorting historical facts to aggrandize themselves at the expense of their neighbours. They have no qualms in changing the demography of an area to reinforce and strengthen their claim over it.

Economic Transformation

Even in the economic sphere, after Mao’s death in 1975 and the rise of Deng Xiaoping to power, the Chinese policies gradually moved towards acceptance of the Western capital and advanced technology and direct use of capitalist economic techniques and organization. From 1977 onwards, Deng had two main objectives : to modernize and strengthen the economy and to forge closer political ties with the West. To this end, four coastal cities were named special economic zones in 1979 to attract foreign investment and trade. Fourteen more cities were designated as such in 1984. China also de-collectivised its cooperative farms, and this gave fillip to agriculture production. The government also passed a law prescribing a one-child norm, though it led to protests.

Jiang Zemin, who became China’s President in 1993, carried the process further. China was thrown open to the capitalist entrepreneurs. Subsequently, the induction of China into the World Trade Organization in 2001 led to the proliferation of foreign firms not only in the export regions but even in the Chinese market in a big way. About 25,000 foreign investment projects were approved in 2002, a huge number by itself and a 33.4 percent increase from the previous year. About $50 billion worth of investment projects poured in 2002 alone. Chinese economy gradually shifted towards privatization. There are currently over 2 million private firms employing nearly 70 million workers. In fact, 2001 was a watershed in the sense that private companies started outproducing the public sector in that year, and the trend has continued. The Workers Power (WP) of Britain commented as follows on the transformation in China:

“Capitalism was restored in China by 1996. The fact that this was carried out relatively smoothly under the continued rule of the Chinese Communist Party was made possible by two principal factors. First, nearly two decades of ‘market reforms’ had created powerful capitalist sectors within China, and secondly, the crushing of working class political opposition in the aftermath of the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square had removed the most important social obstacle to capitalism’s return”.9

We are told that visitors to Shanghai are struck by the spectacle of capitalism flourishing in a so-called Communist state. What they do not see is the poverty and squalor of Guizhou, one of China’s poorest provinces, where incomes are less than a tenth of Shanghai’s level. Actually, the economic policies pursued by the Chinese leaders have sharpened the inequalities – there are disparities between booming cities and impoverished countryside, and between thriving export platforms and a hulking hopeless rust belt. The country‘s non-democratic regime manages to conceal these, but nevertheless there is increasing evidence of struggles by workers and peasants. Official statistics show that the number of public protests reached nearly 60,000 in 2003, an increase of nearly 15 percent from 2002 and eight times the number a decade ago. According to a report, the new party leader, Hu Jintao, warned the CCP Politburo that the state of society was ”forcing people to rise up, to rebel and to seek to overthrow the leadership of the Communist Party”.

Would these developments – China’s unabashed imperialism and its capitalist economic policies – have any lessons for India’s left-wing extremists?


     1.   Brahma Chellaney, Suspension of Disbelief, The Hindustan Times, Oct. 21, 2004.

     2.   Keith Dede, Ethnic Minorities in China: The Mongols, Tibetans, Manchus, and Naxi, website <http://www.askasia.org/teachers/Instructional_Resources/Materials/Readings/China/R_china_13.htm>

     3.   Website http://www.friends-of-tibet.org.nz/occu.html

     4.   Newsweek, Dec. 27, 2004/Jan.3, 2005.

     5.   Newsweek, December 2004-February 2005

     6.   K.Warikoo, Muslim Separatism in Xinjiang, Himalayan And Central Asian Studies, Vol.4, No. 3-4, July-Dec. 2000, p.45.

     7.   Oyunbilig, Inner Mongolia was Never Part of China, website <http://www.ibiblio.org/mongol-tibet/mongolia/never.html>

     8.   Irja Halasz, Unrest in Inner Mongolia, website www.innermongolia.org/english/unrest_in_inner_mongolia.htm.

     9.   Proletarian Revolution No. 70 (Spring 2004) <http://www.lrp-cofi.org/PR/chinaPR70.html >