The Maoist Legacy: Party Dictatorship, Transitional Justice and the Politics of Truth

The year 1978 marks an important turning point in modern Chinese history. While the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) did not fall from power despite the horrendous crimes committed during the rule of former party leader Mao Zedong, it re-embarked on a major change of policies, which have led to remarkable economic growth ever since.

Yet how did the CCP cope with the legacy of atrocities committed under Maoist rule?

At the level of elite politics, the party discredited late Maoism and especially the Cultural Revolution as a break from the “correct” communist path of development and shifted the blame on a few “intriguers,” the Gang of Four and the Lin Biao “clique,” in order to avoid excruciating debates about guilt and regime legitimacy in the public sphere.

Below the propaganda surface, however, the CCP was faced with millions of so called “unjust, wrong and mistaken” cases that did not easily fit these simplistic explanations.

We aim at documenting and analyzing how the CCP dealt with the legacy of the Maoist past through administrative and judicial means.

The project seeks to analyze the CCP’s partial break with the Maoist legacy as an important, yet by and large overlooked example of transitional justice, albeit confined by the party dictatorship’s overarching aim to stay in power.

Research is focused on four different areas:

First, the CCP’s standards, institutions, and processes of administrating historical justice; second, regional variances in implementing these policies between center and periphery; third, the impact of the reversal of verdicts on social stability and CCP rule; and fourth, our project will document both the reversal of verdicts and past atrocities in a digital database.