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

The year 1978 marks an important turning point in modern Chinese history. Although the CCP did not fall from power following the death of Mao Zedong, it did embark on a reassessment of its past alongside economic and social reforms.

Yet how did the CCP cope with the legacy of injustices, crimes and 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 small number of conspirators, the alleged 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 “unjust, false 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 this Maoist past through administrative and judicial means. The project seeks to analyze the CCP’s partial break with the Maoist legacy is an important, yet by and large overlooked example of transitional justice, albeit constrained by the continuation of party dictatorship.

The project strives to document and analyze how the CCP dealt with the legacy of the Maoist past. Our research is focused on four different areas: (1) the CCP’s standards, institutions, and processes of administrating historical justice; (2) regional variances in implementing these policies between center and periphery; (3) the impact of the reversal of verdicts on social stability and CCP rule; and (4) documenting the reversal of verdicts and related information in an online database.