What the Chinese think about Nepal’s Maoists

After 2006, Beijing muted criticism of Prachanda because his party is 'Maoist'

Cartoon by Fu Hongge on article titled “Prachanda steps into power after Nepal abolishes 240-year monarchy” on Chongqing Wanbao (重庆晚报 News showing King Gyanendra.

In 2017, I had just started my undergraduate studies at Peking University in Beijing. One of my Chinese classmates asked me why the Nepal's communists used Mao in their party's name.

She was troubled that China's revered leader had been turned into an icon for armed struggle and violence. My friend’s opinion was valid because even in Nepal, the very word ‘Maoist’ still instills fear in many Nepalis who witnessed the strikes, murders and kidnappings during the conflict decade.

In fact, my classmate’s concern was in line with the Chinese government’s initial concern when the Maoist insurrection started. In early 2000s, China's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Jianchao stated that the rebels had ‘usurped’ the name of Mao Zedong.

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Mao had led the Communist Party of China to power in 1949 after years of violent struggle, he said, and China had no connection with the rebel group in Nepal. Ironically, the Chinese government labelled the Maoists in Nepal as ‘terrorists’ criticising them for being anti-government and bringing disorder to the country.

In 2001, the Contemporary World magazine of the Communist Party of China International Department published a piece titled ‘Increasingly Active: Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)’ which described the leaders as being solipsistic, neither able to create unity within the party nor with allies in other parties.

The writer went on to claim that most Nepalis did not support the Maoists because the party was regarded as being ‘grossly out of touch with the reality in Nepal’ and even the international community hesitated to recognise it ‘because of their association with international terrorist organisations’.

However, after 2006 when the Comprehensive Peace Accord was signed, the Chinese stance changed. The initial official reaction to Maoism in Nepal that used to be  fueled with skepticism and disdain, was replaced with a narrative that improved Mao’s own image.

Prachanda (Pushpa Kamal Dahal) was suddenly seen as a trail- blazer against feudalism in Nepal. Some unbiased content still lives in academic literature by Chinese scholars, but the citations are not accessible anymore.

The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) used Maoism as a suffix, instead of its main guiding principle. In fact, Mao Zedong himself was firmly opposed to using ‘Maoism’ as a political label for his ideology.

In a conversation with Wang Jiaxiang, a senior leaders of CPC, Mao said: "Maoism cannot be mentioned. I am a student of Marx and Lenin. How can I rank with them? Marx has Marxism, Lenin has Leninism, I cannot be labelled ‘Maoism'. I have no 'ism'. My ‘ism’ is Marxism and Leninism. You must mention Mao Zedong Thought. Everyone has their own thoughts. We can't casually mention 'ism'. I still believe that I haven't matured as a system of thought. It's not modesty, it's true."

According to the CPC constitution, Mao Zedong Thought is ‘the application and development of Marxism-Leninism in China and the correct theoretical principles and empirical summary of China's revolution and construction proved by practice’.

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In 2013, a Chinese student published a paper titled ’Maoism in the eyes of Communist Party of Nepal' in Liaocheng University’s Social Science Journal identifying ‘Maoism’ as the suffix of the party's name, and was only a strategic choice under certain circumstances, not all of the party's actions were guided by ‘Maoism’.

Nor had ‘Maoism’ proved to be able to guide its actions in parliamentary battles, the paper elaborated, describing the Maoists’ bottomless compromise with other political parties in Nepal as a violation of the basic principles of Marxism, and the party's division had a hand in this.

The paper suggested that if Nepal’s Maoists wanted to adhere to the revolutionary line in future, they must adopt the basic principles of being a proletarian party and have new theoretical guidance to ensure that it will not degenerate into reformism.

If there is one person Beijing decided to give attention to among Nepal’s Maoists, it was Prachanda. Although NCP (Maoist) received its fair share of criticism from China initially, the initial interviews with him by Chinese media tell a different story.

In a detailed interview with Global Times in 2007 soon after the ceasefire, Prachanda (Pushpa Kamal Dahal) was asked if he would run for president. He modestly replied that he would if the people and the party required him to. But he would do so only once and and after that lay low, be a member of the Party Central Committee and “slowly retire, read, write and do research”.

A year later, the Maoists swept the election to the Constituent Assembly, and Dahal was elected prime minister. Ten years later, he became Nepal’s prime minister for the second time.

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By 2008, there were articles and interviews introducing Dahal and stories of his revolution. In a 2008 interview article featured in China Daily, Dahal confessed that he was envious about how China dealt with Pu Yi (China's last emperor).

He added: ‘If Gyanendra like Pu Yi becomes a commoner, it will be a blessing for the Nepali people.’

The interviewer was impressed by Dahal’s simple lifestyle in Kathmandu, and the devotion of the people for him. He relates how when he arrived for the interview at 6AM there were already people waiting to see him. The interviewer says there was a ‘common phrase in Nepal that anyone can have a handshake with Prachanda’.

China seems to tolerate Dahal despite his perceived incompetence because of the attachment of Mao’s name to his party, which carries China’s face. K P Oli, on the other hand, has been criticised in the Chinese media for allowing the split in the NCP and the UML.

To be sure, Dahal has not tested the Chinese government’s patience like Oli has, but even the criticism Dahal receives within Nepal does not cross over to China, while Oli’s does. The Chinese government seems to be careful about any negativity towards CPN (Maoist) and manages news on him within China to save its own face.

Dahal’s present predicament with the MCC in Nepal could either further improve or completely ruin his stature in China. State media here could have denounced Deuba and Dahal for their recently exposed secret letter to the MCC, but it was largely ignored.

Dahal belongs to the Maoist Centre and signed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – this seems to have made him immune to criticism in China. However, the final decision on MCC is not only going to test Nepal’s ties with China, but also Dahal’s faithfulness to the Mao brand.

Aneka Rajbhandari is a Masters student of Chinese politics at the Silk Road School, Renmin University of China.

1: Author: Lin Zhiyou

Title: Historical research of Mao Zedong’s objection of changing “Mao Zedong Thought” to “Maoism”

Year: 2005

Journal of Henan Normal University (Philosophy and Social Sciences edition)

林志友:毛泽东反对把毛泽东思想改为毛泽东主义的历史考证》《,河南师范大学学报》(哲学社会科学版) 2005 年第 4 期,第 102 页。

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