Tradition dictates that regularity is essential. Only then is the cycle of the seasons maintained, water is available, and the earth is fertile. Those in power must accommodate nature, not abuse it; their task is to ensuring its harvest. They need to build peace, justice and harmony with charity and wisdom as their weapons. War should be avoided, and when necessary, it must be waged with minimal causalities, conducted as if it were an art. Progress is caused by the natural evolution of things; there is no need for strain. Natura non facit saltus. Yet, Chinese history teaches that peace is a conquest, a result, not a presupposition. Peace is a choice, not an automatism or the obligatory conclusion of war. The first Chinese emperor rose to the throne in 221 B.C.E. He unified the country, standardized the national currency, measuring system, and the axle length of carts. Since that time, the Chinese people essentially live, think and behave under that same philosophical worldview. In any case, Qin Shi Huang seized control with force. When China was divided, fragmented, weak, and at risk of being overrun by Mongols bearing down on its borders, Huang saved China from the chaos of the Warring States Period. Since that time, history has been recapitulated with the same refrain: a pendulum that oscillates between order and disorder, but with the former being the preferred aspiration, the stable, optimal situation.
The Cultural Revolution could not legitimize itself because no country—not even Revolutionary China and much less the traditional—can tolerate chronic instability. Underdevelopment prohibits factories from becoming the battlefields between opposing factions, all within the same party. Military tensions with other countries impose discipline: trains carrying weapons to Vietnam to prepare for civil war could not be assailed. Revolutionary China existed in a fanatically ideological climate, remembered for its oceanic gatherings, brandishing its Little Red Book, and attenuating social disparities through strenuous labor in work camps. When Mao died in 1976 and the Cultural Revolution came to an end with the arrest of his wife, Jang Qing, and the “Gang of 4,” China was still an impoverished, backward country at the margins of the international community, whose ranks it had no intention of joining. It had a strong political identity but boasted few allies. With great difficulty it satisfied the needs of the people; China guaranteed survival, but commercial flow and foreign investments were completely alien. Considering its size, history and culture, China was one of the preeminent nations in the world, but it existed in isolation, under threat of its neighbors; it was menacing, fragile, unique and egalitarian in its poverty. The Cultural Revolution had not ransomed China, the chaos had not been therapeutic, and blood had not purified its ills.
The new administration inherited a complex and problematic country. It understood that economic development is the cornerstone of national independence and territorial integrity. In order to realize this, it had to deny its past without affirming it, to change the perspective while keeping the continuity. The liturgy and name of the party were conserved, but the politics took a 180-degree turn. The image of Mao on banknotes survived, just like his mausoleum in Tian An Men. In the intermediate years following his death, criticism mounted for the “Cultural Revolution’s excesses,” then the entire movement. In any case, it was not a public condemnation or a collective process. The facts were more striking than the prison sentences. With gravity characteristic of its historical moments, China abjured its past but cherry-picked its talents. It condemned, installed a silencer, but it did not forget. The entire Maoist period is seen as a consolidation of national unity, an obligatory step to project China into the successes of the third millennium even if it was violent. The message is clear: it abrogated the chaos of the past without causing additional chaos.