What are the lessons to be drawn from post-Mao China’s transition toward capitalism, and from the historical experience of the country’s revolutionary past? In contrast to the view advocated by many critics on the left that opposes post-Mao China’s “reform and opening up” to Mao’s radical utopianism, this essay interprets China’s postsocialist transformation as part of a continuous process of political maneuvers to contain, neutralize, and displace the crises that resulted from the tumultuous Cultural Revolution, when the mass movements unleashed by Mao escaped control and threatened to destroy the institutional foundation of the party-state. Seeking to remedy the virtual absence of a historically grounded understanding of the legacy of Chinese socialism in the contemporary discussions of “capitalism with Chinese characteristics,” this essay argues that how we understand capitalist-oriented developments in China today depends crucially on the ways in which we understand the contradictory historical trajectories that characterized the country’s socialist past.

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