December 26 is the birthday of Mao Zedong, and 2013 was a particularly important celebration. This year marked the 120th anniversary of Mao’s birth. In celebration, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang visited Mao’s mausoleum in Beijing and also attended a symposium on Mao at the Great Hall of the People. At the symposium, Xi promised to raise the banner of Mao Zedong Thought “forever.” However, Xi also cautioned that Mao, like other “revolutionary leaders” were “not gods, but human beings.”

Today was the 120th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s birth, and as the event is celebrated in grand style in Beijing and around China, images of the Chairman are even more ubiquitous than usual this week: A rumored $2.5 billion was invested in celebrations in honor of the figure whose portrait watches over Tiananmen Square and is fastened to the gate of the Forbidden City.

China's leaders bowed three times before a statue of Mao Zedong on the 120th anniversary of his birth Thursday in carefully controlled celebrations that also sought to uphold the market-style reforms he would have opposed. The approach underscores the delicate balancing act the Communist Party leadership — installed last year — has to perform in managing perceptions of Mao's legacy.

In Cuba, a ban on imported vehicles has kept the roads full of classic American cars. But those famously vintage-looking streets could get a modern makeover next year. Today, the Cuban government announced it will lift restrictions on imported cars for the first time in 50 years. The country, which has no car factories of its own, will soon open its borders to imported automobiles, vans, trucks, and motorcycles.

Jang Song Taek, the brother-in-law of late Supreme Leader Kim Jong Il, the uncle of current leader Kim Jong Un, and an urbane politician who was thought to have been the second most powerful man in North Korea, has been reportedly executed for planning a coup. Jang "is a traitor to the nation for all ages," according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the country's main news agency, which released the news on the morning of Friday Dec. 13 Korea time.

While China, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and Cuba officially claim to be communist states, the country that adheres most strictly to communist principles, according to Oxford University scholar Robert Service, is North Korea. He should know, he wrote the book on it — Comrades! A History of World Communism. Today, he says, Karl Marx would hardly recognize his manifesto. "In it's original form, it's long been dead," said Service.

Pope Francis is once again shaking things up in the Catholic Church. On Tuesday, he issued his first “apostolic exhortation,” declaring a new enemy for the Catholic Church: modern capitalism. “Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” he wrote.

The repercussions of poor governance in Vietnam are such that the system of governance and constitutional structure need to be fundamentally changed. Much discussion has focused on a roadmap leading to participatory democracy, market mechanisms free of socialist guidance, rule of law and civil society. The challenge is great, and any transformation will depend entirely on the political willingness of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). Observers have been waiting to see if anything will change among its elites.