Subject: 120 years after birth, Mao's presence lingers [Print This Page] Author: wow Time: 23-12-2013 17:50 Subject: 120 years after birth, Mao's presence lingers
With his image gracing bank notes and staring out from Tiananmen Gate, Mao Zedong remains a constant presence in China 120 years after his birth, revered as a hero who founded the communist state and restored national pride — even as China moves ever further from his vision of a communist society.
China is marking Thursday's anniversary of his birth with relatively understated celebrations, a sign of how far China has traveled in the 37 years since his death and more than three decades since the junking of orthodox Marxism.
President Xi Jinping invokes Mao in his fight against corruption and borrows Maoist concepts such as the "mass line" to extol the virtues of close ties between the rulers and those ruled. Yet he has also proposed giving the free market a "decisive role" in the economy, a concept that would have been anathema to the "Great Helmsman," as Mao was called.
Still, as heirs of the one-party political system imposed by Mao and his party comrades, the current leadership has a strong interest in venerating his memory.
The run-up to the anniversary has included dozens of symposiums, exhibitions, concerts and television specials.
Not surprisingly, many are looking to cash in on the date, especially in his home village of Shaoshan in the central province of Hunan. Mao worship is a cornerstone of the local economy, and the town fathers are using $2.5 billion in public funds to renovate museums and historical sites, along with highways, schools and other infrastructure.
Sites associated with Mao around the country are getting facelifts as part of an effort to promote "red tourism" and bring development to some of China's least developed areas. Excess is also making a showing, including a $16 million gilded statue of the man — blinged-out with precious gems — in the city of Shenzhen, and a special-edition offering of China's most expensive liquor.
Mao remains a strong symbolic presence, though not nearly as ubiquitous he was during his lifetime. Thousands of Chinese tourists line up daily to view his embalmed body in its Tiananmen Square mausoleum, which has also undergone renovation. His image graces almost all bank notes from 1 to 100 yuan, and Chinese studios crank out a steady flow of new movies and television series based on highly sterilized versions of his life and the party's history.
"Mao represents the party and the party represents China. That's how a lot of people see it," said Beijing office worker Jenny Zhu, 32, born five years after Mao's death.
Mao's image was also embraced by supporters of Bo Xilai, who had been among the country's most powerful politicians before he was sentenced to life in prison earlier this year for corruption and abuse of power. Bo had revived Mao-era songs and slogans as part of an anti-crime campaign targeting newly wealthy property developers in the mega-city of Chongqing, even while pursuing market-oriented growth.
Officially, judgments on Mao's legacy have been closed since successor Deng Xiaoping's pronouncement in 1981 that the former leader's contributions were "70 percent positive, 30 percent negative." Amid a general ambivalence about politics among younger Chinese, ideological debates have been pushed to the margins.
However, for die-hards such as Fan Jinggang, editor-in-chief of the Maoist website Utopia, Mao remains an untarnished hero nonpareil and Thursday's anniversary is a cause for vast celebration.
"The people are showing their sincere lofty feelings toward Chairman Mao and their striving for fairness and justice and their love for the party and the socialist nation," Fan said.