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China Celebrates Moa’s Birth

Posted: December 27th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: China, News | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on China Celebrates Moa’s Birth

China Celebrates Moa's BirthCommunist China’s president Xi Jinping has acknowledged that the country’s founding father, Mao Zedong, made “mistakes”, as Mao admirers celebrated the 120th anniversary of the late leader’s birth with noodles and fireworks.

Mao is the centrepiece of the ruling party’s pantheon and commands reverence among many Chinese, including some frustrated by the current state of the nation, but is also condemned by those who say his political and economic campaigns caused tens of millions of deaths.

China has never before allowed such an open historical discussion of his actions. Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” is estimated by Western historians to have led to as many as 45 million deaths from famine, and his Cultural Revolution plunged China into a decade of violent chaos.

China traditionally measured time in 60-year cycles. Mao, who in 1949, is remembered by many as a tyrant and leader of disastrous political campaigns that killed tens of millions, for others, the China created by Mao should be celebrated ::::

China Celebrates Moa's Birth

“Mao is a great figure who changed the face of the nation and led the Chinese people to a new destiny,” President Xi said in Beijing, according to the official news agency Xinhua. However, he added. “Revolutionary leaders are not gods, but human beings. We cannot worship them like gods or refuse to allow people to point out and correct their errors just because they are great. Neither can we totally repudiate them and erase their historical feats just because they made mistakes.”

Mr Xi – who regularly cites Mao’s theories – and six other top-ranked leaders visited Mao’s mausoleum in the morning where they bowed three times to his statue and “jointly recalled Comrade Mao’s glorious achievements”, Xinhua said. The 12-decade anniversary has a special resonance in China, which traditionally measured time in 60-year cycles.

Near Mao’s childhood home in Shaoshan, in the central province of Hunan, thousands of fans stood through the night and praised the founder of the People’s Republic, who led the country for 27 years until his death in 1976.

“Mao was a great leader of the Chinese nation, he was a perfect person and for us young people he is someone to learn from,” said Jiang Qi, 33, a construction company employee, as he watched fireworks streak above a giant statue of Mao.

Fans – including at least two Mao lookalikes – jostled for position and bowed in front of the statue. Some of the celebrations had religious overtones, with pilgrims burning incense, bowing and calling for blessings from the “Great Helmsman”.

“We are lighting incense to express our thanks to Mao Zedong,” said He Peng, a middle-aged woman who knelt on the ground and recited a poem in praise of him.

Mao’s sometimes autocratic rule remains a divisive topic in China, where the Communist Party’s official stance is that he was “70 percent right and 30 percent wrong”.

China has never before allowed such an open discussion of his actions. Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” is estimated by Western historians to have led to as many as 45 million deaths from famine, and his Cultural Revolution plunged China into a decade of violent chaos. At the same time Mao has emerged as a rallying point for some nationalists and those discontented with the inequality and corruption that have accompanied China’s market-driven economic boom.

At least 100 self-described “Red Internet friends”, a group of activists to the left of the current Communist Party leadership, were present in Shaoshan.

Several said police detained pro-Mao activists from different provinces to prevent them attending, underscoring the challenge Mao’s legacy poses to the leadership.

“The police have intercepted many, many of us,” said a man surnamed Wei, who held a banner with Mao’s face and did not wish to give his full name for fear of reprisals. The government is not as upright as Chairman Mao, so they are afraid, they are all corrupt,” he added.

Much of the 1.94 billion yuan ($320 million) reportedly budgeted by Shaoshan for the anniversary went up in smoke during a four-hour fireworks display, and down the throats of thousands who lined up for free noodles – a traditional birthday meal.

Vendors lined the streets selling Mao memorabilia and pilgrims wearing red scarves sang Mao-era songs such as “The East Is Red”.

At times they gave the celebrations an air of the “Red Song” concerts championed by ousted Chinese politician Bo Xilai.

Mr Bo, whose brash political style is said to have alienated party elders, was condemned to life in prison on corruption charges earlier this year, making him the highest-profile Chinese politician to be sentenced in decades, but some said they remained loyal to him.

“All those who love Chairman Mao also love Secretary Bo,” said one middle-aged man surnamed Shan, adding: “Mao is our great leader.”

Chinese remain divided over the founder of the People’s Republic, with many nostalgic towards his 27-year-rule and others insisting his policies led to the deaths of millions.

“The anniversary is a big date for Chinese people,” said Shen Yang, a 48-year-old businessman who will travel to Shaoshan in Hunan province, where Mao spent some of his formative years.

China traditionally measures time in 60-year cycles.

“It’s the best date for us to express our faith in and respect for Mao Zedong,” Mr Yang said. “I believe that the new China created by Mao was great, and that’s why we should celebrate and believe in him.”

China Celebrates Moa's Birth

But for others, Mao – who in 1949 led the Communist party to victory in a brutal civil war and died in 1976 – is remembered as a tyrant who led disastrous political campaigns that killed tens of millions. He consolidated his power in the 1950s with brutal purges of opponents, while estimates say more than a million people were slaughtered in a movement to redistribute rural land to China’s peasants.

Even deadlier was the “Great Leap Forward” launched in 1958, an attempt to boost China’s economy that led to a famine in which some say more than 40 million people starved to death. Next came the 1966 to 1976 “Cultural Revolution,” seen as an effort by Mao to eliminate political enemies, leading to violence that one account estimates caused half a million deaths in 1967 alone.

There has never been a full historical reckoning of his actions in China, where the ruling party censors accounts of his rule that highlight brutality and challenge the official line.

“Mao’s biggest sin is that he interrupted China’s progress towards constitutionalism and democracy,” Beijing-based historian Zhang Lifan wrote in an online commentary on the anniversary. “He took China into class warfare, and into the dead end of a one-party system.”

The Communist party continues to use Mao as a father figure for the revolution, said Kirk Denton, of Ohio State University.

“It does so because the very legitimacy of the party is tied to that revolution and its narrative of national liberation.” Mr Denton said.

The party reversed economic course following Mao’s death, ushering in unprecedented growth that it uses to justify its claim to power, and it acknowledges that he made “mistakes”.

But the body of the “Great Helmsman” remains on public display in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, as does his portrait.

Reports in October said that Xiangtan city, which includes Shaoshan -where Mao lived from birth until his teens – would spend 15.5 billion yuan ($AU2.5 billion) to mark the occasion, including a plan to renovate the house where he lived, infrastructure projects and a large-scale cultural performance. Chinese internet users slammed the expense as wasteful, before Xi called for celebrations to be “solemn, simple and pragmatic,” state media reported last month.

While China’s leaders are wary of perceived extravagance, analysts say they also have to be careful about praising Mao too much, particularly after the downfall of former politician Bo Xilai.

Bo, who was sentenced to life in jail for corruption in September, embarked on a campaign of Maoist revivalism during his time as party chief of Chongqing, with mass rallies and promoting the singing of “red songs”. Mao has emerged as a rallying point for those who lament China’s growing rich-poor gap and rampant corruption.

“There’s a delicate line to walk by the government that wants to celebrate him, but only parts of him,” said Jeffrey Wasserstrom, a China expert at the University of California Irvine. “They don’t want notions floating around that Mao was better than the current leaders by caring more about the plight of the poor, and being less corrupt.”

Hotels across Shaoshan said they were booked out ahead of the event, and Mao supporters said China needed to remember his legacy.

“There are powerful groups who seek to blemish the image of Mao Zedong and attack his legacy. Their aim is to remove the influence of Mao on Chinese politics and leave the socialist path,” Mr Yang said. “Those of us who have faith in Mao Zedong need to stand up bravely and express our attitude.”

@mcsixtyfive

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