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STILL POPULAR

Imagine your father having been one of the countless victims of Mao’s policies, and you continuing to be a fan of the Chairman. Two such cases were reported in the China Daily to commemorate Mao’s 120th birthday on December 26. Over the last 20 years, Jin Tiehua, a 65-year-old Beijing resident, has converted his house into a Mao museum, spending not just his own salary but even eating into the earnings of his wife and son. He spent the night before December 26 bidding online for the wartime notebook of an army officer, which he bought for 520 yuan. Among his proud possessions are two original articles written by Mao, and the Chairman’s application form for a Communist Youth Association. But he doesn’t have much from the Cultural Revolution. Among his mementos from that time is a big character poster denouncing his father who died during the Cultural Revolution. He won’t discuss the death, but continues to say that Mao’s motives in launching that tumultuous experiment were good. Had the Chairman been alive there would be no corruption today, he says.

Ai Pa, a 56-year-old Buddhist, grew up without his father, who fled to Myanmar after being declared a landlord under Mao. Ai himself was refused entry into the army for the same reason. Yet, in Ai’s home, the Chairman’s portrait is placed higher than that of a Buddhist monk. This is on the insistence of the monk himself, who told Ai that Mao was the “real saviour and guardian” of the Dai minority to which Ai belongs. As a Buddhist, Ai has forgiven the slights to his family. Additionally, he feels Mao wanted the good of his people and achieved an equality among them unheard of at that time.

A survey in 2008 conducted in 40 cities and towns showed that 11.2 per cent of the respondents worshipped Mao, more than those who worshipped the Buddha or other gods. Ethnic minorities, especially, are his devotees.

Mass appeal

Of course, anyone who’s lived in China knows that many Chinese don’t share this enthusiasm. But even those who dislike Mao acknowledge that he liberated them from foreign control and destroyed the old feudal system. This year, the official line on Mao is peculiar: it’s not the mechanical “70 % right, 30 % wrong” coined by his successor Deng Xiaoping. It’s “Revolutionary leaders are not gods, but human beings,’’ said by President Xi Jinping. Xi almost sounded like a Red Guard when he proclaimed that the Communist Party must “hold high the banner of Mao Zedong thought forever’’. The president selected three of Mao’s principles that Party members must adhere to: “seek truth from facts”, “the mass line’’, and independence.

Taking their cue from this speech, the China Daily hails Mao’s greatness and ascribes his “mistakes” to Mao being human. The paper actually tries to reconcile China’s current market economy, called “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, with Mao’s Communism. “The ‘revolutionary Mao Zedong’ and the ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ are ultimately about social equality, which is more practical than theoretical. Many people are already well off in China today, and it is time for more to be so. Given that there will always be economic differences, the proper question to ask is: How to bring about an acceptable level of economic difference while achieving a meaningful sense of social equality?’’ Could this piece of doublespeak be interpreted as ‘seeking truth from facts’?

Two days after his speech, the president dropped in without security at an ordinary dumpling restaurant in Beijing, stood in queue for a meal that cost 21 yuan, ate there while talking to other diners and won over his people. Not quite Mao, but ‘mass-line-ish’ enough given his commitment to “reform and opening up’’.