On December 26th last year, Mao Zedong’s 123rd birthday, a Shandong university professor posted a commentary online blaming the the Great Helmsman for millions of deaths caused by the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution.
Because of these comments, 62-year-old Deng Xiangchao, the deputy head of the School of Art at Shandong Jianzhu University, was forced into an early retirement by the university’s Party committee last week. He also lost his position on the Standing Committee of the Shandong Provincial Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and as counselor to the provincial government.
According to the Global Times, the university Party committee justified Deng’s dismissal by noting that he had repeatedly posted “wrong” comments to his Weibo account, a severe problem which “led to bad public effect.”
40 years after his death, China’s former paramount leader still inspires intense passion from both his supporters and critics. Overall, in what has been difficult balancing act over the past four decades, the Chinese government has tried to focus on Mao’s achievements (uniting China under the Communist Party), rather than his errors (pretty much everything after that). Famously, he has been judged as being “70% right and 30% wrong.”
In that spirit, China tries to discourage extreme views of the controversial leader in either direction, criticizing those that believe Mao is monster because of what that means for the Party’s past, but also reigning in his most ardent supporters. In May of last year, on the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Cultural Revolution, China broke its long-standing silence on that historical event, saying that the country has moved on and it won’t happen again, but failed once again to explicitly blame Mao for the atrocities that occurred during that tumultuous period.
Meanwhile, Mao’s critics have charged him with anywhere between 20 to 45 million deaths in the Great Chinese Famine that followed the failed Great Leap Forward, along with millions more deaths from widespread persecution during the Cultural Revolution, launched in his name in 1966.
In his book Tombstone, veteran Chinese journalist Yang Jisheng counts China’s total population loss during the Great Famine at 76 million. For his groundbreaking work the now 75-year-old Yang was awarded the prestigious Louis M. Lyons Award by Harvard University’s Nieman foundation in December 2015. However, Yang was barred from attending the awards ceremony and has not been allowed to leave the country. Needless to say, his book has been banned in mainland China.
Chairman Mao still has many fans in the Middle Kingdom. Some of them turned out to protest outside of the front gate of Shandong Jianzhu University after Deng’s comments went viral online. In images taken of the protest, Mao supporters are seen holding portraits of the Great Helmsman along with banners reading, “Whoever opposes Chairman Mao is an enemy of the people.”
Watch the protests below via Radio Free Asia:
[Images via Weibo]
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