On Monday, a well-known history teacher and government critic had his Weibo account taken down, just a few days after the 41st anniversary of Mao Zedong’s death — a fact which has struck some as being quite the coincidence.
Yuan Tengfei (袁腾飞) rose to national prominence back in 2008 after some of his history lectures were posted online by a Beijing cram school and widely-shared. Yuan’s engaging, humorous teaching-style and the sensitive subject matter that he covered quickly made him into a star among students across China, earning him the moniker of “the most awesome history teacher in history” and turning him into a best-selling author before beginning to interfere with his career prospects.
In more recent years, Yuan continued to speak with his fans through his Weibo account, where he had more than 16 million followers until only recently.
It’s not clear which of Yuan’s comments finally caused censors to snuff out his account; however, the timing of Weibo’s decision is more than a bit interesting. While topics like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution remain taboo in China, they featured prominently in Yuan’s viral lectures, marking him as one of contemporary China’s most vocal critics of Mao, Maoist policies and the personality cult that still exists around the Great Helmsman.
Notably, in one lecture, Yuan famously compared Mao’s memorial hall in the center of Beijing to the Yasukuni shrine in Japan where some of the country’s convicted war criminals are still honored, urging his students that instead of paying respect to Mao’s corpse they should mock it.
This year, on September 9th, 41 years after Mao’s death, Yuan wrote on Weibo: “It’s a good day. The weather’s beautiful and I’m so happy.” Three days later, his account was disabled.
While Mao may have died more than four decades ago, his shadow still looms large over China. Many Chinese continue to sanctify Mao, insisting that acknowledging the bad that he did could take away from the good. Following his death, the Communist Party adopted the position that Mao had been “70% right and 30% wrong.”
Last year, on Mao’s 123rd birthday, a Shandong university professor posted an online commentary blaming Mao for the millions of deaths caused by the Cultural Revolution. The piece immediately triggered a wave of backlash and protests from present-day Maoists, causing the university’s Party Committee to fire the professor on the grounds that his comments had “led to bad public effect.” A week later, a Hebei professor was also sacked for calling Mao a “devil” on social media.
Earlier this year, in July, a professor who had been teaching a Cultural Revolution history class for years at Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University was informed that his class had been canceled without explanation.
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