While Maoists in Australia may not get to show their proper respects to Chairman Mao, 40 years after his death, thousands of admirers have flocked to Mao’s birthplace today to pay homage to their beloved leader.
According to the Global Times, throngs of visitors made their way to the scenic center of Shaoshan in Hunan, carrying dozens of memorial flower baskets, sent in from across the country, and placing them in front of the 6-meter-tall statue of the Great Helmsman. This was the finale of an online flower-laying campaign, organized through WeChat, and with 2.5 million participants.
Other visitors sang revolutionary songs, walked around the statue and knelt down to pray.
A particularly frightening-looking Mao impersonator was also on hand.
Presumably, the better impersonators were busy selling pharmaceuticals.
Mao Zedong died just after midnight on September 9th, 1976. 40 years later the paramount leader still inspires intense passion from both his supporters and his critics. Overall, in what has been difficult balancing act over the past four decades, the Chinese government tries 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 this year, on the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Cultural Revolution, China broke its long-standing silence on that historic 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.
Chairman Mao still has many fans in the Middle Kingdom. Oddly enough, many of his most passionate supporters are those who were ripped from the cities and sent to live in the countryside. In a time of increasing income inequality and government corruption, these former “educated youths” look back on that time with a kind of pleasant nostalgia. Maybe they were poor, but at least they were all poor together.
“We miss the life of equality and justice experienced in Mao’s time,” one visitor to Shaoshan told the Global Times. “Mao Zedong helped lift millions of Chinese out of poverty. Without him, China would never have become what it is today,” another agreed.
Of course, one of these “sent-down youths” is current president Xi Jinping. In a 2013 seminar to mark the 120th anniversary of Mao’s birth, he echoed his comrades’ praise for the Chairman: “Mao is a great patriot and national hero, and a great man who led the Chinese people to change the destiny of the country.
According to The Guardian, people weren’t only marking the 40th anniversary of Mao’s death in Shaoshan:
In Tangshan, an industrial hub that was levelled by an earthquake just over a month before Mao’s death, supporters marked the revolutionary’s passing with a two-day festival of poetry, shadow puppetry, calligraphy and storytelling.
A photograph published by the Huan Bohai News website showed participants huddled around a banner that read: “Chairman Mao is China’s Number One”.
In Hengshui, another northern city, a Communist party-run website said high school students mourned the Great Leader with “impassioned poetry recitations, dance and opera”.
And in Beijing newspapers have reported a spike in the number of Maoist pilgrims flocking to Tiananmen Square, where the Chairman’s embalmed body has been on display since a colossal mausoleum was opened there in 1977.
Originally, two concerts were planned for this week in the town halls of Sydney and Melbourne to commemorate the legacy of Chairman Mao. However, they were abruptly canceled after members of the Chinese diaspora voiced their outrage.
While Maoism may be making a comeback, overall it was a tough year for the Great Helmsman. In January, a 36-meter-tall golden “Mega Mao” suddenly appeared, sitting in the middle of nowhere, Henan:
Before being unceremoniously torn down only a few days later:
[Images via Global Times]