ne day after Christmas, thousands flocked to a small city in Hunan province to commemorate the anniversary of the birth of another influential world figure.
At midnight on December 26, crowds gathered to pay their respects to Mao Zedong on what would have been his 126th birthday, arriving at a giant bronze statue of the Great Helmsman in his hometown of Shaoshan with a flurry of flowers, flags, portraits, and revolutionary songs.
Despite the checkered record of the founder of the People’s Republic of China, the annual Mao-mas festivities in Shaoshan remain well-attended, even more than 40 years after his death. Judging from footage from the event, a good number of attendees weren’t alive when Chairman Mao died on September 9, 1976.
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 a monsterbecause of what that means for the Party’s past but alsoreigning in his most ardent supporters.
Though Mao fanatics can still prove useful. In its report on the 126th anniversary of the birth of Mao, the nationalistic Global Times tabloid writes that “amid a complicated international and domestic situation this year, the Chinese public’s mourning of their late leader Mao Zedong seemed endowed with a more profound and realistic meaning as they found Mao’s theories still retain influence for treating many current issues faced by the country.”
The report quotes one 22-year-old student as explaining that all Beijing needs to do is look toward Mao. “Look at the China-US relationship, and other issues,” he said. “If you read Mao’s books, familiarize yourself with his speech, you will know that he already gave answers decades ago.”