News / Asia

China Marks Mao’s 120th Birthday With Muted Celebrations

  • People stand in line to enter the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong in Beijing, Dec. 26, 2013.
  • A man holds up a portrait of Mao Zedong as he and others gather in front of a giant statue of Mao to celebrate the 120th birth anniversary of the former leader in his hometown, Shaoshan, Dec. 26, 2013.
  • Retired female workers dressed as red army soldiers sing revolutionary songs during a performance to mark the 120th birth anniversary of Mao Zedong in Huaibei, Anhui province, China, Dec. 26, 2013.
  • Boats carrying a giant image of Mao Zedong and Chinese national flags lead winter swimmers in the Yangtze River to celebrate the 120th birth anniversary of Mao in Wuhan, Hubei province, Dec. 26, 2013.
  • Supporters wave a flag with an image of Mao Zedong that says "People missing Chairman Mao", as people gather to celebrate the 120th birth anniversary of the former leader in his hometown, Shaoshan, Dec. 25, 2013.

PHOTOS: China Observes Mao's Birthday

TEXT SIZE - +
VOA News
— China celebrated the 120th anniversary of Mao Zedong's birth Thursday, with top leaders paying a ceremonial visit to Mao's mausoleum and praising the achievements of the man who founded the People's Republic of China.

While the celebrations were somewhat muted this year, the reverent remembrances were typical for China's Communist Party, which has traditionally turned to the late chairman for legitimacy.  Mao remains a potent symbol in China, although analysts say the public has grown more ambivalent about his legacy. 

Solemn and austere celebrations

President Xi Jinping called for austere celebrations to mark Mao’s birthday, consistent with his push against lavish ceremonies and wasteful public spending. China’s media have reported a general scaling down of budgets and events connected with the anniversary's celebrations.

Political scientist David Zweig says the muted celebrations do not mean that the leadership is keeping Mao at arm's length.

“They very much want to be certain that they get a good bounce from this, they want to keep Mao as an important player in the cards that they hold in their hands,” he said.

On Thursday, the Communist party's mouthpiece People's Daily celebrated Mao's success in liberating China's “semi-imperialistic, semi- feudal” society. It also stressed the new leadership is a continuation of Mao's work.

“The mission for generations of Chinese Communists has always been the same: revolution, construction and reform are deeply linked with each other in history,” the commentary read, “One development is accomplished on the basis of the one that came before.”

Mao's errors

On Mao's errors, Chinese leaders have long embraced the view that there were missteps in the country's path towards a communist society. In the 1980’s former leader Deng Xiaoping's remarked that Mao was seven parts right, and only three parts wrong. That evaluation still holds for many Chinese historians as well as the public.

In Thursday's speech, Xi Jinping appeared to reference that view by saying that in evaluating a country’s history, one needs to consider the social conditions of the time.

“We cannot judge those people who came before us by the current conditions and the level of knowledge and development we have today. We also cannot expect from them the achievements only obtainable by later generations,” Xinhua quoted Xi as saying.

Critics say that such assessments do not take into account the most negative effects of some of Mao's campaigns, which have been largely forgotten by China's official historiography.

Among the most controversial policies were Mao's attempts to industrialize the Chinese countryside during the Great Leap Forward, which caused a mass famine and killed tens of million of people.

Ten years later, the cultural revolution threw the nation into a period of communist fervor and spurred a wave of political violence.

“The left and some people within the leadership in China worry that if you spend too much time criticizing Mao for the cultural revolution and the famine that you don't have that many years to glorify him, and therefore his legacy becomes much weaker,” says Zweig.

Ambivalence on Mao's legacy

Historian Xu Youyu talks of an ambivalence in contemporary attitudes about Mao.

“From the perspective of intellectuals, more negative things are said about Mao because there is more information out there about certain parts of history,” Xu says, “For example the fact that during the great leap forward Mao left more than 30 million people die of starvation is acknowledged by more people now.”

But at the same time, Xu says that the passing of time has softened the memories of many who suffered under Mao's rule, and for those among them who are seeking political power, celebrating Mao remains advantageous to their goals.

“They are more willing to talk about Mao's contributions because the sufferings are increasingly distant, but the opportunities for power are increasingly numerous,” Xu says.

Those who celebrate Mao’s record despite a personal history that is more complicated include China’s President Xi Jinping, whose father was purged and persecuted during the cultural revolution. Despite that history, Mr. Xi has become known for coining slogans reminiscent of Mao's times, and launching education campaigns that echo Mao’s pursuits for ideological purity.

You May Like

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

John the XXIII and John Paul II will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square on April 27 More

Thailand Reacts to Plots Targeting Israelis

Authorities hope arrest of two Lebanese suspects will disrupt plot to attack young Israeli tourists More

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

'Once Upon a Forest' takes viewers deep into heart of tropical rainforest More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: No Tongsuland from: Japan
December 26, 2013 2:05 PM
What a pity! Millions of souls of the dead by ridiculous policiies, such as Great Leap Forward, are completely wiped out from the history. Although China persistently wants to dwell on the past such as WWII, Xi never showed any respet to such innocent peoples' tragedy today. In China, peoples' lives seem to be much cheaper than ......

In Response

by: Willam KD from: China
December 26, 2013 11:18 PM
Have you considered that the role of you Japanese when you said chinese people's live seem to be cheaper? The relationship between you and American seem to like a pet in good hearing, a dog in fact and its master!


by: Roman from: France
December 26, 2013 2:04 PM
If China is within the concert of nations today it's because of Nixon and Kissinger. Though much has been done and time will perhaps consent to higher heights, China lags behind in spiritual values crushed by the same leadership. What ancient Chinese philosophers have said still remains dormant in China today.


by: Willam KD from: China
December 26, 2013 10:58 AM
In this world,no one is perfect. Mao is still in our heart because he saved China. As a young man, I admire Mao because his life that full of fighting and succes always encourge me to face and handle the difficulties in my life rather than flee

In Response

by: Ed from: USA
December 27, 2013 12:01 AM
Does the deaths of millions, many by starvation and executions, mean nothing to you? The little red book required to be carried by everyone....brainwashing at it`s best. It won`t be long before the great Chairman will be in the dust bin of history like all political despots.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Churchi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 22, 2014 4:14 PM
On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Robotic Mission Kicks Up Lunar Dust

A robotic mission to the moon was deliberately crashed onto the lunar surface late last week, but not before scientists had collected data gathered by the spacecraft which was designed to self-destruct. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports on the preliminary findings of the craft, called LADEE - an acronym for Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer.
Video

Video Boko Haram Claims Responsibility for Bombing in Nigerian Capital

The Nigerian militant group known as Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for a bombing in the capital on April 14th that killed 75 people. In the video message, Abubakar Shekau, the man who says he ordered the bombing, says nothing about the mass abduction of more than 100 teenage girls, most of whom are still missing. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Abuja.
Video

Video Ukraine Developments Hang Over Obama Trip to Asia

President Barack Obama's trip to Asia this week comes as concerns over Beijing's territorial ambitions are growing in the region. Those concerns have been compounded by Russia's recent actions in Ukraine and the possibility that Chinese strategists might be looking to Crimea as a model for its territorial disputes with its neighbors. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid