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

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

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid