News / Asia

China Observes Mao's Birthday With Mixed Feelings

  • 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 on Thursday observes the 120th anniversary of the birth of Mao Zedong, who enjoys a mixed legacy in the country whose government he founded and led for nearly three decades.

Since his death in 1976, the official government position has been to recognize Mao's contributions as 70 percent positive and 30 percent negative.

A poll by the state-run Global Times suggests Chinese view him even more positively than that, with 85 percent of respondents saying Mao's merits outweigh his mistakes.

Mao's supporters, many of whom tend to be older and remember his rule, say he helped free China from foreign influence, pulling it out of chaos to create a unified country.

But others blame him for the deaths of tens of millions as a result of controversial social experiments such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

William Sharp, a professor of East Asia Studies at the Hawaii-Pacific University, tells VOA Mao's legacy remains unexamined, partly because of the government's control over the debate.

"His rule had moments that were greatly tumultuous," he said. "The Great Leap Forward in the mid 1950s saw the death of about 30 million people. And this is still a topic that's taboo for public discussion in China."

Even still, those critical of Mao's legacy seem to be increasing. The Global Times poll suggested the younger and more educated are less likely to revere the revolutionary leader.

Confronting the socialist elements of Mao's legacy is also complicated for Chinese leaders, who have undertaken a series of market reforms since his death.

To deal with this contradiction, Beijing has referred to China's hybrid form of economy, as not just socialist, but "socialist with Chinese characteristics."

The reforms have brought great wealth to China, but they have also come with a rise in corruption and waste that has prompted a fierce public backlash.

Reflecting these sensitivities, Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for solemn, simple and pragmatic celebrations to mark Mao's birthday.

Gordon Houlden of the University of Alberta's China Institute says this is consistent with Xi's crackdown on corruption within Communist Party ranks.

"On the other hand, there's a nervousness about too much adulation of Mao, partly because he stood for a very different sort of China than one finds now in 2013," he said. "So I think for that reason, it's in the political interests for the current president to not let society or fans of Mao get carried away and emphasize a different sort of China than he had in mind."

But Houlden says China's growing global stature means Mao will remain a key figure of the 20th century, as well as a longstanding figure of importance within China.

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Comment Sorting
by: Anonymous from: China
December 25, 2013 8:23 PM
I think Mao Zhedong is not only a vicious dictator, who made a lot of mistakes, caused lots of people died, but also a mistake of the history, he planted the corrupt communism into China by cheating and voilence

by: Taiji Robinhood
December 25, 2013 6:49 PM
No one can deny that Mao was a great politician, military strategist, poet, ..... The more you know about him, the deeper you will love him.
In Response

by: Chang from: USA
December 26, 2013 1:45 AM
How can you love someone that killed a lot of innocent people? A man with all power tend to be corrupted. Mao is like one of the Chinese kings. In this case may be a very bad king.

by: Anonymous
December 25, 2013 1:48 PM
Although Mr. Mao had made many mistakes in his time, he still is the most great leader of China because he took a substantial of benefit to his country and the people no matter how other country's people and oppositions blame him. He should be a spirit leader of the country.
In Response

by: Wu from: China
December 26, 2013 1:52 AM
Put up a poll and see how the Chinese people say ...
A good leader is the one that has the gut to admit the mistake he made and make correction.

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