Yesterday the 9th September 2016 was the 40th anniversary of Mao Zedung's death. Strangely even after a lapse of 40 years, Mao remains a very controversial figure both inside as well as outside China. Was he the 'revolutionary hero' who founded the People's Republic on 1st October 1949 with the famous, stirring words that "the Chinese people have stood up" that reverberate throughout China even today; or was he a mass murderer who presided over the great famine during which reportedly 45 million lives were lost? Mao unleashed the so-called Cultural Revolution in 1966, where nearly 2 million people lost their lives and several, including the father of the present Chinese leader Xi Jinping, were severely incarcerated. Many leading Chinese political families were devastated and destroyed. How do the present, modern generation of Chinese people evaluate Mao today?
During my time in China [1972-74], I never had the fortune of meeting Mao personally, but his presence was everywhere. Large portraits of Mao dotted nearly every building, parks, railway stations and most Chinese pinned a picture of Mao on their collar lapels. Most air journeys on Chinese planes would begin with a revolutionary song sung in praise of Mao by the airhostess. Similar songs would blare out on loud speakers on railway trains, leaving or entering railway stations. It was compulsory for our Chinese staff members to take every Friday afternoon off from work to go to their assigned park and sing revolutionary songs in praise of Mao; as also to recite his "thoughts" from the little red book that almost every Chinese citizen seemed to carry. No one was allowed to be absent from such sessions. Even personal Chinese staff were not exempt. Mao seemed to be everywhere.
According to Chinese press reports there is a spike in the number of Mao sympathizers who visited his mausoleum yesterday, where he lies buried at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Global Times [GT] reports that about 2.5 million people have taken part in an on-line flower campaign to pay tribute to Mao and that the social network app "we chat" is largely filled with praise for the late Chinese Chairman. However, not all Chinese are obsessed with what Mao achieved. After Mao's death even the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] was constrained to point out that Mao's rule "inflicted grave disorder, damage and retrogression". This assessment maybe partly due to the fact that it were the leading personnel of the CCP, that suffered the greatest under Mao's Cultural Revolution. Very few Chinese leaders of the pre-Cultural Revolution era, including Deng Xiaoping, survived from his attention!
Frank Dikotter, a noted Dutch historian, has written a trilogy of books outlining the horrors of Mao's rule. Dikotter has described Mao as one of the greatest "criminals" of the 20th Century--a description that would certainly be contested by others.
Todays China is very different from Mao's China. It is alleged that the present Chinese leader Xi Jinping, in order to consolidate his power, has adopted many of the same methods that Mao followed. The crack down on the press, the campaign against corruption, removal of opponents, consolidation of power in one office--all have the hallmark of Mao. And yet despite all this, the number of visitors to Mao's birth place at Shaoshan continue to increase every year. It seems that the nostalgia for Mao and his contribution to making China one of the great powers of today remains as strong as ever, despite the alleged horrors of his rule!