Sunday, September 10, 2006

China silent on 30th anniversary of Mao's death

China silent on 30th anniversary of Mao's death
By Verna Yu
Agence France-Presse 09/09/2006
BEIJING -- China officially ignored the 30th anniversary of the death of Mao Zedong on Saturday, a sign that observers say reveals authorities' fears that bitter memories could unleash a wave of discontent.
In the capital Beijing, the central government did not organize any commemorations for the man who established the People's Republic in 1949 and was once known across China as the "great leader" and the "great helmsman."
State television made no mention of Mao, who died in 1976, while the People's Daily published only two short news briefs on Internet remembrances and the construction of a new museum at his birthplace.
The Beijing Daily reported on an unofficial memorial concert held Friday at the Great Hall of the People -- China's most recognized political building -- which hosts the annual legislative session but is often rented out for private functions.
No editorials or retrospectives were found in the capital's major newspapers.
Thousands of nostalgic Chinese however flocked on Saturday to the Mao mausoleum on Tiananmen Square, the symbolic center of China's political power, to try to catch a glimpse of the embalmed body of their "great savior."
At his hometown of Shaoshan in the southern province of Hunan, six to eight thousand people visited the Mao memorial museum on Saturday -- nearly double the attendance figure seen on other weekends, said a curator.
Tourists bowed at the six-meter (20-foot) bronze statue of Mao and offered floral tributes, he said.
Analysts said the government feared high-profile public ceremonies honoring Mao could revive memories of tragic moments in Chinese history initiated by the former leader and maybe spark a torrent of public anger about today's problems.
Mao-backed movements like the Great Leap Forward -- a disastrous attempt at speedy industrialization -- and the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution -- a desperate means he used to hold on to power -- led to tens of millions of deaths.
"When you talk about Mao, you cannot avoid mentioning the Cultural Revolution -- you cannot avoid the fact that tens of millions of people were starved to death," said Li Datong, a veteran Chinese journalist.
"If you don't handle (the commemoration) well, it will turn into an outlet for public emotions," Li said.
Gao Yu, a veteran journalist who was imprisoned after the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, echoed those thoughts, saying: "The current social conflicts are serious and they dare not mention Mao's anniversary in a high-profile way."
More and more ordinary Chinese, especially those who are hardest-hit by the widening gap between rich and poor in the increasingly market-orientated country, are using nostalgia to protest the new harsh reality, analysts say.
The tendency to look back to the Mao era with rose-tinted glasses, longing to return to the days when China may have been poorer but was also a more innocent and fairer society, is increasing.
"The rich-poor disparity is huge now and ordinary folks are disgruntled," said taxi driver Xuan Chengzhi, 40.
"Like on this road, those driving Mercedes-Benzes, BMWs are always breaking the rules. Why? Because they have money, they have power, they think they are better than others -- this kind of power abuse makes me angry."
China's leaders today forbid public debate and criticism of Mao's legacy, fearing it will lead to increased scrutiny of the current regime and threaten its survival, analysts say.
Those currently in power are Mao's political heirs and are still holding firmly onto an orthodox political system handed down from that era, said Li Rui, a former secretary of Mao and now one of his most vocal critics.
Li, who was sent to a labor camp for opposing some of Mao's policies and later imprisoned for eight years during the Cultural Revolution, said authorities are still afraid of losing control.
"They are afraid. They don't understand that if you want a country to be stable, you have to allow freedom of speech," said the 89-year-old Li.
"There is a mentality that they have to control everything. (They're afraid) of peaceful revolution, being toppled by their enemies and being corrupted by western countries."

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