Xi Jinping hits out at Mao critics on anniversary

A Chinese policeman stands guard on Tiananmen Square by the portrait of Mao Zedong on Thursday.— PHOTO: AFP

A Chinese policeman stands guard on Tiananmen Square by the portrait of Mao Zedong on Thursday.— PHOTO: AFP  

China’s President Xi Jinping on Thursday strongly defended the legacy of former leader Mao Zedong as the country marked his 120th anniversary amid increasing calls from some Chinese scholars for a more transparent debate about his failings, which are still glossed over in official accounts and school textbooks.

Mr. Xi described Mao as “a great figure who changed the face of the nation and led the Chinese people to a new destiny”, calling for “a correct historical view.”

“Revolutionary leaders are not gods, but human beings,” he said in a speech at a symposium held at the Great Hall of the People, or Parliament building, to mark the anniversary.

“We cannot worship them like gods or refuse to allow people to point out and correct their errors just because they are great; neither can we totally repudiate them and erase their historical feats just because they made mistakes,” he said.

Mr. Xi’s account of Mao’s positives and negatives will likely come under criticism from Chinese historians and scholars who have increasingly pushed for a more open debate about Mao’s legacy.

“The government tries to cover Mao’s crimes,” noted economist and liberal intellectual Mao Yushi (no relation to Mao Zedong) told The Hindu in an interview.

“In textbooks, there is nothing about Mao’s crimes. It never talks about the three years’ great famine, how many people died. The young generation does not know the past history. The history they study is fabricated history, so it gets people’s ideas very confused”, he said.

The Global Times, a tabloid published by the People’s Daily, on Thursday hit out at China’s “liberals” for “belittling Mao’s role in Chinese history”.

“They are trying to ignite political conflicts in China by totally repudiating Mao,” an editorial said. “We can tell most of these detractors have ulterior motives to tarnish Mao’s image and legacy to impede China's rejuvenation”.

According to independent Chinese studies, more than 30 million people perished in the famine that followed Mao’s disastrous “Great Leap Forward” campaign of 1958. Tens of millions were also persecuted during the decade-long Cultural Revolution (1966-76), as Mao’s Red Guards rampaged across China as he consolidated his power and eliminated his rivals.

Among those who faced persecution then was Mr. Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun, who later emerged as an influential liberal leader and supporter of economic reforms.

As a member of the increasingly influential group of “princelings” – or second Red generation leaders as they are known in China – Mr. Xi has been careful to defend Mao’s legacy, seeing it as an issue tied to the Communist Party’s own legitimacy.

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