BEIJING - Two
elderly people, wearing headscarves in the manner of peasants from Shanxi
province, had just left the south gate of the Forbidden City - the former
imperial palace in the heart of Beijing. They turned, and raised their heads
toward the giant portrait of Mao Zedong in Tiananmen Square, then placed their
hands together in a gesture of reverence typically used in religions all over
A young policeman wearing white gloves who was patrolling the
area approached the couple, with a smile on his face. The two politely lowered
their heads and moved on. The guard is accustomed to this: many visitors from
rural areas still pay homage to the Great Helmsman, chairman Mao Zedong, who was
leader of the People's Republic of China from its establishment in
until his death on September 9, 1976.
this September 9, China woke up as if it were just another ordinary day; Beijing
concealed under a wall of official silence the
anniversary of Mao's death. This silence is stronger than the boom of a
thousand cannons - China is proceeding quietly and prudently - but surely - with
the process of de-Maoification.
schoolbooks today devote less space to Mao than they did in previous years. The
official People's University Press, part of the People's University established
by Mao, has translated a biography critical of Mao written by Ross Terrill, Mao:
A Biography. The volume recounts how, in 1930, Mao could have saved his
second wife, Yang Kaihui, who was captured by the Nationalists and tortured to
death. Even Mao's portrait in Tiananmen is reduced in size every year by a few
This is a complete reversal from 30 or so years ago, when
Mao was the object of divine worship and portraits of his chubby, balding figure
were like the holy pictures that are displayed at feasts for the saints in some
years ago when Mao died, people wept in
the streets. Many thought it was the
end of the world, or simply refused to accept the fact as they believed
Mao would live forever.
faith in Mao dies hard. Many taxi
drivers in Beijing still display in their cabs a portrait of the young
Mao, just like Neapolitans with Madonna or a crucifix. Many in the countryside
retain his huge portrait at the center of their houses. His face still features
on bank notes.
while there is no fanfare about Mao, he is not demonized, despite his highly
controversial socio-political programs, including the
Great Leap Forward
and the Cultural
Revolution, which causing untold destruction to culture, society, and the
Mao's thinking is still a matter of careful study
at universities. His only grandchild - an extremely chubby figure - appears on
television for special occasions, wearing the uniform of a starched young
colonel in memory of his grandfather.
Mao's towering legacy will be
represented as an important part of a blockbuster film, Jianguo
Daye (Lofty Ambitions of Founding a Republic), that will be released on
October 1 as part of the celebrations for the the 60th anniversary of the
founding of the People's Republic. (See China's birthday movie
has many seeing red Asia Times Online, August 26, 2009.)
the same, the anniversary of his death was not mentioned
in the state media - a significant omission on the eve of the important 60th
anniversary, and an even more significant omission on the eve of the Communist
Party's plenum that started on September 15.
The famous "Mao
Zedong thought" is already buried under a wave of new ideas. These include the
reformist theories of Deng Xiaoping, paramount leader from 1978 to the early
1990s; the "Three Represents" of party chief Jiang Zemin adopted in 2002, and
the "harmonious society" of current President Hu Jintao.
The party that
Mao molded and shaped is operating in accordance with all theories in a
"scientific manner", that is, the old ideas are still cherished as old
principles, but the real drivers are the new theories.