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The Return of Chairman Mao Worship in China

Political propaganda poster depicting Chairman Mao as the Sun during the Cultural Revolution in China.

Political propaganda poster depicting Chairman Mao as the Sun during the Cultural Revolution in China.

During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong, one of the founders of the People's Republic of China, was portrayed as a god-like figure. The cult of personality worship has been repressed since the downfall of Gang of Four and the advocacy of pragmatism by the Chinese Communist Party new leader Deng Xiaoping in 1970s.

However, with Chinese President and Communist Party Chief Xi Jinping and other players from the second red generation coming into power, the Chinese Red Culture is reemerging. The latest wave of the Red Cult was the celebration of Chair Mao's 120th birthday, last week on 26 December 2013.

As part of the official ceremony, Xi among other top leaders paid tribute to the founder of the communist state with a visit on Mao's birthday to his embalmed body in a mausoleum in Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing. Other commemorating activities held by the government and party authorities included photo exhibitions, gold and stone statues, concerts, seminars and a TV gala.

Changsha, a revolutionary where Chairman Mao was born, was tainted in red in his 120th birthday. Photo upload by "Speaking from the heart of a calm sea".

Changsha, where Chairman Mao was born, was painted in red on his 120th birthday. Photo uploaded by “Speaking from the heart of a calm sea”.

The most eye-catching scene so far happened in Mao's hometown Shaoshan where thousands of ordinary Chinese bowed to Mao's status and rallied in the street to commemorate the then leader, who is still a symbol for social equality. On China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo, many have expressed their excitement on the return of Red Culture. Weibo user “Speaking from the heart of a calm sea” posted a number of rally photos from Changsha and exclaimed:


By the Islet of Orange, see all the hills are painted red! The red netizens across the country get together in Changsha, singing red songs! In memory of the 120th birthday of great leader Mao!

Tens of thousands gathered in Shaoshan to commemorate Mao's birthday. Photo taken by Weibo User "Shaoshan Carpenter".

Tens of thousands gathered in Shaoshan to commemorate Mao's birthday. Photo taken by Weibo user “Shaoshan Carpenter”.

“Shaoshan carpenter” took photos from the midnight assembly in Mao's hometown Shaoshan and described the scene on his Weibo account:


At the zero hour on 26th, Mao Zedong Plaza. Many people are still stuck on the road or have just left. Tears in their eyes.

One of the public activities in Shaoshan village on Mao's birthday was eating noodles – a traditional practice to express the wish for longevity. Huang Zhiyuan, a journalist of Phoenix Television, reported on the scene:

Shaoshan villagers offered free noodles to visitors. Photo uploaded by Huang Zhiyuan on Weibo.

Shaoshan villagers offered free noodles to visitors. Photo uploaded by Huang Zhiyuan on Weibo.


To mark Mao’s 120th birthday, Shaoshan villagers offer free longevity noodles for visitors according to tradition. The noodles have been quickly snatched up because many people believe eating this kind of commemorative noodle will lead to longevity. What a spectacular event!

Meanwhile, some activists and netizens expressed their worries about the return of the cult of personality worship. For example,
famous writer Li Chengpeng described the leaders’ visit to Mao’s mausoleum as “Worship of a Ghost”. The post has been removed from Weibo, but was backed up on Twitter by @scgxzlx:

[Leaders] worship ghosts in order to fill their emptiness [referring to the lack of concrete reform] regardless of Chinese people's feelings about the justice of history and covering up the truth of the slaughter [referring to persecution of people during various political campaigns such as the anti-Rightist and the Cultural Revolution.]

Coincidentally, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the notorious Yasukuni Shrine about the same time and attracted strong Chinese media criticism. Cultural commentator Zhu Dake took the opportunity to review and quote from state-run newspaper People’s Daily’s commentary criticizing Japanese politicians, turning the criticism over to Chinese leaders who visited Mao's embalmed body mausoleum:


Today, many people review an article published on August 17 in the People’s Daily. It said, “politicians tend to visit shrines because they have evil ideas in mind. So they are eager to do that to reassure themselves.” “(National leaders) should think about the source of national prosperity and be alert to resorting to the dead, which will finally steal the living’s vigor and take a toll.” This might be the only article which deserves reviewing.

Zhang Ming, a famous political scholar, believed that the return of scenes of Mao worship reflects the legacy the that Cultural Revolution has passed on to the Chinese political system:


The ambiguous attitude about the Cultural Revolution suggests its blood still flows in the political system.

As ancestor worship is a significant part of Chinese culture, instead of directly criticizing the phenomena of Mao worship, some netizens chose to commemorate other respectable figures on social media.

For example, as the wife of former top leader Zhao Ziyang passed away on December 25, a day before Mao's 120th birthday, “Rong Jian 2009″ republished the news from Zhao's children, and in turn, Rong's post had been republished more than 10,000 times, with many adding candlelight icons:


Retweet: The wife of Mr. Zhao Ziyang, our dear mother Liang Boqi, peacefully passed away in the presence of family and solemn wishes at 22:15 on Dec. 25, 2013 in Beijing Hospital at the age of 95. According to her wish, her funeral will be simple among family members.

Current affairs commentator Fan Yi chose to commemorate the anniversary of the death of prestigious Chinese historian Gao Hua, whose masterpiece “How Did The Red Sun Rise” discloses Mao’s manipulation of political movements to build his party's authority in the 1930s:


December 26 is an anguishing day. The famous contemporary historian, professor Gao Hua, unfortunately passed away on December 26, 2011. We deeply miss this elite historian on the second anniversary of his death. With persistence, profoundness and rigor, he left us the book “How Did The Red Sun Rise”. He bore unimaginable pressure and difficulties to write the work. His contribution will be marked in history.

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