Mao (Still?) Tears China Apart
Image Credit: Flickr / Terence

Mao (Still?) Tears China Apart


An interesting recent incident involving a Chinese academic has shined a light on how conflicted China is over one of its towering historic figures—Mao Zedong.

Mao Yushi, an 82-year-old economist, penned a blog entry that was strongly critical of Mao, suggesting he should be held responsible for the deaths of 50 million Chinese citizens during the 1960s. The economist also noted his reputation as a womanizer who made decisions for his own benefit, rather than for the greater good of China’s development.

Unsurprisingly, the entry captured the attention of the media, academics, senior government officials and ordinary citizens. But when I tried to access the original entry, I found it had already been removed (although it can still be found on the Internet, having been copied and posted elsewhere before the authorities could delete the original).

Mao Yushi already isn’t well-liked by the Chinese authorities. This is partly because he has participated in a number of political activities that have upset the government, including  signing a petition in support of detained activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. Sources have told me that Mao’s phones are tapped, including the one he uses for media interviews. His family, meanwhile, say they have been receiving death threats.

There’s clearly no chance the authorities will allow Mao Yushi’s article to be published. First and foremost, such criticism of Mao Zedong is tantamount to dismissing the Chinese Communist Party itself, and the historical foundation on which it survives. A second reason it won’t be published is that the government fears that openly tackling such a sensitive subject risks prompting a chain reaction of events that could spark instability.

All this comes at a time when Chinese views of Mao are still split. Some see him as something akin to a religious icon, who shouldn’t be condemned even if mistakes were made because he was doing everything for the sake of the people. Those who despise Mao, in contrast, believe he was a hypocrite who set China down the wrong path.

These contrasting views seem to reflect the thinking of two groups with very different views of China today. Those who praise Mao are typically those with vested interests, party officials and many scholars. Those who dislike Mao are often drawn from the country’s cultural elite, are liberal scholars or are those who subscribe to Western ideals.

In many ways, Mao Zedong still looms over China, decades after his death. His portrait is hung in Tiananmen Square and his image appears on the country’s currency. Yet Mao Yushi’s blog might finally open up discussion on what is still largely a taboo issue. Either way, it was a remarkable act of daring to publish this piece in the first place.

Some on the left have told me that we shouldn’t expect this to be the last effort among opponents of Mao’s legacy to force debate on the issue. The battle lines, it seems, are being drawn ahead of the crucial 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party next year.

Jeffrey Wu
October 15, 2012 at 15:53

Yes, quite so. While he is regarded as a great founder of a nation, his progress of the nation was flawed and short sighted. He cared too much for heavy industry and as a result, relocated all the farmers to factories leaving no one to grow the food thus causing a famine. 

Cloud Hand
May 17, 2011 at 00:49

China is still leap, assuredly. There will, in future be yolk which west have to break as morning come to zhongguo’s.

May 13, 2011 at 05:08

I’ve read all about Mao Yushi on various Maoist websites emanating from China. All of his charges are published, discussed and refuted by the commentators. So its not as if what he says is unknown to Chinese netizens. There are also online petitions urging the authorities to bring him up on charges of subversion and slander. I have no way of evaluating Mao Yushi’s accusations against Mao and the CCP. All I know is those charges are disputed by Mao’s supporters. So this is a historical dispute. The articles I’ve read have critiqued each of Mao Yushi’s points. Those who are against the CCP and want to promote Western values and multi-party politics including laissez-faire capitalism and further privatization of the economy and the dismantling of state controls will do everything to try and discredit Mao and the CCP, so their motives are suspect. Others obviously want to protect the legacy of the CCP to maintain their own privileges. Than there are the lower classes, the manual laborers and migrant workers, who have been more or less left behind. They may look back on the Mao era with nostalgia. At least everybody was poor back then.

John Chan
May 11, 2011 at 23:20

@Dady, you have read too much propaganda as well as revisionist history from the West and its lackeys. You are talking exactly like Grant who insists only the documentation from the West contains truth, everything from China is communist propaganda.

Your remark is doing a great injustice and insult to those died during the period of great leap forward. No doubt great leap forward was a disaster, but it was an attempt by the Chinese to shake off the shadow and yolk of the imperial West (including the communist USSR which was a member of the imperial gang) since the first opium war. The attempt was a desperation because China was isolated by the West and its lackeys for their effort to crash China for their so called democratic ideology war, and at the same time China was exploited by the only ally it had, the USSR.

If you believe the façade of democracy, and human right of the West and its lackey are the saviour of humanity, then you are living in the cloud of cuckoo land. The West is nothing but old style imperialism with new mask; the latest evidence of their imperialism nature is Libya and execution of Osama bin Laden. Law of the jungle is what the West and its lackeys practice.

May 11, 2011 at 06:43

@Lin1 Mao is known as madman Mao in history. If you think that killing millions was good then you are just as mad as he was.

May 11, 2011 at 04:49

I think an interesting question to ask is “Could the CCP have triumphed without Mao?”

By asking this the CCP could turn Mao’s victory in 1949 into the Party’s victory, and reduce their dependency upon Mao’s achievements as a source of legitimacy. This would then allow the Party to cast Mao as a Caesar-like figure who took over the instruments of state, but was then removed by “good men” like Deng, who then become a much less controversial source of legitimacy for the CCP.

Mystery (James Kennedy)
May 10, 2011 at 23:19

re: “two groups”

To imply that there are only two opinions about Mao is, ironically, Maoist.

Mu Chunshan
May 10, 2011 at 02:04

Yes, he made many mistakes, some of which are very huge and harmful, but he really made many achievements for people. It’s very difficult to evaluate him with simple words.

But a trend should be noticed, that is Soviet Union’s example. When ordinary people dare to criticize Stalin, it means unsteady situation is coming.

Mu Chunshan
May 10, 2011 at 01:57

He is an icon, not only for CPC, but also for ordinary people, which is no easy to change.

May 10, 2011 at 00:10

Mao had obviously been a strong leader and had protected China from external aggressions. For protecting China he is one of only two Chinese leader who had been successful. The other was Han Wu Di more than 2,000 years ago when he chased off the Xiongnu. But Mao was also responsible for closing the Chinese universities and destroyed one or more generations of scientists and engineers and was mainly responsible for China’s technological backwardness today. Mao was also incompetent as a nation builder who had no understanding at all about economics and was responsible for China’s poverty today.

On balance, Mao had done both good and ill to China. But since his days, Deng and other CCP leaders could have implemented new policies to correct his errors and allow China to forge forward. But Deng and subsequent Dengists have also made many bad mistakes which kept China both technologically and economically backward. Furthermore, Deng and Dengists are now undoing the good things that Mao had done such as kicking out the forigners and eradicating the religions. Deng and Dengists have invited the foreigners back into China to dominate Chinese economy turning it into an economic colony for the Japanese and other westerners. And the CCP government is now rebuilding temples and mosques and encouraging the regrowth of religions which will keep the Chinese people superstitious.

John Chan
May 9, 2011 at 16:43

I am not sure Mao Yushi’s remarkable daring act of outcry for honest is genuine or a thin edge of the wedge to plunge China into another culture revolution chaos.

After the crashing of gang of four, China embarked on vengeance for the suffering during the culture revolution, the whole nation was going to waste all its energy on revenge and infighting. Deng Xiaoping and Co. realized the danger of that sentiment, although they suffered humongously in Mao’s hand, but they knew building the nation was more important than settling personal scores. So Deng and Co. stopped that counter culture revolution movement in the track at the beginning, declared Mao’s position in the history with a set portion of contribution and mistake to PRC, kept his picture on Tiananmen, and displayed his body in front of Tiananmen in mausoleum despite it was against Mao’s wish to be cremated and his ashes scattered.

China cannot be as it is today without Deng and Co.’s courageous and foresight decision on directing Chinese to nation building instead of dwelling on disastrous infighting forever.

Maybe opening old wound is a new tool to undermine China by the anti-China clique in addition to other tools in their arsenal like democracy, human rights, Tibet, etc.

May 9, 2011 at 09:40

Can’t they just replace him with Deng?
“Seek truth from facts” as Deng himself said.

May 9, 2011 at 07:30

It is about time that the facade of lies and distortion be discarded. Mao was one of the most incompetent leaders in human history, not in terms of his ability to acquire and maintain power, but in his complete inability to move his country forward on a path towards development and prosperity.

Keep in mind that China in the late 40′s and 50′s was starting from near zero – there was little or no modern infrastructure in most of it’s cities, the vast majority of it’s population resided in the countryside and subsisted through ancient agricultural methods and technologies. Given a bit of order and organization, It was virtually impossible for the country not to have massive growth.

From the late 50′s until his death he was instrumental in launching some of the most destructive movements imaginable. He and his cohort of “revolutionaries” brainwashed millions turning their hopes and dreams into the stuff of nightmares.

It is truly amazing that after all these years it is still not possible to speak honestly about this failure of a leader in the country that he damaged so severely.

May 9, 2011 at 06:48

This is a fascinating case. Only minor caveat is that there are more perspectives out there than just “two groups” outlined above. Politics in China is not always a clear-cut case of left and right. It often makes more sense to consider the material stake various actors have in the status quo as opposed to the kind of two-part ideological division sketched above.

The use of the term “liberal” is especially problematic here since those with “vested interests” often participate enthusiastically in the market, and – to a varying extent – advocate “Western ideals” such as private property rights intended to secure their economic gains for their children and grandchildren. While these elites publicly embrace Mao’s legacy as a statement of their fidelity to the party, others left behind by economic reforms also use Mao’s iconic status as a way to stake out claims that resonate with the Chairman’s socialist aspirations.

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