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China Celebrates Mao's Birthday, But Events Scaled Back

posted 26 Dec 2013, 07:22 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 26 Dec 2013, 07:22 ]

China celebrates the 120th birthday of its founder Mao Zedong but with scaled-back festivities as President Xi Jinping embarks on economic reforms that have unsettled leftists, state media reports.

BEIJING, CHINA (DECEMBER 26, 2013) (CCTV) China celebrated the 120th birthday of Mao Zedong, the founder of modernChina, on Thursday (December 26), but with scaled-back festivities, state media reported.

Mao has become a potent symbol for leftists within the ruling Communist Party who feel that three decades of market-based reform have gone too far, creating social inequalities like a yawning rich-poor gap and pervasive corruption.

In venerating Mao, they sometimes seek to put pressure on the current leadership and its market-oriented policies while managing to avoid expressing open dissent.

While all seven members of the party's elite inner core, the Politburo Standing Committee, visited Mao's mausoleum on Tiananmen Square, other activities nationwide were toned down.

Official Chinese state broadcaster CCTV showed footage of all seven politburo members, including Xi, bowed three times in front of a statue of Mao and paid their respects to his embalmed body, "recalling Comrade Mao Zedong's great achievements".

Xi said Mao was a great person who stuck to his beliefs and won the love and respect of the people but who also made "serious mistakes" like the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, Xinhua reported.

Still, Xi said Mao's errors should not negate his achievements, echoing previous comments Xi has made in seeking to assuage leftist concern about his agenda and beliefs.

Residents and local officials, along with relatives of Mao, attended a ceremony on Tuesday (December 24) commemorating Mao in his hometown of ShaoshanCCTVsaid.

CCTV broadcast footage of the ceremony which involved soldiers laying wreaths in front of Mao's memorial while officials and residents paid respects to China's most influential leader of the 20th century.

Among other events commemorating Mao, a group of local officials and tourists walked along a mountain path on Monday (December 23) located in the Jinggang Mountain range of China's southern Jiangxi province where China's People's Liberation Army was founded, CCTV said.

Mao, who died in 1976, remains a divisive figure.

His image adorns banknotes and his embalmed body attracts hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors a day to Beijing.

While the party has acknowledged he made mistakes, there has yet to be an official accounting for the chaos of the Cultural Revolution or the millions of deaths from starvation during the 1958-61 Great Leap Forward.

President Xi suffered personally during the Cultural Revolution when his father was jailed. Xi was sent to the countryside to live with peasants, like millions of other young urban Chinese.

While visiting Hunan, the southern province where Mao was born, in early November, Xi said the celebrations for the anniversary should be "solemn, simple and pragmatic", according to state media.

That did not stop Xi from lauding Maoism in several speeches this year, as he sought to appeal to leftists in the wake of a scandal involving Bo Xilai, a former contender for top leadership who pushed an egalitarian, quasi-Maoist agenda until he was felled and jailed for corruption.

Chinese newspapers have reported that several events originally planned for Thursday have been adjusted or changed completely, including a concert that was supposed to celebrate Mao but which has been relabelled a new year gala.

The town of Shaoshan, where Mao was born on Dec. 26, 1893, has spent about 2 billion yuan ($329 million) on 12 projects for the anniversary celebration, the official Xiangtan Daily reported.