Thu, Jan 15, 2004 - Page 16 News List

More about Mao, from his grandson

Mao Xinyu has written a bookabout his grandad, who he calls`the spine of the Chinese people'

REUTERS , Beijing


Mao Xinyu (毛新宇) seldom calls him grandpa any more. He usually refers to his illustrious forebear as Chairman Mao, or simply Chairman, reserving the full name of China's once-deified leader for when he cites his political canon.

"In this new century, this new period of history, to publicize Mao Zedong's (毛澤東) thought, to carry forward Chairman Mao's glorious image, this work is even more important than before," he says, intoning a well-rehearsed sermon.

More than a quarter-century after his death in 1976, Mao's continuing status as a global pop icon contrasts with the increasingly acknowledged bankruptcy of his politics, a pretext for all kinds of irony.

The burden of reconciling China's past and present has been thrust on the distended frame of his grandson, who is said to have grown up sheltered by servants and guards, kidding classmates about what he'd do when he took power.

In a generation of "little emperors," he appeared to fit the mould better than any, logging mediocre test scores and tipping the scales at more than 114kg.

Today, as an army-trained Mao historian and lieutenant-colonel, Xinyu, 33, remains a ceremonial figure. But while he has slimmed little, he has matured a good deal.

Sitting back in a voluminous green uniform, swearing to uphold Mao's guerrilla gospel, he faintly resembles his grandfather -- part country bumpkin, part quixotic bookworm, part sprawled-out sovereign.

"Aya, there's pressure, there's pressure," he sighed, with a puffy-cheeked grin, at the end of an interview. "Because the whole nation's people have their eyes on me."

Moments after Xinyu left, one of his publicity aides at the Academy of Military Sciences explained that "pressure" was meant to convey filial respect, all the more so for an ancestor of his grandfather's stature.

Mao's 110th birthday, Dec. 26, came and went last month, making no great waves in Chinese public life.

The Communist Party aired the usual television hagiographies while capitalistic co-sponsors peddled the latest gimmicks, from books spinning Mao's wartime survival tactics into management tips to hip-hop music recordings of his trademark theories.

Xinyu, for his part, did a rare run of interviews and book signings to promote his new anecdotal history, Grandpa Mao Zedong.

The paperback has sold several tens of thousands of copies, the Ph.D. replied modestly when asked. Later he suggested, "I'll give you the rights. You can translate it!"

The Great Helmsman named him Xinyu, or "new universe."

His father, Mao Anqing, the chairman's second son, was a party interpreter before succumbing to schizophrenia; his mother Shao Hua, an esteemed photojournalist, is a major-general. His wife is also in the army.

In China's elite circles today, many so-called princelings milk their pedigree to find jobs in prize industries, from real estate (party boss Hu Jintao's (胡錦濤) daughter) to semi-conductors (military chief Jiang Zemin's (江澤民) son). Some hold official posts themselves.

For Mao's heirs, the chambers of party power were seemingly off limits, the boardrooms of business sure to incur scandal.

So the family -- said to suffer from bad genes and be subject to bad grudges by elites rehabilitated after the Chairman's 1966 to 1976 Cultural Revolution -- came to depend on the military.

Xinyu insists his clan simply have their own special calling, to act as "successors" to Mao's revolutionary work.

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