Sun, Sep 10, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Beijing silent on Mao's 30th death anniversary

AFP , BEIJING

China officially ignored the 30th anniversary of the death of Mao Zedong (毛澤東) yesterday, a sign that observers say reveals authorities' fears that bitter memories could unleash a wave of discontent.

In Beijing, the central government did not organize any commemorations for the man who established the People's Republic in 1949 and was once known across China as the "great leader" and the "great helmsman."

State TV made no mention of Mao, while the People's Daily published only two short news briefs on Internet remembrances and the construction of a new museum at his birthplace.

The Beijing Daily reported on an unofficial memorial concert held on Friday at the Great Hall of the People -- China's most recognized political building -- which hosts the annual legislative session but is often rented out for private functions.

No editorials or retrospectives were found in the capital's major newspapers.

Thousands of nostalgic Chinese, however, flocked yesterday to the Mao mausoleum on Tiananmen Square, the symbolic center of China's political power, to try to catch a glimpse of the embalmed body of their "great savior."

At his hometown of Shaoshan in Hunan Province, 6,000 to 8,000 people visited the Mao memorial museum yesterday -- nearly double the attendance figure seen on other weekends, a curator said.

Tourists bowed at the 6m bronze statue of Mao and offered floral tributes, he said.

Analysts said the government feared high-profile public ceremonies honoring Mao could revive memories of tragic moments in Chinese history initiated by the former leader and maybe spark a torrent of public anger about today's problems.

"When you talk about Mao, you cannot avoid mentioning the Cultural Revolution -- you cannot avoid the fact that tens of millions of people were starved to death," said veteran journalist Li Datong (李大同). "If you don't handle [the commemoration] well, it will turn into an outlet for public emotions."

Gao Yu (高瑜), a veteran journalist who was imprisoned after the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, echoed those thoughts, saying: "The current social conflicts are serious and they dare not mention Mao's anniversary in a high-profile way."

More and more ordinary Chin-ese, especially those who are hardest hit by the widening gap between rich and poor in the increasingly market-orientated country, are using nostalgia to protest the new harsh reality, analysts say.

They added that the tendency to look back to the Mao era with rose-tinted glasses, longing to return to the days when China may have been poorer but was also a more innocent and fairer society, is increasing.

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