A Chinese professor has been sacked after he criticized Mao Zedong (毛澤東) — on what would have been the former leader’s 123rd birthday — in an commentary he posted online.
Mao, who died on Dec. 9, 1976, is still officially venerated by the Chinese Communist Party as the founder of modern China and his face appears on every yuan banknote.
He is particularly respected by leftists, who believe the country has become too capitalist and unequal over three decades of market-based reforms, and attitudes toward Mao and his legacy mirror differences between reformers and traditionalists.
Deng Xiaochao (鄧相超), 62, an art professor at Shandong Jianzhu University in central China, posted a commentary on social media dated Dec. 26, Mao’s birthday, suggesting that Mao was responsible for a famine that led to 3 million deaths and the Cultural Revolution, in which 2 million died.
The post was deleted, but an image of it has been shared online.
Such public criticism of is rare in China and Mao’s supporters took to the streets to protest against Deng shortly after he made the comments.
Some held banners saying: “Whoever opposes Mao is an enemy of the people,” according to videos and photographs widely shared online.
The state-owned tabloid the Global Times late on Monday reported that Deng was dismissed on Thursday last week from his post as counselor of the provincial government, while the university’s party committee posted a statement saying that Deng would no longer teach or be allowed to organize social events on campus.
The Global Times did not give a reason for Deng’s dismissal.
The Shandong government said on its Web site that Deng had been dismissed for breaking provincial and national rules on government work, without providing details, and that local discipline bodies had been informed.
The university’s party committee said Deng had made “false remarks,” according to images of a statement from it, shared on social media.
Deng could not be reached for comment.
Calls to Shandong Jianzhu University and the Shandong provincial government went unanswered.
Modern history is a sensitive subject in China, as so much of the party’s legitimacy rests on claims of its achievements.
The party tries to manage the interpretation of history, though officials say online information is threatening that control.
While there is debate in the party about the direction of reforms, analysts suggest there are no serious challenges to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) rule.