Forty years on, Chairman Mao still remembered

Editor:Sharon Lee
Source:Xinhua
Updated:2016-09-12 14:45:08

  CHANGSHA, Sept. 9 (Xinhua) -- In Mao Anping's living room is a family photo. In the center of the frame sits Chairman Mao Zedong.

  "He is my father's second cousin," said the 72-year-old retiree from his front room in the village of Shaoshan in central China's Hunan Province, pointing at the solemn man in a white shirt. "Should he be alive today, he would have been happy to see how his hometown has changed."

  Mao, the founder of the People's Republic of China (PRC), was born in Shaoshan in 1893 and lived there for 16 years.

  He passed away on Sept. 9, 1976. Forty years after his death, the country he founded has gone through some dramatic changes, but he remains an influential figure.

  CHANGES IN SHAOSHAN

  Shaoshan was an impoverished village when New China was founded. In Mao Anping's photograph, shot in 1959, some of the villagers were bare foot.

  Mao Yushi, 71, the Party chief of Shaoshan, remembers the sadness that rippled through the village when the news broke that Mao had passed away. The village was even more upset when they couldn't find anyone who owned a television to watch his funeral.

  Several years later, China began its reform and opening-up drive, and Mao Yushi saw an opportunity.

  "We tried to encourage villagers to start businesses," he said. The response was far from positive -- all the villagers refused. "They saw businessmen as mercenaries and said they would bring shame on Chairman Mao and everything he stood for."

  Mao Yushi prevailed, he pounded the pavements and went from door to door to talk with the villagers. Tang Ruiren was first to be persuaded.

  In 1984, she began to sell food, secretly. She carried a bucket of porridge to Chairman Mao's residence, and set herself up outside, but she only dared sell to visitors. Whenever a fellow villager was nearby, she hid behind a tree.

  She forgot how much she earned that day, but the remarks of one visitor struck her. "He told me 'it is good to earn money and support yourself'."

  As a result, she carried on, and her business grew and grew. In 1987, she opened a restaurant and called it Maojia, meaning belonging to Mao.

  Maojia began opening franchise restaurants in 1994. It now has more than 300 outlets across China. Maojia began selling pre-packed food in 2008, including red-braised pork and fire baked fish -- both favorites of Chairman Mao. The products are now available on online platforms such as Tmall and JD.

  Maojia is not the only successful company to come from Shaoshan.

  About 15 minutes drive from Chairman Mao's residence is a high-tech industrial district, which is home to 55 enterprises. Their products range from mine carts, computer systems, airplane materials and wind power equipment.

  The little village of Shaoshan is now a city with 120,000 residents calling it home. The city posted GDP of seven billion yuan (about 1.05 billion U.S. dollars) last year. Disposable income of urban and rural residents was 32,046 yuan and 20,253 yuan respectively, above the national average.

  RESPECT STILL REMAINS

  As their lives improved, many villagers built new houses in the village, and, slowly, the peace and serenity of Chairman Mao's hometown was polluted by noisy peddlers and car horns.

  The local government asked the restaurants and hostels to relocate so some peace could be restored to the neighborhood. Tang Ruiren's original Maojia restaurant moved in 2002. Starting from March this year, tourists can only access the historical site on tour buses or by foot, all outside traffic has been banned.

  "The site where Chairman Mao lived is more like the place when he left a century ago," said Mao Anping.

  According to Hu Rong, a 33-year-old tour guide, Shaoshan receives eight million visitors a year, of that number around two percent are from abroad.

  "Many people come on his birthday or during Spring Festival, and leave gifts or flowers," she said. "Some young people get married in the front of his bronze statue, so that Chairman Mao can witness their wedding."

  Foreigners often come armed with questions.

  "They usually ask me why so do many people come to Shaoshan, and what I think of the Cultural Revolution," Hu said.

  "I tell them that many people see him as a savior, he was the man that helped the Chinese stand on their own feet.

  "As for the Cultural Revolution, if we could walk a day in his shoes we could understand more. And, any way, he was not a deity, he make mistakes," she said.

  UNDYING BELIEF

  In China, admiration of the late chairman is not confined to Shaoshan.

  In Tibet, some people still hang Mao's photo in their homes under a white Hada, a silk cloth used by Tibetans to express respect and greeting.

  Zhabsang, 52, lives in Nagqu Prefecture and he is an avid Mao memorabilia collector. Over the past 30 years he has spent more than 100,000 yuan on over 10,000 pieces of "Maomorabilia."

  His parents were among the one million people, or 90 percent of the region's population, that were serfs until the peaceful liberation of the region in 1959.

  "I used to live in a tent as a child. But look at me now -- my home is spacious and well-lit, and I do not have to worry about food or clothing," said Zhabsang. "We should not forget the well-diggers when drinking from the well."

  In north China's Shanxi province, over the past four decades, Yang Jianguang, 67, has not only purchased more than 50,000 items related to the late Chinese paramount leader, but opened a private museum.

  "Yushe County, where I am from, was part of a revolutionary base set up by Chairman Mao," he said. "Under his leadership, the peasants became the masters of the country. His theories still apply today."

  In Hebei, Li Xianpeng, 22, founded a Mao theory society for his fellow college students. His group has more than 200 members. "Chairman Mao has a lot of fans," he said.

  "He made mistakes, but he was on the people's side," he added.

  His view was shared by Mao Anping. "Chairman Mao told us to 'seek truth from the facts.' When we talk about him, we must see everything he did -- the right and the wrong," he said.

  Mao Anping was a torch bearer for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The opportunity to visit the nation's capital exposed him to the results of China's growth. "This growth, I think, is what he wanted."