Chinese Reopen Debate Over Mao's Legacy A Chinese economist recently dared to publicly criticize Chairman Mao Zedong, saying the former leader shouldn't be viewed as a god any longer. His essay has sparked a backlash as China gears up to celebrate the Communist Party's 90th anniversary with "red" songs and a movie lauding Mao.
NPR logo

Chinese Reopen Debate Over Chairman Mao's Legacy

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/137231508/137346510" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Chinese Reopen Debate Over Chairman Mao's Legacy

Chinese Reopen Debate Over Chairman Mao's Legacy

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/137231508/137346510" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

As NPR's Louisa Lim reports from Beijing, their debate comes amid a swell of nostalgia for those revolutionary days.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

NORRIS: (Foreign language spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

LOUISA LIM: Now, an 82-year-old reform-minded economist, Mao Yushi - no relation to the former leader - has reopened the debate inside China. In a bold essay, he wrote that Chairman Mao should not be viewed as a god anymore. In an interview with NPR, he laid out why.

NORRIS: (Through Translator) The three biggest murderers in the 20th century are Hitler, Stalin and Mao Zedong. That's commonly accepted among historians outside China, and Mao killed the most people. They're seen as representatives of evil. But in China, Mao's portrait is still in Tiananmen Square. If China wants to develop further, it needs to distinguish between basic right and wrong.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL")

LIM: (as character) (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: (as character) (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: That's why the elderly economist's recent essay unleashed a wave of vitriol, particularly on the leftist website Utopia. Its 34-year-old founder, Fan Jinggang, says he's gone too far.

NORRIS: (Through Translator) What he published smashed the baseline of free speech. In any country, you can't just insult the country's leader and people's beliefs, and oppose the regime.

LIM: Fan Jinggang believes the essay is libelous. He says he's collected 50,000 signatures online calling for Mao Yushi's prosecution. Fan sent the petition to China's parliament, the National People's Congress. Mao Yushi says he never expected such a reaction, but he'd welcome being put on trial.

NORRIS: (Through Translator) I'm not against going to court to debate who's right. If that happened, it wouldn't be me on trial. It would be Chairman Mao on trial. I don't think the courts would accept such a case.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LIM: But he has paid a price for his outspokenness. He has received threatening phone calls, making his wife worry about their safety. Utopia founder Fan Jinggang, however, is not bothered by this. If there were no such threats, he tells me, that would mean China no longer has any patriots. He believes the elderly economist is not acting alone but part of a wider movement aimed at overthrowing the government.

NORRIS: (Through Translator) He represents those Western imperialist powers and China's landlord class that were chased out at the founding of the new China. Their common trait is they oppose the People's Republic of China and China's socialist system.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LIM: Kerry Brown, from the British think tank Chatham House, believes politicians are tapping into revolutionary nostalgia to ease social discontent.

D: Emotionally, Mao appealed to Chinese people in a way that the recent leaders haven't. If there's a political justification, it's that the Maoist period was one where Chinese society wasn't unequal, you know, and that's been the big kind of problem of the last decade, that there's been so much inequality.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LIM: (Singing in foreign language)

LIM: One critic is Ye Kuangzheng from Phoenix Weekly magazine. He believes the campaign reveals the spiritual bankruptcy of China's leadership.

NORRIS: (Through Translator) I think this government-directed effort presents a bold front to conceal weak defenses. The more people sing, the more it highlights the lack of mainstream values.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LONG LIVE OUR MOTHERLAND")

LIM: Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LONG LIVE OUR MOTHERLAND")

LIM: (Singing in foreign language)

LIM: (Singing in foreign language)

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.