November 29, 2004

Cult of personality still reigning supreme in China

SHAOSHAN, China (AFP) - In Mao Zedong's hometown of Shaoshan, 'long live Chairman Mao' booms from speakers as people tumble out of buses onto a small square, donning caps emblazoned with their tourist group affiliation.

They chatter excitedly as they approach the six metre (19.8 feet) tall bronze statue of the dictator outfitted in thick shoes and double-breasted military coat, before stopping to pose and snap photos in front of the revered revolutionary leader.

Twenty-eight years after his death and despite wide recognition in China that he committed grave errors which caused the deaths of tens of millions of people, Mao is still regarded by many as the country's greatest modern leader.

"I worship him. Most of the people coming here worship him," said Wang Ming, 35, a resident of eastern Nanjing who traveled more than 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) to Shaoshan in central Hunan province.

"He had a rebellious spirit and he led such a small and tiny army to fight against Kuomintang (the political party driven to Taiwan by the Communists in 1949), and he saved the country and the people."

At a strategically placed flower stand that sits on the small square, tourists line-up to buy bouquets that cost as much as 399 yuan (48 dollars). They place them gently and respectfully at the base of the statue.

Though even state media today continues to remind people that Mao was just a man and not a god, here the admonishment seems to fall on deaf ears.

People pray in front of his statue by bringing their hands together and kowtowing three times -- a ritual that in ancient, feudal China was reserved for the emperor alone.

"I pray that he may give me strength and courage to live a good life," said Zhu He, a visitor from northern Hubei province.

48 dollars for a flower? This next section amuses me to no end. Oh the irony...
On any given day Mao's hometown is overrun with more than 4,000 tourists, or about 1.5 million visitors a year. It has become a money spinning attraction that symbolizes one of the great contradictions of the politics of the ruling Communist Party of China.

Mao's vision of an egalitarian, Communist utopia has largely become an anachronism in a country that increasingly defines itself with market capitalist values.

We have good ol' Deng to thank for this.
Where once the Communist Party could justify its self-appointed totalitarian rule over its 1.3 billion people because the historical forces of the proletarian revolution were in its favour, 25 years of market economic reforms has vanquished that mandate.
I can see it now, "Mao Zedong World opens to great fanfare, dwarfs Wal-Mart as largest Chinese amusement park."

American corporations are licking their lips at the thought of 1.3 billion consumers and rising: "Ah the possibilities..."

Posted by Kyer at November 29, 2004 11:41 AM