Serving the people

Mao photo provokes online debate

Serving the people

Better than a pigeon, at least

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of communist China. To commemorate the nation’s founding, the government has planned a celebration bonanza that will rival the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. But amid the festivities, many seem to have forgotten about the man who founded the nation, Mao Zedong.

To the younger generation, Chairman Mao is merely the face on all the Chinese bank notes, whose portrait also hangs above the gate to the Forbidden City. Although the influence of Maoism has faded, Chairman Mao is still widely recognised as the leader who got China on its feet again after a century of weakness and humiliation.

However, the chairman recently suffered an indignity that would not have gone unpunished in his day. Wanting to have her picture taken with Chairman Mao, a young girl was seen climbing on the shoulder of a Mao statue at an amusement park in Hunan, the province of his birth. A bystander took her picture on a mobile phone and posted it on the internet, leading to a furious backlash from Chinese netizens.

Many lambasted the girl for being disrespectful; some went so far as to cite her action as “bringing shame to the Chinese race.”

Perhaps more indicative of changes in attitudes to Mao, a large proportion of netizens defended the girl, arguing that it was not a big deal. One netizen even reckoned that her behaviour was a sign of the country’s increased open-mindedness: “It is a result of society progressing. If we went back to the 1960-70s, she would definitely have been shot!”

Nonetheless, some believe that the young girl’s action is reflective of a general lack of knowledge of Mao and Chinese history at large. Instead of blaming the girl for her ‘disrespectful behaviour,’ the country needs to do a better job at educating youngsters today, says Changsha Evening News.

They might start by swotting up on revolutionary hero Lei Feng. China celebrated Lei Feng Day last week, in memory of the 22 year old soldier, who was killed by a falling telephone pole in 1962.

Lei was no James Dean. His diary records his unswerving belief in communism, a habit of giving his savings to soldiers in need, and even a readiness to darn his comrades’ socks.

Lei went through his fair share of adversity too. His father was killed by the Japanese and his mother committed suicide after harassment from an unscrupulous landlord.

All manna from heaven to Mao, of course, especially the young soldier’s written exhortations to “submit…unquestioningly to the control of the Great Leader.”

From 1963 onwards, Lei was to become a model of revolutionary example, as his selfless and patriotic behaviour was transmitted to the nation. “Learn from Lei” became a popular slogan.

The cynic might wonder why a 22 year-old would compile a 200,000-word diary praising governmental policy.

In earlier times, Lei Feng Day would be a highly orchestrated event. Children would watch a propaganda movie about the hero, and do ‘Lei’ acts, such as spontaneously cleaning litter from a public park.

This year Lei Feng Day passed largely unnoticed by China’s youth. They were probably updating their Facebook instead.

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