As a grandson of the Great Helmsman, Mao Xinyu was always going to attract his fair share of national attention. And so it has turned out this month, with press speculation that the 39 year-old has been promoted to the rank of major general in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
The Changjiang Daily broke the story – and other newspapers quickly picked up on the item. After all, the timing seemed perfect: Mao Zedong’s grandson ‘made’ general exactly 60 years after the 1949 revolution which saw Mao take power. The young Mao himself alluded to his promotion with comments that he wasn’t expecting to be much of a success in the military. “Even less did I dream that I could reach the rank of general,” he is said to have confessed.
Perhaps his modesty is not surprising. He can’t claim to be a leader of men like grandpa. In fact, Mao Xinyu’s background is more academic than soldierly. He is a declared expert in ‘Mao Zedong Thought’ and author of various books (including My Grandfather Mao Zedong).
Now the media is less sure that he has been promoted after all. Recent photographs show him still in colonel’s insignia. And his personal secretary seemed to deny the speculation, asking that reporters concentrate on Mao’s “remarkable” academic achievements instead.
The puzzled press has been left to write “Is he or isn’t he?” pieces. So what’s going on?
It’s plausible that government figures simply decided to delay his promotion – worried that the story was in danger of diverting attention from the nation’s top news priority: the 60th anniversary celebrations.
As for becoming a general, it seems combat prowess does not appear to be a prerequisite. Grandson Mao’s own mother was a major general. Others holding the rank include a ping-pong player and a master of the two-stringed fiddle, reports the South China Morning Post. Song Zuying (a celebrated folk singer) probably takes her responsibilities as a vice-admiral in the navy very seriously too.
But Mao Xinyu may deserve a sympathetic hearing. After all, unlike many other members of the “princeling” elite, he does not appear to have cashed-in on his lineage with a lucrative business career.
Quite the opposite: he’s dedicated much of his life to the study of his grandfather. And by all accounts he had a very strict upbringing. Mao recalls that he would sometimes have to go without dinner if he erred in recitals of his grandpa’s poetry.
It was, in fact, his mother that prodded him to become a Mao expert. It looks like it wasn’t his first choice; but he describes it now as “a completely correct decision.”
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