Nostalgia’s a ‘must’ for the Chairman

BEIJING — Mao Tse-tung’s grandson is riding a wave of affectionate nostalgia for the founder of modern China, promoting Mao’s biography as the country celebrates the 110th anniversary of his birth.

Mao’s mantras may have been discredited, but the man remains a source of fascination. Even as market-oriented young Chinese went out last week to buy modern-day Mao memorabilia — a new rap song, “The Two Musts,” named after one of Mao’s sayings, or hip-hop reworkings of revolutionary songs, for example — thousands also snapped up the new biography by Mao Xinyu.

To the delight of the younger Mao, the first print run of “My Grandfather, Mao Tse-tung” sold out within weeks and a second edition has had to be rushed out earlier than planned. Lines have formed in bookshops, with more than 400 readers flocking to one Beijing store alone while Mr. Mao signed copies of the book.

Mr. Mao, a 33-year-old graduate history student, “worships” his late grandfather and has previously retraced his footsteps on the Long March in 1934.

“I didn’t have many chances to see my grandfather when I was young, and when I did, I was always very excited. When he stood up, I used to feel as if I was looking up at some kind of god.”

The official view in China is that Mao’s policies were “70 percent correct,” a formula that allows his successors to honor him as the founder of modern China while distancing themselves from painful memories of famine during the Mao-inspired “Great Leap Forward” and of persecution during the Cultural Revolution.

Chinese and Western scholars estimate that between 60 million and 80 million deaths are attributed to the policies of Mao — including between 15 million and 30 million lost during the Great Famine of 1959 to 1961 alone.

Nonetheless, Mao’s political theories are still a compulsory course at Chinese universities and his birthday Friday was marked with a visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao to Mao’s mausoleum on Tiananmen Square. The flurry of celebrations also included concerts, television and film documentaries, and the publication of 67 books.

Mr. Mao’s biography paints a picture of a man who was determined to lead an excessively frugal life long after the struggle to drive Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist forces from the mainland was over.

Mao Tse-tung led China from the revolution of 1949 until his death in 1976, when his grandson was 6. Mr. Mao’s grandmother was Mao Tse-tung’s first wife, Yang Kaihui, who was executed by Kuomintang forces while still a young woman.

According to Mr. Mao’s book, his grandfather “had two requirements when it came to clothes: they had to be torn and shabby, and they had to be loose and comfortable.” He ordered worn clothes to be mended and reused.

Between 1953 and 1962, according to his grandson, Mao had no new clothing. His uniforms had been mended time and again, as had his underpants. At his death, Mao owned only two pairs of pajamas — one of them had 67 patches and the other 59 patches.

The younger Mao spent four years researching and writing the biography. “There are still many people now who respect Mao Tse-tung very much and I am just like them. People in China need something to believe in,” he said.

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