Hyping Mao in modern China
And ironically, at the same time that Jung's groundbreaking biography is being published the Chinese government is engaged in a heavy promotion of Mao nostalgia and hype. Mao's huge portrait still beams down benevolently over Tienanmen Square, and tourist visits to his childhood home are being heavily advertised. Imagine a similar tour of Hitler's childhood abode or Stalin's, and you have the picture of how far China has to go in joining the family of free nations.
Independent Online Edition
Since China's State Council designated this year as the year of Red Tourism, an initiative designed to re-kindle faith in the present-day Communist Party (CCP), a booming Shaoshan has become an unlikely must-see on the tourist trail.
Legions of holiday-makers are flocking to the town, eager to learn more about the roots of the man who in his homeland is still regarded as having done more than any other to unify and form contemporary China.
[...]Such is Mao's status in China that no one dares challenge the myths surrounding the man who may have united the country but also initiated such disastrous events as the Great Leap Forward, in which 30 million people died of famine, and the Cultural Revolution, which saw millions more Chinese denounced by their friends and neighbours and sent to labour camps or worse.
"In the eyes of Chinese historians, Mao is a controversial figure," says Yang Kui Song, a history professor at Peking University. "Some historians are very positive about him, but many criticise Mao in private. They'd never express their opinion openly. They'd get into trouble."
Mao's reputation has taken a battering in the West this year, following the publication of Jung Chang's long-awaited biography, Mao: The Unknown Story.
But Jung's book is banned in mainland China and her portrait of a master manipulator who regarded ordinary people as expendable and was interested only in maintaining his iron grip on power, would be greeted with shock and disbelief by most Chinese.
[...]People seem puzzled when I ask if they like Mao. "Of course we do," says one woman. "All Chinese people like Mao Tse-Tung. He is the Chairman and the new China was built by him."
Jung Chang would be quick to point out that Westerners should not be so quick to credit these rosy reports from Chinese citizens regarding their views of Mao or communism. Dissent is still heavily punished in China, and speaking out of turn can land you in prison for many years.