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Chinese Mark Mao’s 99th Birthday, Gear Up for Centenary

December 26, 1992

BEIJING (AP) _ The childhood village of Mao Tse-tung once attracted tens of millions of pilgrims a year, but only about 300 came today to a ceremony marking the 99th anniversary of his birth. No top leaders attended.

In speeches at the ceremony in Shaoshan, some 800 miles southwest of Beijing, officials began by urging loyalty to ″the principles of Mao thought,″ but ended up preaching ″change of thinking,″ faster reform and opening up to the outside world, the People’s Daily newspaper reported.

Many of the tenets of Mao’s brand of Communism have been abandoned since his death in 1976.

Despite the ambivalence, Shaoshan is going all-out to mark Mao’s birth centenary. The village is planning to unveil a Mao statue, a Mao library, an exhibit of Mao ″relics,″ and a memorial garden, the China Youth News said.

Hundreds of souvenir stalls have been set up near Mao’s former homestead, the Youth News said, run by private businessmen who in Mao’s day would have promptly been clapped in jail as capitalists.

Most of Mao’s key theories have been scuttled by a man he purged for being too pro-capitalist, Deng Xiaoping. Deng dismantled Mao’s huge farming communes in favor of family plots, restored private enterprise and replaced Mao’s policy of self-reliance with appeals to foreigners to invest and trade.

However, Mao remains the symbolic father of China’s Communist revolution.

Official newspapers today published photos of Mao and reminiscences from comrades in an effort to throw his revolutionary mantle over the current leadership. However, no top leaders went to Shaoshan for his birthday or took part in any other commemorative activities.

Mao’s picture is still a favorite on magazine covers, often appearing beside pictures of the latest film starlets or sports heroes, and there is a wide audience for books that purport to offer new details of Mao’s daily life.

None cast any light on the intra-party power struggles that consumed his last decades or explain his role in the violent 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, which is officially blamed on Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, and several aides.

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