Mao’s Legacy Still Divides China

Responding on Twitter to news of Osama bin Laden’s death, blogger Wen Yunchao wrote that “Bin Laden is dead, but Mao Zedong still lives on.” As authorities cultivate celebrations of China’s Communist heritage, the New York Times examines Mao’s enduring and divisive legacy:

A recent essay by the liberal economist Mao Yushi, “Returning Mao Zedong to his Original Person,” has highlighted the controversy.

Mr. Mao, who is no relation to Mao Zedong, accused the former leader of hypocrisy and unusual cruelty.

The Cultural Revolution was merely a ploy to destroy his many critics after the disaster of the Great Leap Forward famine, which killed around 30 million people, Mr. Mao wrote.

Evidence of cruelty is found, for example, in Mao’s indifference to the fate of friends he drove to suicide, wrote the economist, and that of President Liu Shaoqi, whom Mao first attacked, then pretended to save, only to have Mr. Liu expelled from the party on his 70th birthday, before dying, untended, in jail in 1969.

A document circulating online purporting to detail a proposal by top Communist Party officials to remove Mao Zedong Thought from party work, documents and policies, has also sharpened debate.

The supposed Politburo document, No. 179, dated Dec. 28, 2010, is said to have been proposed by Xi Jinping, the man expected to become China’s next president, and Wu Bangguo, the head of the National People’s Congress.

Even if a hoax — the internal workings of the Politburo are almost entirely opaque, and it is almost impossible to verify its authenticity — the document has refocused attention on the issue of Mao’s legacy among commentators and party officials.