Oct 18, 2013

    Netizens see red over $3b bill for Mao's birthday

    MORE than US$2.5 billion (S$3.1 billion) is being poured into the home town of communist China's founding father, Mao Zedong, for projects marking the 120th anniversary of his birth, local media reported, prompting outrage yesterday.

    Mao, who led the Communist Party to victory in China's civil war, was born in Shaoshan, in the central province of Hunan, on Dec 26, 1893.

    The Changsha Evening News said that Xiangtan city, which includes Shaoshan, is spending 15.5 billion yuan (S$3 billion) on 16 initiatives linked to the occasion, including renovating a tourist centre and preserving Mao's former residence.

    The works also include broader infrastructure projects, such as high-speed rail stations and highways.

    Chinese Internet users reacted to the 15.5-billion-yuan sum - which far exceeds a 1.95-billion-yuan figure reported earlier this week - with indignation on the country's popular microblogging platforms.

    "How much money does it cost to deal with pollution?" one Sina Weibo user wrote. "How much does it cost to provide medical insurance? How much to offer students from poor districts free lunch?

    "I can't believe they're spending this much money on a dead man, a controversial dead man."

    Another user said: "Xiangtan's economy is not doing well and a lot of people have been laid off by state-owned enterprises. (Yet) they spend so lavishly! I am so 'proud' of them. Who are those Xiangtan officials really serving?"

    The comments underscore the thorny issue of such lavish outlays at a time when many ordinary Chinese are lashing out at officials over corruption, and the government itself has launched an austerity campaign.

    Dr Jeffrey Wasserstrom, professor of history at the University of California Irvine, said the 120th anniversary will see an effort to put Mao "into a context as the person who began China's resurgence towards world-power status, as opposed to what the Western associations with Mao often are now".

    Mao's reputation remains important for a party that continues to stake its claims to power on its revolutionary origins, even as it has cast aside the remnants of his revolutionary policies.

    "They need their great leader to be pure," said Dr Edward Friedman, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "They need to have a vision of the past that's worth being nostalgic about."

    AFP, NYT