Loyal to Mao's legacy, China's princelings have high hopes for fellow 'red descendant' Xi

Children of revolutionary leaders persecuted under rule of Communist Party head say his legacy outweighs violence and political turmoil

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 December, 2013, 9:18am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 December, 2013, 2:49am

As the Communist Party prepares to commemorate the 120th anniversary of chairman Mao Zedong's birth on Thursday, sons and daughters of communist leaders who at times suffered under his rule have defended his record and praised his legacy.

Chen Xiaolu , the 67-year-old son of Chen Yi , a founding military commander in the People's Republic who was criticised during the violence and political upheavals of the Cultural Revolution, said that despite Mao's errors he still considered him a great leader.

"Before the Cultural Revolution, Mao was a godlike figure to us,'' said Chen. "Whenever we saw him at Tiananmen, we couldn't help but cheer and be moved by him.

"After the Cultural Revolution we had time to reflect and realise he had erred, but there's a saying that after the revolution, 'Mao walked down from heaven'."

Chen, like many of the "red second generation" whose parents were party elders, said China's unprecedented growth over the past few decades would not have happened without the founding of the People's Republic under Mao.

Political persecutions and the millions who died in a famine during the drive to industrialise during the Great Leap Forward in the 1950s were a cause for sadness, but Mao's legacy as the father of the nation was assured, they said.

"We have experienced a myriad of difficulties to get to where we are today - the Cultural Revolution, reform and opening up - but compared with China's development over the last 64 years the growth seen in many countries hailed as superpowers pales in comparison to ours. That's why it's called the Chinese miracle," said Chen.

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Chen's father was politically rehabilitated in 1971 at the height of the Cultural Revolution, but Chen is still haunted by what happened during the years of political turmoil. Two months ago, he apologised to teachers at his former school who were tortured or sent to labour camps.

"I wasn't brave enough to stop the inhumane persecutions because I feared I would be accused of protecting the old ways and being a counter-revolutionary", Chen wrote in a blog. "I believe how one interprets the Cultural Revolution is a matter of individual freedom, but unconstitutional and inhumane violations of human rights shouldn't be repeated in any form in China."

Xu Wenhui is another child of a revolutionary leader persecuted during Mao's rule who still respects and even has fond memories of the former leader.

Her father was Xu Haidong , a senior general in the People's Liberation Army during the civil war and the second Sino-Japanese war.

The elder Xu was injured more than nine times, according to the PLA Daily, earning him the title "Tiger Xu". The military commander was accused by the Gang of Four during the Cultural Revolution of being a counter-revolutionary and died in political exile in Henan's provincial capital of Zhengzhou .

"The first time I saw chairman Mao was on National Day in 1956. I was 17," Xu said .

"My father took me to see the fireworks at Tiananmen. All the leaders were there. I took a notebook and pen and asked for the chairman's autograph - he signed it and humbly said his penmanship wasn't good. He was tall and handsome. Even today I still have that notebook and that pen."

Xu said: "Even during the Cultural Revolution, when Lin Biao ordered the persecution of my father, my father told us to 'never oppose Chairman Mao'."

Hu Muying, the 72-year-old daughter of Hu Qiaomu , Mao's private secretary and a Marxist philosopher, said the former leader had made mistakes but his achievements outweighed any errors in her view.

"Mao led the Chinese people without former examples to guide him," Hu said.

"He searched for answers himself. In his short life, he was eager to see China grow and change. It's inevitable he would become impatient at times."

Hu said the growing gap between the rich and poor, plus corruption among officials made many people miss the early days of the Communist Party.

"The party and its members have deviated from the initial goal of fighting for equality and prosperity of the people,'' Hu said. "I think the reason why we have so many issues today is because of corrupt officials. The more senior the cadre, the greater his power. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

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"But we are correcting this now. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection is 'capturing the tiger,' asking for more transparency in the disclosure of officials' assets and cracking down on extravagance.

"The most important thing is still public participation, public oversight and the public's fundamental right to criticise the government."

Whether president Xi Jinping , the son of the Communist revolutionary Xi Zhongxun , embraces Maoism or eschews it, the son and daughters of men who established the people's republic alongside Mao see hope in their fellow princeling's administration.

"Our party is in crisis," Hu said. "Since Xi took power, he vowed that he would maintain the socialist system - no changing flags, no changing our path. This gives us hope. But, we have to be patient. It takes more than one commander to solve big problems."