Mao Zedong was no god, says Xi Jinping, in delicate balancing act
President tells the party faithful they should move forward but not forget the past on the 120th anniversary of Mao Zedong's birth
President Xi Jinping attempted a balancing act on the 120th anniversary of Mao Zedong's birth yesterday, praising the late Communist Party leader's teachings while acknowledging he was "not a god".
In a speech at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing to commemorate Mao's birth, Xi told party leaders that historical failures could not be blamed on individuals, nor could one person be credited with an era's success.
"Revolutionary leaders are men but not gods," Xi said. "We should not worship them like gods … but we should not negate them completely because they made mistakes.
"[We should] move forward, but can't forget the path that we have travelled."
Xi spoke after leading the other six members of the supreme Politburo Standing Committee to Mao's mausoleum, where they bowed three times before the late party patriarch's marble statue.
The anniversary speech was closely watched for insights into the direction of the ruling party under Xi, who serves as its general secretary as well as the state's president. Xi's defence of Mao's legacy and adoption of Mao-era slogans and organisation techniques have worried party liberals, reformists and activists who hoped he might crack open the door to political reform.
Analysts said Xi appeared to be trying not to lean to the right or left. "The remarks are a response to the recent ideology debates of the left and the right," said Pu Xingzu, a political scientist at Fudan University. "Xi is sending a message that he won't follow the old path of Maoism nor go astray towards Western democracy."
Xi said the party should embrace the "spirit" of Mao Zedong Thought - a guiding party doctrine including class struggle and constant revolution - to ensure its six-decade rule continues.
Xi said Mao's teachings can be summed up as "being practical and factual, staying close to the ordinary people and staying independent and autonomous".
The remarks elaborated on previous party statements on Mao Zedong Thought, but appeared to defend Xi's own policies, including an anti-corruption campaign and a more assertive foreign policy.
"All the diseases that could damage the party's advanced nature and purity should be seriously treated, and all the tumours that breed on the healthy skin of the party should be resolutely removed," Xi said. "To stay independent and autonomous means that Chinese people should take things into their own hands … No race and country can rely on external force or follow others to achieve their own revival."
Official ceremonies were held across the country, especially in Mao's home province of Hunan . But some unofficial events were banned. An organiser of annual "red songs" concerts to celebrate Mao's birthday in Hunan said they had been banned, although they could go to Mao's hometown of Shaoshan to pay tribute as individuals.
Others paid tribute in Beijing at the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong in Tiananmen Square.
Additional reporting by Zhuang Pinghui and Laura Zhou
Video: China marks Mao's birth with noodles and songs