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Chinese TV producer fired after supporting Mao Zedong critic

Punishment for dissenters is swift as China defends the official version of its history

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2017, 3:19pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2017, 11:15pm

Although many older Chinese remember when insufficient respect for Mao Zedong could lead to disaster for one’s entire family, younger citizens have been shocked to learn criticism of Mao can still ruin careers today.

A television producer was fired after defending a critic of Mao – communist China’s founding father – online, in a controversy that began around Mao’s birthday on December 26th.

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Liu Yong, a producer with the Luohe Television in Henan province, was suspended for “wrongful speech that violates political discipline and morals”, his employer posted on social media.

The statement did not detail exactly what triggered the punishment, but Liu apologised on his social media account on Monday for “having hurt the feelings of the public”.

Liu had previously posted criticism of the Communist Party and the Chinese government, and on Sunday expressed support for a Chinese professor who was forced to retire after criticising Mao publicly on the eve of the late leader’s birthday.

Mao remains one the most controversial figures on the mainland.

His followers, disappointed that China has one of the world’s largest wealth gaps and rampant corruption, blame market reform and the intrusion of Western values for those problems.

Critics of Mao, however, view him as a merciless and Machiavellian dictator who was indifferent to the loss of innocent lives to achieve his political goals, and who uprooted traditional culture and purged intellectuals along with his colleagues.

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The latest controversy started when Deng Xiangchao, a communications professor at Shandong Jianzhu University, reposted a joke about Mao on December 25th, on the eve of Mao’s birthday.

Without naming Mao, Deng’s post likened the late leader to an imperial ruler.

“Being an imperial ruler in China takes skill, you should turn your yellow robe to patched clothes, changing the anointment to a celebration of a newborn state, turning concubines into female entertainment soldiers,” the joke reads. “You should call hereditary rulers revolutionary comrades, and change the emperor’s edict into a supreme instruction. But don’t be honest about it.”

The post enraged supporters of Mao, who attach great importance to his birthday. Despite heavy restrictions on protests in the country, dozens of Mao supporters rallied at Deng’s university on Wednesday last week, holding banners and yelling slogans such as, “Down with traitors!”

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Despite some scholars’ defending Deng on the grounds of freedom of expression, the professor, who was one year shy of retirement age, was forced to retire and stop teaching only a day after the Maoists’ protest, when the universityaccused him of repeatedly posting “wrongful speech” on his social media account.

Deng, a member of the provincial advisory body, was also removed from its standing committee.

Beijing has in recent years cracked down against “history nihilism”, a phrase it uses to refer to versions of history that challenge its official version.

Senior officials have often said such versions of the party’s history are part of efforts to overthrow the communist regime by “subversive forces”.