Vancouver fans of Mao Zedong gather to sing his praises, to the horror of fellow Chinese immigrants
Placard-waving protesters denounce ‘red tide’ of communist influence in Vancouver, as celebrants sing and dance in Mao’s memory
In the Australian cities of Sydney and Melbourne, there was uproar last week when Mao Zedong fans tried to stage celebrations of the life of the “Great Helmsman” to mark the 40th anniversary of his demise, that falls this Friday.
To heap glory on Mao on Australian soil? A leader whose policies resulted in tens of millions of deaths? The prospect appalled many in the Chinese community, and Sydney’s town hall venue pulled the plug last Thursday after a petition drew thousands of signatures - and fears grew of possible clashes between pro and anti-Mao groups. The Melbourne event was then cancelled too at the behest of the organisers.
But in Vancouver, Mao’s supporters have managed to pull off what their Australia-based counterparts could not.
Last Saturday night, in a nondescript music hall in Richmond, about 100 Mao fans gathered to literally sing the late Communist leader’s praises.
Watch: Protesters mock ‘Maoist’ celebration in Richmond, BC
Meanwhile, a group of fellow Chinese community members, horrified by the event, were waving placards outside, denouncing their former countrymen for their devotion to a “criminal against humanity” and their supposed failure to embrace “Canadian values”.
Among the protesters was Yang Kuang, a Chinese political refugee who arrived in Canada last year, only to find “Maoists” in his midst. “No one would hold public memorial events for Adolf Hitler or Hideki Tojo,” he told me this week. He warned that “pro-Communist groups have become ever more active while growing stronger and stronger” in Vancouver.
Inside, the celebrations in song and dance began with a rendition of the East Is Red, the Cultural Revolution’s de-facto anthem, whose lyrics hail Mao as the people’s saviour and which played a key part in his personality cult. A programme for the event, published on the Westca internet forum, goes on to list other Maoist musical favourites including Cherish the Memory of Chairman Mao.
Protesters vow to battle ‘red tide’
If you pictured Mao’s modern-day supporters within the diaspora as a bunch of beardy beatniks and peasant revolutionaries, you’d be wrong.
Their overseas ranks are typically drawn from the moneyed class of mainland Chinese immigrants and pro-business groups: Saturday’s celebration was organised by the Vancouver Hunan Commercial Association of Canada, whose banner was draped across the room.
The association promotes business links between Canada and Mao’s home province. Prominent members of Vancouver’s mainland Chinese business community were also behind a “Praising Mao” event held at a Vancouver restaurant in December 2013 that was attended by about 300 people.
(In Australia, meanwhile, the cancelled events were organised by a wealthy property developer, Peter Zhu)
Opponents of such celebrations say their objections are twofold: they reject Mao’s legacy as murderous and shameful, but they are also angered by the supposed use of patriotism to curry favour with Chinese authorities for commercial purposes.
Watch: The East is Red
The protest against Saturday’s event in Vancouver was organised by a Chinese immigrant group called the Alliance of the Guardians of Canadian Values. In a statement, the alliance said: “We completely respect every individual’s preference for some historical figures. We do not object to any private activities held to remember Mao Zedong. However, any open activities held at commercial venues to commemorate Mao by overseas Chinese groups, chambers of commerce or clansmen associations would convey to Canadian society an erroneous message.
“We, as dwellers on Canadian soil, should not be ruining a democratic political system while running it [taking part in it]. Since we have chosen to live in Canada, we ought to steadfastly uphold Canadian values and distance ourselves from any historical figures who were hostile towards or even eager to destroy this system.”
The statement also blasted the “ulterior motives” of people “who try to take advantage of Mao’s fans and reap personal gain by organising related activities and making patriotism a business. We vow not to let ‘red tides’ pollute our communities.”
The Alliance was founded in 2009 and has protested against Chinese communist influence in Canada. It also campaigned in 2014 in favour of the cancellation of the Immigrant Investor Program, which had brought tens of thousands of millionaires to Canada – the great majority of them in recent years from mainland China.
A spokesman for the Vancouver Hunan Commercial Association of Canada could not be reached for comment.
However, one of the organisers of the pro-Mao event told Sing Tao last week that it would not be political in nature, no tickets had been sold, and nor had the event been publicly advertised.
Yang, who was jailed in China for 15 months for political activities in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, said he rejected the idea that celebrating Mao in song was a harmless activity. “From my point of view, any public memorial event of Mao in Canada or any other free country is not simply some nostalgia-evoking activity for people to recall a faded era or its music and dance,” he said.
“Rather, these events serve to glorify Mao, a murderer who killed his people, and to instil our younger generations with poisonous beliefs.”
Yang said “any activity that glorifies Mao should be considered propaganda” and he regarded it as “a responsibility” to protest against such events.
“Every one of us [Chinese] are victims under the authoritative, iron-fist, self-serving rule of Mao,” Yang said.
Fellow Chinese immigrant Glary Hoo – who arrived in Canada with his family in 2014 under the Immigrant Investor Program - said he took part in Saturday’s protest because of his “extreme hatred of the dictatorship led by Mao”. “His historic crimes must be exposed and criticised,” he said, describing celebrations of his life as “salt in the wound” to anyone who suffered under Mao’s rule.
Hoo said he feared that “commemorating [Mao] here will make Canadians think we overseas Chinese still believe in red revolutions. That would make it difficult to integrate us into mainstream Canadian society.”
“[I would tell Canadians] that those who support Mao Zedong and pro-Communist groups in Canada are just a tiny group of Chinese that cannot represent all overseas Chinese,” said Hoo. “We acknowledge the democratic value of Canada, observe Canadian laws and firmly object to improper words and deeds by a small number of people trying to divide Chinese communities.”
The Hongcouver blog is devoted to the hybrid culture of its namesake cities: Hong Kong and Vancouver. All story ideas and comments are welcome. Connect with me by email firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @ianjamesyoung70 .