A new play that glorifies the love of Mao Zedong for his eldest son, Mao Anying , who was killed while serving with the PLA in the Korean war, premiered this week in Beijing.
It is expected that the 2½-hour play, which opened yesterday at the National Centre for the Performing Arts, will be another highlight in the celebrations leading up to the 120th anniversary of the late chairman's birth date on December 26.
"Chairman Mao tried to shape his son in line with the standards and beliefs of a Chinese Communist Party member. It provides a striking contrast to many officials today whose children lead wealthy lives," said playwright and director Liu Yiran, a former member of the People's Liberation Army and who in recent years has directed a number of red-themed TV dramas to national acclaim.
Mao Anying was the eldest son of Mao and his first wife, Yang Kaihui, who was executed by the Nationalists in 1930 when the boy was just seven.
In 1937, along with his younger brother, Mao Anying was sent to Moscow, where he attended a military academy. In 1946, he was summoned back by his father to Yanan , Shaanxi province, the communists' revolutionary base, and joined the land reform movement in the neighbouring province of Shanxi.
From 1949, he was deputy party secretary at a machinery plant in Beijing. He was 28 when he was killed in an air strike during the Korean war in 1950.
There are different versions of how he died; according to one account, Mao Anying and another officer were cooking lunch at an abandoned house, in violation of PLA combat regulations, and it was struck by napalm.
In the play, both are killed while fetching documents in the building.
"I have done extensive research and our version is based on fact," Liu said.
Titled Mao Zedong and His Eldest Son, the play features the life of Mao Anying after his return from the Soviet Union, by which time he had taken on Western mannerisms. Mao encourages his son to go to the countryside to learn from peasants.
The climax comes after Mao learns of the death of his son, and famously says to those gathered around him: "Sons of the people can shed their blood on the battlefield. Why cannot mine?"
"Mao and his eldest son are our national heroes," Liu said. "As a director, I have the responsibility to restore their glory."
The play is just one of the commemorative events in Beijing to mark the 120th anniversary of Mao's birth.
Later this week, the Utopia bookstore, which has been running a website promoting red culture, will host a three-day programme in the capital attended by Mao admirers from around the nation.
The programme will include a reading of Mao's poems and a visit to his mausoleum.
Zhan Jiang , a professor of journalism at Beijing Foreign Studies University, believes the activities to venerate Mao are a clear indication of the face-off between the rightist and leftist camps on the mainland.
"The rightists believe Mao made terrible mistakes but the leftists want to use the occasion to honour him," he said.
Zhan added that President Xi Jinping's stand on how to evaluate Mao was evident in his recent instructions, delivered in Mao's home province, Hunan, that the celebrations "be grand, frugal and pragmatic".
A recent People's Daily article warned that no one should "ignore, cover up or exaggerate the mistakes made by Mao Zedong in his late years".
"Apparently, Xi is trying to appease both sides," Zhan said.