Five Mao fanatics who ran an internet rumour mill have been sentenced by a court in central China for circulating articles which “smeared former state leaders” but their ringleader, who awaits trial, remained defiant despite the sentencing. The people’s court of Xinhua district in Pingdingshan, Henan province, sentenced two men and three women in late December to jail terms ranging from nine months to two years on the official charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” , according to a verdict obtained by the South China Morning Post . “Picking quarrels and provoking trouble” is a broadly worded criminal charge covering offences such as public disorder and hooliganism, and is also often used by police to muzzle political dissent. Articles circulated by the group, and with the Pingdingshan court verdict attached, said they had attacked late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping and other reformist leaders for betraying Mao’s revolutionary ideals. The verdict said they had trafficked more than 100 articles on dozens of WeChat accounts between late 2020 and April last year and profiteered from readers’ tips and advertisements – a common way of making money online in China. The verdict called them “a gang of evil forces who worked under the name of the Red Culture Association to promote what they called ‘red culture’”. Youth turn to Mao’s Quotations after being slated for sleeping too much The five were identified as Zhang Zhijing, Yu Chaoquan, both 31; Qiu Pinghui and her younger sister Pinqin; and student Huang Xiaochun, who turned 20 on Monday. Yu Yixun, the leader who is on bail and under residential surveillance – a form of home detention – is awaiting trial separately. Yu Yixun, a 31-year-old high school dropout from southeastern Fujian province, confirmed that the verdict was authentic and said he had no regrets about his and his group’s actions. “I read a lot of articles online … and have developed this adoration of Mao Zedong thoughts, and a strong attraction to socialism in Mao’s era,” Yu told the Post in a telephone interview. “So I have begun to understand and learn more about Mao Zedong … and made friends with a few young people who love red culture,” he said referring to leftist ideas. “I feel proud of what I did … and it would be an honour if I have to go to jail for promoting Mao’s thoughts, which are about equality for everyone and [are] being embraced by a lot of people now.” What is the Chinese crime of ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’? Deng Yuwen, a former editor of Study Times , an official mouthpiece of the Communist Party’s top academy, said the sentencing showed that Beijing would not tolerate ultra-leftists if they went too far and their actions were deemed to be destabilising before the party’s all-important national congress expected to be held later this year. “It’s very clear that Beijing would not allow the ultra-leftists, or the liberals, to undermine the regime’s stability,” said Deng, who is now based in the United States and is an independent researcher on China’s politics.