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Last Updated: Friday, 8 September 2006, 09:56 GMT 10:56 UK
China moves on from Mao
A soldier in front of Mao's portrait in Tiananmen Square
Mao Zedong was the founder of modern China
Saturday sees the 30th anniversary of the death of Mao Zedong, communist China's controversial leader for nearly three decades. The BBC's Daniel Griffiths went back to Mao's birthplace in the village of Shaoshan to find out what people think today.

The childhood home of the man who helped found - and then came close to destroying - modern China is a small house built in the traditional style of mud and brick.

It is on the side of a hill, in front a small lake thick with tall water lilies, their pink flowers blooming. Behind, terraces of rice paddies rise up to the tree line and the blue sky beyond.

Despite the heat, the tour guides are already hard at work retelling the Mao story. It is quite a tale. From these humble beginnings he rose to lead the Communists to power in 1949, reuniting China after years of chaos and war.

It was a new beginning. But as time passed, Mao presided over a series of political campaigns, purges and famines that led to the deaths of millions.

He united China and helped the poor people... we Chinese will always think he was a great man
Mr Cai

A Hundred Flowers, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution - the names sound innocuous but the result was deadly, with China living through decades of turbulence as one movement followed the next.

For people who lived through those dark times, especially the Cultural Revolution era in the late sixties and early seventies, it is impossible to forget.

"I think that now we can safely say that Mao made many mistakes," said Mr Chen, who was visiting the small museum next to Mao's house.

"The worst was undoubtedly the Cultural Revolution, but there were many others."

'Helped the poor'

Not all older people feel like Mr Chen. For some, worried about the inequalities that China's capitalist revolution is now producing, Mao represents a time when China was a more equal country.

And for many in the younger generation Mao has almost mythical status.

Tourists visit Mao's house in Shaoshan
Guides sing Mao's praises at his former house in Shaoshan

"I think Mr Chairman Mao was a great guy. To us he is not a person, he is a god," according to Mr Cai, now in his thirties, and was just a child when Mao died.

Like many Chinese, he admires Mao as the founder of modern China.

"He united China and helped the poor people. Maybe some people in the world will not like him, but we Chinese will always think he was a great man," he said.

That is just the sort of talk China's Communist Party likes to hear. Walking around Mao's childhood home, none of his mistakes are on show.

The house is a memorial to Mao as the ruling Communist Party wants China and the world to see him - as a founding father, untainted by scandal, failure and chaos.

For years now, open discussion of the Mao era has been forbidden. Not long after Mao's death the party announced that he had been 70% right, 30% wrong.

It has not changed its view since then, fearful of losing legitimacy if Mao's legacy is undermined.

Moved on

But of course China has changed. And even in Shaoshan the Mao industry is booming.

A shop in Beijing sells Mao badges
Mao would not have approved such commercialisation

Just to the side of Mao's house there are stalls selling everything from posters to pens with Mao on. Such naked capitalism would have been anathema to Mao, but not in the new China.

On one of the stalls is a woman who tells me she is a distant relative of Mao. She says that while some people might be interested in Mao, most people know very little about him - now they want a better life and to make money.

That is the reality. China has moved on since Mao. Much of this country is one he simply would not recognise.

But despite so much change the full story of Chairman Mao remains untold here and that is unlikely to change any time soon.


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