Renowned economist under fire for critical article

An article on Mao Zedong written by an 82-year-old economist has set off an online storm after some of the late chairman’s supporters expressed anger over remarks in the piece and urged the public to prosecute its author.

Mao Yushi, the writer of the article, believes that the argument is more about fact rather than ideology.

In an online vote initiated by a Web user on his microblog, 90 percent of 330 voters supported the economist, saying that commenting on historical figures should be allowed.

For other people, the matter is not just about freedom of speech, but more of an ideological battle between the “left” and “right.” 

“How to evaluate Chairman Mao’s legacy is a question that invites the most divided opinions in China,” said Guo Jianning, director of the School of Marxism at Peking University.

The left, or Chairman Mao’s supporters, are generally intolerant of the slightest criticism, while the right tends to totally deny Chairman Mao’s achievements. “The two groups of opinions have existed from the end of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) until today,” Guo said.

Tough accusations

Economist Mao Yushi’s article, a review of the book Fall of the Red Sun, was published on, and some other news portals on April 26.

The Cultural Revolution was merely a ploy to crack down on his many critics after the disaster during 1959-61 that killed millions of people, the economist argued in his controversial article.

“I’m so angry with this article. These are lies aimed at hurting our great leader,” Fan Jinggang, head of the popular leftist website Utopia (, told the Global Times. 

Fan, along with 49 other people who have formed a coalition under the banner “Beijing public prosecution group,” published a letter on the Utopia website Saturday calling on citizens in Beijing to start a “public prosecution” against the economist and Xin Ziling, the author of the book.

The term “public prosecution” was often used during the Cultural Revolution 30 years ago, and people today are unfamiliar with it. 

Liu Siqi, previously married to Mao Anying, Mao Zedong’s late son, and Mao Xiaoqing, niece of Mao Zedong, were among the 50 people. Similar letters that claimed to represent people from Shanghai, Shanxi, Ningxia and other parts of the country in the “public prosecution” appeared on the website.

Rapid reaction   

The letter was forwarded to several websites and blogs, drawing a variety of comments. “What gives them the right to represent more than 10 million people in Beijing overnight?” wrote a microblog user named Daizhuoqunwenzhi.

“This group of people joining together to attack Mr Mao Yushi is a vivid reproduction of the Cultural Revolution,” wrote Xie Xizhang on his microblog.

“As a man being a Party member for 41 years, I definitely can’t bear Mao Yushi’s slander against Chairman Mao and violation against China’s Constitution. I am grateful for what Utopia has done for Chinese people,” a Web user named Liu Jun wrote on the Utopia website.

 “This is the very first time that we are organizing public events against those who have fabricated our history and legacy of the Party,” Fan said. “I hope the people’s congress pays attention to this.”

“I don’t really care if Mao Yushi is taken to court, nor do I want to see any legal victories,” Gu Xiulin, a retired university professor, said. “People who decry the Great Leader Mao and the socialist system have always bragged online, and now we have the right to speak for ourselves.”

“The public prosecution is the first organized, purposeful, tactical fight organized by the leftist forces against the right,” wrote commentator Li Qingping.

Divided opinions

“The core differences are based on a different understanding of the facts about Mao Zedong, many of which are not known to the public. There are no clear statements on how many people starved to death from 1959 to 1961,” said Mao Yushi.  “What I wrote in that book review, other than facts from the book, were of my own experiences, when I saw some of my neighbors die during the three years and I myself almost starved to death.”

On Monday, a letter of complaint against Mao Yushi was sent to the Beijing Public Security Bureau and Beijing People’s Procuratorate, according to Ma Tingna, one of the people who submitted the letter. 

“We pleaded for the procuratorate to start a public prosecution against Mao Yushi, and severely punish such behavior to protect national security,” said the letter on the Utopia website, claiming the letter had been signed by nearly 10,000 people.  

Ma told the Global Times that an officer at the bureau confirmed that the bureau received the report. However, neither the bureau nor the procurator could be reached as of Tuesday.

Guo said the argument around the evaluation of Chairman Mao Zedong has lasted more than 30 years and may continue for much longer, suggesting both sides be more rational and less emotional.

“The Cultural Revolution was indeed a blunder. We should sturdily criticize the blunder made by Mao Zedong in his later years. But still we should stick to the truth. And we should not attribute all the mistakes to Mao Zedong’s character,” Deng Xiaoping said on October 25, 1980, reported.

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