- POSTED: 26 Dec 2013 14:21
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China is celebrating the 120th birth anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party's founding chairman Mao Zedong. Shaoshan in Hunan province has poured more than US$2.5 billion into projects to mark the occasion. The celebrations, however, are as controversial as the man himself.
SHAOSHAN: In the hometown of China's late leader Mao Zedong, people are celebrating - not Christmas, but the 120th birth anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party's founding chairman Mao Zedong.
Shaoshan in Hunan province has poured more than US$2.5 billion into a series of projects to mark the occasion.
The celebrations, however, are as controversial as the man himself, with critics saying that money can be put to better use elsewhere.
Visitors from all over China gather in Shaoshan to celebrate Mao’s birth anniversary, lighting fireworks, eating longevity noodles or watching cultural performances about Mao's life and revolutionary efforts.
Shaoshan resident Mao Xiasheng said: "Every year during Chairman Mao's birthday, we will pay our respects to him. Even on the first day of the Lunar New Year, the first thing we do is pray to Chairman Mao before we even pray to our own ancestors. That's how much we worship him."
At the Mao Zedong Square, visitors bow three times in front of a towering statue of the late chairman to show their respects.
Some believe Mao will be able to hear and grant their wishes.
Li Xiaofeng, a visitor at Shaoshan, said: "It's a rare opportunity to commemorate the 120th birth anniversary of Chairman Mao. More than 100 of us cycling enthusiasts cycled here from Xiangtan to pay our respects to him."
Many offer floral wreaths, which cost US$65 each.
For an additional fee of about US$160, a special ceremony can be conducted.
More than a million visitors are expected each day during the celebrations.
To further boost the tourism industry, the local government poured in more than US$2.5 billion into projects that include renovating a tourist centre and preserving Mao's former residence.
Highways and high-speed rail stations are also being built to draw more visitors there.
Even the tomb of Mao Zedong's parents has become an attraction.
Vendors sell flowers along the way and a few have even set up shop right next to the tombstone.
Souvenir hunters are also spoilt for choice. There is Mao memorabilia such as badges, portraits and statues in all shapes and sizes, and even a taste of his favourite braised pork, the tea he drank and an assortment of preserved fruits and wine produced in Shaoshan - elevated in status just because they were produced in Mao's hometown.
But even though there is an influx of tourists, businesses said revenue has been affected by President Xi Jinping's austerity drive, with business dropping some 20-50 per cent.
Li Guanghui, restaurant owner in Shaoshan, said: "Business is definitely a little affected. Most of the tourists are those on personal holidays. Officials don't dare to spend public funds openly now."
However, that is not stopping new attractions, hotels and commercial buildings from sprouting.
Analysts say more prudence is needed.
Liang Zhu, professor at Peking University School of Marxism, said: "In some cases, residents living in the neighbourhood were moved and relocated just to build new memorial halls. I don't approve of such methods. Currently there is already a shortage of funds for the preservation of actual cultural relics. In the end they spend a lot of money to create fake cultural sites, which should not be the way."
Mao Zedong is known among his supporters as a man who lived a life of thrift.
Analysts suggest the best way to remember him will be to go back to promoting thrift instead.