Beijing: Over three decades after his death, Chairman Mao Zedong remains a "provocative" and "divisive" figure, becoming a rallying point for the emerging "left movement" in China amid growing criticism of his hard-line policies.
The 119th birthday of the founder of the Communist Party of China (CPC) was celebrated on December 26 at his birth place in Shaoshan County in Hunan Province, where he remained a cult figure, according to official media reports.
"Mao is China`s national hero and it was he who reshaped the Chinese spirit when the country was both poor and defeated," Sima Nan, a Maoist scholar who hosted a convention in Beijing on the late leader on behalf of a left group called Utopia, said.
Former government officials, Army generals and other Maoist scholars attended the convention, according to a report by the state-run Global Times.
There were no official celebrations by China`s new leaders, who pursued a strong economic reformist agenda advocated by Mao`s successor Deng Xiaoping.
After his election as the new leader of the CPC last month, Xi Jinping visited the southern boom city of Shenzhen to lay wreath on Deng`s statue and spoke of more reforms in the pipeline to speed up the slow pace of the Chinese economy.
"In celebrating Chairman Mao`s birthday, people are pursuing the ideal of social justice Mao represented," Sima told the daily.
"Our celebration showed our disapproval with the polarisation within current society and our dissatisfaction caused by corruption," Sima said.
Sima himself has become a polarising figure with his leftist rhetoric against the reforms as student hurled shoe at him at a Hainan University. He was a strong supporter of the disgraced Bo Xilai, who was regarded as a popular communist leader trying to revive the discarded Maoist ideology.
Bo is currently awaiting trial for various charges.
Sima says Mao`s mistakes do not change the fact that he
helped lay down the groundwork for China`s reform and opening up.
Despite the high spirits of the pilgrims at Shaoshan and lots of people at the grass-roots level, the ceremonies are not held in esteem by many intellectuals who believe Mao was responsible for tragedies such as the Great Leap Forward (1958-60) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), the daily said in its report titled "At 119, Mao`s still provocative."
Mao Yushi, an 83-year-old economist who lived through the Cultural Revolution said that despite the fact Mao established the People`s Republic of China, he failed to provide people with decent lives.
"People make mistakes and so it is with Chairman Mao," Sima and quoted a poem that "even if Qomolangma (Mt Everest) contracts by three inches, it is still the highest mountain in the world.
"Supporters of Sima Nan and Mao Yushi vehemently debate Mao`s legacy online.
Banners of Mao were torn down in Beijing park by a youth where a red song concert was held ahead of his birthday.
The website of Utopia, the leftist group that organised the convention, has been shut down for several months since Bo Xilai, the former Party chief of Chongqing, was removed from his post.
Bo was known for initiating the "red song" campaign in the Southwest China`s municipality which many saw as a symbol of the Cultural Revolution initiated by Mao, who the daily termed as "divisive figure."