Chinese TV star makes apology over Mao insult

A huge portrait of Mao Zedong still has pride of place in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Picture: AP
A huge portrait of Mao Zedong still has pride of place in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Picture: AP
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A POPULAR Chinese television celebrity has apologised for insulting the founder of Communist China, after his remarks about Mao Zedong at a private dinner caused a stir in China and rekindled debate on the complicated legacy of the revolutionary figure.

Bi Fujian, the host of talent show “Avenue of Stars” at the state broadcaster China Central Television, issued the apology on his personal microblog that has 1.3 million followers.

“I feel extremely guilty, and my heart aches,” Bi wrote. “I sincerely expressed my deep apology to the public.”

Bi added that, as a public figure, he would draw a lesson and better discipline himself.

In a home video that circulated widely online before censors removed it this week, Bi apparently was amusing his audience at a private dinner by singing a revolutionary song about Communist Party-led soldiers battling bandits in north-eastern China in the 1940s.

To the laughter of guests, Bi added his own commentary in a speaking voice between lines.

After the lyrics mentioned Mao, Bi referred to him, using a vulgar Chinese insult that includes a reference to female genitals, and says “he has ruined us all.” Bi also mocked the soldiers, suggesting their battles were pointless and the song’s claim of victory boastful.

The incident renewed debate both on free speech and about Mao, who many Chinese feel should be held responsible for disastrous periods such as the 1959-1961 famine and the chaos unleashed by the decade-long Cultural Revolution in 1966 when Mao appealed directly to the masses to root out reactionaries.

Wang Cailiang, a Beijing lawyer, said the leaking of the private clip and its aftermath was worrisome. “When a dinner becomes a set-up, who can be free from fears?” she said.

Though some of Mao’s policies have been officially critiqued, the ruling Chinese Communist Party can hardly renounce him because it has built much of its legitimacy upon the imagery surrounding the revolutionary leader. A huge portrait of him still hangs in the heart of Beijing.

A small but vocal slice of the population still worships Mao, while many Chinese pay lip service to him and his ideology. The cover from such pretence was blown off when Bi – a host for one of the key mouthpieces for the party’s policies – made his apparently candid and irreverent remarks.

“Everyone is a victim of Mao, but no one dares to say it,” Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based historian and independent commentator, said. “Yet in private settings, even those senior officials working for the system have no good word for him. This political system breeds duplicity and schizophrenia.”

State-run newspapers have responded with harsh criticism of Bi, saying his comments – even if made privately – were improper for such a public figure. “It’s extremely unfitting of Bi’s status that such lewd words to mock the people’s leader and people’s heroes should have come out of him – a Communist Party member and someone who has claimed to have served in the armed forces,” wrote the state-run China Youth Daily in an editorial.

The paper chastised Bi for his lack of integrity. “You owe everyone in China an apology,” it said in the editorial.

Bi also received some strong support online, with many people defending his right to speak his mind privately and condemning whoever leaked the video. Zha Jianguo, a dissident who has recounted some of the violence under Mao’s reign, said Bi had done nothing wrong. “To say a despot has ruined us all, how can that be an insult? How could that be irreverent?” he said.

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