Mao's grandson, promoted to major general, faces ridicule

By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times  August 4, 2010

Reporting from Beijing ¡X For many Chinese, he's a curious conundrum, an emerging national figure with some serious public relations issues. Some in China say Mao Xinyu is a pudgy underachiever boosted only by nepotism. On the street, though, feelings are mixed.

The only grandson of Mao Tse-tung, the Great Helmsman himself, Mao Xinyu's bloodlines ooze political royalty. Yet instead of praise, the 40-year-old faces ridicule as a pudgy underachiever shamelessly riding the coattails of the relative many consider this nation's greatest statesmen.

Mao Xinyu
Mao Xinyu

Mao Xinyu is an academic who has spent most of his career researching the exploits of his famous grandfather, who died in 1976.

When state media reported this week that the younger Mao had become the youngest officer to reach the rank of major general in the army his grandfather co-founded eight decades ago, critics unleashed another barrage of vitriol.

Many claim one Mao in a leadership role was more than enough for China and that the military historian's rise to public prominence carries a grim foreboding. Others decry what they call state-sponsored nepotism run amok.

On Tuesday, the Internet carried unflattering pictures of Mao, an academic who has spent most of his career researching the exploits of his famous grandfather, who died in 1976. Some showed him in his military uniform, his beefy neck bulging over his collar. There was an undated snapshot of him decked out in a flannel shirt, signing copies of his book "Grandpa Mao Tse-tung"

His adversaries questioned his intelligence, and even his handwriting.

"To have such an unqualified person become a general in China's military, it's an insult to the [People's Liberation Army,]" said Pu Zhiqiang, a lawyer and human rights activist. "Those promoted in the future as generals should feel humiliated by this."

Until recently, officials had refused to confirm that the unassuming Mao had gained the rank, apparently to avoid claims of favoritism.

"This is a natural elevation. Mao's many achievements earned him the right to be promoted," Bao Guojun, a spokesman for the PLA's Academy of Military Sciences, where Mao works as a historian, told reporters this week.

Mao Xinyu's father was Mao Anqing, offspring of one of the Chairman's numerous marriages. The younger Mao graduated from the history department at the People's University in Beijing and received a doctorate from the Academy of Military Sciences. A blogger who has supported the socialist doctrine, Mao is married with two children, an anomaly in a nation with a strict one-child policy.

In an interview last fall with a Chinese newspaper, Mao spoke of his military service and famous forebear.

"It was after joining the army that I began to really understand Grandpa," he said. "As a soldier, I regard him as our leader and commander in chief."

Yet some academics question the younger Mao's achievements.

"If Mao Xinyu deserves to be a general, he needs to show us he has done something," said Liu Shanying, a professor at the Institute of Political Sciences under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"So far, we haven't seen any results from his studies. He hasn't come up with any new ideas about his grandfather's theories. From an academic view, he lacks achievement."

For years, Mao Xinyu has fiercely defended his now-controversial ancestor ¡X considered a national hero by most but a heartless strongman by a growing number of younger Chinese.

After helping overthrow Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists to establish the People's Republic of China in 1949, the leader known as Chairman Mao wielded unrivaled power until his death. Today, Mao's descendants play little role in state affairs.

As they rushed in and out of a city subway not far from Tiananmen Square on Tuesday, Beijing residents were mixed in their reaction to Mao's promotion.

Dressed in a flowing yellow robe, his wispy white beard blowing in a slight breeze, Buddhist monk Hong Yun said Chairman Mao had contributed so much to China that any family namesake deserved special privileges.

"He's related to Chairman Mao," said the 68-year-old Hong. "He's earned his connections."

Not far away, office worker Ji Qin shook her head in disagreement.

"Promotions and government appointments should depend on a person's ability, not their name," she said, "even if that name is Mao."

The 40-year-old grandson of Mao Zedong has been elevated to major general from senior colonel in the People¡¦s Liberation Army, making him one of the youngest ever to achieve that rank, the Communist Party-run newspaper Global Times reported Monday. The grandson, Mao Xinyu, left, is a researcher at the Academy of Military Sciences, a secretive army research institute. His grandfather founded the army in 1927, led the 1949 revolution, and ruled with cultlike authority for the next 37 years.

The grandson of Chairman Mao Zedong, the first leader of the People¡¦s Republic of China, has become the country¡¦s youngest army general, state-run media reported.

Photographs of the portly Mao Xinyu wearing the insignia of a major general, the lowest of three general ranks in the People¡¦s Liberation Army, were published on the Web site of China News Service. Mao is the youngest person to hold that rank, the Global Times reported today, citing Bao Guojun, a spokesman at the Academy of Military Sciences, where Mao is stationed.

Mao¡¦s grandfather led the Communist Party to victory over the Nationalists in a decades-long struggle, ruling the country from 1949 until his death in 1976. The younger Mao, who studies his grandfather¡¦s theory, is also a member of the advisory committee to China¡¦s parliament.

News reports about Mao¡¦s promotion first appeared last year. Mao was cited earlier this year by the China News Service as saying that any formal announcement on the promotion would come in July.

¡§Everyone is transferring their love for my grandfather to me,¡¨ Mao was quoted by the Chinese News Service as saying earlier this year.

The progeny of China¡¦s revolutionary leaders often reach high office. Vice President Xi Jinping is the son of former Guangdong Governor Xi Zhongxun. Chongqing Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai is the son of former Politburo member Bo Yibo.