The morning procession wound through the village, Mao portraits borne aloft, drums beating, villagers singing and waving giant red flags. All around Shaoshan, in Hunan province, loudspeakers blared out Maoist songs and poetry, while a local dance troupe performed in the packed and banner-filled main square under the gaze of a towering Mao statue, unveiled last week by President Jiang Zemin.
The last time Chairman Mao visited his home village was in 1966, 10 years before his death, but neither that nor the fact that China is dismantling most of the economic system that the Great Helmsman put in place has been allowed to detract from crowd-pulling celebrations.
Back in Peking, where fireworks have been banned since the beginning of this month, the ceremonies organised by the Chinese Communist Party were more conventional. President Jiang, in a televised rally inside the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square, addressed 10,000 officials and army representatives.
Braving what could have been an ideological minefield, he hailed Mao as a patriot and hero, but then spent most of the speech praising Deng Xiaoping, the ailing 89-year-old architect of China's economic reform programme, who has spent the past 14 years abandoning the centrally planned system in favour of market reforms. 'In many ways, what we are doing now is what Comrade Mao Tse-tung put forward but did not do, rectifying what he wrongly opposed and doing well what he had not done well,' President Jiang quoted Mr Deng as saying.
'We will still be doing this a long time from now. We will continue to make progress.'
Mr Deng did not himself make an appearance yesterday, but in recent weeks the reformers in the party have gained the upper hand in using the anniversary celebrations to promote the man who has, in practice, done most to replace Mao's legacy.
The official party verdict on Mao, who died in 1976, was that he was correct 70 per cent of the time and mistaken for 30 per cent.
President Jiang yesterday quoted Mr Deng as saying Mao made errors 'because he departed from his own correct principles, and his mistakes were those of a great revolutionary and a great Marxist'.
Outside on the streets, ambivalence about yesterday's great day had given way to indifference. Mr Deng's dictum that 'to get rich is glorious' is far more relevant for the great mass of China's people these days. In the department stores and markets of Peking yesterday morning it was just another shopping day.
In Shaoshan also, commercialism triumphed over nostalgia. Hawkers offered an extraordinary array of Mao memorabilia, and every imaginable bauble and trinket featuring the former patriarch was on sale in the market.
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