Tears well up in Wang Shiji’s eyes as he describes the first time he saw Mao Zedong, waving to a crowd of Red Guards in Beijing at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 when Mao declared class war.
“It was then I decided to give my life to Chairman Mao,” Wang, a former soldier, told Reuters. “I swore to live and die as a Red Guard and that is what I will always be.”
For Wang, all of China’s current problems, from corruption to a growing rich-poor gap, can be traced to the landmark economic reforms ushered in by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s after Mao’s death, reforms he terms “revisionism”.
“None of these bad effects can be rooted out until this privatization is stopped,” he said.
Mao has become a potent symbol for leftists within and without the ruling Communist Party who feel three decades of market-based reform have gone too far, creating social inequalities like poverty and graft.
In lauding Mao, who died 40 years ago on Friday, they sometimes seek to put pressure on the current leadership and its market-oriented policies.