While in the US, the economist profession has seen a devstating drop in reputation over the past few years as the accuracy of economists' predictions has drastically suffered under the "New Normal", at least they are allowed to opine on virtually every matter without fear of consequences. That, however, is not the case in China where a local professor has been fired after criticizing Chairman Mao Zedong on his 123rd birthday in a commentary he posted online that has enraged leftists.
Mao, who died on Sept. 9, 1976, is still officially venerated by the ruling Communist Party as the founder of modern China and his face appears on every yuan banknote. But, as Reuters notes, he is particularly respected by leftists who believe the country has become too capitalist and unequal over three decades of market-based reforms, and attitudes towards Mao and his legacy mirror differences between reformers and traditionalists.
So when Deng Xiaochao, 62, an art professor at Shandong Jianzhu University in central China, posted a commentary on his Weibo social media site, dated Dec. 26, Mao's birthday, suggesting Mao was responsible for a famine that led to 3 million deaths and the Cultural Revolution in which 2 million died, the outrage was immediate. "The only thing he did right was die," his post said.
While the post was quickly deleted thereafter, an image of it was quickly shared online.
According to the screenshots, Deng apologised for this post afterwards, saying his account was hacked and that he is shutting down his Weibo account. His account is no longer available on the site.
However, the convenient apology did not appease Mao supporters, who took to the streets to violent protest against Deng shortly after he made the comments. They attacked Deng and called for his employers to punish him. They also wrote about Deng’s previous criticism of Mao on his Weibo account
According to videos and photos widely shared on Weibo, some held banners saying "Whoever opposes Mao is an enemy of the people."
Three or four people were beaten up, including a woman in her sixties, one witness said. One man was beaten up using metre-long steel poles, said another witness. A petitioner called Yu Xinyong. Yu said that police were present, but did not interfere in the beating until the victim, another petitioner, started bleeding.
A poet named Lu Yang who attended the demonstration to support Deng said that he was surprised by the violence. “As an academic, what he thinks and says should fall within the parameters of freedom of speech,” Lu said. “That’s why I had to go and show my support.”
Peking University professor and activist He Weifang wrote on his Weibo account that the demonstrators’ actions were classic examples of the crime of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” and police should have handled the matter.
The Chinese establishment also responded , when the state-owned tabloid the Global Times reported on Monday that Deng was dismissed from his post as counsellor of the provincial government last Thursday. It wrote that “Deng Xiangchao’s behaviour was reported by the public and led to demonstrations – no matter where his remarks are reviewed within an institutional system, they will likely not be tolerated. Thus, those who understand [how the mechanisms work] will know that the punishment from Shandong province and his school were bound to occur.”
Meanwhile, the university's party committee posted a statement saying Deng would no longer teach or be allowed to organise social events on campus.
The Shandong government said on its website Deng had been dismissed for breaking provincial and national rules on government work, without providing details, and that local discipline bodies had been informed.
The university's party committee said Deng had made "false remarks", according to images of a statement from it, shared on social media and seen by Reuters. Deng could not be reached for comment.
Deng was also removed from his post as a member of the standing committee of the provincial political advisory body on Friday, mainland outlets reported. He was also dismissed as a counselor of the provincial government and forced to retire to from his post as the deputy head of the School of Art at Shandong Jianzhu University on Thursday.
Modern history is a sensitive subject in China as so much of the party's legitimacy rests on claims of its achievements.
The termination fo of the professor follows recent crackdown by Beijing on the media, demanding
The party tries to manage the interpretation of history, though officials say online information is threatening that control. While there is debate in the party about the direction of reforms, analysts suggest there are no serious challenges to President Xi Jinping's rule from leftists.