China to celebrate Mao's birthday, but events scaled back

China to celebrate Mao's birthday, but events scaled back

BEIJING - China celebrates the 120th birthday of Mao Zedong, the founder of modern China, on Thursday, but will be scaling back festivities as President Xi Jinping embarks on broad economic reforms which have unsettled leftists.

Mao has become a potent symbol for leftists within the ruling Communist Party who feel that three decades of market-based reform have gone too far, creating social inequalities like a yawning rich-poor gap and pervasive corruption.

In venerating Mao, they sometimes seek to put pressure on the current leadership and its market-oriented policies while managing to avoid expressing open dissent.

While members of the party's elite inner core, the Politburo Standing Committee, are likely to attend a high-profile event in Beijing to mark the anniversary, activities nationwide have been toned down, two sources with ties to the leadership told Reuters.

"The level will be high, but the number of events will be scaled back," one of the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid repercussions for talking to a foreign reporter without permission.

"The attendance of Standing Committee members is to placate leftists after reforms at the third plenum," the source added.

China last month unwrapped its boldest set of economic and social reforms in nearly three decades, relaxing its one-child policy and further freeing up markets in order to put the world's second-largest economy on a more stable footing.

Still, Xi and his team gave themselves until 2020 to achieve "decisive" results - a tacit acknowledgement of the difficulty of the task when the state-run sector championed during Mao's heyday remains strong and when many are unhappy with growing social problems bought by the party's economic reforms.

"The celebrations have to be grand or people will not be happy," said another source, who has ties to the party's traditional leftists.

Mao, who died in 1976, remains a divisive figure.

His image adorns banknotes and his embalmed body attracts hundreds if not thousands of visitors a day to Beijing.

While the party has acknowledged he made mistakes, there has yet to be an official accounting for the chaos of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution or the millions of deaths from starvation during the 1958-61 Great Leap Forward.

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