BEIJING - A former Chinese Communist Party official's apology for insulting revolutionary leader Mao Zedong sparked heated debate on Wednesday as both supporters and detractors hurled insults online.
Zhao Keluo, a former top official at Henan province's Communist-controlled debating chamber, backtracked from comments Saturday when he called Mao a "criminal" who committed "heinous crimes", according to the Global Times.
The post on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo, where Zhao specifically referred to the decade-long Cultural Revolution that saw large swathes of the population persecuted, has since been deleted.
By Monday, Zhao's tone had changed drastically.
"I apologise for using some improper words when referring to Mao Zedong in my post on Saturday," Zhao wrote on Sina Weibo. "I am sorry for the bad social influence it has caused and sincerely apologise to the family of Mao," he added.
"I promise not to use insulting words on social media and abide by laws to bring a clean environment to the Internet."
One of the worst disasters caused by Mao's policies was the Great Famine from the late 1950s until the early 1960s when millions died. Official figures put the toll at 15 million deaths while scholarly estimates are as high as 45 million.
Mao died in 1976 and the Communist Party has since officially declared that his rule was "70 percent good, 30 percent bad".
Despite Mao's excesses his legacy is complex and he is widely revered as Communist China's founding father and while criticism can be heard, insults are virtually taboo.
Earlier this year one of China's most famous television hosts reportedly had his shows taken off air after allegedly mocking Mao in a video posted online.
Despite Zhao's apology, his latest post sparked a new wave of debate on Mao's legacy.
"How many people from Henan did Mao the thug starve to death?" one commenter asked rhetorically.
"You really apologised for insulting that thug Mao? You're so weak," wrote another.
Many other comments used extremely profane language to refer to the founder of Communist China and others defending him used equally rude terms to refer to Zhao.
"If I rape your wife and then apologise, what use is that?" wrote one commenter.
"You've embarrassed all people from Henan," wrote another, referring to the fact Zhao had insulted Mao.