As far as Xia Zuhai is concerned, Mao Zedong is more than a desperately missed, great leader. The Henan province school principal thinks of the late chairman as a Buddha-like figure.
When the rain eases on the morning of September 9, the 37th anniversary of Mao’s death, Xia, 49, leads a Buddhist ceremony in honour of the Great Helmsman at his village school, on the outskirts of Sitong town, in Zhoukou city, 900 kilometres south of Beijing. In front of a huge painting of Mao on a tiled wall in the centre of the campus, he has set up a shrine with offerings of snacks, fruit and Mao’s favourite red chillies, as well as a small stack of publications, including a copy of the People’s Daily, a Southern Weekend weekly newspaper and a Yanhuang Chunqiu monthly magazine. The latter two are known for having a liberal stance.
“You should never underestimate Chairman Mao. He wouldn’t be annoyed by the criticisms inside,” Xia says, with a chuckle. After lighting a cigarette for Mao and putting it on the edge of the incense burner, Xia is joined by his 15-year-old daughter, Yuanyuan, and the two kneel side by side on a bamboo mat and kowtow 81 times.