BEIJING – For many Chinese, he’s a curious conundrum, an emerging national figure with some serious public relations issues.
The only grandson of Mao Zedong, the Great Helmsman himself, Mao Xinyu’s bloodlines ooze political royalty. Yet instead of praise, the 40-year-old faces ridicule as a pudgy underachiever shamelessly riding the coattails of the relative many consider this nation’s greatest statesman.
When state media reported last week that the younger Mao had become the youngest officer to reach the rank of major general in the army his grandfather co-founded eight decades ago, critics unleashed another barrage of vitriol.
Many claim one Mao in a leadership role was more than enough for China and that the military historian’s rise to public prominence carries a grim foreboding. Others decry what they call state-sponsored nepotism run amok.
On Tuesday, the Internet carried unflattering pictures of Mao, an academic who has spent most of his career researching the exploits of his famous grandfather, who died in 1976. Some showed him in his military uniform, his beefy neck bulging over his collar. There was an undated snapshot of him decked out in a flannel shirt, signing copies of his book “Grandpa Mao Zedong.”
His adversaries questioned his intelligence, and even his handwriting.
“To have such an unqualified person become a general in China’s military, it’s an insult to the (People’s Liberation Army,)” said Pu Zhiqiang, a lawyer and human rights activist. “Those promoted in the future as generals should feel humiliated by this.”
Until recently, officials had refused to confirm that the unassuming Mao had gained the rank, apparently to avoid claims of favoritism.
Mao Xinyu’s father was Mao Anqing, offspring of one of the Chairman’s numerous marriages. The younger Mao graduated from the history department at the People’s University in Beijing and received a doctorate from the Academy of Military Sciences. A blogger who has supported the socialist doctrine, Mao is married with two children, an anomaly in a nation with a strict one-child policy.