Police pounce on mourners for Mao

Hong Kong iMail, 12 September 2001, 12:15 AM

POLICE detained four workers following a gathering in the central city of Zhengzhou to mark the 25th anniversary of the death of Mao Zedong, a United States-based labour group said yesterday.

China Labour Watch, quoting a letter it described as being written by members of the crowd, said police and dogs cordoned off a square where 400 workers had gathered at a giant statue of Mao on Sunday morning.

The letter said the workers, from local factories, bowed before the statue and laid baskets of flowers with long strips of paper carrying elegial couplets—a traditional literary form of mourning—around its base.

The great proletarian leader Chairman Mao lives in our heart forever! read one message. We, the working class, miss you!

The ceremony ended with police intimidating mourners and preventing workers from paying tribute to the Great Helmsman, the group said. The workers were encircled by a large contingent of police and police dogs.

The officers slowly tightened their circle around the sitting mourners, not allowing any others to join them, and only allowing them out to leave the public square. Police arrested at least four workers who tried to join the event, the group said.

The ceremony, which began at 6am, had ended by 10am.

Police in Zhengzhou confirmed the commemoration took place and police had arrived to maintain order, but denied any arrests.

The square had to be cleared in order to prevent traffic problems and to maintain order, a police official said.

No one was arrested as this was a positive activity.

Many mourners had brought flowers and wreaths, with flowers also sent by workers from several factories around Zhengzhou, including the Zhengzhou Electrical Generation Factory and the Zhengzhou Papermaking Factory, the rights group said.

Mao is revered for having established the People's Republic in 1949, but has been roundly criticised for his disastrous polices such as the Great Leap Forward and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

China Labour Watch executive director Li Qiang said the workers were taking the opportunity to vent their anger at his successors.

This so called worker-class country is actually run by privileged special interest groups, Mr Li said.

President Jiang Zemin threw open the doors of the Chinese Communist Party to private entrepreneurs, previously known as exploiters, in a July 1 speech to mark the party's 80th anniversary.

That sparked criticism from old leftists that he was changing the colour of the party.