Forget Jesus. Mao Zedong is the man whose birthday the Chinese are marking with great reverence

TOMORROW is the 120th anniversary of the birth of Mao Zedong, and to mark the occasion a £120-million gold statue will be officially dedicated in Shaoshan, the village in which he was born.

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According to this report, officially, the celebrations are supposed to be simple and low-key; the Communist party is trying to shed a reputation for ostentatious spectacles and reconnect with its roots as a workers’ movement.

Said one employee at a tourist concession:

Xi Jinping [the President] himself told the leaders here in Shaoshan there should be no gala, no singing, no dancing and no big events.

But the villagers, and the busloads of Maoists flocking to Shaoshan, many of them accessorising their designer clothes and iPhones with green revolutionary army caps, are finding it difficult to contain their enthusiasm.

Lang Lang, the celebrated pianist, has already played a concert in the middle of the village’s Mao Zedong Square, and a train of 120 camels, like modern-day Magi, trekked a thousand miles from the deserts of Inner Mongolia to the village as a publicity stunt.

The gold statue arrived to take pride of place in a grand memorial hall. Cast in solid gold, and sitting on a metre-tall jade plinth, the statue has awed some visitors to drop to their knees before it in reverence.

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The managers of the hall thoughtfully placed three cushions on the floor, embroidered with lotus flowers.

The £120 million, though, is small change compared to the overall cost of marking Mao’s birthday: £1.55 BILLION, a sum that caused outrage among many Chinese when it was announced back in October that the dosh would be spent on 16 schemes linked to the anniversary. These would include renovating a tourist centre and preserving Mao’s former residence.

The cult of Mao continues to resonate strongly in China. His three decades in power have never been open to critical assessment because the Communist party still depends on Mao for its legitimacy.

Indeed, the current government has cloaked itself even more heavily in Maoist rhetoric even as it continues to liberalise the economy.

As a result, many of the pilgrims to Shaoshan still regard Mao with enormous devotion.

Said Chen Min, a 23-year-old nurse who works at a hospital in Changsha, the nearest major city:

Mao is a god in the East. My grandmother was here in Shaoshan for the 100th anniversary, when they installed the giant bronze statue in the main square. It was winter, but she said the flowers along the road bloomed as the statue was driven by.

Even those old enough to remember the bad old days find it perfectly possible to continue to worship Mao, whose policies led directly to the death of tens of millions of Chinese.

In this respect, Mao bears similarities to Jesus, who began a cult that led directly to the deaths of millions all over the world.