A voyage to Chairman Mao’s birthplace

Human-size statue of Mao Zedong inside a Memorial Hall declaring the birth of the People’s Republic of China in Beijing on October 1, 1949
Human-size statue of Mao Zedong inside a Memorial Hall declaring the birth of the People’s Republic of China in Beijing on October 1, 1949

On the road to Shang Wuchang, former residence of Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic of China, in Shaoshan for a single-day tour, I began to form a mental imagery of a majestic mansion with rooms of spectacular opulence, expansive courtyards and gardens.

Shaoshan is a small city in central China’s Hunan Province, where most travellers tend to use as their base for seeing Hunan’s classical highlights.


Located in the east-central hilly region of Hunan province, Shaoshan is dominated by Mt. Shaofeng and the Shao and Shishi Rivers, with hills in the west giving rise to a mix of hills and plains in the east.

Here, Mao was born in 1893. He lived for years, studied, worked and engaged in revolutionary activities in his youth. Due to the advantaged natural environment and history, it has become a well-known scenic area, a sacred place to commemorate the Chinese revolution, as well as the centrepiece of ‘red tourism’, which focuses on sites with historical importance to the Communist Party.

The one-hour bus ride from Changsha, Hunan’s provincial capital, was smooth but uneventful. As the trip progressed, I looked out through the window as we drove past beautiful landscapes and fecund sceneries under the azure sky. It was very green, right and left. The early morning rain had washed away the layer of dust on the leaves.

Occasionally in the bus, the tour guide’s soft, quietly amplified voice brought me out of my reverie. He told us a lot about the city, its occupants and their occupation. But before he dropped the microphone, many of my co-travellers had dozed off.

Upon arrival at Shaoshan, the thought of Shang Wuchang as opulent suite existed only in my imagination. Surrounded by mountain, parkland and lake, Mao Zedong’s rural hometown is a pretty hamlet and concave complex built with clay and wood.

Thirteen half-tile houses in the east of the complex belong to the Mao Zedong family, the five half-brick and thatched houses in the west are the neighbours’, and the two hall houses in the middle are shared. In I950, this former residence served as a revolutionary memorial for domestic tourists. Two years later, it was officially opened to foreign visitors.

But beyond the timeworn building, a visit to Shaoshan offered us an insight into the unreserved respect the Chinese accorded the man who rose from peasantry to become the pre-eminent revolutionary theorist, political leader and statesman of Communist China.

Shaoshan draws 20 million tourists annually, according to official figures. It takes visitors from Mao’s childhood through his involvement in revolutionary activities, to his great achievements in leading his people to freedom.

At the entrance of Shang Wuchang, a huge queue snaked down the tiny pathway that links to the mud-brick house in the mild morning sun. As guests of the state, we were ushered in and tour-guided around the complex without joining the long queue. On view are some original furnishings, farm implements and a small barn. Mao’s family pictures were conspicuously hung on walls, with short writings engraved on black tiles.

Shaoshan also houses the 102,800-sqm Mao Zedong Square, where a bronze statue of the former Chinese leader weighing 3.7 tons stands tall.

The bronze figure is six metres high, and its total height, including the 4.l-metre high pedestal, is 10-1-metre high, standing for the Chinese National Day on October I (10.1) . On the front of the bronze statue’s brown-red marble pedestal, there are five gold-stamped characters written by Comrade Jiang Zemin “Comrade Mao Zedong”.

There is a landscape (cultural) stone standing on the entrance of Zhanyang Avenue, along the central axis of the square, with the inscription, “Mao Zedong, a hero from China” written by Mr. Shen Peng, the former chairman of the Chinese Calligrapher Association.

There are six symmetrical small landscape stones on both sides of the avenue, inscribing Chairman Mao’s poems, respectively: “Snow, Changsha, The Long March, Reply To Li Shuyi, Ode to the Plum Blossom and Going back to Shaoshan.’’

In the surrounding green areas, there are various plants to keep the sight of “blossoming in the four seasons’’ combined with trees and shrubs. The local plants dominate the whole square and a variety of precious trees are well proportioned.

Mao Zedong died on September 9, 1976. While his body laid in state at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, an estimated one million people filed past his flag-draped coffin to pay their final respects.

Four decades after Chairman Mao’s death, the lines to pay tribute before his bronze statue stretched for metres. Surging crowds of men and women, young and aged, including pupils, dressed up and dressed down, slowly filed past Mao’s statue and placed blooms and flower baskets at the feet of a 36-metre high statue of China’s ‘Great Helmsman.’ Some saluted, others put their hands over their hearts and bowed deeply.

Similar admiration was shown for the late Chinese leader at the Memorial Hall of Comrade Mao Zedong, which houses 1,173 exhibits and mainly showed in pictures, materials and documents to systematically introduce the historical status, great achievements and noble personality of Chairman Mao in China’s revolution and socialist construction.

One of the exhibitions tagged, ‘The Magnificent Masterpiece,’ revealed Chairman Mao’s profound accomplishments in poetry, articles and calligraphy, which reflected that he was not only a great Marxist, proletarian revolutionist, strategist and theorist, but also a poet, writer and calligrapher who created a new generation of styles.

But as I settled on a raised platform outside the memorial hall watching hundreds of tourists as they filed out, I was riveted by the feelings of patriotic pride and expression of unreserved reverence to the statesman.

The reverence was expectant. Chairman Mao is held in high regard as a great political strategist and military mastermind, and the saviour of the nation. For many in Shaoshan, he remains a beloved figure whose achievements outweighed his mistakes.

 African journalists with Chinese officials at the square
African journalists with Chinese officials at the square

Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” and the Cultural Revolution were ill-conceived and had disastrous consequences, but many of his goals, including stressing China’s self-reliance, were generally laudable.

Mao Zedong was born in the semi-colonial, semi-feudal society of old China. As a child he studied for six years at an old-style tutorial school in Shaoshan, where he came under the influence of foreign ideas and became aware of and first pondered the crisis China was in, as well as the issues of national humiliation and people’s sufferings.

At 17, filled with ideals of saving the nation and its people, he left his village for the cities of Xiangxiang and Changsha to pursue his studies. In the course of his arduous journey in search of knowledge, he eventually established a firm belief in Marxism.

In response to the war of aggression launched by Japanese imperialists, Mao Zedong led the Communist Party of China at the forefront of the struggle for national liberation.

He advocated the establishment of an anti-Japanese national united front; held aloft the banner of war, unity and progress; formulated strategies for resisting the Japanese and saving the nation; proposed the general guidelines for fighting a protracted war and tactics for a guerilla war against Japan; led the development and expansion of anti-Japanese forces; directed the Chinese people’s war behind enemy lines; and performed immortal feats for ultimate victory in the War of Resistance against Japan.

In Beijing, on October 1, 1949, Mao proclaimed a new nation called the People’s Republic of China. Thus a new economically undeveloped nation with immense political and economic potential came into being. Seventy years after, the country has morphed into world’s second largest economy.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni made what he called a “revolutionary pilgrimage’’ to Shaoshan few days before my visit. In his brief reflections on “Chairman Mao’s life and China’s role in Africa’s anti-colonial struggle’’ Museveni hailed the late Chinese leader as a great revolutionary, whose thought and strategy inspired other revolutionaries.

“I’m pleased and honoured to visit the birthplace of Chairman Mao. Chairman Mao did not only liberate China by the clarity of his thought and strategy, he also inspired other revolutionaries in other countries to know that the oppressed, if well organised and led, can win victory,’’ Museveni reflected.

China-Africa Economic and Trade Expo

Changsha, Hunan’s provincial capital hosted the first China-Africa Economic and Trade Expo, one of the eight major initiatives President Xi Jinping promised to implement with Africa at the last Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) held in Beijing.

China has displaced Europe and North America as Africa’s largest trade partner. In the last decade and half, Sino-Africa exchanges have witnessed steady growth.

But imbalances continue to persist. Trade volume stood at 204.2 billion USD in 2018, according to data from the General Administration of Customs of China.

China’s exports to Africa were US$104.91 billion while her imports from Africa stood at US$99.28 billion in the same year.

However, Beijing has repeatedly said it never deliberately pursues trade surplus with any of its partners.

African countries import from China, large quantities of consumer and manufactured goods and a range of machinery, including transportation and communication equipment.

While the majority of Africa’s exports to China comprised of mineral fuels, lubricants and related materials, it also exports iron ore, metals and other commodities, as well as small amounts of food and agricultural products.

 Mao’s former residence
Mao’s former residence

The expo was part of China’s efforts to expand its imports from Africa to include non-resource products.

The three-day event, with an exhibition area of more than 40,000 square meters, attracted more than 10,000 guests and exhibitors, including those from 53 African countries.

“China owes its progress to reform and opening-up, and will continue to advance along this path,” the country’s Vice-Premier Hu Chunhua, said at the opening of the expo.

Chunhua expressed China’s strong willingness to uphold the open world economy and the multilateral trading system. China, he said, would further widen market access, optimise the business environment and pursue trade and investment liberalisation and facilitation.

The vice premier, however, said more efforts were needed to increase import of high-standard African goods and services.

The expo ended with 84 cooperation documents worth $20.8 billion signed between China’s state-owned and private enterprises and their African partners in areas such as trade, investment, infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing, aviation and tourism.

The new deals, organisers said, had helped explore new path of cooperation and further strengthened China-Africa traditional and strategic partnership.

But beyond the numbers, the question is whether African countries are ready for the Chinese market. Time will tell.

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