Who owns Mao's millions

China's former communist leader and revolutionary hero Mao Zedong amassed a fortune from book royalties.

Mao persecuted thousands of writers, along with other artists and intellectuals, for their Western, capitalist ideas.

But at the same time he had a steady income from his own writing - a sum now believed to be more than 130 million yuan ($17.6m, ?8.8m).

A recently-published article in a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) magazine has reignited a debate about who should inherit this fortune.

Millions of books containing Mao's essays, poems and thoughts have been published around the world.

Perhaps the best known publication is Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, also known as the Little Red Book.

As the title suggests, the book is a collection of comments from Mao, on subjects such as class struggle and serving the people.

Nearly one billion copies were printed in the Cultural Revolution, a chaotic period in which Mao sought to transform Chinese society.

Schoolchildren, workers and soldiers were all required to study the book, whose wisdom was thought to be useful in almost any situation.

The Little Red Book and other publications continue to produce royalties for Mao's estate more than 30 years after his death.

An article published in the magazine Literary World of Party History laid out just how much Mao has earned from his writing.

It said that in 1967 he was worth 5.7 million yuan ($780,000, ?400,000) from books printed in Chinese, English, Russian, French, Spanish and Japanese.

But that figure, including interest, had risen to 130 million yuan ($17.6m, ?8.8m) by 2001. The article did not say how much the estate is worth now.

There has long been a debate within the higher echelons of the party about who should inherit this vast sum of money.

Jiang Qing, Mao's fourth wife and loyal supporter during the Cultural Revolution, apparently asked for the money on five occasions before her death in 1991.

Jiang, also known as Madam Mao, even brought the subject up with China's former leader before he died in 1976.

If he was in a good mood, Mao promised he would leave her some money, according to the article.

If he was in a bad mood, Mao would accuse her of wanting him to die early so she could get her hands on his cash.

Two of Mao's children also asked for the money to be given to them. Their request, along with Madam Mao's, was refused.

This issue came up again in 2003 following the publication of a new edition of Mao's collected works, according to the new article.

It arose because party leaders were apparently unsure whether or not Mao's royalties should be taxed and so asked the country's cabinet for advice.

It decided to uphold an earlier decision not to give the money to Mao's relatives because his writings were not his own, but the "crystallisation of the party's collective wisdom".

Over the last few weeks there has been debate in China's media about the legality, as well as the morality, of this viewpoint.

Should Mao's estate be considered a private or a public fortune?

Harvard University Prof Roderick MacFarquhar, who has written extensively about Mao, makes another point - the chairman's conflict of interest.

"The real issue is that the CCP made it possible for Mao to earn royalties in enormous quantities by projecting his cult and prescribing his works," he told the BBC .

"Since Mao was chairman of the party, it could be suggested that there was a conflict of interest."

But many Chinese people see no inherent contradiction in a radical, left-wing revolutionary earning millions of dollars in book royalties.

They point out that Mao supposedly gave away much of this money to loyal friends, those who worked with him and the poor.

Liu Tieying, a 55-year-old former journalist, speaks for many of his generation when he says Mao did not become a leader to make money.

"Mao was a genuine leader, not like those in charge today," he said.

"He sent his own son to die in the Korean War. He gave up everything for the revolution."

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