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Chinese want 'Mao' to project power on high seas

In two polls this month, more people wanted China's first aircraft carrier to be named after the controversial leader than any other option.

By Staff writer / June 22, 2009



It’s funny how talk about a ship’s name can reveal unusual things about the people doing the talking.

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In this case it is Chinese Internet users talking about China’s aircraft carrier. Or, rather, China’s putative aircraft carrier because it has not been built yet, nor have the authorities yet even acknowledged plans to build one.

But that has not stopped Internet portals here from doing a bit of wishful thinking, and inviting visitors to their sites to have their say. And a rather disturbing say it is, too, even if the polling samples are small.

Neutral names, such as Beijing or Shanghai, don’t appeal to people at all. More popular are the names of islands, such as Taiwan, Diaoyu, or Nansha.

This is awkward, though, because what they all have in common is that they are disputed territory. Taiwan is de facto independent, Diaoyu is known as Senkaku in Japan, and Nansha is better known as the Spratlys, a sprinkle of islands claimed not only by China, but also the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei.

On the other hand, naming an aircraft carrier – which would be the jewel of China’s naval crown – for a disputed island fits well with the general principles that respondents to the polls thought should guide the choice.

Thirty percent thought the name should “present China’s comprehensive national strength.” Only 6.9 percent wanted to “avoid the impression of a military threat.”

But which was the runaway favorite in two polls conducted earlier this month? Mao Zedong.

He may have been a monster to you and me. The number of Chinese who died as a result of his policies runs into the tens of millions. But to many, if not most people here, Mao remains – for all his faults, even when they are admitted – the father of the nation; his memory is endowed with supernatural powers.

Indeed, his name alone “has deterrent force,” believe some of the respondents, according to the International Herald Leader, a daily paper owned by the official Xinhua news agency, which commissioned one of the polls.

But there could be a drawback. “Aircraft carriers are used in battle, and they could get damaged,” the Herald Leader points out. “If that happened to a carrier named Mao Zedong, it might hurt ordinary people’s feelings.”

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