CHINA: Mao raises questions over celebrity professors

When it was revealed last week that the grandson of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong was teaching at a college in Guangzhou, in southern Guangdong province, it unleashed a barrage of comment in China over the appointment of 'celebrity professors'.

Mao Xinyu, 43, the only grandson of Chairman Mao, is a guest professor and honorary dean this term at Sontan College, a private institution attached to Guangzhou University, a highly regarded public institution.

The part-time position involves a freshman class of 65 students of administration. The college website said Mao would teach his grandfather's 'philosophy'.

But the appointment has caused some controversy, including accusations on the popular Chinese blogging website Sina Weibo that he lacks the qualifications for the job.

University teaching posts have been steadily 'liberalised' in recent years, with universities rather than the ruling Communist Party making more of their own appointments, and with salaries based more on merit and publications in prestigious journals than in the past.

However, some commentators have argued that the liberalisation has made university positions more open to abuse and nepotism.

Mao's appointment is being seen as a new type of corruption of the academic appointment system, with short-term 'celebrity' faculty positions used to attract students to a university.

According to some reports, Mao had previously been invited to be a guest professor after his mother, General Shao Hua, became a dean at the same college in 2007. Shao died in 2008, and according to the Guangzhou Daily, Mao expressed the wish to return to the college "in her memory".

According to Communist Party sources, he is qualified to teach at university level. Mao holds a PhD, obtained in 2003, on the history of the party. His masters degree was obtained at the Central Party School in Beijing, specialising in party theory. Earlier he graduated in history from the People's University (Renmin University) in Beijing.

Mao is sometimes introduced as Deputy Director of the department of war theory and strategic research at the Academy of Military Sciences.

China analysts say this is almost certainly an honorary title, although he has worked at the academy as an historian and is frequently interviewed on official television channels - though bloggers often lambast his 'hollow' and 'meaningless' comments.

Appearing in March this year on national television to comment on the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, his remarks were generally considered to be incoherent.

Liu Shanying, a professor at the Institute of Political Sciences under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said recently: "So far we haven't seen any results from his [Mao's] studies. He hasn't come up with any new ideas about his grandfather's theories. From an academic point of view, he lacks achievement."

However, Shanghai Daily quoted Fudan University sociology professor Gu Xioming as saying the public should not be prejudiced against celebrities taking on university positions. "As long as Mao Xinyu makes an effort to become a responsible teacher, he should be given a chance like anyone else," Gu said.

Academics in Guangzhou said that Mao's main role was not as an academic professor but as a 'political commissar', a military rather than civilian appointment responsible for the compulsory Marxism classes that all Chinese students are obliged to take, and providing 'ideological counselling' to students.

Mao Xinyu caused waves when he was reportedly appointed last year as China's youngest ever major-general and admitted on a popular Chinese website that his family background was "definitely a factor" in the decision.

Mao has said that he would like to provide more classes on the military theories of Chairman Mao. He said studying his grandfather's theories was more important than money, a veiled reference to the descendants of famous contemporaries of Mao Zedong and other politicians, who preferred to use their family name to make money from business.