BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese professor has been sacked after he criticized Chairman Mao Zedong on his 123rd birthday in an commentary he posted online that enraged leftists.
Mao, who died on Sept. 9, 1976, is still officially venerated by the ruling Communist Party as the founder of modern China and his face appears on every yuan banknote.
But he is particularly respected by leftists who believe the country has become too capitalist and unequal over three decades of market-based reforms, and attitudes towards Mao and his legacy mirror differences between reformers and traditionalists.
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Deng Xiaochao, 62, an art professor at Shandong Jianzhu University in central China, posted a commentary on his Weibo social media site, dated Dec. 26, Mao's birthday, suggesting Mao was responsible for a famine that led to 3 million deaths and the Cultural Revolution in which 2 million died.
The post was deleted but an image of it has been shared online and seen by Reuters.
Such public criticism of is rare in China and Mao's supporters took to the streets to protest against Deng shortly after he made the comments.
Some held banners saying "Whoever opposes Mao is an enemy of the people", according to videos and photos widely shared on Weibo.
The state-owned tabloid the Global Times reported late on Monday that Deng was dismissed from his post as counselor of the provincial government last Thursday, while the university's party committee posted a statement saying Deng would no longer teach or be allowed to organize social events on campus.
The Global Times did not give a reason for Deng's dismissal.
The Shandong government said on its website Deng had been dismissed for breaking provincial and national rules on government work, without providing details, and that local discipline bodies had been informed.
The university's party committee said Deng had made "false remarks", according to images of a statement from it, shared on social media and seen by Reuters.
Deng could not be reached for comment. Calls to Shandong Jianzhu University and Shandong provincial government went unanswered.
Modern history is a sensitive subject in China as so much of the party's legitimacy rests on claims of its achievements.
The party tries to manage the interpretation of history, though officials say online information is threatening that control.
While there is debate in the party about the direction of reforms, analysts suggest there are no serious challenges to President Xi Jinping's rule from leftists.
(Corrects month of Mao's death to September in second paragraph)
(Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Robert Birsel)