China’s Communist Party may have won the civil war in 1949, but when it comes to online popularity contests today, the descendants of their enemy, the Nationalist Party, are well ahead.
Late Republican-era China, before the communists took power, was dominated by two towering figures: Communist Party leader Mao Zedong, and Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) head Chiang Kai-shek. Chiang and the KMT ostensibly ruled China from 1927, but fled to Taiwan to escape the communists nearly 20 years later. Once Mao seized power, he swapped the giant portrait of Chiang Kai-shek in Tiananmen Square, which was hung in 1945 to celebrate the Nationalist victory over Japan, for one of his own.
Over 60 years later, Demos Chiang Yu-bou, 39, opened an account on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. It was a picture of himself leaning back in a chair and in a plain black T-shirt, hands resting on his legs, with the phrase “Good morning.” And it led to over 40,000 Weibo followers within the next seven hours, according to Taiwan broadcaster Central News Agency. Four days later, on May 12, he had over 250,000 followers.
Chinese netizens are swooning over Chiang’s first Weibo post, which has garnered over 10,000 “likes” and 3,000 comments at the time of writing: “Handsome, my idol,” “Mainlanders have been deceived; apologize to Lord Chiang,” “The Chiangs have good genes.”
Many netizens even joke that Demos Chiang, a slim, tall bespectacled man with a degree from New York University and the looks of a Korean film lead, is “retaking the mainland by looks.”
But unlike his great grandfather, a former leader of China, or his grandfather, Chiang Ching-kuo, a former leader of Taiwan, the younger Chiang steers clear of politics. In fact, Chiang, who runs DEM Inc., a Taiwan-based design studio, even acknowledges and accepts negative charges leveled against his famous ancestors.
With regard to the popular view that demonized Chiang Kai-shek as an authoritarian who killed many, both before and after taking over Taiwan, Demos Chiang said, “Although my great grandfather did not personally pull the trigger, he did after all represent the government that executed the killing at that time.”
And in a May 2007 magazine interview, he responded to similar questions by saying, “My family has persecuted the people of Taiwan,” referring to the period of harsh martial law imposed by the KMT government soon after it evacuated China to escape the communists.
Lastly, Chiang has encouraged a “de-Chiangification” of Taiwan politics. Politicians from two large coalitions often invoke the Chiangs to their advantage, which Chiang thinks is “intrusive” to his family and “damaging to Taiwan.”
While praising the trendy young Chiang, Weibo users drew unfavorable comparisons with his obvious counterpart—the grandson of Mao Zedong, Mao Xinyu, a major general in the People’s Liberation Army who still draws on the prestige of his own descendance.
Mao Zedong was not a “normal person,” Mao Xinyu claims, as part of his remarks worshiping the memory of his grandfather. “Right up until the minute before his death, my grandfather was still reading. … Most people would have been motionless,” Mao said.
Mao, 45, is the youngest general in PLA history—something he admitted to Chinese news portal NetEase is due to his family name. Mao researches “Mao Zedong Thought” in the PLA’s academy of military sciences, and promotes the application of Mao’s teachings to the economy, cyberwarfare, and China in general.
After much research, Mao Xinyu claimed that the Communist Party’s Eighth Route Army, New Fourth Army, and local troops under Mao Zedong’s leadership was instrumental in wiping out 1.5 million Japanese troops—an impossible fact given that it exceeds by around 50 percent the People’s Republic of China’s official number for the total Japanese dead during that conflict, most of whom were killed, in any case, by Nationalist forces.
For promoting an antiquated intellectual outlook, his rapid rise in the army, shameless hero-worship of his grandfather, and his massive girth—Mao Xinyu looks bigger than his ill-fitting olive green uniforms—Mao has been ridiculed and slammed endlessly by Chinese netizens. United States-based online news site the Global Post even referred to Mao as the “most-mocked man in China” in a 2013 article.