SHAOSHAN, Hunan, Sept. 3 (Xinhua) -- In a country he founded 60years ago, Chairman Mao still has a great impact on the 1.3 billion Chinese people, who are deriving strength, wealth and wisdom from the "Red Sun".
In Mao Zedong's birthplace, Shaoshan village in central China's Hunan Province, Li Xing bowed and presented two 555 cigarettes in front of the 6-meter statue of Mao. Then the retired man, aged 54,whispered his prayer: "Great Leader, bless my son Pengpeng so that he might get a good job."
"To Chairman Mao, maybe the ongoing financial crisis is just a 'paper tiger'," he said, referring to how the Great Helmsman described the powerful United States and all reactionaries in the 1940s.
"No matter how hard it is, Mao's spirit of self-reliance and hard struggle is always a panacea," he added.
The village's Communist Party secretary, Mao Yushi, said Shaoshan had witnessed this year a big growth in pilgrims from Guangdong, the country's worst-hit province in the global economic downturn.
Beside Li, Pengpeng, a senior finance major from Nanjing Education College, bowed with his father but eschewed a prayer. In his opinion, the shrinking job market and economic slowdown would be equally difficult for Mao.
"I respect him," he said. "But Mao may need to consult Warren Buffett if he wanted to deal with things that never happened in his time."
Mao, who died a decade before his birth, is not unfamiliar to the country's youngsters like Pengpeng. Every Chinese college student has to pass the compulsory course of "An Introduction to Mao Zedong Thoughts" to get a diploma before plunging themselves into the increasingly competitive job market.
"He may come hard down on corrupt officials and countries that harass us the way he did it in his time," Pengpeng said. "In his time, Mao defeated the almighty United States. There is nothing he is afraid of."
At a nearby parking lot, Liu Yili, 47, tied a pendant of Mao's portrait he bought during his visit to Shaoshan onto the rearview mirror of his Mazda, joining a string of Buddhist prayer beads put there earlier.
"I was shocked at his death 33 years ago since we used to chant 'Long live Chairman for ten thousand years' every day," he recalled. "But gradually we realized that he was nothing but a human being. Since to err is human, Mao also made mistakes."
As a paramount leader, Mao is regarded to be liable for the Great Leap Forward (1958-1960) and Great Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), which both resulted in chaos and are believed to have hindered China's economic and social development.
"Thirty percent of him is wrong. But that does not negate the fact that he was a great man," Liu said.
Last year, two million pilgrims like Pengpeng and his father visited Shaoshan. As of August, the sacred village has seen a year-on-year increase of 200,000 visitors.
"They want to derive strength and luck from Mao, a representation of an era where people lived a hard life but had a stronger sense of togetherness and belongingness, less disparity pressure," said Mao Yushi.
"The very mention of Chairman Mao gave them strength and comfort," he added.
Mao left people in Shaoshan not only with a sense of pride but also a source of wealth.
Almost all of the village's 450-plus households earn a decent income from tourists in running restaurants or inns, or in selling Chairman Mao badges or statuettes as souvenirs.
"He is not only a great leader, but also a family member," said Mao Yushi, wearing a golden badge of Chairman Mao, like every other Shaoshan native.
"Every Chinese is enjoying his legacy," said Prof. Tang Zhouyan, director of the Maoism Institute of the Party Literature Research Center of the Communist Party of China's Central Committee.
"He created the underlying principles of the country and the Party, which are still valid today. He laid a foundation for China's becoming a powerhouse in the world community. He created the strong People's Liberation Army, which is serving and defending the country. He has definitely changed China's history," he said.
"As a human being, Mao also makes mistakes," Tang said. "But we can learn a lesson from his mistakes. In this sense, his mistakes are also his legacy."
Recent research topics at the institute, which studies how Mao's wisdom can benefit the current government, included the Sino-Africa relationship in Mao's era and the medical care system from that time.
"The more we study Mao, the more clearly we realize that most of the essence of the Western civilization, such as democracy and legal system, could be found in Mao's thoughts," said Li Wei, deputy director with the Academy of Marxism of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. (Xinhua correspondents Zhang Zhanpeng in Jiangsu Province and Li Dan in Hunan Province also contributed to the story.)