By Byron Kaye
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s biggest city Sydney said it had cancelled a concert commemorating the death of former Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong, citing safety concerns, after Chinese Australians complained the subject matter was insensitive.
The Chinese communities of Sydney and the second largest city Melbourne complained that the “Glory and Dream” concerts, scheduled for September in both cities’ town halls, lionise a leader they see as responsible for tens of millions of deaths.
On Thursday, a spokesperson for the City of Sydney council said in an email that after consulting police, the council had “concerns regarding the potential for civil disturbance, patron-to-patron conflict and staff-to-patron conflict”.
The spokesperson added that the concert organizers, who booked the venue and arranged the concerts without council involvement, had also determined that the event was “at high risk of disruption and elevated risk to personal safety.”
The two organizers of the events, Sydney property developer Peter Zhu and an organization called the International Cultural Exchange Association, were not immediately available for comment.
More than one million of Australia’s 24 million population identify as either Chinese-born or are of Chinese heritage, one of the biggest offshore Chinese communities in the world.
Mao, who died in 1976, remains a divisive figure in China.
His image adorns banknotes and his embalmed body attracts hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors a day to Beijing.
While the ruling Communist Party has acknowledged Mao made mistakes, there has yet to be an official accounting for the chaos of the Cultural Revolution or the millions of deaths from starvation during the 1958-61 Great Leap Forward.
But he has also become a potent symbol for leftists within the Communist Party who feel that three decades of market-based reform have gone too far, creating social inequalities like a yawning rich-poor gap and pervasive corruption.
In Australia, an online petition calling for the councils to withdraw the venues for the concerts, attracted support from about 3,000 people by Thursday afternoon.
(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Michael Perry)