Authorities in the Chinese capital have canceled a concert of Mao era revolutionary songs, likely due to their tainted association with fallen political star Bo Xilai, netizens and political commentators said on Tuesday.
Dozens of choirs were to have converged on Beijing for the mass performance on Dec. 1, which was to have been dedicated to the country's new leadership announced last month during the 18th National Congress for the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Participants had already paid 2,000 yuan (U.S. $32) each to take part, organizers said.
The concert, titled the "China Golden Age of Song Cultural Festival for Older People," was to have been staged at a reception room in the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square, according to the organizers' website.
Several thousand people were expected to attend the concert and banquet in honor of leaders-in-waiting Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang.
But the concert was cancelled at the last minute, and the venue offered to pay a refund of 500 yuan (U.S. $8) per person, the concert's website said.
An official who answered the phone at the culture ministry's press department said they hadn't been given a formal statement on the cancellation.
"The people have all left, and we have given them their refunds," he said. "This wasn't a culture ministry event, this is very clear."
"The matter has been dealt with very smoothly, and you shouldn't pay attention to rumors and suchlike."
Posts on China's popular microblogging services said that the majority of choir members were elderly people, some of whom had borrowed money to take part, and that the event had also attracted corporate sponsorship.
Beijing-based scholar Sima Pingbang wrote via his Sina Weibo account that organizer Dai Cheng had taken out hundreds of thousands of yuan in loans to finance the event.
One participant from the eastern port city of Qingdao said his company had poured tens of thousands into the event, with nothing in return, according to Sima.
The event's cancellation sparked widespread speculation that China's new leadership had no wish to have "red songs" sung for them, because of their now tainted political association with ousted former Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai.
Others expressed anger that the largely elderly participants had been snubbed in their attempts to praise the Party and to welcome the next generation of its leaders.
Chinese current affairs commentator Zan Aizong said red songs were now linked in the political imagination with Bo's own red song and anti-crime campaigns during his tenure in Chongqing, which some have likened to the political campaigns of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
"I don't think the new leadership would go for this," Zan said. "It's quite likely they ordered it to be cancelled."
"They probably don't want to be tainted by the whole leftist Maoist thing, so they are drawing a clear boundary between themselves and Mao."
"None of China's 30 cities and provinces held revolutionary song events like Bo Xilai did [in Chongqing]," Zan added.
Labor for singer
In October, authorities sentenced a petitioner to one year in labor camp after she organized the singing of revolutionary anthems like "The East is Red" and "On Jinshan in Beijing" outside the People's Supreme Procuratorate in the capital.
Yao Yuling was handed a year's "reeducation through labor" after she headed an informal choir of petitioners in Beijing, who sang to boost morale among China's army of petitioners, many of whom have pursued complaints over official wrongdoing for many years, often to no avail.
Chongqing, the largest Chinese municipality, was the epicenter of a Maoist revival campaign under Bo, who along with former police chief Wang Lijun spearheaded an effort to crack down on gangs and corruption and promoted the public singing of nostalgic revolutionary songs reflecting the Cultural Revolution.
But those targeted by the campaigns have detailed torture, forced confessions and wrongful convictions throughout Bo and Wang's reign in the city.
In 1966, Chinese leader Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution, plunging the country into 10 years of turmoil in which millions of workers, officials, and intellectuals were banished to the countryside for hard labor. Many were tortured, killed, or driven to suicide.
Mao however retains much public affection among Chinese as a charismatic leader seen to have liberated China from what they felt was humiliating imperial subjugation.
Reported by Fang Yuan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.