Official Chinese media have recently denounced a prominent journalist for allegedly "defaming" a deceased hero of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, amid a rising tide of Maoist protest.
The People's Liberation Army Daily newspaper tweeted criticism of TV host Liang Hongda for "defaming" model soldier and worker's hero Lei Feng, who died in 1962, aged 21.
In an edition of his Liaoning TV show "Viewing the World With Liang," Liang asked whether the Mao-endorsed icon of socialist altruism was a hero, or just an ordinary youth.
"He is China's most famous soldier, yet he never saw a battlefield," the voice-over intones. "What sort of person was Lei Feng really?"
Liang took issue with Lei's popular image, promoted via a series of propaganda photos, which he proceeded to lambast with a series of ironic questions.
"Why is it that whenever Lei Feng is doing something good, there just happens to be a photographer around to record it?" Liang said.
"Maybe it's understandable that there's a photographer there when he's working, or when he's reading the works of Mao Zedong," he said.
"But when he's at home reading by torchlight under the quilt, there's a photographer there?"
Liang said his journalists had spoken to a woman who once had a close friendship with Lei Feng, billing her as a potential love interest that never flowered.
"This goes to show that Lei Feng wasn't some kind of symbol who inhabited a different sphere to us, but an ordinary person," he said.
The show sparked a furious online backlash on social media and on Maoist websites nationwide, culminating in the first denunciation of Liang by the PLA Daily weibo tweet.
"TV host Liang Hongda defamed a hero of the People's Volunteer Army," the tweet said, according to screenshots still circulating on Thursday.
"The heroes of the Chinese people should be taken to our hearts and treated with respect," the post said.
Chinese authorities have fired three people in the past two weeks for being critical of late supreme leader Mao Zedong.
The moves came after a chorus of protest from Maoists around the country, amid growing nostalgia and political support for an era of cradle-to-grave socialism, heroic workers, and rousing "red songs."
On Monday, media and cultural official Zuo Chunhe, of the northern city of Shijiazhuang, was removed from his job as deputy head of the local media regulator for referring to the Chairman as a "devil," state media reported.
"[Zuo] was fired for 'posting wrong remarks on Sina Weibo' that were considered a 'serious violation of political discipline,'" the Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to the party, reported.
It said Zuo had tweeted that the annual commemoration of Mao's birthday on Dec. 26 was "the world's largest cult activity," referring to Mao as a devil, the paper said.
A flash mob of Maoists began to picket Zuo's workplace with banners that read: "Down with the anti-Mao traitor Zuo Chunhe," it said.
"Zuo was given a major administrative warning and was ordered to deeply reflect on his mistakes. His Weibo account has been deleted," the paper said.
The Maoist left
The Communist Party typically retaliates harshly against anyone abusing Mao or his image, as this is held to represent an attack on the founding supreme leader of the People's Republic.
However, it has previously also taken steps to rein in the Maoist left, a growing popular movement in China amid growing social inequality and rampant official corruption.
Political commentators say Maoists are often younger people who have no personal experience of the violence and privations of the Mao era, but who share a deep sense of anger over growing social tensions.
Earlier this month, a flash mob of Maoists descended on a university campus in the eastern province of Shandong, attacking supporters of a university lecturer who retweeted a post satirizing Mao.
The Shandong provincial government then terminated the contract of Deng Xiangchao, a professor at the Shandong Jianzhu University.
Retired Shandong University professor Sun Wenguang said he believes the government is going along with the demands of the Maoists because it suits its purpose ahead of the 19th Party Congress later in the year.
"They would like to see fewer dissenting voices in the run-up to the party congress, fewer voices arguing for greater freedom, or calls for democracy and the rule of law," Sun said.
"They will also ensure that certain people don't get sent to the congress as delegates, like Professor Deng, for example."
"I think there's an intention behind the emergence of this movement."
Online activist Li Fei said he thought Liang did a good job with his analysis of Lei Feng's image, however.
"The Communist Party likes to manufacture these supposedly glorious images, and yet they are totally fake," Li said. "They are only doing it to bolster their own position."
"I think everything that Liang Hongda said was true."
Li said he sees the Maoist "movement" as having the backing of the government, too.
"In reality, everything they do is with the tacit approval of the regime," Li said. "That's the only way they can go unchecked."
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.