Striving to balance out the barrage of anti-Mao posts marking the Great Helmsman’s birthday, ESWN translates an article that explores why so many in China look back to Mao with nostalgic admiration.
Of course, I can easily understand this phenomenon. Mao did a decent job of keeping corruption in check (not too difficult when you have totalitarian powers), gave the peasants free medical care and at least conveyed an appearance of caring for the underprivileged.
Someone said that in the Mao era, people lived in relative poverty. However, the social order and security situations were extraordinarily good. Everything was simple and people lived in a relaxed fashion. Nowadays, things are more complicated. People feel bored and oppressed. A counter-argument was that since everybody was so poor back then, there was nothing to steal or rob. “Sameness” was obviously a characteristic of that era, but the severe inequality of wealth today has affected social stability in China.
Actually, no matter how people argue about the pros and cons of the person Mao Zedong or the era of Mao Zedong, the fact is that Mao has returned to Chinese society, whether it is on the altar of a peasant home or by the city taxi driver’s seat. Mao images proliferate among the people. Yet, there is a difference. In Mao’s era, we treated him as the Absolute God. Later on, we determined that he was a person who could make mistakes. Today people are looking at Mao as a god who could provide peace and security.
Needless to say, I find this nostalgia rather misplaced. For all of his pretentious talk glorifying the peasantry, we need to remember that one of the first things Mao did was move into Zhongnanhai, where he proceeded to enrich himself and his henchmen. (Funny, how these Marxists so enamored of notions of being at one with the lower classes always seem to move into the palaces of the corrupt imperialist oppressors they replaced, quickly taking on all the trappings of the old despised enemies.) And of course, we all know how the farmers and peasants benefitted from the Great Leap Forward.
I won’t go on about Mao’s sins, which we all know too well. Creating a sense of peace and security is great, but this was matched and overwhelmed by the massive and needless suffering Mao thrust on his helpless people. If anyone in China today truly looks to mass-murdering Mao as “a god who could provide peace and security,” they do so either from ignorance, stupidity or blindness.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.