Year of the Mao

How ironic, that as China is doing everything it can to break free of the curse that Mao imposed on it, Hu is now planning a Mao-a-thon of truly epic proportions:

There can be nothing more incongruous in fast-modernizing China than a gargantuan effort to celebrate Chairman Mao Zedong, famous for his self-sufficient, ultra-conservative theories.

Right after it has put a man in orbit and signaled large-scale privatization of state enterprises, however, the administration of President Hu Jintao is readying marathon festivities to mark the Great Helmsman’s 110th birthday next month.

Aside from galas, lectures and conferences, there are plans to launch commemorative stamps, TV and film shows as well as revolutionary opera performances.

The article suggests, however, that this burst of Mao worship is inspired less by Hu’s love of the Great Helmsman than by a will to assert his own leadership, and to step out of Jiang Zemin’s shadow:

While neither Hu nor Wen will roll back China’s open-door policy or quasi-capitalistic practices, their apparent championship of Mao’s serve-the-masses philosophy will serve to pacify sectors such as the unemployed which have suffered setbacks due to the country’s embrace of the marketplace.

For Hu, a cunning refurling of Maoist standards has the extra effect of putting ex-president Jiang in his place.

In a variant of the time-tested ploy called “hoisting the red flag to counter another red flag,” Hu has used the Helmsman’s “be close to the masses” dictums to marginalize Jiang’s much-ballyhooed Theory of the Three Represents (that the party represents the most advanced productivity and culture as well as the masses’ interests.)

So there’s to be no end in sight to the ongoing lovefest over the long-dead Chairman. It’s going to be a big chapter in my book, this anomaly, this need we have for heroes, and how, in the absence of such heroes, we cling to old myths even though we know they are myths.

I just started reading Jasper Becker’s book The Chinese, which begins by sifting through the damage caused by Mao in the countryside, the catastrophe Mao meant for so many of China’s poor, and it is so heartbreaking. After reading just the first 50 pages, I can only wonder how the Chinese can bear to see Mao’s face anywhere, let alone everywhere. And this reminds me of how different my own mind works; I can talk with my Chinese friends, I can spend time with them, but I cannot think as they think, I can’t get inside and know how they process Mao’s image, what they feel when they see it…. It’s one of the things I am determined to understand before I pack up and go home to America.

The Discussion: 4 Comments

To most Chinese under 30 years old, Mao is as remote as George Washington is to most Americans. Whenever he’s mentioned, he’s being used more as a symbol than as a role-model for how to govern the country. As a symbol, Mao stands for mostly positive things, egalitarianism, clean government, serving the people, concern for the poor, people power, etc. It doesn’t seem to matter for a lot of people (though I think it should) what he did or did not do. In the west, Mao’s an entirely different symbol, though the west’s image of Mao is also a fantasy colored by its own biases. Take the CNN article for example. Who in their right mind would call Mao, an advocate for perpetual revolution, an “ultra-conservative”?

November 19, 2003 @ 11:18 am | Comment

China news round-up

It’s been a while and now it’s time to put…

November 20, 2003 @ 3:15 am | Comment

When I was in Beijing in 1993, during the centenary celebration of Mao, I bought a T-Shirt with the Great Helmsman’s face on it. The vendor, a 60-ish woman, asked me if I would use dollars to purchase it…….I was pretty clear then that the scoialist revolution was over and buried! Hu is just trying to consolidate his power by creating a national kowtow to his predecessor.

November 21, 2003 @ 11:39 pm | Comment

His predecessor is Jiang Zemin. What he’s really doing is kicking Jiang in the back, while pretending to kowtow to Mao. And I guess that’s a good thing.

November 22, 2003 @ 10:44 am | Comment

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