If you stand in the middle of Tian’anmen Square, and listen very, very closely, you can hear Chairman Mao spinning in his glass case.
Because, of course, to listen that closely, you need to tune out the hawkers trying to sell you such things as a watch or lighter featuring Mao’s likeness. (As an added bonus, some lighters play “The East is Red” when you open them.)
Throughout Beijing (and really, all of China) the emerging capitalism has given rise to selling all sorts of things with the communist dictator’s likeness. I even have a necklace that was given to me as a friend featuring the image of Guanyin, the bodhisattva goddess of compassion. The flip side? Chairman Mao. You can get Mao on anything–he even has is own brand of cigarettes–or at least you can get it in army green with a red star.
Now, according to the explanatory text at this Mao Fever exhibit, this second, mini cult of personality re-emerged in China in the late 1980s and early 1990s as Chinese society struggled with their opening economy and culture. Also, Mao is still seen as the father of the modern Chinese nation. I saw several hip Chinese kids (and even some adults) wearing items of kitsch. Now, I am not going to tell China how and when or even if to deal with its historical demons, but…
Just because you can buy a Mao shirt in Beijing does not mean you should wear it. Especially if you’re some American Hipster.
Flying back from Beijing earlier this month, I was thisclose to getting into a fight with the woman sitting behind me. She didn’t seem to be all that bright, but was very happy with her Mao bag and kept showing it off. Why would someone want to carry around a bag that features a brutal dictator that was responsible for the deaths of millions of people? It was so obvious this woman had no concept of Chinese history and what Mao really stood for. She also mentioned how patriotic she was and how she supported our troops. At the very least, Mao was a communist.
Just because Andy Warhol painted him in bright colors multiple times does not make him socially acceptable.
Yes, he’s an icon. But for what? When I sit on the metro in DC and see people with Mao shirts, I want to lean over and ask them about their feelings on the Great Famine or the Cultural Revolution.
Are they fans of massive purges to consolidate power? Do they like to advertise their allegiance to a man and ideology that punished and executed people based on who their parents or grandparents were?
I ‘ll admit I’m obsessed with Mao, both the myth and the man, and with the personality cult surrounding him. I have a small desire for a collection of Mao-morabilia. But not to wear around and flaunt. I’d love some Cultural Revolution posters, but I wouldn’t hang those up in my house. I’m not a fan of Mao.
And, unless you’re a hardcore Maoist and are thinking of using the peasantry to overthrow the bourgeoisie, if you’re wearing some Chinese communist kitsch? I’m not a fan of you, either.