Wednesday, 15 April 2009

M is for Mao

Mao statue at People's Park

This is an incredibly belated abc wednesday post! I woke up on Wednesday to find that my internet was cut off because of some of the student's were having exams. Obviously letting me know about this beforehand is an impossibility in China. Although I don't even see why it is necessary to cut off the internet for the staff's apartments anyway. But, at last it's been turned back on, so..........

Mao and the Cultural Revolution are topics that I’ve avoided with even Chinese people I’ve gotten to know quite well, and it seems to have been written out of many of the accounts of Chinese history I’ve seen. One constant reminder is that there seem to be people up to their late forties and then people in their seventies. When I’ve been introduced to people in their fifties, I would have easily thought them twenty or even thirty years older than they really are. I can’t even imagine what hardships these people must’ve endured to prematurely age them so radically.

Mao statue outside a factory - an increasingly rare sight. For some reason I felt that I had to be very surupticious taking this photo!

Another strange side effect of this traumatic period of Chinese history is the popularity of modelling classes at the gym with older women. They are taught to walk like catwalk models, and there is something quite poignant about watching them engaged in such a typical teenage activity, the kind of frippery one assumes that teenage girls were denied in Maoist China.

When I asked my students to tell me about a person they admired, Mao was chosen by a few students in each class, although they all focused on his early achievements uniting the Chinese nation after the Japanese invasion and civil war. Only one student mentioned what happened after this, saying that Mao ‘made some mistakes later in his life.’ Quite an understatement in my opinion! More students picked Zhou Enlai, who tried to restore diplomatic and trade relations with the rest of the world during the 1970s.

Mao's head on Chinese banknotes. Tip for travellers: there are many forged 50 and 100 yuan notes around, to check yours are real, rub Mao's shoulder. It should feel slightly raised.

The only heard one anti-Mao statement from a Chinese person here. It came from a friend as a group of us were waiting in McDonalds after going out clubbing. Holding a hundred yuan note in his hand he declared in English how much he despised Mao, then proceeded to rub Mao’s face against his crotch. Ironically, one reason why this young man enjoys a comfortable lifestyle is that both his parents are very high up in the Communist Party. Although from what I have gathered from my Chinese friends, now membership of the Communist Party is more to do with ambition, as membership is a de facto necessity for progressing your career. All the wealthiest people are card carrying members of the Party.

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1 comment:

  1. I love your remarks about the illusory generation gap. That's a really great insight. Thanks for the tip about rubbing Mao's shoulder. This is my fourth trip to China and I never knew that!