2006: Visiting Mao’s Hometown

There are many webpages devoted to Mao Zedong. One of the most interesting is the online Mao Zedong Exhibition  毛泽东博览    The Mao Museum offers Chairman Mao’s works,  photographs,  paintings of Mao Zedong, his poems,  and music celebrating him.  Just sit back and enjoy The East is Red with lyrics from Wikipedia

The east is red, the sun is rising.
From China comes Mao Zedong.
He strives for the people’s happiness,
Hurrah, he is the people’s great saviour!
(Repeat last four lines)

Chairman Mao loves the people,
He is our guide
to building a new China
Hurrah, lead us forward!
(Repeat last three lines)

The Communist Party is like the sun,
Wherever it shines, it is bright
Wherever the Communist Party is
Hurrah, the people are liberated!
(Repeat last two lines)
(Repeat first verse)

In 1998, I visited Mao’s childhood home in Shaoshan in rural Hunan.  A group of high school girls came through while I was there. I heard one say to another as they read a sign about Mao Zedong’s parents, “Can you imagine it? Mao’s mother was TWO years older than his father!” The girls couldn’t stop laughing.

As I left Mao’s house (the house of a reasonably prosperous peasant but not as well-off as Liu Shaoqi’s family that lived a few kilometers away)  I heard the sounds of a traditional funeral going on nearby.

A few blocks away I ate a genuine Mao cuisine restaurant run by a Mao family member. He showed me his ID card and said he was a distant cousin of the Chairman.

Nearby a banner stretched across the road. It read “Make Shaoshan a Drug Free Town“.

Another sign I saw in Shaoshan was much like the one below that I photographed in Sichuan a few years later. The sign read “Don’t dig up fiber optic cables. It is illegal, causes great disruption and there is nothing valuable in them to sell.” So I didn’t.

When I walked through the museum dedicated to Mao the first sign quoted the decision of the Central Committee on the historical position of Mao saying that Mao was two-thirds right and only one-third wrong.   I overheard two men just ahead of me discussing Mao. One of them kept saying over and over, as if to settle his doubts, “No one can deny that Mao was a great man”.

In a big glass box was the chair that Mao sat in when he met with President Nixon in 1972. The last sign going leaving the museum also reminded visitors that the Central Committee had concluded that Mao was two-thirds right.  Just in case anybody had any doubts.

The best Mao museum I have seen, although limited to a specific time period, is the Cultural Revolution Museum in the Jianchuan Museum Cluster in Chengdu.  That museum is discussed in Briony Lin’s 2016 article “Two museums in China about the Cultural Revolution show very different versions of history”” .  The Jianchuan Museum Cluster includes many related museums of twentieth century Chinese history including a World War II Museum, a Museum of US Military Assistance to China, and a Museum dedicated to Chinese Prisoners of the Japanese.  My collection of three hundred-odd photos from my six or seven visits to the museum during my five years in Chengdu are on my Flickr collection of photographs. Captions and explanations are on nearly all the photos that you will need to click on to see now that Flickr changed to a less convenient format several years ago.

There is some Mao nostalgia in China today that has something to do with older people Maoremembering the hit songs when they were young and also with leaders trying to impose discipline on Party members.  The now-jailed former Chonqing Party leader Bo Xilai strongly encouraged a red nostalgia movement in Chongqing but now that he is gone some of those websites have disappeared as well. The Party worries about the neo-Maoists as well as the democracy activists — that is they worry about attacks from the Left as well as from the Right.

I saw the Mao poster at left in a small town in Guizhou in 2008.  Mao nostalgia in China includes Mao restaurants (more popular a few years ago, they featured Hunan country cooking and Red Guards as waiters) and Mao protective amulets dangling from rearview mirrors. Just like some people put images of saints or Buddhist symbols in their cars to protect them.


About 高大伟 David Cowhig

Worked 25 years as a US State Department Foreign Service Officer including ten years at US Embassy Beijing and US Consulate General Chengdu and four years as a China Analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Before State I translated Japanese and Chinese scientific and technical books and articles into English freelance for six years. Before that I taught English at Tunghai University in Taiwan for three years. And before that I worked two summers on Norwegian farms, milking cows and feeding chickens.
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