MAO REMEMBERED: KITSCH. CARTOONS AND STATUES

ADULATION OF MAO

null
These days Mao is widely admired by young Chinese as the government has been able to successfully gloss over the atrocities that occurred during his rule and hailed him as the person who ended China’s humiliation at the hands of foreigners. One 21-year-old student who visited Mao’s hometown in 2009 told the Times of London, “Chairman Mao was very wise and very brave...His experience is an inspiration to us.” Another told the Los Angeles Times, “I think that what Chairman Mao really intended was for Chinese people to get rich.”

Some Chinese seem rally around the memory of Mao as a patron saint to validate their liking for cigarettes. Already, tourists to Jinggangshan toss unlit cigarettes onto Mao’s old wooden bed in remembrance of one who loved to smoke. This impulse has little to do with the issue of smoking and health, of course, but expresses a nostalgic affinity, attractive to people half-anxious at their smoking, across the boundary between today’s world and an ethereal world. [Terrill, Op cit]

A prominent sociologist told the Los Angeles Times, “The Communist Party’s propaganda office is promoting him like he is a god to give the young generation something to believe in. That’s why people go to Shaosan, because they talk of Mao as their god.” Many of those who admire Mao the most are the once who are suffering the most in modern market-oriented China.

Good Websites and Sources: Nixon’s Visit to China chizeng.com/nixon ; Time magazine time.com ; The New Yorker newyorker.com ; Webcast of Nixon Visit to China cfr.org ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Mao’s Mausoleum Wikipedia ; News of Mao’s Death BBC . Book: Ping-pong Diplomacy: The Secret History Behind the Game That Changed the World” by Nicholas Griffin, Scribner, (Simon & Schuster), 2014; “Mao’s Little Red Book: A Global History,” edited by Alexander C. Cook, Cambridge University Press, 2014]. Mao Zedong Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Chinese Mao.com chinesemao.com ; Mao Internet Library marx2mao.com ; Paul Noll Mao site paulnoll.com/China/Mao ; Mao Quotations art-bin.com; Marxist.org marxists.org ; Propaganda Paintings of Mao artchina.free.fr ; New York Times topics.nytimes.com; Communist Party History Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Illustrated History of Communist Party china.org.cn;

Death Under Mao: Uncounted Millions, Washington Post article paulbogdanor.com ; Death Tolls erols.com People’s Republic of China : Timeline china-profile.com ; ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Cold War International Project wilsoncenter.org ; China Essay Series mtholyoke.edu ; Everyday Life in Maoist China.org everydaylifeinmaoistchina.org; Wikipedia article on propaganda Wikipedia ; Cultural Revolution sino.uni-heidelberg.de; Communist China Posters Landsberger Posters ; More Posters chinaposters.org ; Yet more posters Ann Tompkins and Lincoln Cushing Collection

Good Chinese History Websites: 1) Chaos Group of University of Maryland chaos.umd.edu/history/toc ; 2) WWW VL: History China vlib.iue.it/history/asia ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia 4) China Knowledge; 5) Gutenberg.org e-book gutenberg.org/files ; Links in this Website: Main China Page factsanddetails.com/china (Click History)

Mao Worshiped

Mao was the object of divine worship while he was alive. Portraits of his chubby, balding figure were like the holy pictures that are displayed at feasts for the saints in some countries. When Mao died, people wept in the streets. Many thought it was the end of the world, or simply refused to accept the fact as they believed Mao would live forever. [Source: Francesco Sisci, Asia Editor of La Stampa, Asia Times, September 17, 2010]

Visitors to Beijing from rural areas still pay homage to Mao before the giant portrait of Mao Zedong in Tiananmen Square by looking upwards at it and placing their hands together in a gesture of reverence typically used in religions all over the world. Many in the countryside retain his huge portrait at the center of their houses. His face still features on bank notes. [Ibid]

null
In the village of Gushuicun in Shaanxi province, peasants have erected a temple honoring Mao, where comrade worshipers and high party officials come to light incense and burn paper money in front of a 10-foot-high plaster statue of the Mao. In Gansu, thousands of villagers came to see a roadside tree stump after rumors spread it bore a likeness to Mao.

In other places, farmers clutch buttons and photos of the chairman after devastating floods the same way Chinese Buddhists used to do with images of Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy and taxi drivers hang Mao portraits from their rear-view mirrors to ward off accidents and bring wealth.

For the government some of this adulation has gone to far. In Mao’s hometown postcards picture Mao with a halo have been seized and Buddhist-style temples, where visitors prayed before images of Mao, have been shut down.

Many taxi drivers in Beijing still display in their cabs a portrait of the young Mao, just like Neapolitans with Madonna or a crucifix. One taxi driver in Shaoshan with a plastic Mao figure on his dashboard told the Los Angeles Times, “I definitely believe that he will bless me.” {Sisci, Op cit}

Mao’s as an Object of Rage and Adoration

In November 2013, Leo Lewis wrote in The Times, “For many years, a giant framed portrait of Mao Zedong has hung on the wall of The Times's bureau in Beijing. It is the same picture of Mao that watches over Tiananmen Square and certain living rooms across China. In fall 2013, when a family of Uighurs chose the perfect spot for a suicide protest, they ploughed their car into the Tiananmen Gate, killing bystanders and themselves as flames and smoke belched across Mao's face. "Take the picture down. He was a terrible man, terrible for China," said the young woman who arrived on our doorstep. "You should take him down now and let my country forget him." She was in her early 20s and twinkled with the accessories of New China affluence - an iPhone 5, a designer handbag. "Why do you have it there?" she asked again, charmingly but with titanium strength in her voice. "It gives us a very bad feeling. You must know what he did." "Your Berlin correspondent," she finally fired at me. "Does he have a portrait of Hitler on the office wall?" [Source: Leo Lewis, The Times, November 5, 2013 >>>>]

“Arguing over history's greatest villain is fine sport and you can make a powerful case for Mao. It's not hard to find people in China who share that view; many who lived through the Cultural Revolution find his sustained presence repulsive. Others, perhaps including the protesters who died in Tiananmen Square, use Mao as a focus for their rage. You can also, as I did recently, visit Mao's birthplace in Shaoshan, Hunan Province, and talk to people (often older) who have travelled thousands of miles to pay homage to the old rogue and believe that China was the better under him. However, here was a calculated Mao-Hitler comparison, not from a dissident but from the ordinary, educated mouth of China's new middle class. It was, in truth, rather thrilling. >>>>

“The infusion of Mao into the national consciousness still explains modern China with thudding consistency. Revolution, starvation, mass madness, the inspiration of equality - they all throb silently in the background. When President Xi Jinping unveiled a crackdown on corruption moments after his anointment last year, the vocabulary was pure Mao. The subsequent campaign, with its purge-like treatment of senior officials, drinks from the same Maoist well. In the same Beijing park where The Times has its office, small groups gather occasionally to sing revolutionary-era songs. When a Chinese tycoon buys a pound stg. 3 million pad in Knightsbridge, the renminbi banknotes with which he counts his fortune bear Mao's image. In its endless quest for survival, the Chinese Communist Party needs Mao like a car needs oil. >>>>

“His physical and emotional ubiquity is a conscious decision by China's authorities. Xi looks set to channel Mao even more directly than his predecessors. This year, China celebrates the 120th anniversary of Mao's birth and about $2.5 billion has been spent on projects in his home town to articulate the joy. Our visitor rolled her eyes - my health, her health and the health of China in general, she pleaded, depended on removing the portrait from our wall and starting to write Mao out of national life forever. "Please," she begged once more"It is not right to have him there." We struck an agreement: the Mao portrait will come down when its larger counterpart is removed from Tiananmen Gate. >>>>

Mao Villages

Maoism remains alive and well in Nanjie, a village in Henan province with 3,130 residents. Here, soldiers goose step past a Mao statue while loudspeakers blare out the Communist Party anthem The East is Red!; women with balloon-seated pants and Mao buttons do calisthenics in front of huge Mao posters; and foot-tall porcelain Mao figurines grace new apartments. The village even has a miniature version of Mao's mausoleum.

In Nanjie, there is no crime, unemployment, or unplanned children. Everyone lives in an identical free apartment, earns the same salary (about $35 a month in the early 2000s) and receives free health care, insurance, utilities and free foodstuffs like flour, eggs and cooking oil. Families that lose stars according to a 10-star good behavior system lose privileges. Weddings are held in a group ceremony on January 1st, children attend school from 5:35am to 8:00pm, and social life revolves around political study classes.

In the late 1980s, Nanjie was a poor village like tens of thousands of others in China. After Tiananmen Square when hard-liners in the Communist party felt that Mao's image needed sprucing up Nanjie suddenly found itself the recipient of $54 million in low interest loans and 11,000 low-paid laborers to run its factories.

Now the residents live in new houses with telephones, refrigerators, washing machines, and color television sets with cable. They are also provided with new sets of clothes twice a year by the government. The $500,000 main street is lined with rocket-shaped street lights that cost $360 a piece. The villages $2 million kindergarten has granite walls and an electric gate. Up to 250,000 tourist visit Nanjie every year.

Mao Tourism and Kitsch

null
Mao’s image is on almost all the banknotes. If you fold up the currency in just the right way and move it, Mao’s expression will change from a smile to a frown as you move the bill up and down. In fancy nightclubs, singers do disco versions of Mao's poems. A satellite lost in space was reportedly carrying a Mao medallion studded with 44 diamonds.

Shops in Hong Kong sell velvet Mao caps, chartreuse Mao jackets, Mao watches, with the Great Helmsman's hand waving every second, and Mao cigarette lighters that play the "The East is Red" when they are opened. The Italian designer Prada had great success with Mao jackets in 1998.

Boxer Mike Tyson has a Mao tattoo. Boxing promoter Don King said, "I'm just honored to be in his presence--- when he visited Mao's mausoleum. In the 1970s Andy Warhol did a series of Mao prints and is credited by some with being the first person to make Mao cool outside China. In November 2006, a rare Warhol silkscreen portrait of Mao was sold for $17.4 million to an anonymous bidder.

Pop art portraits by Chinese artists show a grinning Mao surrounded by advertisements for Maxwell House Coffee, Kodak film, Marlboro cigarettes and other popular consumer items. Cultural-Revolution-themed restaurants feature Mao pins, Mao clocks and newspaper clippings with headlines that read "We [students] want to go to the country to raise food ourselves."

Shaoshan is now one of the richest towns in Hunan Province. The town features a half dozen hotels and a Mao museum and is full of busy restaurants and souvenir stands that sell bronze busts of Mao for $85, Mao snow globes for $7 and Mao key chains for $4.25.

Shaoshan only has a population of 1,387 people, with many claiming to be long lost Mao relatives, among them the founder of Mao’s Family Restaurant chain. In 2009, the 60th anniversary of China’s birth, 3.5 million visitors show up to honor Mao.

In a 2009 film, Mao was depicted a jolly fellow whose only apparent flaw seem to be once getting too drunk to celebrate a battle victory.

Giant Statue of Mao as a Long-Haired Young Man

Reporting on a giant statue of Mao while it was under construction in 2009, Malcolm Moore wrote in The Telegraph, “The statue, which has emerged from scaffolding in the central city of Changsha, will eventually stand more than 100ft tall. Classic Mao iconography portrays the "Great Helmsman" as an older man, usually wearing a dour overcoat and either standing impressively or waving to a crowd. The new statue, however, is both seated and of a young Mao, aged 32, when he composed a poem about Changsha. [Source: Malcolm Moore, The Telegraph, November 3, 2009 <^>]

Xie Liwen, a professor at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts who was on the creative team, told the Xiaoxiang Morning Herald newspaper that "our first concern was uniqueness and artistry". He said: "This design isn't all that strange. The Mao statues people typically see are mostly of him standing and waving, or else fairly formal and serious. During the creation of this statue of a seated, young Mao Zedong, we were particularly concerned with differentiating it from past images." He added that the designers hoped to "capture the expansive abandon of the poem [Changsha]." <^>

In the poem, the young Mao describes the view from Juzi island, in the middle of a river running through Changsha, looking at the Yuelu mountain. The statue is sited on the same spot, but faces in the wrong direction. Huang Yanming, a resident of Changsha who can see the statue from his window, told the newspaper: "Look, how handsome the young Mao was!" Other residents told the newspaper that they were "surprised" to see the Great Helmsman looking "cool and elegant with long hair". On the Chinese internet, opinion was divided. Some web users praised the "far-sightedness" of the Changsha government, while others compared the statue to the Sphinx. <^>

Gold Mao Statue

Chris Buckley of the New York Times wrote: Mao Zedong, “who rhapsodized the Chinese people as “poor and blank” has received the birthday present he probably never dreamed of. He has been commemorated in a manner befitting the excesses of modern-day capitalist China: a statue covered in gold and inlaid with gems that is said to be worth about 100 million renminbi, or $16.5 million.” The 120th anniversary of Mao’s birth took place on December 26, 2013. Chinese leader Xi Jinping had said the commemorations should be “solemn, austere and practical.” [Source: Chris Buckley, Sinosphere blog, New York Times, December 13, 2013]

“But apparently China’s foremost revolutionary can be a spectacle of bling. The statue of a seated Mao went on display in Shenzhen, a commercial city in southern China better known for its raucous nightlife than its spartan revolutionary spirit. China National Radio said on its website that the figure of Mao — appearing unnervingly slim — was covered in gold, jade and other gemstones, and was the work of more than 20 master craftsmen over eight months. The whole ensemble, including the 110-pound statue of the man and a white marble base, cost about 100 million renminbi to make, according to the craftsmen. The report did not say who sponsored or paid for the work. “When the gold flashes, it captures the intense interest of the public,” noted the report. The statue went on display at an art and handicrafts show in Shenzhen, but will find a permanent home in Mao’s birthplace, Shaoshan, in Hunan Province.

Giant Mao Statue in Henan

In January 2015, a 37-meter-high (120-foot-high) gold-painted statue of Chairman Mao was unveiled the Chinese countryside in Tongxu county, Henan Province. The BBC reported: “The giant homage to the late communist leader was paid for by local businessmen, who spent nearly 3 million yuan ($460,000; £313,000), reports say. Some villagers also contributed money to the project said The People's Daily. The giant sits in farmland in Tongxu county, Henan Province. The province was the centre of a famine in the 1950s resulting from Mao's policies-millions of people died in the famine triggered by the campaign, known as the Great Leap Forward. [Source: BBC News, January 5, 2016]

“Some have criticised the statue online, for the perceived waste and what they see as the statue's insensitive location. But many others have leapt to its defence. Despite being responsible for so many deaths, Mao Zedong is revered by many in China, not least by President Xi Jinping, who praises him as a "great figure".

Mao Memorabilia

null
Since the early 1990s, products with likenesses of Mao have become all the rage in China. The chairman's face can be found on lockets, T-shirts, tie-clips, seat cushions, alarms clocks, key rings, thermometers, towels, sun visors, cigarette packs, yo yo's, telephone cards, laser disks with Mao speeches and busts that glow in the dark. Some of the stuff is quite expensive. Mao watches with diamonds and sapphires that sold for $1,500 were so popular that supplies ran out.

Mao-era memorabilia is quite valuable. Some Cultural-Revolution-era badges are worth thousands of dollars. Mao wool banners have fetched $5,250. A first edition of the Little Red Book. with an endorsement by Lin Biao, was sold at an auction for over $15,000. In 1995, an oil painting of Mao Zedong sold at an auction sold for $361,000.

Most of the memorabilia is fake. The first Mao badges were made from discarded toothpaste tubes. Now they are manufactures in capitalist-style assembly lines. Stuff that was common in the Mao era is now rare. In many bookstores in Beijing you will be hard-pressed finding a copy of The Little Red Book.

Ross Terril wrote in the Washington Post: "But among ordinary citizens, 'Pop Mao' is a subtle mockery of the whole box and dice of Communist politics. It is also a symbol of commerce dethroning politics. That Mao is one of the ingredients tossed into the casserole of the market is itself a joke at the expense of socialism. (To compound the joke, many of the traders who market the portraits and busts and cassettes are former inmates of Mao's labor camps.)"

Mao Era Restaurant

On the Beijing restaurant Cu Liang Ren Jia, or “Coarse Grains Family,” Liyan Qi and Olivia Geng of the Wall Street Journal wrote: “While many restaurants in China these days are trying to tickle the palate of China’s new bourgeoisie, this restaurant wants to help people remember the rough days of peoples’ communes in the 1950s, specifically those in China’s northeast. It’s a trend that’s caught on: Cu Liang Ren Jia now has five branches in the country’s capital city. Upon entering the restaurant, guests are greeted with the sight of a large red star and one of Mao Zedong’s most famous quotes: “Be resolute, fear no sacrifice. Surmount every difficulty to win victory.” [Source: Liyan Qi and Olivia Geng, China Real Time, Wall Street Journal, September 12, 2014 <<>>]

“Inside the restaurant, old newspapers from the 1950s to 1970s cover the walls. Many of them are emblazoned with Chinese propaganda lines, such as one newspaper from the 1960s that blares, “American Imperialists get out of South Korea! Get out of Japan! Get out of South Vietnam! Get out of our nation’s territory Taiwan!” Another Cultural Revolution-era slogan that decorates the wall declares, “Our aspirations to settle in the countryside are unwavering.” To further foster the atmosphere, the dimly lit restaurant has also hung dried eggplants, chili and garlic from the rafters. All three are commonly grown in northeast China. <<>>

“On a recent day, middle-aged and elderly customers crowded the restaurant during lunch hour. In addition to the hanging vegetables and Maoist slogans, the restaurant also accentuates the old-timey feel with scattered farm tools. Likewise, wait staff wear red armbands and nametags that identify their commune title. While Mao Zedong presided over years of mass, manmade famine, as well as violent political turmoil, Shi Hongliang, a manager whose nametag identified him as “village party chief,” told China Real Time he was very grateful for the leader’s legacy. “Chairman Mao’s radiance shines over tens of thousands of generations. There would be no new China without Chairman Mao!” In addition to the kitschy slogans and décor, the restaurant has also augmented the countryside atmosphere through the addition of a few baby pigs, who on a recent day frolicked in a small pen outside the restaurant. The pigs, too, are living happier lives than their predecessors. “Those pigs are for show only. We don’t eat them,” Mr. Shi said. <<>>

Mao Impersonators

Pete Brook wrote in Wired: “In China, the Mao heritage industry is thriving. The former communist ruler’s image has shifted from political posters to tea cups and now, increasingly, Mao Zedong doubles reenact episodes of his childhood and political life for theater, film and TV soaps. In perfecting their acts, Mao doubles train their voices, mimic body language and undergo plastic surgeries. They can even be booked for personal appearances at family celebrations.” [Source: Pete Brook , Wired, October 7, 2010]

Most Mao double’s are based in Changsha, capital of Hunan province, where Mao was born and began his revolution. Photographer Tommaso Bonaventura who photographed many of them for a portrait series, told Wired. “They don’t belong to real agencies.”The one double from Beijing works alone. They often work in patriotic stage productions with a theater company based in Shaoshan [Mao's birthplace].” The Mao ersatz also work a lively circuit of banquets, holiday celebrations and weddings, at which they deliver famous Mao speeches in his dialect. [Ibid]

He Na, reporting for the China Daily has described the scene at a wedding in Changchun, Jilin Province: “With his theme tune, “East is Red” , [Mao lookalike] Li Shouxin makes his entrance at the wedding banquet dressed in a blue Mao suit.” The appearance makes revelers feel as though they’ve added something very privileged and unique to the occasion. [Ibid]

Sometimes they get television work. Describing unusual scene he witnessed David Moser wrote on the Danwei website, “I turned on a Beijing TV variety show and was jolted by the sight of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai playing a game of ping pong. They both gave short, rousing speeches, and then were reverently interviewed by the emcee, who thanked them profusely for taking time off from their governmental duties to appear on the show. I was completely flabbergasted. From what I thought I knew of China, I would have assumed that such an act would be considered absolute sacrilege, like a skit with Jesus and the Apostle Paul playing gin rummy on a broadcast of the 700 Club.” [Ibid]

Pete Brook wrote in Wired: “Most Mao doubles do not earn a living wage from their acting and appearances and hold down other jobs. Though the hobby is not without its perks. One Mao double, a restaurateur, enjoys a high volume of patrons who dine hoping that the Great Leader might show up and sing Happy Birthday.” [Ibid]

Bonaventura could not estimate what each Mao double earns.He told Wired, “They have a very strong competition amongst themselves. Any one of them thinks that the others are not good enough as Mao doubles.” Select lookalikes do hold the advantage over others.Mao was respected for his calligraphy so lookalike Gu Xiaoyue, renowned as a master calligrapher himself, can boast added value and “authenticity” in his act. [Ibid]

Mao doubles will never speak their own words through Mao’s lips. Unlike many Elvis impersonators, the Mao doubles act in homage and not irony. As Moser notes “What is lacking in the Chinese context is the concept of kitsch. I don’t think the Chinese have it. Part of the fun of watching a group of Elvis impersonators is the ironic awareness that Elvis is being subtly condescended to at the same time he is being glorified, and this may represent a distinctively Western aesthetic mode.”

Female Chairman Mao Impersonator

Chen Yan is a female impersonator of China's late Chairman Mao. At 5' 1" (1.55m) tall, the 50-something housewife has to wear special shoes to increase her height to 5' 11" to match the late communist leader. Chen was discovered by a beautician while impersonating Mao on a local TV show and is believed to be the first woman to imitate the former Chinese leader. [Source: The Guardian, November 22, 2013]

Tom Phillips wrote in The Telegraph, “She is a 57-year-old shopkeeper who transformed herself into China's first and only female impersonator of Mao Tse-tung. But while Chen Yan's unlikely career as a Mao Tse-tung look-a-like has brought her fame and a measure of fortune it has also wrecked her marriage, a Chinese magazine claimed. For Mrs Chen told the Global People magazine that her husband had grown tired of feeling "he is sleeping with [the] Chairman and that their sex life had been destroyed. [Source: Tom Phillips, The Telegraph, November 21, 2013 *-*]

“Chen Yan's transformation into the Great Helmsman began in 2006 when she appeared on a televised talent show and was asked to impersonate the award-winning actor Tang Guoqiang, who is famous for playing historical figures including Mao. Mrs Chen was eliminated from the program but returned to her home in Sichuan province's Mianyang to find that her "Mao face" had made her a local celebrity. *-*

“Buoyed by her new found fame and sensing there was money to be made from impersonating China's chubby-faced revolutionary leader, Mrs Chen set about transforming herself into Mao. At just five-foot tall, she began with her body. Mrs Chen put on weight and commissioned a pair of custom-made 10-inch leather platform shoes that cost more than 10,000 yuan (£1,020). She changed her habits, abandoning the traditional hobbies of a rural Sichuan woman: mahjong gambling sessions and square dancing. She even gave up wearing skirts after fans began accosting her in the street with the question: "How can you wear skirts when you are playing Chairman Mao?" The mother-of-one also poured over Mao's mannerisms, particularly the way in which he would "smoke, wave [and] gaze into the distance." She even studied the way he held his chopsticks. *-*

“In an increasingly capitalist China, Mrs Chen's Mao-makeover paid off: property developers and department stores beat a path to her door hoping to use her uncanny likeness to the Chairman to sell their products. There were offers to preside over wedding receptions and birthday parties too, although Mrs Chen said she refused to perform at venues where smutty jokes were told. In fact, there was so much work that her fee swelled into "five digits" and she was forced to hire a press officer. *-*

“Yet success was bittersweet. For while fans would chant, "Chairman! Chairman!" after rousing performances of Communist "red songs", Mrs Chen's likeness to Mao pushed relations with her husband to breaking point. The couple was now fighting to rebuild their marriage and trying to be more "tolerant" with each other but "her husband is still disgusted by her playing Mao." Zhang Bingjian, an artist and filmmaker who made a documentary about Mao impersonators, said Mrs Chen's husband had struggled to come to terms with her day job."[He] never wanted her to play Mao. Thousands of years of Chinese tradition teach us that it is a violation of divine laws for a common woman to attempt to play the role of the Emperor," he said.Mr Zhang described Chen as "a lovely lady" who had helped deconstruct Mao's image as "a god who never made mistakes". Playing Mao had also brought Mrs Chen visibility in sexist, male-dominated society, he added. At home, Mrs Chen "cannot even get her hands on the remote control since her husband always switches [the channel] to football," he said. But as Mao she commanded "recognition and respect". *-*

Mao Film Industry and Actors That Play Mao

In 2011, The Telegraph reported: “While films, television shows and even cartoons about China’s modern-day leaders are strictly banned, there is an enormous industry in Mao-era drama. Almost every evening, Chinese television broadcasts so-called “revolutionary” soap operas putting Chairman Mao impersonators, who study the mannerisms and voice of the Great Helmsmen, in high demand. It is even possible to see television variety shows starring Mao Tse-tung and Zhou Enlai, the former Chinese premier, making rousing speeches or playing ping pong against each other. [Source: The Telegraph, May 13, 2011 ==]

“The first biopic of Mao was The Great River Flows on, which came out in 1978, two years after his death. Since then there have been at least 26 other large-scale productions to capture him on film. In 2009, the Founding of a Republic, which was made to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the founding of communist China, was a particular success and featured hundreds of stars including the kung fu heroes Jackie Chan and Jet Li. ==

“Gu Yue, an actor who has played Chairman Mao in over 80 films and television programmes, told the state-run China Daily newspaper that China’s former leader was a “man of strong emotions and humour with plenty of charisma”. Like many other Mao impersonators, Mr Gu visited Shaoshan, Mao’s birthplace in Hunan province, to learn more about his character. He said that after the Chairman returned home in 1959, he had cried after he found out that people had no meat for months because of the Great Famine. “When Mao returned to Beijing, he refused to eat meat for more than a year,” claimed Mr Gu. ==

“Other doubles spend hours training their voices to be more highly-pitched and even have plastic surgery to achieve a closer likeness. Tommaso Bonaventura, a photographer, has even compiled an art book of dozens of Mao doppelgangers. In October 2010, however, one actor who was scheduled to play Mao in a forthcoming television drama found himself in hot water after it emerged that he had taken British citizenship. Zhang Tielin, 53, who studied for a master’s degree at the National Film and Television School in Buckinghamshire in the late 1980s, was attacked by nationalists on several Chinese internet forums as an inappropriate choice to play a revolutionary hero. ==

$5 Million Mao Cartoon

Tom Phillips wrote in The Telegraph, “Almost four decades after his body was embalmed and laid to rest in Tiananmen Square, Chairman Mao is to be brought back to life as a 3-D animation. On the eve of the 120th anniversary of his death, moviegoers will be given the chance to pay tribute to the Great Helmsman with the release of a 30 million yuan (£3 million) animation called When Mao Tse-tung Was Young. The film, which will be launched to coincide with the 120th anniversary of Mao’s birth on December 26, 2013 will examine his early years in Shaoshan, Hunan province. [Source: Tom Phillips, The Telegraph, October 21, 2013 \~\]

“A plot summary published on the website of a Chinese animation festival said the film makers would explore Mao’s early years from “a child's perspective” and show China’s future leader “breaking free from the shackles of feudal ethics and ideas.” Lei Junlin, the director, said her lead character was “just an ordinary country boy, with a sunny character and great ambitions.” “We found Mao was a very smart child, with independent thoughts [and] who dared to challenge old ways of thinking and to express different views. His poems and lyrics also stood out.” In another interview, she said the animation would portray a “naughty” Mao, who “like every other child… liked to play tricks.” \~\

“Luo Huasheng, the project's art director, told the South China Morning Post the film would help “keep the [Communist] revolution and its ideals current” for a younger audience. "This is the 21st century. We can't be stuck in the old ways. We need to be innovative,” he said. The animation comes amid a government-sponsored revival of Mao’s thoughts, words and deeds. When Mao Tse-tung Was Young will avoid such controversies. The film is receiving financial backing from the television arm of the Qiushi Journal, a political periodical published by the Communist Party’s powerful Central Committee and government censors have already given its script a preliminary green light, without “many changes”, said Lei, the director. Children had also responded well, “constantly bursting into laughter” during preview screenings while Mao Xinyu, Mao’s grandson, had been “quite positive”. \~\

“The filmmakers are now plotting a television spin-off series and an international career for their animation, Ms Lei added. “We plan to do an English version of the film, to get it out to the world. People from Hollywood are quite interested in our film. They have been to our production base and given us advice. One person said, ‘As an American, I can tell that this film will be accepted and liked by any educated American.’ We feel quite encouraged by this.” \~\

Image Sources: Morning Sun, Wikipedia, Glitterbug, Beijing blog

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Page Top

© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.