MAO'S PERSONALITY CULT, LEADERSHIP AND MAOIST PROPAGANDA

MAO'S LEADERSHIP

rightUnder Mao decisions were often made on the basis of whims, biases and ignorance, often without careful study of their impact or considering the human and environmental costs. Features of the revolutionary era's mass politics included flamboyant and typically baseless scapegoating, slogan-based campaigns aimed not just at inciting the fury of the masses but at channeling it against ever-shifting ideologically designated “enemies,” and vicious and often unrelenting sectarian attacks.

"Mao's contradictory insistence on the absolute loyalty of his subordinates," wrote historian Marilyn B. Horne, "as well as their absolute honesty insured that only the subservient prevailed." Mao anointed and then purged several “Number Two” men and apparent successors.

A primary goal of the People's Republic of China since its inception in 1949 has been to catch up and surpass the rest of the world in all aspects: culture, national defense, technology, sports. Frank Hawke, a resident of Beijing since the 1970s, told the New York Times that when Chinese “feel they’ve made a huge leap forward, there’s an incredible national pride. A psychological theme that runs throughout China” is that the “Chinese feel they have this great culture, second to none, and yet here they are, a third world developing country.”

The Mao Marxist revolution set to create New man, who prosper in a society where class distinctions had been eliminated and progress was defined by dialectal reasoning. The economic reformer Zhao Ziyang wrote that in Mao’s China “self-reliance” was “an absolute virtue” that became an ideological pursuit and was politicized.

Based on Karl Marx's view that the "the proletariat cannot liberate itself without liberating the whole of humankind", Mao's internationalism holds that Chinese people must support anti-oppression movements worldwide. Mao used to organize massive demonstrations at Tiananmen Square and issued statements to show Chinese people's support for "revolutionary" movements across the world.

Websites and Resources

left Good Websites and Sources of 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

The Long March: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Paul Noll site paulnoll.com ; Chinese Government Account of Events chinadaily.com; Long March Remembered china.org.cn ; Long March map china.org.cn 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 ; Books and Posters Landsberger Communist China Posters

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)

Books: Fanshen by William Hinton is the classic account of rural revolution during the communist-led civil war in the late 1940s. China Witness, Voices from a Silent Generation by Xinran (Pantheon Books, 2009) is collection of oral histories from Chinese who survived the Mao period. Lonng March books include The Long March by Edmund Jocelyn and Andree McEwen (2006) and The Long March by Sun Shuyun, based in accounts from 40 of 500 participants that were still alive in 2005. Mao; the Untold Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday (Knopf. 2005). Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans, and her husband John Halliday, a British historian, portrays Mao as villain on the level of Hitler and Stalin. The book was read by U.S. President George Bush and embraced by the American right as a condemnation of Communism. It characterizes Mao as cruel, materialistic, self-centered and a leader who used terror with the aim of ruling the world. There is also a Mao biography by Jonathon Spence. Also check out: Mao's New World: Political Culture in the Early People's Republic by Chang-tai Hung (Cornell University Press, 2011) and The Private Life of Chairman Mao by Dr. Li Zhisui (1994). Other books: The Penguin History of Modern China by Jonathan Fenby 3) . Red Star Over China by Edgar Snow; 4) China: A New History by John K. Fairbank; 5) In Search of Modern China by Jonathan D. Spence; 6) Cambridge History of China multiple volumes (Cambridge University Press). You can help this site a little by ordering your Amazon books through this link: Amazon.com.

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Mao and Chiang K Chek in 1946

Kissinger on His Meeting With Mao

Appointments with Mao were never scheduled, Henry Kissinger wrote in Newsweek, "They simply came about as if events of nature. On each of my five meetings with Mao, the first hint would be a stirring among my Chinese interlocutors and the appearance of Assistant Foreign Minister Wang Hairong, reputed to be Mao's niece. For a few minutes, my clearly agitated Chinese counterparts would act as if nothing unusual was happening. Then, almost immediately, Zhou or Deng would put away his papers and say: "Chairman Mao is expecting you." [Source: "Years of Renewal by Henry Kissinger, 1998, Little, Brown and Co.]

"The all powerful ruler of the world's most populous nation wished to be perceived as a philosopher king who had no need to buttress any traditional symbol of majesty," Kissinger wrote. "Mao would rise from the center of a semicircle of easy chairs, a female attendant standing close to steady him (and, on my last visit, to hold him up)...He would fix upon his visitor a smile both penetrating and slightly mocking, as if to warn that there was no point trying to deceive this specialist in understanding and exploiting human weakness and duplicity."

"Mao conducted conversations in a Socratic style," Kissinger wrote. "He would generally begin with a question, quite often in a needling tone. With deceptive casualness, he would then offer a few pithy comments, ranging from the philosophical to the sarcastic and culminating in yet another question. The cumulative effect of his tangential observations was to convey a mood while avoiding any commitment.”

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Mao and the Dalai Lama in 1954

Stalin’s Influences on Mao’s Policies

Pankaj Mishra wrote in The New Yorker, “The Soviet Union was the first among many "underdeveloped" countries in which national leaders with pseudo-scientific visions of socioeconomic engineering exposed their societies to immense suffering. In the early nineteen-twenties, the Bolsheviks, emerging from a destructive civil war and an invasion by Western countries, urgently wanted to industrialize their country, as the first step to Communism. In the absence of any foreign investment, industrialization depended on generating adequate capital from agricultural surpluses, and the Bolsheviks initially experimented, partly successfully, with free-market agriculture and private ownership. In 1929, however, Stalin decided to speed up the Soviet Union's tryst with industrial power, by forcing peasants into collective farms. Those who resisted--for instance, by slaughtering livestock or by refusing to plant or harvest grain--were ruthlessly crushed. The toll in human suffering was enormous--millions of peasants, many of them in Ukraine, were killed or starved to death. By the mid-thirties, the Stalinists had won. Collective farms became a permanent feature of Soviet life, and the Soviet Union became an industrialized country. Its seemingly limitless ability to produce the military hardware necessary to fight--and win--its ferocious war with Nazi Germany was a testament to its success. [Source: Pankaj Mishra, The New Yorker, December 10, 2012 <<>>]

“Few people in China in the nineteen-twenties and thirties observed Stalin's brutal but efficacious engineering more closely than Mao Zedong, then a restless young convert to Communism. Like many Chinese picking their way through the ruins of the Qing Empire, Mao was convinced that China had to transform itself, as the Soviet Union had done, into a powerful nation-state in order to survive the hostility of the capitalist-imperialist West. In this project, the Soviet Union was the indispensable nation, first as fraternal pioneer and then as ideological foil. Pantsov and Levine's examination of Russian archives reveals that the Chinese Communist Party, from its inception, in 1921, was deeply dependent on Soviet money, expertise, and ideological guidance. It also shows, in absorbing detail, how Mao's catastrophic "concept of a special Chinese path of development," as Pantsov and Levine assert, "could arise only in the post-Stalin environment." <<>>

“In 1949, Mao achieved victory in the drawn-out civil war against the Nationalists, who were backed by the Americans and led by Chiang Kai-shek, and he began the "Stalinization" of China soon afterward. He used the Stalinist tool kit--coercion and propaganda--to build a strong state upheld by a single party, a loyal military, and intrusive micromanagement of the lives of the citizens. Henceforth, the Chinese were told where to live, work, and study, and how many children to have. The Soviets offered models for everything, from urban planning to labor camps and physical-fitness drills. And Soviet experts were on hand to supervise, as Mao instituted land reforms, abolished private property, silenced intellectual critics, segregated rural and urban populations, and launched Stalinist-style purges against counter-revolutionaries and rich peasants. <<>>


Mao and Stalin in 1949

“As in the Soviet Union, Chinese leaders had to raise capital through increased agricultural yields before they could start investing in extensive industrialization. However, unlike Stalin, Mao faced relatively little resistance to his program of collectivization. Furthermore, the first modernizing attempts of the People's Republic of China were strikingly successful. Industrial and agricultural production soared--the annual growth rate in the early nineteen-fifties was almost eighteen per cent. The Party acquired a popular base in the countryside among peasant beneficiaries of land reforms. (Affection for Mao among the rural population was one reason for the strange lack of public disaffection when the famine came.) The social climate improved, thanks to mass campaigns against prostitution, arranged marriages, and opium use. Expanding literacy and health care gave China an early and enduring lead over other post-colonial countries, including India. <<>>

“But China's "patriotic engineer" was not content, telling his personal physician, "When I say, 'Learn from the Soviet Union,' we don't have to learn how to shit and piss from the Soviet Union, too, do we?" Mao was intellectually insecure, having risen to power only after long and bitter struggles with better-educated, Soviet-backed Party leaders; he had always resented the unbalanced and yet unavoidable Chinese relationship with the Soviet Union. Stalin's death, in 1953, and Nikita Khrushchev's repudiation of Stalin, in 1956, helped Mao finally break free of his dependency. Socialism in China, as he saw it, was to be "more, better, faster" than even Stalin could imagine. Using the country's great advantage--cheap and abundant labor--China would make the Great Leap Forward, doubling, even tripling, agricultural and industrial production in a few years. <<>>

Book” "Mao: The Real Story," by Alexander V. Pantsov and Steven I. Levine (Simon & Schuster 2012), draws on Russian archives to show, more clearly than before, that this apparently unparalleled tale of cruel folly was not without precedent in the twentieth century--the age of ideological excess.

Traveling, Security and Mao


Mao usually traveled in an 11-car train that was described as a traveling palace. He and his wife Jiang Qing each had separate cars. "Mao's quarters were outfitted with one of his huge wooden beds and a large supply of books," his doctor Dr. Li Zhisui wrote. "All traffic along the entire rail line was stopped for the duration of Mao's journeys, and rail traffic throughout the country often became so snarled that schedules would not return to normal for a week." [Source: "The Private Life of Chairman Mao" by Dr. Li Zhisui, excerpts reprinted U.S. News and World Report, October 10, 1994]

"Mao's vast insulating security system was copied from the Soviets and his whereabouts's was always kept secret from all but the highest party leaders. His food was tasted for poison; and his private quarters were bugged without his knowledge. Whenever he went for a walk he never took the same route twice and the license plate on his car was constantly changed. The platforms of train stations were cleared when his train passed through and sometimes security guards were hired to act as hawkers so the stations didn't look 'so eerily empty.'"

Mao ordered a 10-meter-long, six-door stretch Red Flag stretch limousine in the early 1970s. “'We must produce our own longest limousine,” he said. After several years the car was produced at the First Automobile Works in Jilin Province and was delivered just weeks before Mao died. Mao was the only one ever to be driven around in it. Large enough to hold 40 schoolchildren, the limousine was equipped with a refrigerator, color television, telephone, desk and a double sofa, one of which could be converted into a double bed.

Mao's Personality Cult

Henry Kissinger wrote, "Mao overshadowed all his subordinates by the near-religious awe in which he seemed to be held (or which his subordinates at least thought was wise to affect)." Nursery school toddlers used to walk around with the "Little Red Book" in their pockets; kindergarten children learned patriotic songs that praised Mao on their first day of school; huge concrete statues, with one armed raised in patriarchal salute to the masses, were in every town and city.

People walked around with badges with the picture of the "Great Helmsmen," as Mao was known. Mao's portrait hung in practically every shop, every house and every major public area in China. According to one government statistic there were 700 million portraits of Chairman Mao hanging on Chinese walls at the time of his death in 1976.

Orville Schell described Chinese politics from the mid 1950s until the mid 1970s as a "struggle between those who supported Mao's cult and those who feared it." Blemishing a Mao portrait is still a felony today.

Mao Suit and Little Red Book

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Mao in Mao suit
The Mao suit as the standard form of Communist dress, Dr. Li said, evolved out of the chairman's distaste for protocol. In 1949 his chief of protocol told him that it was good idea to wear a dark-colored suit and black leather shoes while receiving foreign ambassadors. "Mao refused and began wearing what we then called the Sun Yat-sen suit and black leather shoes," Li wrote. "When other leaders imitated him, the name of the outfit changed. The grey “Mao suit” became the uniform of the day. The protocol chief was fired and later committed suicide during the Cultural Revolution." [Source: "The Private Life of Chairman Mao" by Dr. Li Zhisui, excerpts reprinted U.S. News and World Report, October 10, 1994]

Mao's Selected Thoughts, a collection of sayings better known as The Little Red Book, was put together by Lin Biao in the Cultural Revolution. According to Time magazine, "No other book has had such a profound impact on so many people at the same time...If you read it enough it was supposed to change your brain.” Some of the passages of the Little Red Book were set to music and slogans like "Reactionaries are Paper Tigers" and "We Should Support Whatever the Enemy Opposes"! were painted everywhere on billboards and walls.

Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian, “Only the Bible has been printed more often than the Quotations, which was a keystone of Mao's personality cult. A billion copies circulated in the Cultural Revolution – the population pored over it in daily study sessions; illiterate farmers memorised chunks by heart. In the west, translations were brandished by radicals. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, September 27, 2013 ***]

“Many knew the text well enough to cite quotes by page number; they became ideological weapons to be wielded in any political struggle. Under siege by Red Guards, the then foreign minister reportedly retorted: "On page [X] it says Comrade Chen Yi is a good cadre …" But they also coloured even commonplace exchanges, as described by one historian: "Serve the people. Comrade, could I have two pounds of pork, please?" ***

“But the political frenzy ebbed, and production of the Little Red Book had mostly stopped long before Mao's death; afterwards, as China embarked on reform and opening up, officials began to pulp copies. Later, in a more relaxed age, commercial reprints and introductions to his thought appeared, but no new editions of his works: "This has been a very sensitive topic," said Daniel Leese, author of Mao Cult and an expert on the era at the University of Freiburg.” ***

Little Red Book Sayings

left The three main "Rules for Discipline" for soldiers and party workers in the Little Read Book were: "Obey orders in all your actions; Do not take a single needle or thread from the masses; and Turn in everything captured." Loyal Communists were also urged to "speak politely; return everything you borrow; don't swear at people; and do not take liberties with women."

On the topic of violence and revolution: 1) "Power grows out of the barrel of a gun." 2) "In order to get rid of the gun, it is necessary to take up the gun." 3) "Politics is war without bloodshed, while war is politics with bloodshed." 4) "When human society advances to the point where classes and states are eliminated, there will be no more wars." 5) “Fight no battle you are not sure of winning.” 6) “Be resolute, fear no sacrifice. Surmount every difficulty to win victory.”

Other famous sayings from the Little Red Book include, 1) "Modesty helps one go forward, whereas conceit makes one lag behind;" 2) "Investigation may be likened to the long months of pregnancy, and solving a problem to the day of birth. To investigate a problem is, indeed, to solve." And, 3) "People of the world, unite and defeat the U.S. aggressors and all the running dogs...Monsters of all kinds shall be destroyed."

Other Famous Mao Sayings

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A poem from the Little Red book that produced a several slogans went:
A revolution is not a dinner party
Or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing
embroidery
It cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle,
So temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and
magnanimous.
A revolution is an insurrection,
An act of violence by which one class overthrows
another.

Mao Zedong once said, There is no construction without destruction. Destroy first, and construction will follow. He extolled their Chinese peasantry for the blankness, observing that one can write beautiful things on a blank sheet of paper. On the matter of equal rights, Mao said "women hold up half the sky." In regard to population growth, Mao said, "every mouth comes with two hands." The population of China doubled under his leadership.

Mao reportedly once said that a loud fart is better than a long lecture. He shocked Kissinger by jokingly informing him that China was planning to send 10 million Chinese women to the United States.

Mao told Nixon, "People like me sound a lot of big cannons. For example, things like, 'the whole world should unite and defeat imperialism, revisionism, and all reactionaries and establish socialism.” He then broke into a fit of laughter.

New Edition of the Little Red Book

Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian, “It will not be especially little, and the cover will be only partly red. But a new version of the world's second most published book is due to appear on Chinese shelves, decades after it fell from favour with the end of Maoism. The re-emergence of Quotations from Chairman Mao – better known as the Little Red Book – comes amid an official revival of the era's rhetoric. China's leader, Xi Jinping, has embraced Maoist terminology and concepts, launching a "mass line rectification campaign and this week even presiding over a televised self-criticism session. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, September 27, 2013 ***]

“The new version was released in November, just before the 120th anniversary of Mao's birth. Its chief editor, Chen Yu – a senior colonel at the Academy of Military Science – describes it as a voluntary initiative. "We just want to edit the book, as other scholars work on the Analects of Confucius… We don't have a complicated political purpose," said Chen. But Leese suggested it was a "trial balloon" from Maoist sympathisers: "If they hadn't seen how the general tone towards the Maoist heritage had changed, I don't think they would have dared. This is party internal politics popping up in the public sphere." ***

“Chen said his team of 20 had worked for two years on the project, under pressure from left and right. The title may not include the word "quotations", he said, and will be attributed to Mao Zedong instead of Chairman Mao because the former is more neutral. The best-known editions are the military versions covered in red plastic and shrunk to fit the pocket of an army uniform – hence the book's nickname in the west. ***

“This time the cover will be at most partially red, said Chen. The new book will draw on other compilations of Mao's sayings and writings, remove quotes wrongly attributed to Mao and correct those which have become distorted. An "internal reference" version with limited distribution will run to double the length – 240,000 characters – and include "thoughts about the Cultural Revolution and other special events confirmed as wrong by the government", Chen said, so that people could study Mao comprehensively. Leese noted that unlike other collections of Mao's thought, the Little Red Book covered his later years in power – which saw the purges of the Anti-Rightist Campaign, the Great Famine and Cultural Revolution. ***

Xi Jinping “ might not be the initiator, but he certainly endorses it," said Joseph Cheng, a political scientist at the City University of Hong Kong. Some perceive a tactical manoeuvre, designed to appeal to leftwingers estranged by the trial of Bo Xilai and concerned that financial and economic reforms will be unveiled at a key party meeting in November. Others see genuine conviction: "Xi believes in Maoism. He wants to completely revive Mao's policy and he has already started it," said political scientist Zhang Ming. ***

Lei Feng, the Model Soldier

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Lei Feng poster
Perhaps the most famous Communist propaganda device that appeared during the Mao period was the story Lei Feng, the Model Soldier, and the publications, media reports. slogans and posters associated with him. Reported to be a real person, Lei Feng was orphaned as child and felt indebted to the Communist Party for taking care of him. He joined the Communist Youth League at the age of seven and worked at a steel mill before he was allowed to become a soldier in the People's Liberation Army even though he was only five feet tall.

Feng read Mao's writings nearly everyday and viewed himself as “a tiny screw.” In this diary, he wrote: "A man's usefulness to the revolutionary cause is like a screw in a machine. Though a screw is small, its use is beyond measure. I am willing to be a screw." He also reported wrote "A person’s life is limited but to serve the people is unlimited."

Feng died at the of 22 in 1962 when his jeep ran into downed a utility pole. Afterwards his diary was "discovered" and Feng was elevated to the status of a "revolutionary icon." He became so famous that performing a good deed was refereed as "doing a Lei Feng." School children were taught the stories of his good deed; Mao said "Learn from Lei Feng;" and stores sold all kinds of Le Feng products. It is still not clear whether Lei and his diary were real or made up by the party.

Lei Feng's Altruistic Acts

Lei Feng’s acts of altruism were held up as examples for all good Communists. If the stories about him are to be believed Lei secretly washed other people’s socks, filled in potholes and scrubbed toilets in his spare time. A typical entry in his diary goes: “Today is Chinese New Year. Everybody else went to see a play. I want to do something good for people. So after breakfast I went to shovel manure. I collected about 300 pounds of manure and offered them as a gift to the [local] people’s commune.”

One of the more famous Lei Feng stories goes like this: one his friends was ill so Lei donated three liters of blood. against doctors orders to give only one, and used the $7 fee he received to buy medicine for his friend. Once, he received four sweet bean cakes as a New Year's presents and gave all four to injured miners. Another time he went without sleep for one night so he could wash a ton of cabbages and mop some floors.

‘some people call me a fool,” he wrote. “I want to be useful to people, useful to the country. If that makes me a fool, then the revolution needs more fools like me. The country’s development needs fools like me.” A group of Chinese has reportedly applied to the Guinness Book of World Records to have him recognized as the world’s most eulogized soldier.

Lei Feng has been lionized in books, films and television documentaries and is resurrected from time to time as a role model. After almost being forgotten after the Cultural Revolution, Lei Feng was resurrected in 1991 by the Beijing municipal government, who gave out "Living Lei Feng" awards to model citizens. Some old timers still get weepy eyed about the kinder, gentler, simpler times associated with Feng.

In an effort to emulate him, students and soldiers today are encouraged to give out free computer lessons and scrub highway dividers. But Feng is no longer held in the same high esteem he once was. On an Internet chat line one person wrote; “Lei Feng is a pathetic bug. When he was alive he made a fool of himself. Now that the is dead, they still parade him for public ridicule. He is the saddest and silliest figure in recent Chinese history.” [Source: Ching-Ching Ni, Los Angeles Times]

Periodically the Lei Feng ideal is questioned. In 1982, a university student Zhang Hua lost his life after jumping into a cesspool to save a peasant. His death sparked debate on the value of individual life just as Western values were being introduced to China through the open-door policy of the time. In 1988, a 14-year-old student Lai Ning died while fighting a forest fire aimed at protecting “national property” --- a satellite TV station. He was lauded later as a top teenager, but his death sparked a revaluation of life among the general public. After the incident, minors were not encouraged to risk their life for heroic deeds.

Other Methods of Propaganda

One U.S. diplomat told the Wall Street Journal, "When things look too good to be true here, they usually are." Dahzai model commune, which was shown off to foreign visitors, for example, was a big hoax. It declined after Mao's death and the end of subsidies. See Dahzai Commune, Agriculture, Economics

The Communists viewed literature and culture primarily as a propaganda devices. In a piece entitled Yan'an Talks of Art and Literature, Mao argued that literature was something that should be used for a revolutionary purposes. Most Communist literature is about peasants who overcome great odds to achieve great things.

After Liberation in 1949, popular Chinese pulp novels were replaced by Communist books such as Red Star Heroes, We Fight Best When We March Our Hardest, After Reaping the Bumper Harvest and Grandma Sees Six Different Machines. Party line fables like The Foolish Man Who Removed the Mountains were known to everyone. It was several decades before the Ministries of Truth, Propaganda and Culture allowed romantic novels about Liberation soldiers who missed their girlfriends to be published.

Social Realism art dominated the Mao era and the Cultural Revolution. Social Realism has been defined as "concrete representation of reality in its revolutionary development...in accordance with...ideological training of workers in the spirit of Socialism." It appeared in paintings hoisted in public and on posters splashed all over cities. Subjects in the works including spirited workers, heroic soldiers, uplifting leaders. Posters of "shock workers" (people who worked tirelessly for Socialism) show handsome, muscular men with smiles on their faces performing various kinds of menial chores in front of glistening factories.

Time art critic Robert Hughes wrote: ‘socialist realism was the most coarsely idealistic kind of art ever foisted on a modern audience." It was "geared to a naive, not to say brutish mass public barely literate in artistic matters.” One man who lived through the tough times in the 1940s and 50s told the New York Times, "Art back then was only a reflection of a beautiful dream---not of the slave labor of collective farmers or those who dug the canals, mines and built factories.”

Mao’s Personality Cult as Reflected People’s Daily Articles

William Wan wrote in the Washington Post, In 2014 study, “Qian Gang — a former journalist who is director of the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong — and student researchers examined the People’s Daily, the party’s flagship paper. They compared its coverage of eight top party leaders: Mao Zedong, Hua Guofeng, Deng Xiaoping, Hu Yaobang, Zhao Ziyang, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping. They focused on the first 18 months after each leader had taken power, counting the number of articles, front-page appearances and articles mentioning them in the paper’s first eight pages. [Source: William Wan, Washington Post, July 25, 2014 +++]

“Among past leaders, Mao and Hua were mentioned most frequently, unsurprising given the fervent state-leader worship during their time. The cult of Mao, for example, reached its peak in the late 1960s, during which he was called China’s bright red sun and the great savior of the country’s people. During the Cultural Revolution, he was branded “the great leader, the great supreme commander, the great teacher and the great helmsman.” His words were deemed infallible. Badges, busts and posters bearing his image were ubiquitous. Almost everyone carried a little red book that contained his famous quotes. +++

“But when the chaos of the Cultural Revolution abated and Deng rose to power as the next leader, he criticized the cult of personality and said it was not only unhealthy, but also dangerous to build a country’s fate on the reputation of one man. In 1980, the party’s Central Committee issued directives for “less propaganda on individuals.” Party leaders have since continued to feature in propaganda and party-controlled newspapers but with less frequency and intensity.” +++

Impact of Mao-Era Propaganda on a Three-Year-Old


Tang Jinhe, a former engineer who studies the history of the Cultural Revolution at Tsinghua University, was a student there when the movement began. She now lives in Hong Kong. She told the New York Times: “When my second son was 3 years old in 1976, the sun was going down. He watched it going from the balcony and asked his father, who’d come out from cooking in the kitchen, “Baba, what’s the sun?” His father answers: “It’s a giant ball of fire.” He sat there and thought for a long time and then went inside and said, “Baba, you’re a reactionary.” His father said: “Hey, why did you call me a reactionary?” He answers: “Because the sun is Chairman Mao, but you said it was a giant ball of fire.” [Source: “Voices from China’s Cultural Revolution”, Chris Buckley, Didi Kirsten Tatlow, Jane Perlez and Amy Qin, New York Times, May 16, 2016 ~~]

“His father said, “Oh. I get it, but saying that Chairman Mao is the sun is a metaphor.” He said: “What’s a metaphor?” And his father said: “How can I explain to a 3-year-old what a metaphor is?” The boy said: “Baba, you’re a reactionary.” His father said, “I was wrong. The sun is Chairman Mao. You don’t understand what a metaphor is, so forget it.” The boy said: “That’s still wrong. I heard you say that the sun is a giant ball of fire.”“ ~~

Image Sources: Landsberger Posters http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/ and Noll websites http://www.paulnoll.com/China/index.html ; YouTube

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.

Last updated November 2016

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