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Nation and World

Mao Returns to Haunt and Comfort His People

Thousands gather to wish former leader happy birthday.

By Guardian Newspapers, 12/26/2003

Wang Wenhai, an artist and devotee of Mao, tries to reflect these different faces in the 1,500 sculptures he has made of the chairman. Until recently he produced only the classical images of Mao permitted during the cultural revolution, but in the past year he has made a Mao buddha, a gay Mao, a lady Mao and a Mao pillow for those who want to sleep with the chairman.

"I just want people to adore him like I do," he said. "During the cultural revolution that meant reproducing the standard Mao figure. But these days that doesn't appeal so I want to find different ways for different people to love him."

Mao in a dress is hardly the image that the government encourages, but the authorities have also tried to update perceptions of modern China's founder to be more in keeping with a country that is increasingly globalised and money-orientated.

To mark the 110th anniversary, a short rap song has been released with lyrics from Mao's speeches. State publishers have printed a series of "Learn from Mao" books, including one containing business management tips from the communist revolutionary.

Mao, it seems, can be everything to everyone, though social commentators say his cultural significance is becoming more shalloweven as his image grows more ubiquitous.

"Money has replaced Mao as the most important thing in people's lives," said Li Xianting, an art critic. "Mao now plays the role of kitchen god - a superstitious rather than a religious object. People don't really believe in it, but they still keep it around the home out of habit."

Even at Shaoshan, several stalls have buddhist images beside those of Mao. One pair of clocks on display has exactly the same design and technology but a different object of worship.

Compared to the closed "Mao and China" mentality of the cultural revolution, there is also a very evident willingness to consider outside ideas and foreign cultures. The only two non-Chinese people in Shaoshan yesterday were welcomed everywhere with the not-very-Maoist greeting, "Happy Christmas".

?Guardian Newspapers Limited

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