Cogs and Wheels: The material culture of revolutionary China

May 14, 2007

Someone takes matches to Mao

Filed under: China, Mao, Material culture/art & design, Protest — amyjaneb @ 6:08 pm

As reported by – amongst others – The Peking Duck, a 35 year old man, Gu Hai’ou, was arrested on Saturday afternoon after throwing a burning torch at the monumental portrait of Mao that overlooks Tiananmen Square. The authorities have said that Gu is mentally ill and he has been taken into custody. The portrait – a new version, which had only been on display since October last year – suffered a small scorch mark and has already been replaced. No other details have been released at present.

What fascinates me is how quickly the damaged portrait was replaced, suggesting that the Chinese authorities readily anticipate that, from time-to-time, people will take out their frustrations on the Great Helmsman.  Indeed, this isn’t the first time the portrait has been vandalised.  The last, most infamous occasion, occurred during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, when a group of three young men threw paint-filled eggs at Mao’s image.  The whole incident, and aftermath, has been documented in video by Kempton in Egging Chairman Mao.

Incidentally, the original painting on which the current Tiananmen portrait of Mao is based was set to be auctioned off last year, but internal pressure (i.e. ‘advice from the Government’) halted the sale.  It is now ensconced at the National Museum in Beijing.

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