Cogs and Wheels: The material culture of revolutionary China

January 17, 2008

Making a mockery of Mao

According to the BBC, the French car marker, Citroen, has apologised for an advertisement featuring Mao which ran in the Spanish newspaper El Pais.  What I find interesting about this is the response of, presumably, young(er) commentators.  Given that their parents and grandparents are likely to have suffered to some extent during the Cultural Revolution, their support for Mao seems surprising.  Perhaps the unwillingness, or sheer inability (due to trauma and fear of repercussions) of the older generation to discuss the human aspects of the Cultural Revolution, has created a chasm between the experiences of those who lived through it, and the popular imagining of China under Mao?  Would a ‘remembrance’ museum of the Cultural Revolution make a difference?



  1. I doubt it’s the “unwillingness, or sheer inablility of the older generation” that causes the support. For the past 200 years, China has been “suppressed” by both domestic and foreign powers. So to deal with that, ppl have to deal with the foreigners first, then deal with within. The perfect example is the Communist and the Nationalist during WWII.

    Comment by kunzilla — January 17, 2008 @ 8:51 pm

  2. The way the Chinese view Mao seems a little like the way liberally-inclined Democrats in the United States view Lyndon Johnson. He’s a hero on one hand — for civil rights, for the War on Poverty, etc., but on the other hand there’s the Vietnam fiasco. Of course Mao is a far more significant figure to Chinese than LBJ is to Americans, but the common link is the compartmentalization of each leader’s legacy. For younger Chinese, Mao’s primary image is that of a great patriot leading China to “stand up” and claim the country’s rightful place as a respected power in the world. This view of Mao emphasizes the century of humiliation preceding the founding of the People’s Republic (especially, later, at the hands of the Japanese). The Cultural Revolution — along with the Great Leap Famine and the Anti-Rightist campaign — is a different Mao. It’s not that the older generation(/s) doesn’t(/don’t) share the pain of those other periods, it’s that even those who suffered under Mao still often revere him for his place in creating New China. For as long as the CCP remains the dominant force in Chinese political life (perhaps even longer?), Mao will, for his many many faults, remain a powerful symbol of the Chinese nation.

    Comment by Living in China — January 18, 2008 @ 4:04 am

  3. Very true. Mao is viewed mainly for his contributions rather than his faults. Everyone knows it’s basically his faults that lead to the Culture Revolution and such, however, without him, there wouldn’t even be a new China, so…Even Truman didn’t like the previous Nationalist leader, Chiang Kai-Shek, and my grandfather even fought for him. The sad part is that Mao and most of the high level leaders grew too proud to deal with foreign powers, so they chose to ignore diplomatic solutions with them. Both of my parents have suffered all of those you said, but they still remember the time between 49 and 59, the good times, then it went downhill from there until the late 70s.

    Comment by kunzilla — January 30, 2008 @ 2:31 pm

  4. Thanks all for your comments. I guess what I’m trying to understand is the role a museum/memorial of the Cultural Revolution could play in Chinese society, and if/why it might never happen. Of course, I appreciate that, for many, Mao is a deeply ambivalent character. My research is looking at how and even if museums in Britain should interpret this period of history in their displays. And how such an exhibition might be viewed (publicly and privately) in China. I just find it interesting that Mao retains his grip on the contemporary Chinese psyche, and wonder if society was, in general, more open about the experience of living through the Mao era (the good and the bad), it might help to balance peoples’ attitudes and help them ‘move on’.

    Comment by amyjaneb — January 31, 2008 @ 4:41 pm

  5. Chinese people think of the 10 years of Culture Revolution as the dark times. Think of it as the dark ages back in the middle ages. It’s often referred as the “10-year calamity, or havoc,” something nobody wants to go through again. Stories we hear these days seem very ridiculous but its true, so I don’t think the Chinese would even think about building a museum for it.

    Comment by kunzilla — February 3, 2008 @ 3:46 pm

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