Mao Now – Ross Terrill

In the Wilson Quarterly, Ross Terrill writes about Mao’s legacy:

In the early 1990s, a story circulated among Chinese taxi drivers about an eight-car traffic accident in Guangzhou that resulted in injuries to seven of the drivers involved; the eighth, unscathed, had a Mao portrait attached to his windshield as a talisman. The story fueled Mao fever (Mao re) in China, with shopkeepers offering busts of Mao that glowed in the dark and alarm clocks with Red Guards waving Mao’s little red book at each tick of the clock. Mao temples appeared in some villages, with a serene portrait of the Chairman on the altar. Transmuted uses of Mao continue today. Nightclub singers in Beijing croon songs that cite Mao’s words. Youths dine in “Cultural Revolution-style” caf√©s off rough-hewn tables with Mao quotations on the wall, eating basic peasant fare as they answer their cell phones and chat about love or the stock market…

But where is Mao the totalitarian? Each of the major nations that experienced an authoritarian regime in the 20th century emerged in its own way from the trauma. Japan, Germany, Italy, even Russia departed politically from systems that brought massive war and repression. China, still ruled by a communist party, has been ambiguous about Mao. Although Mao’s portrait and tomb dominate Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing, Mao himself”unlike Stalin in Russia or Hitler in Germany”has floated benignly into a nether zone as if somehow he was not a political figure at all, let alone the architect of China’s communist state. [Full text]

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