How Mao Became a Hipster Icon

While the fall of Bo Xilai and suppression of leftist revivalism shows a significant dip in Mao’s posthumous political standing, he remains, for some, a potent symbolic alternative to the country’s social and cultural ills. From Anand Giridharadas at The New York Times:

In Mr. Lau’s vintage store, the Maoist past is more than kitsch and Little Red Books for tourists. He caters to nostalgic Chinese collectors, selling everything from a 1971 poster warning of nuclear war to wooden folding chairs used by moviegoers in Mao’s time to a clip-on reading lamp evoking a soldier’s helmet.

He, too, smokes to reach his thoughts. His pants are hiply rolled up; he wears those cool, large plastic eyeglasses.

He is pondering why Maoism, why now. “In that period, all the emotion and passion are really rich,” he said. Not so today. “Now a lot of Chinese in China, they lost their values. Their values are just for chasing the money, chasing the flat. In that period, they were just chasing self-improvement or improving your country.”

Mao would be happy with this generous interpretation; fact checkers, less so. But as Mr. Lau speaks, it becomes apparent that this is not an argument for the merits of the Great Leap Forward, which caused a famine that reportedly killed tens of millions, or the Cultural Revolution, when art and religious sites were destroyed. It’s about modern discontents. For Mr. Lau, the flaws of the present, inverted, become virtues of that bygone time.


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