Unlike Oiwan Lam I don’t think all the people waving Mao placards out on last weeks demos were Maoists. In fact I bet that nearly all of them weren’t and that the wider attitude of many people carrying his picture was more like the chap quoted here:
“If old Mao were alive,” he said, “then these corrupt officials would be hanged to death.”
It’s certainly true that a banner of Mao is a politically safe thing to wave; but it also contains an implicit threat to the Party. After all, Mao is responsible for the deaths of more CPC members than Chiang Kai-shek ever managed, or the Japanese: He was one of the world’s great killers of Communists. So the idea that his image was being handed out of the back door for people to run amok with never struck me as likely. Rather, he was something like a talisman that could be waved about patriotically to ward off the authorities while people took possession of the streets.
What we should consider here is the proposition that rather than being part of a mass orchestration, the Mao we saw last weekend has bust out of the mausoleum and run wild and that significant sections of the Chinese public are making of him something genuine to them. In principle, this is a good thing: the public has seized possession of a state icon, however misinformed they might be about him. There’s a power shift of sorts going on here.
Well OK, this version of Mao turns out to be an Angry War God. But if there’s a market in Maos out there, there’s no reason why you couldn’t pitch a better one, like that fellow who by a bold stroke of diplomacy ended decades of animosity between the US and China. That guy would be useful to have around right now.
Incidentally, if only Nixon could go to China, could only Mao go to Japan, at least on a peace errand? Maybe something for Comrade Xi to think about.