Message On Mao's Birthday

If you are regular reader of the English-language China-themed blogosphere, here are the birthday greetings from the A-list bloggers: Asia Pundit, SimonWorld and The Peking Duck.  Although I could, I will not pile on.  Instead, I am going to translate an opinion piece in Sing Tao (12/27/2005; page A17; no link).  This is one explanation as to why certain Chinese people are nostalgic about the memory of Chairman Mao.  The reason offered here has less to do with any cult of the personality, but it is based upon a very practical argument grounded in daily life today.

Before you proceed, I will remind you of the usual caveats.  First, you must not take this opinion piece as representative of the blogger/translator's own opinions.  This piece was chosen for the usual reason: I wish to present something which is not usually represented in English.  Second, there is no empirical data about the prevalence of this particular opinion or any of the other opinions among the Chinese people.  The only thing that I can say is that this particular opinion would not shock any Chinese person, as they probably know somebody who have said as much.  Have you encountered such people yourself?  There are plenty of Russians nostalgic for Josef Stalin, plenty of Italians nostalgic for Benito Mussolini (yes, the trains were on time!) and so on.  Finally, when you reach the end, you will recognize that this nostalgia has little or nothing to with Mao Zedong per se but it has everything to do with the anxiety that some people are experiencing in a rapidly changing society.  In the absence of trustworthy and functioning institutions, people reached back for that one sure thing.

[in translation]  People Hate Corruption And Long For The Mao Era.  By Ji Xiaohua.

Yesterday was December 26, which is the day after Christmas in Western society.  It was also a "sacred birthday" in New China -- the birthday of Mao Zedong.  In recent years, the memorial date for Mao's death or his birthday have become times for heated debates among mainlanders about the Mao legacy.  Should we memorialize Mao Zedong?

I have found that more and more people are nostalgic about Mao Zedong.  Those who are nostalgic about him are not just the elderly citizens, but there is also a high proportion would were born in the 1960's and 1960's.  There are relatively fewer such people who were born after the 1970's.  Even those who were "personally victimized" are paradoxically becoming more nostalgic about Mao Zedong.

In today's China, we must say that it is much more open than that bygone era.  Society has progressed, people have greater freedom and life is more prosperous.  There are tall buildings everywhere, there are neon lights everywhere and there are the sounds of music everywhere.  Compared to that bygone era, this seems to be a different world.  Most people now live differently from back then, so why are people still nostalgic about that era?

Someone gave me an apt analogy as the answer: "When there are too many rats, people naturally think about the cat."

The rat is one of the "Four Pests" in China.  Today, there are "Four New Pests" in China, and they are respectively:

1. Public security/procuratorate/court of law
2. National and local taxation
3. Doctors/teachers
4. Organized criminals

Actually, while the organized criminals are bad, their damage is much less than that from the preceding three groups.

In that bygone era, "public security/procuratorate/court of law" and "national and local taxation" were both imperfect, but they did not persecute people.  In fact, public security was even a very respected occupation.  Today, "public security/procuratorate/court of law" and "national and local taxation" are disaster areas for corruption.

In that bygone era, "doctors and teachers" once assumed the role of victims.  The synopsis of that era may be "If you have to work with a knife, you are better off being a butcher than a surgeon; if you have to manage a herd, you are better being a sheep shepherd than a school teacher."  But today, even city workers cannot afford to send their children to university, as education expenses have become a huge family burden.  If you are sick, you won't dare visit a hospital because it isn't big news if a few days of stay cost you a few hundred thousand yuan.

Someone said that in the Mao era, people lived in relative poverty.  However, the social order and security situations were extraordinarily good.  Everything was simple and people lived in a relaxed fashion.  Nowadays, things are more complicated.  People feel bored and oppressed.  A counter-argument was that since everybody was so poor back then, there was nothing to steal or rob.  "Sameness" was obviously a characteristic of that era, but the severe inequality of wealth today has affected social stability in China.

Actually, no matter how people argue about the pros and cons of the person Mao Zedong or the era of Mao Zedong, the fact is that Mao has returned to Chinese society, whether it is on the altar of a peasant home or by the city taxi driver's seat.  Mao images proliferate among the people.  Yet, there is a difference.  In Mao's era, we treated him as the Absolute God.  Later on, we determined that he was a person who could make mistakes.  Today people are looking at Mao as a god who could provide peace and security.