Title

Mao’s Ghost

The Great Helmsman’s Spirit Still Lingers

  • Liangzi Island, Ezhou city, Hubei province.
    Liangzi Island, Ezhou city, Hubei province.
  • Liangzi Island, Ezhou city, Hubei province.
    Liangzi Island, Ezhou city, Hubei province.
  • Chengji, Jianli county, Hubei province.
    Chengji, Jianli county, Hubei province.
  • Liangzi Island, Ezhou city, Hubei province.
    Liangzi Island, Ezhou city, Hubei province.
  • Huangtan, Yingcheng city, Hubei province.
    Huangtan, Yingcheng city, Hubei province.
  • Duandian, Ezhou city, Hubei province.
    Duandian, Ezhou city, Hubei province.
  • Jiaoyuan, Xuan’en county, Hubei province.
    Jiaoyuan, Xuan’en county, Hubei province.
  • Jiaoyuan, Xuan’en county, Hubei province.
    Jiaoyuan, Xuan’en county, Hubei province.
  • Huaping, Jianshi county, Hubei province.
    Huaping, Jianshi county, Hubei province.
  • Luoyang, Suizhou city, Hubei province.
    Luoyang, Suizhou city, Hubei province.
  • Luoyang, Suizhou city, Hubei province.
    Luoyang, Suizhou city, Hubei province.
  • Moudao, Lichuan city, Hubei province.
    Moudao, Lichuan city, Hubei province.
  • Moudao, Lichuan city, Hubei province.
    Moudao, Lichuan city, Hubei province.
  • Luoyang, Suizhou city, Hubei province.
    Luoyang, Suizhou city, Hubei province.
  • Shengli, Luotian county, Hubei province.
    Shengli, Luotian county, Hubei province.
  • Luoyang, Suizhou city, Hubei province.
    Luoyang, Suizhou city, Hubei province.
  • Huangtan, Yingcheng city, Hubei province.
    Huangtan, Yingcheng city, Hubei province.
  • Moudao, Lichuan city, Hubei province.
    Moudao, Lichuan city, Hubei province.
  • Luoyang, Suizhou city, Hubei province.
    Luoyang, Suizhou city, Hubei province.

When Deng Xiaoping ascended to the throne in late 1978 and then began to initiate a whole series of economic and political reforms that soon transformed the face of China, many people blithely assumed that time had come and gone for China’s inimitable Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party. As the giant concrete statues of the Great Helmsman that loomed over every city of China and portraits of his implacable visage that had become regulation issue in every government office began disappearing (usually at night, as if there was some indignity to all these incidents of “disappearing the Chairman”), it was tempting to believe that the Mao era, and all he had stood for, was over. It was assumed that one dynasty had fallen and another was rising, just as they always had for millennia.

However, as we have belatedly come to appreciate over the intervening years, all those decades of extreme revolution under Mao left much more of a residue than we ever imagined it would during those halcyon years in the 1980s when everything seemed to be changing and China seemed to be vacating its bitter revolutionary past. But, as it turns out, in reality all the years that China was steeped in radical Maoist revolutionary kultur had a much deeper effect on Chinese as a people, society, and body politic than anyone dared imagine as Deng continued his counter-revolution. Indeed, as current Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping is now suggesting by reviving Maoist practices once again, the country’s revolutionary seizure during the 20th century may be more deeply embedded in Chinese political psyche than anyone imagined.

In these lovely photographs by Yang Fawei of quotidian room settings in ordinary Chinese people’s homes, we get a sense how Mao’s ghost still lingers over Chinese life and society. They are a reminder that profound revolutionary experiences, like any deeply rooted historical experiences, never really just pass, but they continue to exert subtle effects on the people who experienced them long after the official historical eras named after them finally end. One cannot look at these photographs and not wonder just what it is that Mao Zedong still means to Chinese. Whatever it is, it is profound. —Orville Schell

Conversation

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