New China’s found­ing fa­ther en­shrined by eth­nic vil­lagers

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - By XIN­HUA in Xishuang­banna, Yun­nan

Chair­man Mao Ze­dong is another God in the largely Bud­dhist vil­lage of Man’en, where most res­i­dents be­long­ing to the Dai eth­nic group en­shrine the found­ing fa­ther of New China at home, al­though he was no longer de­i­fied af­ter the end of the “cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion” (196676).

A large por­trait of Mao hangs high in the liv­ing room of Ai Pa, with a smaller im­age of a se­nior Myan­mar monk by its side. This ar­range­ment was a sug­ges­tion from the Bud­dhist cler­gy­man, who presided over a prayer ser­vice for Ai’s new house in 2000.

When Ai re­quested a por­trait from the monk to be used as a “home guardian” af­ter the cer­e­mony, the monk in­sisted his im­age be placed in a sub­or­di­nate po­si­tion to that of Mao, say­ing that Mao was a real sav­ior and guardian of the Dai peo­ple.

Lov­ing al­most all things re­lated to Mao, from his quo­ta­tions to the pas­sion­ate red songs, Ai re­mains a loyal Mao fan even though his fam­ily suf­fered dur­ing the Mao era.

Ai’s fam­ily was clas­si­fied as a land­lord dur­ing the land re­form in the 1950s, and his fa­ther fled to neigh­bor­ing Myan­mar only a few days af­ter Ai’s birth in 1957 in fear of penal­ties as de­nounce­ment cam­paigns against land­lords swept Meng­hai, a county in Xishuang­banna.

As the de­scen­dant of a land­lord, Ai faced dis­crim­i­na­tion. He was re­jected when he reg­is­tered to join the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army.

Ai does think his fam­ily was wronged. “My an­ces­tors were all poor peas­ants. It was not un­til my grandpa re­claimed some waste­land that our fam­ily be­gan to own some paddy fields and hire a few la­bor­ers,” he said.

De­spite the ad­ver­sity he faced when he was younger, Ai is not re­sent­ful. “A Bud­dhist should not re­turn grudge for griev­ance,” the 56-year-old said.

In ad­di­tion, he said, he ad­mires Chair­man Mao be­cause the late leader was a man who truly wanted to do good for the peo­ple, and he ap­pre­ci­ates the value of equal­ity that emerged in the Mao era.

Most vil­lagers owned no land be­fore the land re­form in Xishuang­banna, where the feu­dal lord claimed own­er­ship of all land and peas­ants had to shoul­der the heavy and in­escapable bur­den of tax­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to He Ming, an eth­nic stud­ies pro­fes­sor at Yun­nan Univer­sity in Kun­ming.

Ai re­calls that when he was a child, old peo­ple in the vil­lage told him that Chair­man Mao was like the Mon­key King in the tra­di­tional Chi­nese novel Jour­ney to the West, who was in­vin­ci­ble and was com­mis­sioned by Heaven to bring fair­ness and equal­ity to the world.

More than three decades into China’s re­form and open­ing-up drive, Man’en, as well as many other re­mote vil­lages, have wit­nessed dra­matic eco­nomic and so­cial trans­for­ma­tion.

Satel­lite tele­vi­sion broad­casts, cell­phones, mo­tor­cy­cles, cars, high­ways and the In­ter­net have short­ened the dis­tance be­tween them and the out­side world. And yet Mao has re­mained an icon in the ham­let, which has more than 6,000 res­i­dents.

A Mao por­trait bought in Bei­jing is al­ways re­garded as a very pre­cious sou­venir for vil­lagers, while Mao’s mau­soleum is usu­ally a must-see for their maiden trips to the cap­i­tal, said Ai, who is also chief of Man’en vil­lage.

Like Ai and his fel­low vil­lagers, mem­bers of the Blang eth­nic group in Jil­iang, another vil­lage with a pop­u­la­tion of more than 2,000 in Meng­hai, are also Mao wor­shipers. They have his im­age printed on glazed bricks on the out­side walls of their new homes.

How­ever, th­ese vil­lages are not iso­lated cases. A sur­vey by the Hori­zon Re­search Con­sul­tancy Group in 2008 in 40 Chi­nese cities and towns, in­clud­ing Bei­jing, Shang­hai and Guangzhou, showed that 11.2 per­cent of re­spon­dents en­shrine Mao Ze­dong at home, far more than those who wor­ship Bud­dha, the God of Wealth and other gods.

In the words of Huang Jisu, a so­ci­ol­o­gist, play­wright and cul­tural critic, Mao wor­ship is a com­pli­cated phe­nom­e­non and has a strong so­cial back­ground, and is also re­lated to per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences.

How­ever, Huang doesn’t be­lieve there is a ge­o­graph­i­cal, age or so­cial class di­vi­sion re­gard­ing peo­ple’s at­ti­tudes to­ward Mao.

For ex­am­ple, Huang said, there are also Mao fans in big cities like Bei­jing and Shang­hai, while some young peo­ple in uni­ver­si­ties also ad­mire him. Huang added that it is not rare for en­trepreneurs and mil­lion­aires to ad­mire Mao.

How­ever, Huang stresses that ad­mi­ra­tion for Mao does not nec­es­sar­ily mean the ad­mir­ers want to re­turn to the Mao era.

“It’s quite nat­u­ral for Mao, such a great man, to have ad­mir­ers. Just as pop stars can have so many fans, why not Mao?” said Huang a re­searcher at the Chi­nese Academy of So­cial Sciences in Bei­jing.

As for Mao fans, Huang said, or­di­nary peo­ple need a great per­son to hold in high es­teem, and Mao has filled — and fills — that need.

In Huang’s view, the great­est good that Mao did for the na­tion was the rev­o­lu­tion he led, which ended the na­tion’s sur­vival cri­sis that had lasted a cen­tury.

Both Sun Yat-sen and Chi­ang Kai-shek failed to lead the na­tion out of that cri­sis, and Mao was an un­ri­valed great man of his cen­tury, Huang said.

Sun Da­hong, a pho­tog­ra­pher who has pub­lished an al­bum fea­tur­ing eth­nic Mao fans, ar­gues that the mod­ern pas­sion for Mao has noth­ing to do with a per­son­al­ity cult.

“It’s never a po­lit­i­cal fer­vor that cre­ates blind fol­low­ers like those dur­ing the ‘cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion’, but a kind of spon­ta­neous af­fec­tion or emo­tion that has sprouted at the grass­roots and passed from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion,” said Sun, a for­mer pro­vin­cial deputy po­lice chief in Yun­nan.

For ex­am­ple, Sun cites an eth­nic Hani herb store owner in Kun­ming he met while work­ing on the al­bum. The mid­dle-aged man has kept a Mao por­trait for 30 years, which he in­her­ited from his grand­fa­ther, pre­vi­ously a head­man who was in­vited to Bei­jing and met Mao af­ter lib­er­a­tion.

The man moved to Kun­ming from Pu’er for busi­ness 18 years ago, and the Mao por­trait now hangs in his herb store. “I al­ways take it with me wher­ever I go,” the man told Sun.

Sun said he has wit­nessed much Mao wor­ship among mem­bers of eth­nic groups. As a po­lice of­fi­cer, he has been to many ar­eas of Yun­nan, home to 25 eth­nic groups, where he could of­ten see Mao’s im­ages in lo­cal peo­ple’s homes, some­times along­side their an­ces­tors’ shrines.

The idea of shoot­ing an al­bum of Mao fans oc­curred to Sun when, dur­ing the Lan­tern Fes­ti­val in Fe­bru­ary 2011, he took pic­tures of three el­derly women in Chengjiang, a county in Yun­nan, talk­ing un­der a por­trait of Mao.

His col­lec­tion of more than 90 pho­tos was ex­hib­ited in Bei­jing from Dec 22-28 to cel­e­brate the 120th an­niver­sary of Mao’s birth. He said that through his pho­tos he wants to share with peo­ple of all eth­nic groups a feel­ing of af­fec­tion, re­spect and ad­mi­ra­tion for Mao.

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