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Sunday, October 31, 2004


What price 'a spiritual atom bomb of infinite power'?

A rare first edition of Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong's sixties-era Quotations of Chairman Mao, better known as the "Little Red Book", has failed to meet its reserve price at a London auction. A spokeswoman at Bonhams said the publication had been expected to fetch between £2,500 and £3,000.

The copy for sale was published in May 1964. "Paper binding a bit stained, also with light stain at top right page corners, handling creases but overall still a good copy", the catalogue stated. It even retains the endorsement page from the then Party Vice-Chairman Lin Biau (Mao's Thought is "a spiritual atom bomb of infinite power") although his name is inked-over. When Lin was declared a traitor, spy, dog, etc in September 1971, most Chinese Communists defaced their copy by ripping out his offending page.

The book is one of the most frequently reprinted books ever published, second only to the Bible, with an estimated 5 billion copies printed in 50 languages, including braille, over the past forty years ... all at the Chinese taxpayer's expense.

According to Oliver Lei Han, an antiquarian expert consulting to Bonhams, the book's longevity in print reflects Mao as "the Father of his country, truly the last Emperor, a symbol of power and reverence who has been exonerated for the mistakes of his reign and consequently recognized for his achievements as hope for the future."

Han also describes Mao's ideology as forming "a brilliant concept that is still readable and admired today for its political theories and strategies, and no doubt he would be very proud to know the effect he has had on his own country and the world will never forget him."

No doubt Han would agree with Ritesh Doshi's letter published last week in London's metro newspaper, spotted by Eric The Unred. Noting the LRB's failure at auction, Ms Doshi commented: "Mao was one of our time's greatest thinkers (and leaders, regardless of one's political beliefs) and it is sad that our society places such a low value on someone who has shaped the lives of more than 20 per cent of the world's population. Frankly, it says something about the dumbing down of society".

Eric replied: "Frankly, the fact such a letter can be written says a lot more about the dumbing down of society, than the failure to sell a copy of Mao's thoughts. Just as some continue to have a blind spot on the Gulags of the Soviet Republic and Stalin's purges, there seems an equivalent amount of ignorance about Mao's Great Leap Forward and his Cultural Revolution. Aside from the millions who died during these ill thought-out schemes and the fiction of the People's Democratic dictatorship, Mao watched over massive economic failure, and allowed his Red Guards to torture brutally without trial, burn down temples, mosques, churches, and destroy ancient art, artifacts, antiques, ancient buildings, ancient scrolls and books."

And that nightmare, still fresh in the Peoples Republic of China, is well addressed by Running Dog in its current feature article, "Bonfire of the bourgeois vanities".

"In China, people of a certain generation will tell you stories about an era that might as well be a millenium ago. There are thousands of children, amassed in Shanghai's train station, waiting for the beginning of what feels to them to be a big and important adventure. Their parents are weeping, watching their children bound towards the carriages on their way to the countryside, where - as part of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution - they will spend their formative years learning from the peasants.

"The kids who participated in this vast exodus are now in their forties and fifties, and most complain of the gap in their education and the wasted decade lasting from 1966 to the death of Chairman Mao in 1976. Others, usually slightly older, have been forced to live with their complicity in the Cultural Revolution, and their part in the Red Guard movement ...."

Running Dog describes a Maoist reign of terror - when "a swarm of revolutionaries sacked and destroyed temples, smashed sculptures to pieces and drove writers to their deaths" - as "matching anything the Taliban did", arguing this was a "bonfire of bourgeois vanities, and Mao was its Savonarola".

The article ranges across "mass man-made famines" overshadowed by "a surreal alternative world designed by state planners and their faked statistics", of centuries of "agricultural production based on empirical experience" discarded for Maoist dogma, of the failure of the Great Leap Forward, and the purges of the Cultural Revolution.

Under Mao's clarion call, "It is right to rebel!", millions were set in motion in one of the biggest and most disastrous political struggles in history.

"Schools and hospitals were forced to close, temples and relics were destroyed, 'capitalist roaders' and counter-revolutionary 'cow demons' were hounded and tortured and forced to sweat out their sins doing years of back-breaking correctional labour. No one could objectively confirm what a revisionist or poisonous weed was, and so, as a result, everyone was a potential target ..."

Talking of "dumbing down", in Maoist China expertise, in any field, became a sign of decadence and revisionism.

"In the new reality, only Mao Zedong Thought could produce results. Only Mao Zedong Thought - the exaltation of pure revolutionary spirit not only above practical economics but above even nature itself – could triumph. The general will of the people – described as the Mass Line but echoing Rousseau in its assumption that a society was One – could overcome the 'paper tigers' of science, nature, and truth itself. Contemporary documents show a world turned on its head, a world where Mao Zedong Thought is used to cure tumours, improve rice yields and defy gravity ..."

Read it all here.

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