Mao Fever
An Exhibit at the Honnold/Mudd Library, November 2, 1998 - February 1, 1999

(Click on any image to see a full-size version.)

 Little Red Book 
 The Little Red Book 

 Mao "bamboo" button

The TeacherIn The People's Republic of China, the popularity of "Chairman Mao" reached proportions of a personality cult during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).  During this period, Mao's image and writings were objects of popular consumption.  An estimated forty billion volumes of Mao's works were printed; equivalent to 15 copies for each Chinese citizen.  Mao buttons became the politically correct means of adornment for revolutionary subjects.  Reciting quotations from Chairman Mao's infamous "Red Book" became a part of daily greetings and social rituals.  The buttons exhibited here are a sample of the varied images of Mao from this era.  Mao is The Great Helmsmanportrayed as "the revolutionary young scholar," "the People's Liberation Army soldier," "the great helmsman" (steering a ship representing China), "leader of the Great Leap Forward in 1957," "the teacher," and "the mature The Mature Statesmanstatesman," etc.  Most of the buttons are made of aluminum though some are plastic or bamboo.  The excessive production of aluminum, buttons prompted Mao in 1969 to complain "give me back my airplanes."  In addition to buttons, Mao's image appeared on children's notebooks, watches, cigarette lighters, and an array of popular consumer items.  In 1979 and 1980 the state actively promoted de-Maoification, which entailed pulping many of Mao's works that had filled publishing storehouses.  Mao paraphernalia was symbolically equated with the Cultural Revolution, which Deng era reformists sought to lay to rest. 


 The People's Liberation Army Soldier 
 "The People's Liberation Army Soldier" 

Cigarette lighter 
Cigarette lighter

Mao stamp 

"Cultural Revolution" watch reproduction

In the late 1980's and early 1990's, however, there was a resurgence of Mao's popularity.  The second Mao cult was not state sponsored, but a popular movement which percolated from below.  Mao's image was welcomed as a symbol of economic stability, egalitarianism and national pride in a China which was becoming increasingly characterized by emergent class cleavages, market forces, and national insecurity.  Perhaps the most striking symbols of the second Mao cult were taxi amulets or talismans which were believed to protect drivers from potential accidents.  Hanging Mao from the rear view mirror gave voice to the popular belief that "there is magic associated with Mao."  The second "Mao craze" or epidemic of "Mao fever" prompted mass printings of Mao's portrait and a range of items emblazoned with Mao's image.  In rural China, Mao posters appeared again, while in urban China, Mao's image became the symbol of an avante-garde art movement.  Newer forms of Maorabilia featured include the avante-garde artist Zhang Hongtu's painting of Mao depicted on a book jacket and an acupuncture chart made of Mao's body.  Other Maorabilia featured here are a Warholesque Mao mug, a "Mao's pad," and a reproduction of a Cultural Revolution watch with Mao's waving arm as the second hand.  In the mid-1990's the second Mao cult began to decline in the cities, though in the countryside, Mao's image is appearing in a range of venues from shamanic rituals to rural marketplaces. 

Zhang Hongtu's Mao acupuncture chart

Prof. Emily Chao, Pitzer College 
See more items from the exhibit
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