Mao with soya sauce

Ulhas Joglekar ulhasj at
Fri Dec 1 08:12:30 MST 2000

Business Standard

Last updated 1600 Hrs IST, Tuesday, November 28, 2000

Mao Zedong with soya sauce
Manas Chakravarty discovers that Mao has been forgotten in Shanghai
"Mao is passe", said the Singapore businessman sitting next to me on the
China Eastern Airlines' Shanghai flight. He had just learned that I was on a
trip to pay my respects to the late Chairman.
"Nobody gives a damn about him", continued my fellow-traveller, "you'll know
soon enough in Shanghai." I wasn't giving up so easily.
Shanghai was, after all, the birthplace of the Chinese Communist Party, the
scene of the uprising against the Kuomintang in 1927, the city where the
workers took control of the factories after the Cultural Revolution. And isn
't China communist?
Yes, it is. It's communist in the sense that a minister can speak about how
the 32 per cent annual growth rate in the Shenzhen special economic zone,
that paradise of raw, unadulterated capitalism, red in tooth and claw, is a
reflection of the superiority of the socialist system. The newspapers report
this bilge without irony, without even a Ha! Ha! in brackets.
Apart from that, there's precious little of the old doctrine. There aren't
any people waving the Red Book, there are no red flags, the hammer and
sickle symbols have been exported en masse to Calcutta, and the big
character posters have been replaced by huge billboards advertising Coke and
In Shanghai, the 30-minute bus ride from Hongqiao airport to Pudong goes
over flyovers for about 20 minutes and through a tunnel under the Huangpu
river for the next ten.
The 87-storey JinMao tower, a monstrosity in aluminium, and the Oriental
Pearl TV Tower with a revolving restaurant on top, which looks like
something out of science fiction, symbolise the new Shanghai.
The lift at the TV station had an attendant who recited, in sing-song
English, how symbolic the tower was to Shanghai's upwardly mobile spirit. No
slums, wide roads, everything sleek and shiny and mint-new. With about $40
billion in foreign direct investment pouring into the country every year,
they can afford it.
When I heard that Shanghai has, at the last count, over 110,000 private
enterprises, I realised that Mao was certainly not in Shanghai. Sure, you do
have a big statue of the great helmsman in the middle of the Bund, Shanghai'
s European quarter. There's also Mao's embalmed body in Tiananmen Square in
Beijing. But Mao these days lives on mainly in restaurants.
To view the centre of Maoism in contemporary China, you'll have to visit the
Mao Family Restaurant in Yonghegong Street, Beijing, well-known for the
great leader's native Hunan cuisine.
For the Mao fan, this is where the action is. Right from the bust of Mao at
the entrance to the photographs and posters of Mao as a student, Mao on the
Long March, Mao as chairman, Mao exhorting the masses, this is the place
where the great teacher is really honoured.
In the background, as you sample the chef's special Mao Family black bean
tofu, revolutionary songs soothe nerves frayed by the ubiquitous capitalist
BMWs, Mercs, mobile phones, karaoke bars and discos.
Here in the soothing ambience of pictures taken from the great liberator's
life, you can calm a stomach upset by the sight of McDonalds and Kentucky
Fried Chicken with Mao's favourite pork rind in soya sauce.
For those of us who still hold fast to the chairman's quotation that a
revolution is not a dinner party, there is one other way to see Maoism in
To do that, you'll have to go to Changsha, the capital of Hunan province,
which used to be known as the city nearest to Mao's birthplace at Shaoshan,
but is now better recognised as the home of Hunan Television & Broadcast
Industry Co, the first media company to secure a stock-market listing in
China. A 90-mile drive will take you to Shaoshan where you can see Mao's
house (13 rooms, thatched roof, pond - a disappointingly kulak affair).
After buying the Mao busts and the Mao keychains, visit the Museum of
Comrade Mao in Shaoshan, where you can get a computer-generated picture of
yourself with the Chairman, maybe with your arm around him. He could do with
the support these days.
For die-hards searching for the communist Utopia, there's also a little
haven leaning against the capitalist storm. About 500 miles south of
Beijing, in central Henan nestles Nanjie village, a backslider from the
capitalist road.
It's a commune where everything is still owned in common. Housing, health
care, education are all free, as are meat, fish, poultry and eggs. The
commune is highly profitable, with its top product Yingsong instant noodles
being exported as far as Russia and Korea. What's more, the commune has
attracted investment from Germany as well as Japan.
But then, Nanjie is a throwback, a freak in modern-day China. As for Mao,
his place in China today has been brilliantly evoked by avant-garde artist
Wang Guangyi.
His painting "Mao Zedong no. 1" shows the chairman in grey, imprisoned
behind a grid of criss-crossing black lines. A caged Mao. The same artist's
"Coca-Cola" makes the point about red Coke supplanting the red of the
revolution. Back at Hong Kong airport, the PLA caps with the red star on
them were going very cheap.
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