Tuesday, January 05, 2016

No slouch

Back in China after half a year's interval, I'm busy trying to figure out what's changed and what hasn't, seeing new and revisiting familiar things. Where does one begin? I went with my friend X to an exhibition of new media work, and briefly wondered if the gentleman above was part of a work; when we found his posture changed a little later, the open media device gone, we decided he probably wasn't.

Another sitting figure in the news is the Great Helsman, rising 36.6 meters high in a field in Henan Province and painted gold. I read about it in the People's Daily, and found a link to a recent article in Global Times critical of the apparently resurgent idolization of Mao in rural areas. The Party, according to these sources, has nothing to do with this. The Henan colossus is evidently funded by local entrepreneurs. (The Guardian describes the statue as the work of "villagers" who, given the horrors of the Great Leap Forward-induced famine in just that region, should know better.) The Global Times essay starts with an ironic description of the consecration of a Mao statue at a Daoist temple in Gansu.

As red Chinese flags fluttered in the temple, revolutionary nostalgia and folk religion mixed in this remote northern village. According to the video uploaded to the Internet, a consecration ceremony was held, attended by a procession of Taoist priests clad in blue robes and villagers dressed in Mao suits, in front of some curious onlookers. 

Six old men wearing red scarves worshipped the bronze statue through an ecstatic dance while singing "The East is Red," a socialist song, accompanied by music played by a brass band. Then an otherworldly, Shaman-like figure, donning a colorful sacred robe and holding a sword, chanted a long incantation to the figure of the smiling atheist leader.

It goes on to describe those who wish to make Mao's birthday (December 26th) a national holiday, as well as the criticism they get from "rightists," including one whose reference to the Cultural Revolution is made explicit. Xi Jinping's sage words are quoted in the article, too: "we cannot worship [revolutionary leaders] as gods just because they are great people, not allowing others to point out and correct their errors and mistakes." But who said gods have to be perfect? In any case, in poor areas feeling left behind by China's new prosperity, it's evidently a different picture.

When a temple dedicated to Mao in a village in Jiangmen, South China's Guangdong Province, was under construction in the 2000s, local government ordered it to be demolished because "Mao didn't believe in god and wasn't superstitious, and there shouldn't be a temple dedicated to him," Southern Weekly reported. 

But that didn't stop villagers from building a temple to a man that wielded total power in China when he was alive. Believers managed to rebuild it in 2003, albeit in secret. The village Party chief, after he learned the temple had been built, reportedly went to the temple himself to pray for victory in the next Party chief election.

[Update: you may already have heard. On Thursday, 7 January, the Mao statue was demolished, having garnered too much internet ridicule.]

No comments: