“Chairman Mao is like a god to us!”

Chris is probably the cockiest person I’ve ever met. Not in a 19-year-old, blinded-to-danger-by-testosterone kind of way, but in a “my family is so deep in the Party that I’m untouchable and I know it” kind of way. And it was true — he got away with everything. He racked up multiple written warnings for things like scamming the other students and the school. But the school was afraid to risk ticking him off because he was too connected. And he knew it. He had this permanent smirk on face. He swaggered around the school, flirted and felt-up his showpiece most-made-up-girl-in-the-school girlfriend while ignoring the teachers and texting during class.

It was only after a tantrum where he threw a water bottle at foreign teacher’s head during a face-losing showdown in front of a large group class when the teacher forced him to obey a rule he was trying to openly flaunt — and the teacher told the school that he would never teach Chris again, period — that he finally left for good (I don’t know if they actually kicked him out, but I doubt it).

When you looked at him, you knew you were looking at one piece of China’s “symphony of privilege,” the kind of Chinese who would yell things like “My dad is Li Gang!” (see here, here, here, here and here) or “Who dares call the police?” (here, here, here and here) or possibly even worse.

A recent post by Yaxue Cao’s on Seeing Red in China called “Traitor of the Chinese People” reminded me that I once had my own drama with Chris. I once had to, with the help of two other students, physically escort him out of class. It was a free talk group class. The students were supposed to talk about whatever they wanted, so long as they used English. They were all adults. One older man, a retired philosopher named Alex who’d been “sent down” for several years during the Cultural Revolution, started saying some negative things about Mao (Alex would criticize Mao at every opportunity, in his slow, calm, 60-year-old Chinese philosopher kind of way — it was both shocking and entertaining to see). Chris immediately jumped to Mao’s defense. They argued back and forth, quickly switching into Chinese. Alex remained calm mostly, but Chris got livid. He was on his feet yelling and waving his finger in the older man’s face. Would not switch back to English. He got so out of control, rude and unmanageable that we eventually physically forced him out. A few hours later, when I figured he’d calmed down, I went to talk to him:

“Chris, I don’t care what opinion you express in class, but you must be respectful of the other students. Especially older students.”

“But you didn’t hear what he said about Chairman Mao!”

“I don’t care what he says about Mao, or what you say about Mao — you can have whatever opinion you want — so long as you are respectful to each other in class.”

“But he can’t say those things about Chairman Mao! Chairman Mao is like a god to us!”

Those were his exact words. I didn’t know what to say, though a whole lot came to mind!

Not every Mainlander has a positive view of Mao, but the vast majority of them do, and sometimes the younger, more privileged ones are the most devoted. It shocked us when we first arrived. Newbies be ye warned!

You can read more about Mao’s seemingly unassailable mythical status here:

10 thoughts on ““Chairman Mao is like a god to us!””

  1. I encountered those beliefs/attitudes at times too. Occasionally it was because they wanted to be seen to be supporting an ideal in front of other party members.
    A few times it was clearly a part of their foundations, and shaking it would cause too much to crumble.

    Once a student/friend said, “The best thing that ever happened to China is that Mao’s sons didn’t survive.”

    I was a bit surprised.

  2. There are definitely people who will surprise you in China, like Alex, and a very small handful of others I can think of.

    Fixed a few typos, thankfully pointed out by a reader via e-mail. Pretty sure I didn’t mean to say, “though a whole came to mind!” and “Christ immediately jumped to Mao’s defense.” :)

  3. typing one-handed, baby in the other, so excuse mistakes…

    “Not every Mainlander has a positive view of Mao, but the vast majority of them do”

    I disagree strongly with “vast majority”, as my own experience of Chinese views of Mao has been considerably more mixed. I do agree, however, with your “the younger, more privileged ones” statement. Lack of personal experience on their part, and all that.

  4. If I only calculated the opinions that have been voiced to me or other foreigners I know, then the black-and-white Mao loyalists would be in a small majority. After we forcibly escorted Chris out of the class and re-started up the English free talk, there were a couple students (late 20’s, I’m guessing) who right away were eager to make the point that “we don’t all think like Chris” and “we have lots of different ideas about Chairman Mao.” So just in this one episode the Mao loyalists were in the minority, at least among people who voiced an opinion. I don’t want to make it sound like I only ever hear positive stuff about Mao.

    I suspect, as foreigners, our own experience of Chinese people’s opinions is pretty skewed because we typically interact most with a particular slice of society (the most Western-culture-influenced slice), and we attract comments that aren’t mainstream or likely to be voiced elsewhere because as unattached outsiders we’re a safe sounding board. I also assume that we don’t perceive our Chinese coworkers and acquaintances as clearly as we think we do. So when I try to consider all the other kinds of Chinese, even the overseas Mainlanders I talk to in Vancouver who have direct exposure to Canadian society and freedom of information (like this one), I have to conclude that Mainlanders who see Mao in a not-positive or mostly negative light are in the minority. I could be wrong, especially considering that the older generations are apparently pretty silent about their Mao-era experiences.

    At the end of the day, though, there are “lots” of both kinds of people in China.

    ps – totally understand typing one-handed with a baby!

  5. As a young chinese from the poor countryside, i feel thankful to him for the peaceful and relative stable society.
    My father hates him, the older generations actually know better of him than younger generations.
    He is Not a god to our family.

  6. Thanks for commenting, Bob. It’s interesting that you and your father have such different opinions of Mao. Have you ever talk about Mao with your father? What happens when that topic of conversation comes up among your family members?

  7. Joel, you should have kicked him on the arse and told him that Mao is as dead as the dodo. That China cannot continue to have idiots like him, otherwise the country will go to the dogs if every mainland Chinese behaved like the unthinking infantile that he is. Perhaps you should have also told him to go sing some Teresa Deng songs.

  8. chairman Mao is good stuff. it’s a shame that there arent more like him. Mao liberated the masses. i can see from the posts on here that most of the people here are paid robo trolls. you can’t look at Mao from a land owners point of view. you got to look at him from a peasants point of view. Mao was a poor man’s god. the rich people hate him, but then again, most people hate rich people.

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