Bloody shovel

Don't call it a spade

Explain this

On 5 August 1968, Mao received the Pakistani foreign minister Mian Arshad Hussain, who brought with him a basket of golden mangoes as gifts for the Chairman. Instead of eating the mangoes, Mao [who hated sweets] decided to give them to the Capital Worker and Peasant Mao Zedong Thought Propaganda Team … that had earlier been sent to the Qinghua University in Beijing to rein in the rival Red Guard gangs. Two days later, on 7 August, the People’s Daily, the official news organ of the Communist Party-state, carried a report on the mango gift that included the following extra-long headline in extra-large font: ‘The greatest concern, the greatest trust, the greatest support, the greatest encouragement; our great leader Chairman Mao’s heart is always linked with the hearts of the masses; Chairman Mao gave the precious gifts given by a foreign friend to the Capital Worker and Peasant Mao Zedong Thought Propaganda Team’.

Mao gave the mangoes to Wang Dongxing, who divided them up, distributing one mango each to a number of leading factories in Beijing, including Beijing Textile Factory, where I was then living. The workers at the factory held a huge ceremony, rich in the recitation of Mao’s words, to welcome the arrival of the mango, then sealed the fruit in wax, hoping to preserve it for posterity. The mangoes became sacred relics, objects of veneration. The wax-covered fruit was placed on an altar in the factory auditorium, and workers lined up to file past it, solemnly bowing as they walked by. No one had thought to sterilize the mango before sealing it, however, and after a few days on display, it began to show signs of rot. The revolutionary committee of the factory retrieved the rotting mango, peeled it, then boiled the flesh in a huge pot of water. Mao again was greatly venerated, and the gift of the mango was lauded as evidence of the Chairman’s deep concern for the workers. Then everyone in the factory filed by and each worker drank a spoonful of the water in which the sacred mango had been boiled. After that, the revolutionary committee ordered a wax model of the original mango. The replica was duly made and placed on the altar to replace the real fruit, and workers continued to file by, their veneration for the sacred object in no apparent way diminished.

In order to share the honour with workers and the revolutionary masses elsewhere, more replicas of the mangoes were made and sent around the country. All over the country welcoming parties were organized to receive the mangoes, and many work units enshrined the mango replicas for the masses to view in order to partake in the Chairman’s gift. Mao badges with the platter of mangoes and posters with revolutionary messages illustrated with the mangoes began to appear; a cigarette factory in the city of Xinzheng in Henan Province began producing a line of mango-brand cigarettes (still in production today); a film was made on class struggle using the Mao mango gift as a key symbol in the story line. In the months following Mao’s giving of the mangoes a mango fever descended upon China.

Damn mangoes are heavy


(…) most of these inventions (the mango rituals included) were not authorized by the CCP Centre, and many of the supposed leaders of the cultural revolution (e.g., Kang Sheng, Jiang Qing, and occasionally even Mao himself) tried to curb their practice, or at best only grudgingly authorized them after the fact. From their perspective, these “grassroots” practices and rituals were objectionable because they could not be controlled directly by them.

Remember: People are not weird. You just have a bad model.

Read the whole thing. Read the whole blog while you’re at it. Great stuff.

*my bolding and brackets.

19 responses to “Explain this

  1. Pingback: Explain this | Neoreactive

  2. Pingback: Explain this | Reaction Times

  3. patricknelson750 February 16, 2015 at 20:10

    In a religious vacuum mangoes are fair game for the expression of an instinct so deeply embedded in humanity that neither the Soviets nor the CCP could put a dint in it.

  4. Butch Deadlift February 17, 2015 at 03:27


    Aristotle asserted that oriental despotism is based not on force, but on consent. Hence, fear cannot be said to be its motive force, instead the power of the despot master feeds upon the servile nature of those enslaved.

    (I’m aware that he was talking about a different orient)

    • spandrell February 17, 2015 at 05:21

      ‘Servile nature’ doesn’t explain much either. Middle Easterners today seem mighty tribal and hostile to centralized power.

      What makes people servile to the extent seen above? Trust me the Chinese today look at that as incredulous as you do. It seems incredibly foreign.

      • Toddy Cat February 17, 2015 at 19:45

        “Trust me the Chinese today look at that as incredulous as you do. ”

        Mass hysteria? Crowd madness? This sounds like something out of Mackay’s “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” book, Chinese edition…

        • spandrell February 18, 2015 at 03:03

          If everybody is doing it, they can hardly be described as “mad”. These are normal people with normal brains, doing normal jobs in normal factories. It’s not a drug-fueled rave party.

          • Toddy Cat February 19, 2015 at 19:01

            “If everybody is doing it, they can hardly be described as “mad”. ”

            Well, that’s why they put the words “mass” and “crowd” in front of it, but I agree, that’s a description, not an explanation.

  5. James James February 17, 2015 at 14:01

    Sounds like the veneration of the Sword of Stalingrad by Londoners which Evelyn Waugh found so distasteful in the Sword of Honour trilogy.

    I just discovered that blog too. Excellent.

  6. Thales February 17, 2015 at 19:03

    As usual, you nerds are overthinking this — mangoes really are that amazing.

  7. SanguineEmpiricist February 18, 2015 at 08:13

    Incredible. I suppose such things can be dealt with productively, such as aligning them alongside the axis of great men and achievements.

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