Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Old Mao good, new Mao bad

Our audio guide at the forbidden city described October 1, National Day, as the anniversary of the liberation of the nation; the day when Mao Zedong declared the founding of the People's Republic of China from the Meridian Gate at the forbidden city, the place where the famous, huge portrait of Mao hangs today. I expected a greater show of nationalistic fervor in the capital city of this single-party nation. The only noticeable signs of the holiday we saw, apart from the massive throngs of people, were a tiny number of people carrying cheap, paper PRC flags. No fireworks, even. There did seem to be a big crowd pouring out of Tiananmen square after the early morning flag-raising ceremony.

Back in Hangzhou, large fireworks displays were a daily occurrence near the holiday - as late at 10:30 pm and as early as 6:30 am!!! -- but I've learned that these are for wedding celebrations and have nothing to do with the holiday.

We did notice a number of people wearing red armbands, reminiscent of the Red Guards from the openly-despised Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976 which brutally supressed expression, culture, and religion. Most of the people wearing them were middle-age or older. Many of them were sweeping trash from the street and in the forbidden city, and a few of them were sitting and talking in front of their homes or small shops. I asked my co-workers about these folks, and was told the modern-day Red Guard are volunteers who agree to keep the city clean and safe. They're also somehow associated with the communist party, but my friends weren't able to quite explain how -- due to their limited English, not a reluctance to discuss it, as far as I can tell. I've openly discussed a few other politically sensitive topics with the Chinese, and they don't seem to shy away from it.

We hired a pedi-cab (rickshaw) driver to take us through Beijing's famous hutong, a complex web of narrow alleyways and crowded courtyard houses which at one time comprised most of the city. He spoke very limited English, but was able to clearly communicate his disdain for the cultural revolution. Interestingly, he had mixed feelings for Mao himself, the ultimate architect of the cultural revolution and the 1958-1960 Great Leap Forward, a soviet-style economic experiment which was at least partly to blame for the starvation deaths of an estimated 30-60 million Chinese. The pedicab driver's quote:

Old Mao good, new Mao bad.

1 comment:

Ebro said...

Nice pic of the inside of the Meridian gate. But did you notice the five exits? And did you notice that on the other side there are only three entrances?

Puzzle. Where did the extra two exits come from?