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Reviewed by:
  • Mao’s Golden Mangoes and the Cultural Revolution ed. by Alfreda Murck
  • Richard King (bio)
Alfreda Murck, editor. Mao’s Golden Mangoes and the Cultural Revolution. Zurich: Verlag Scheidegger & Spiess, 2013. 248 pp. Hardcover $35.00, isbn 978-3-85881-732-7.

In August 1968, Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong received a gift of man-goes from the visiting foreign minister of Pakistan, and passed the fruit on to the Workers’ Propaganda Team that had recently been sent to Qinghua University to quell the violent confrontations between Red Guard factions that were ravaging the campus. In doing so, Mao signalled his disaffection with the Red Guards, the youth vanguard he had unleashed against the state apparatus at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, and declared his support for the proletariat and the military as forces of order and stability. The suppression of the Hundred Day War at Qinghua was a pivotal moment in the Cultural Revolution: the truculent and charismatic student leader Kuai Dafu, previously the darling of the Cultural Revolution Group appointed by Mao, was summarily removed and incarcerated, and the high school graduates of the Red Guard generation were dispatched within months to new challenges in villages and frontier farms. The Pakistani mangoes, exotic and virtually unheard of in 1960s China, briefly played an important role in Cultural Revolution discourse, as the physical expression of Mao’s love and concern for his people at a time when the Mao cult was at its most frenzied. The mangoes were transported nationwide, despite their deterioration in the summer heat; they were replicated in wax and placed in glass vitrines for presentation and display; paintings and photographs of the fruit became objects of veneration; and they appeared as an auspicious motif on the ubiquitous Mao badges, on quilts, on household goods, and on floats at public ceremonies. The events surrounding Mao’s golden mangoes can serve as a microcosm of the political maneuverings, the personality cult, the mass hysteria, the sporadic violence, and the devotional iconography of the early Cultural Revolution. They also remind us of the ephemeral nature of such obsessions: within a year, mango fever had subsided, its [End Page 143] artifacts no longer treasured. Half a century later, the art historian and curator Alfreda Murck dived into the dumpster of history (and the curio markets of Beijing) to retrieve the memorabilia of mango fever and mount an exhibition of her collection at the Museum Reitberg in Zurich. The volume under review contains the catalogue for that exhibition, prefaced by an introduction and six short essays placing the event in its historical, social, and cultural context.

The essays in the first section of the book comprise a history of the student unrest at Qinghua, a memoir of mango celebration in a factory, analysis of the National Day Parade of October 1, 1968, a review of the role of food images in the history of Chinese art, a summary of a 1976 film attempt to revive mango fever, and a tracking of the changing images of the peasant and worker in contemporary China. Three of the essays are particularly notable here: (1) Xiaowei Zheng’s “Qinghua University and Chinese Politics during the Cultural Revolution” is a summary of events at Qinghua—a longer version can be found in The Chinese Cultural Revolution as History, edited by Joseph W. Esherick, Paul G. Pickowicz, and Andrew C. Walder (Stanford, 2006)—with valuable material from the author’s interviews with Kuai Dafu and other participants. The essay is illustrated with photographs, including one of Kuai’s most notorious stunts, the public humiliation of Wang Guangmei, leader of an earlier “work-team” at Qinghua and wife of State Chairman Liu Shaoqi. (2) Daniel Leese’s “Designing Spectacles: The 1968 Beijing National Day Parade” is a careful exposition of that tightly scripted procession (with a mango-themed display on float three) and an analysis of what this and other public events reveal about contemporary policies and the stratification of power within the leadership and among the classes that formed the ranks of the revolution. (3) Adam Yuet Chau’s “Political Awakening through the Magical Fruit: The Film Song of the Mango is amply...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 143-145
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-22
Open Access
No
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