As the Cultural Revolution carried over into 1968, a campaign was launched to enhance Mao’s reputation and firmly establish his cult of personality. Mao’s portrait was plastered everywhere. Billions of Chairman Mao badges were mass produced and distributed to the people, to pin on their clothing. Every Chinese citizen was presented with Mao’s Little Red Book of quotations, and was told to carry it everywhere, study it carefully, and quote from it daily.
Mao was elevated to the status of a living god, and was always presented as an infallible hero and leader who could make no error nor do no wrong. To criticize Mao was to invite violent reprisal and possibly death. To praise Mao was expected, regardless of what he did, and whether it appeared foolish or wise.
Some families even prayed to Mao.
This unquestioning reverence for the Chairman led to the bizarre and comical Mango Fever, that began in August of 1968. On August 4, 1968, Pakistani foreign minister Syed Pierzada, presented Mao with 40 mangoes from Pakistan. It was a nice gesture, but Mao didn’t know what to do with the mangoes. These fruits weren’t native to northern China, and most Chinese there didn’t know what a mango was.
Mao decided to send the box of mangoes to his Mao Zedong Propaganda Team at Tsinghua University. This proved to be a very “fruitful” gesture. On August 7, 1968, they had this article published in the People’s Daily:
“In the afternoon of the fifth, when the great happy news of Chairman Mao giving mangoes to the Capital Worker and Peasant Mao Zedong Thought Propaganda Team reached Tsinghua University campus, people immediately gathered around the gift given by the Great Leader Chairman Mao. They cried out enthusiastically and sang with wild abandonment. Tears swelled in their eyes, and they again and again sincerely wished that our most beloved Great Leader lived then thousand years without bounds . . .”
Soon after, a poem appeared in the People’s Daily, that read:
“Seeing that golden mango
Was as if seeing the great leader Chairman Mao!
Standing before that golden mango
Was just like standing beside Chairman Mao!
Again and again touching that golden mango:
the golden mango was so warm!
Again and again smelling the mango:
that mango was so fragrant!”
One of the mangoes was sent to the Beijing Textile factory, which organized a rally in its honor. Workers recited quotations from Mao as they celebrated this piece of fruit. But the mango began to rot. So then it was peeled and boiled, and workers filed past the pot of boiled mango water, and each was given a spoonful to drink.
Mango fever took hold of the nation, and factories began producing mass replicas of the fruit. In one case, replicas of mangoes were sent to the city of Changdu, where about a half million people gathered to greet them. Also, wall posters were created, featuring Mao and mangoes.
In one notable incident, a dentist in a small town got a glimpse of a mango replica. He was heard to say that it was nothing special, and that it looked just like a sweet potato. People were horrified at such sacrilege. The dentist was arrested and put on trial. He was convicted of malicious slander, paraded publicly throughout the town, and then executed with one shot to the head. All for insulting a mango.
Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 27: The Lost Generation.