Month: September 2020

Chapter 26: Mango Fever

This is the next installment of my book, The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao.
To read the previous installment, click this link.
To start at the beginning, click this link.


Chapter 26
Mango Fever

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!”

A Cultural Revolution propaganda poster, produced in 1968, entitled, “Mangoes, the Precious Gift.”

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.

Coronavirus Quackery

I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t bring up coronavirus issues again, on my blog. It’s such a touchy topic that I think people are ready to challenge each other to duels to make their point, and I want to avoid violence. But by god, my recent experience with my doctor is something I want to get off my chest.

In June, I made an appointment for my annual exam, and I also wanted to discuss my Afib heart condition with the sawbones. My appointment was for early August, but a few weeks before the doctor date, they called. Due to the doctor being worried about catching coronavirus, they had to change my appointment to September 4th. This would make about six months since my doctor had last seen a patient.

About a week before September 4th, they called again and changed it to September 3rd. I’m retired, so no real problem with all these changes, except my declining confidence in their competence. Finally the date arrived with no further changes. I uncrossed my fingers and drove to my appointment.

But boy, what a strange appointment. It was for 2:45, but they told me to get there 15 minutes early. Okay, fine, I’m the punctual type. But while I’m driving to the doctor’s office, at 2:20, they called my wife and asked her where I was, and said I was late for the appointment. Huh?

I got there at 2:28 and found a sign on the door saying I’d have to go around back to check in. So I went around back and, at 2:30 on the nose, found a sign on a door that said I had to knock and wait for someone. So I knocked and waited. About two minutes later a masked medico talking on a cell phone (probably with my wife) opened the door and asked me to wait, and then shut the door again.

A few minutes later she opened it back up. She sported a pen and clipboard, and began to pelt me with questions related to the coronavirus. Questions like: Have you recently had a fever? Have you recently been in contact with someone who has the virus? Have you recently been at a gathering of 8 or more people? Have you recently experienced abdominal pain? Difficulty breathing? Change in ability to smell? And so forth.

Geez.

I answered no to every question, especially change in ability to smell. I explained that I’ve always been able to smell, but I kept that under control by taking showers.

She then took my temperature, by jamming a large, conical object into my ear. It was normal.

Having passed the coronavirus door test, I was allowed entry into a large, darkened waiting room with nobody in it. I felt proud. Apparently, not many people can pass the coronavirus door test.

I was ushered into a small room that contained a video monitor, several chairs, and a dirty-looking, portable blood pressure device sitting on one of the chairs. I was left alone in this isolation chamber, but after a few minutes I suddenly realized I had been on camera all this time. I felt grateful I hadn’t scratched my balls or anything.

Eventually a nurse appeared on the video monitor and asked me a bunch of questions about my health. There must have been something wrong with her microphone because she sounded garbled, like she was under water. Or perhaps she had just drank a large glass of water. I had a hard time understanding her and sometimes answered questions incorrectly, because I frequently misunderstood her.

For instance, she asked me if I had a hard time smiling. There I was wearing my mask, wondering how I could prove to her that smiling comes easily. I insisted, “No, I can smile.”

She corrected me in her garbled, liquid voice, “No, I asked if you have a hard time climbing stairs.” That’s how screwed up the audio was.

Then the nurse told me to pick up the blood pressure device and check my blood pressure by myself. I was unfamiliar with how the cuff mechanism thingy worked, and fumbled around a bit, but finally managed to get it wrapped semi-properly around my arm, and took a reading. I cringed a bit, because the cuff looked dirty, as if it had been around many arms before mine. My bp was normal, but I didn’t trust that device. It was old and chintzy looking, as if it had been purchased from a thrift store.

Finally, the nurse left and my doctor appeared on the monitor. He was also under water. From the sound of him, I wondered if I was looking into a monitor or an aquarium. It’s a good thing that he’s a very patient man, and that I know how to suppress my temper, because we had to repeat ourselves a lot, to communicate.

I’ll give him credit though, because if he’s trying to keep from catching Covid from his patients, I think he’s using a bulletproof method. It would be impossible to shoot him from where I sat.

I asked him about catheter ablation for my AFib heart condition, about ten times, until he finally figured out what I was talking about. He told me that it is very rare to use catheter ablation to treat AFib. This is different from my research, but I’m not a doctor so I didn’t argue with him. Besides, how can you argue with someone who sounds like a fish?

He did authorize me to see my cardiologist to discuss the matter further. I only hoped my heart doc would be in a terrarium, rather than an aquarium, so that we could communicate more easily.

I also managed to tell the doctor that I’ve battled with fatigue all my life, and that I think Afib might be the cause of it. He said no, that what I probably needed to do was drink more water, eat better, and get exercise. I can understand his advice about drinking more water, since he was in an aquarium and probably had a bias toward water.

As for eating better, I took this as a subtle insult to my wife’s cooking. But how do you punch a fish? I felt frustrated. As for exercising, I already do exercise. However, I can’t exercise as much as I’d like, due to my fatigue. So I told him this. Nonetheless, he repeated his advice for me to exercise. Again, how do you punch a fish?

So I’ll be making an appointment to go in and see my cardiologist. I have low hopes. The last time I saw that bastard he seemed like he was in a hurry to get rid of me. His advice was that I shouldn’t have come in to see him in the first place, because I might catch coronavirus.

And such is the state of coronavirus quackery where I live.

Chapter 25: All-Round Civil War

This is the next installment of my book, The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao.
To read the previous installment, click this link.
To start at the beginning, click this link.


Chapter 25
All-Round Civil War

The Red Guards, in spite of their cruelty, were highly regarded by many Chinese. But not by all. By 1967, Chinese society had divided into two main rival factions. There was the radical faction, which wanted to purge the Communist Party of moderates, and the conservative faction, which wanted to preserve the moderate Party establishment. Mao backed the radicals and declared an “all-round civil war” against the conservatives.

Mao encouraged the radicals to seize power from the Party establishment. This led to Red Guards and conservatives fighting each other over control of local governments. These were violent and bloody struggles, with both sides deploying tanks, artillery, firearms, and any other type of weapon they could lay their hands on. Cities were bombarded, and many civilians were killed in all the combat.

General Chen Zaidao.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was divided. Some officers were loyal to Mao, and others loyal to the establishment. For instance, General Chen Zaidao was the Army general in charge of the Wuhan area. He sided with the establishment, and fought to repress the anti-establishment radicals in the city of Wuhan.

Premier Zhou Enlai sent orders to General Chen to back down, and switch his support to the radicals. But Chen refused. And this refusal was quite surprising. It marked a pivotal turning point in the Cultural Revolution. It was the first time that the military had refused a direct order, and it became known as the Wuhan Incident.

Mao feared that this Incident might spark a more widespread revolt by the PLA. So in July 1967, he had Zhou send Xie Fuzhi and Wang Li, who were members of the Cultural Revolution Group, to Wuhan. Their desperate mission was to persuade Chen to stop siding with the establishment, and to start following orders to back the radicals.

Xie was the Minister of Public Security. He was staunchly loyal to Mao, and a rabid supporter of the Cultural Revolution. He had given a speech the year before that gave carte blanche to the Red Guards to kill their opponents.

Wang was also a rabid supporter of the Cultural Revolution, and was the lead drafter of the May 16 Notification that marked the start of the Cultural Revolution.

Xie and Wang immediately ordered Chen to switch his allegiance to the radicals. But Chen refused. Chen and his PLA forces feared that by switching sides, they would be tacitly admitting to have taken the wrong side, and that this could be used against them in the future. It would open them up to accusations of being counterrevolutionary.

This is a problem with movements that engage in blame and punishment of others. The fear they generate can lead to resistance. And this resistance quickly hardens to an obstinate and intractable resistance, because to finally give in might lead to as much blame and punishment as refusal to give in. It’s a Catch-22.

On July 20, 1967, both Mao and Zhou flew to the Wuhan area to try to resolve this crisis. Their presence was kept a secret from the public, but Chen was made aware. He felt very impressed that Mao was so close, and was swayed enough to write a self-criticism, and back down from his support for the conservatives.

This emboldened Wang Li to reprimand 200 divisional officers under Chen, accusing them of not having grasped the essence of the Cultural Revolution. And so the blame these officers feared, immediately came true.

They felt alarmed and pissed off about this, and in their ire, they arrested both Xie and Wang. They slapped Xie around and humiliated him. And they held them both for a short while, until they were rescued in a secret military operation. Xie and Wang then returned to Beijing, to a hero’s welcome, having supposedly saved the city from counterrevolutionaries, even though it had been Mao and Zhou’s efforts that had turned Chen around.

On July 26, Chen was brought before the Cultural Revolution Group and a large contingent of senior military and political leaders, and put on trial for supporting the “wrong” group in Wuhan. He was accused of a kludge of crimes, and beaten by security personnel. These accusations, and the beating, left many of the leaders present feeling disgusted, and they left the trial in protest. Clearly, support for the Cultural Revolution was also on trial, and not doing very well.

Mao was beginning to realize that perhaps his revolution had gone too far. So he had Chen dismissed from office, but not imprisoned. But he needed a scapegoat to appease moderate factions of the PLA, so he had Wang Li arrested for being a “bad person” and a “cockroach.” Wang was never charged with a crime, but spent the next 15 years in prison, making his criminal case one of the craziest for historians to try to figure out.

Soon after Wang’s arrest, Mao dialed down on appeals for violent civil war against the establishment, and the Cultural Revolution became just a little less dangerous for everyone. But the Wuhan Incident marked the end of future PLA resistance to the Cultural Revolution. After this, the takeover of local governments by radical Red Guards was ensured. Mao had won his “all-round civil war.”


Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 26: Mango Fever.

Chapter 24: Cow Sheds

This is the next installment of my book, The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao.
To read the previous installment, click this link.
To start at the beginning, click this link.


Chapter 24
Cow Sheds

In 1967, as the Cultural Revolution ravaged the nation, the Red Guards took university professors and administrators prisoner, and forced them to construct what they called “Cow Sheds” on the campuses of universities throughout China. These Cow Sheds were actually makeshift prisons to house the professors and administrators, who were derogatorily called “Cow Devils” by the Red Guards.

The purpose of the Cow Sheds was to reeducate and rehabilitate the Cow Devils, so that they could reopen the universities and begin educating students in a pure and proper Communistic manner. The Red Guards in charge of the Cow Sheds were often students of the professors.

The living conditions for the imprisoned Cow Devils were often unsanitary and unhealthy. It weakened them, and made them vulnerable to disease.

Ji Xianlin at age 41, in 1952, 14 years before the Cultural Revolution began.

Their reeducation consisted of hard labor, and beatings during repeated Struggle Sessions. They also had to memorize quotations from Mao’s Little Red Book, and were thrashed severely whenever they failed to remember a quotation with exact accurateness. Many perished from the harsh living conditions and constant beatings from Red Guards.

Ji Xianlin was a professor imprisoned at Peking University. He was head of the university’s Eastern Languages Department. In the 1990’s, Ji wrote one of the few firsthand accounts in existence of those who survived persecution, in a book entitled, The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

Many of Ji’s peers perished during this dark time in Chinese history, but Ji managed to live a long life. In the post-Cultural Revolution era, he became a popular and highly-respected intellectual. He passed away in 2009, at the age of 97.

 

 


Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 25: All-Round Civil War.

Carolyn’s Poor Husband

A certain unnamed blogger, who’s initials are Carolyn Shelton, recently posted a tall tale where I was turned into a duck. This wasn’t very nice of her. Quack! I’m unhappy being a duck, and so I’ve been plotting and planning revenge.

I’ve come up with an idea for payback that I think will fill the bill. Quack! I’ve written a poem about her poor husband, Brad, who has to put up with living with Carolyn. Poor Brad. Quack! In fact, a few weeks ago I posted a poem written by Colin Chappell, entitled Poor Brad. Yes, Colin feels sorry for Brad too, as does everyone who knows Carolyn. Quack! Quack!

The Poor Brad post was VERY popular. Quack! Seems it touched a chord with many people, who have long harbored similar sentiments. I imagine there’s a popular demand for more of this, so I’ve written a sequel to Colin’s poem. It’s entitled, Carolyn’s Poor Husband. And we know who that is. Quack! Poor Brad. Quack!

And so, by popular demand, here’s the–quack!–sequel:

Carolyn’s Poor Husband

Repairing her car, Brad’s up late,
Removing a runaway gate,
Or fixing mirrors that jump out,
Like silvery trout,
Because she’ll never admit she’s distrait.

Brad tries to save money, it’s true,
But she wants a car that is blue.
The silver is cheap,
And it still goes beep-beep,
But if he buys it, then she’ll go boo-hoo.

Coffee, Brad wisely avoids
As bad as a case of hemorrhoids.
Yet she drinks it all day,
And salted caramel latte,
‘Til she’s buzzing like haywired androids.

She doesn’t speak English too much,
Just gibber and jabber and such.
Brad listens with care,
While pulling out hair,
From that damned Pennsylvanian Dutch.

She claims to be sweeter than sugar,
Yet she’s older than Brad, a real cougar.
His “Sweet Carolyn,”
Can really wear thin,
Reminding him more of a booger.

I’ve never met Poor Brad,
And that leaves me feeling sad.
But I would be pissed,
If he doesn’t exist,
Because then we will all have been had.