Blessed to be a witness

<= previous | back to index | next =>

Friday, February 25

Hat trick!

I have finally scored the long-awaited triumverate of dead Communist dictators! First Lenin, then Ho Chi Minh, and now Mao. After I got Ho, I never thought I'd do it, but now I have. I have even written a poem to celebrate:

Chairman Mao lies in state.
He is looking very late.

I thank you. Anyway, we managed to haul our arses out of bed at 6 this morning and got to the flag-raising ceremony on time, which was sort of flaggy, and raisingy. Not the best spectacle in the world, and most of the time was spent with me trying to get a competition-winning photo of the huge moon that hung over the Great Hall of the People, one of the Stalinist buildings that dominate the sides of the square. I think I have one, but will have to wait until I've transferred them to the computer.

After breakfast, we managed somehow to blag our way to the front of the entire queue to see Mao's body. We were herded into a line four people wide, and stopped every few yards, presumably a) to increase the feeling of anticipation, and b) to allow Chinese people to buy fake flowers which, in the lobby, they laid at the feet of a huge statue of the man - almost certainly to be recycled and re-sold. Some of them bowed reverentially, and some waved them the same way I saw Buddhists waving incense in front of statues of the Buddha.

[Added following departure from China:] It occurred to me that this sight was like watching hundreds of European Jews laying flowers at the base of a statue of Hitler, or or perhaps less emotively and more accurately, Russians laying them at the foot of a statue of Stalin. Except in Russia, even during Communist times, Stalin's sins were at least partially acknowledged. Here, though the official line is that Mao was "thirty per cent wrong", that's one huge thirty per cent - tens of millions starved in the Great Leap Forward, something I'd call criminal negligence, and at least hundreds of thousands killed and maimed, and millions of lives destroyed, by the Red Guards in a power struggle, something I'd call culpable homicide. Granted, he initially did turn the post-imperial and KMT-ridden economy around. But after the initial flurry of success he became a horrendous, evil catastrophe. Yet now he's become some kind of god.

Perhaps it's the long view: the way we can look back on our own tyrants of the distant past with a dispassionate, geopolitical eye, and even a wry grin at the atrocities and tortures, so in a 5,000-year-old society, people have the seemingly heartless ability to regard modern tyrants thus immediately.

<= previous | back to index | next =>

To comment on this, or just to say hello, mail me at