Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Matter with Mao

Within the last 7 days there were 3 Mao matters in my life:

1st. Just before flying to California, I finished reading Chan Koonchung's amazing novel, The Fat Years, now available in English translation in the UK (and therefore in the US via and in the US in January. One of the characters makes a remark of Chinese-style self-criticism as encouragement: "Just think what Mao had done by age 30..." While the character who utters this sentiment is being mocked, I find it a powerful statement on revolution and on attitudes to self-criticism. After all, I worked this novel into my hectic life because I felt compelled to read a contemporary Chinese fiction that was NOT simply an indictment of the Cultural Revolution. The deplorable impact on intellectuals of the Cultural Revolution is undeniable and inexcusable in itself. Yet, this narrative vector seems to take all precedence, neglecting the impact of Mao on millions of people whom he and the Party liberated from feudalism. That is not nothing. That is a matter too.

2nd. "The United States cannot annihilate the Chinese nation with its small stack of atom bombs. Even if the U.S. atom bombs were so powerful that, when dropped on China, they would make a hole right through the earth, or even blow it up, that would hardly mean anything to the universe as a whole, though it might be a major event for the solar system." Just imagine Mao's philosophy of matter and nation underlying this statement. His notion of materialism and being were a challenge not to the American "way of life" but to the fundamental notions of matter, objects, and being that must remain for the capital machine to stand and to run.

3rd. In Davis, I played all day every day with my 10-month old daughter, Sofia. In our bedroom, one of the only objects my wife, Min, has from her childhood home, and they barely had any object to begin with, is a porcelain disk with a painting on one side of Mao in a straw peasant hat and on the other side a sample of his calligraphy. When I carry Sofia around, one of her favorite places to explore is the bookshelf, and Mao sits on this shelf. No less than a dozen times during just a few days did she point at Mao's smiling face. This little girl only sees a smiling, friendly face, at least for now.

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