My guess? People like revolutionary symbols. Neither do they really pay attention to what those symbols actually mean or stood for. Just like “edge” people in the 70’s sometimes wore Swastikas. They weren’t Neo-Nazi’s; it was just a sign saying how incredibly awesome they were.
Mike Tyson is pretty crazy, and I don’t know if Diaz knew what the slogan meant, as it was written in Chinese. Che shirts and posters are still popular, but I don’t think many people are using Mao’s image that way.
Cafepress.com has 572 different Mao designs submitted by users. I admit that’s not high compared to Jesus or George Washington, but they didn’t direct people to rat out their families and send millions to concentration camps, either.
That, and a lot of hipsters/burnouts/revolutionary wannabes in the Sixties who figured umpteen million Chinese couldn’t be wrong. And ignoramuses of more recent vintage. A book a few years ago crunched the numbers for Attila, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao and others, and declared Mao the biggest mass-murderer of human history. I sure don’t want to have him on any T-shirt of mine.
Because adopting a foreign revolutionary has always been an easy and safe way to show your contempt for The Man. It’s safe because there’s no danger that you’ll actually have to live under the revolutionary, and get sent to a re-education camp or starved as part of a Great Leap Forward or something.
But jeez, the heyday of Mao as counter-cultural icon was 40 years ago. Nowadays, if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.
I suspect Pol Pot wins on a per capita basis, however. And the shear inanity of his “Year Zero” plan rivals anything Stalin or Mao came up with.
Mao was a brilliant strategist in guerrilla warfare and mobile warfare, and wrote several texts on the topic–particularly On Protracted Warfare–that are considered classics and are studied in professional military schools around the world. He was also a self-serving tyrant and the head of a cult of personality that dispensed with people–often in very lethal fashion–when they served no use to him.
We’re mostly discussing why he’s an icon in the West, but why is he even still considered a hero in China? The Chinese seem to acknowledge the realities of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, but still celebrate Mao for founding modern (communist) China. It’s weird to me. I didn’t see the same reverence for Stalin even before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union underwent “destalinization” early during Khrushchev’s tenure, and his actions and the security apparatus he set up were denounced. (Never mind that the GULAG system continued to stay in use and even expanded in the post-Stalin era; the bloody massacres of the Thirties were replaced by bloodless purges in which unfashionable middle and senior politcos were merely put out to pasture.)
Mao, or rather his reptuation, on the other hand, was never subject to that kind of reversal; the Great Leap Forward was a failure and while much of what happened was blamed on climate problems, Mao did accept personal responsibility and slipped into the background as a sort of revered ancestor with very limited input. The Cultural Revolution was largely a way for Mao to get back in the public graces by blaming various economic and agrarian failures on the remaining “bourgeoisie”. He also attempted to associate his rivals with this mythical class.
Much of this was likely architected by Mao’s protegee Lin Biao, who eventually tried to take over control in an attempted coup with support of many senior military people. Exactly what happened is still not understood, but Lin’s coup failed, and he died in a plane crash in 1971 under circumstances that are often described as “mysterious”. According to some, the crash was a setup and he was executed; others believe that he was trying to escape to the Soviet Union. Lin Biao no longer exists in any “official” history of the PRC, and virtually all records and images pertaining to him have been destroyed.
After Lin’s death, the so-called Gang of Four, with varying degrees of support from the ailing Mao, took control. After Mao died, appointing Hua Guofeng as premier instead of one of the Gang, there was a power struggle in which the Gang fell out of favor with both the public and rival political factions, and they were eventually deposed and held for a show trial by the faction of Deng Xiaoping (a serious rival they’d had previously removed and imprisoned), which held them primarily accountable for the failures of the Cultural Revolution, whcih at least partically exonerated the deceased Mao.
Mao has since been canonized as basically a founding father of the PRC, even though the economic philosphy mouthed by Chinese leaders today as “Maoism” bears scant resemblence to anything on the topic found in the Little Red Book or his collections of speeches. He’s basically a George Washington or Oliver Cromwell for Red China, complete with the same contradictions and historical distortions. Like Vladimir Lenin, he’s a convenient personality to wear the cloak of patriotism and the ideology of the day, regardless of how far it might have stretched from the original ideals.