China was once among the short list of hero-worshipping totalitarian countries that included the names of their national or religious heroes in their Constitution. I learned about this strange common characteristic, when I wrote a journal article titled, Cannibal Democracies, Theocratic Secularism: the Turkish Version, which before its publication became the topic of an interdisciplinary international symposium at Cardoza Law School, Yeshiva University. The Turkish Republic's constitutionally baptized and protected hero has been Mustafa Kamal Atatürk. Saudi Arabia's constitution glorifies King Saud. Iran adds Ayatollah Khomeini to its long list of historic idols. Albania had included the name Anwar Hodja in their constitution and China had Mao Zadong!
We were just two hour away from Mao Zedung's birth place, which is now a museum attracting domestic tourists. I will leave Mao's life story and his polices to history books or Encyclopedias, and share with you a few observations of mine during our short trip to Mao's birth place.
While looking at historical pictures in the museum, our guide kept repeating some statements: "Mao picked a good home, therefore he became lucky." Or "Mao's grandfather picked the right place for his tomb; so Mao got such a position."
There is even a popular superstition about a pimple or perhaps a benign tumor on Mao's chin, which I had not even noticed until the guide enthusiastically volunteered to enlighten us: "In his middle age, when Mao moved up in leadership, a mark emerged on his chin!" I am not now sure about the alleged order of cause and effect. Perhaps she said the other way around: "When that mark emerged on his chin, Mao moved up in leadership" Either way, it is a pure nonsense, a political propaganda using superstitions in a gullible community. Unfortunately, the young and the educated guide was a believer of such superstition. She was sharing the miraculous story of the tumor on the chin with a conviction of a Mormon or Evangelical missionary.
Mao (1893-1976) who united his country after the civil war and founded the People's Republic of China in 1949 and transformed China to become one of the major powers is still revered officially. His face is on Yuan and his pictures and statues can be found everywhere in China. However, Mao's economic, social and political programs, his communist agenda, such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution lost popularity soon after his death. A series of economic and social reforms started by his successor, Deng Xiaoping, opened China up to the world, making it a major player in global economy.
Yet, many of the older generation still remember Mao positively. They may not want his policies to continue, but they appreciate his work for his nation in the past. During our visit to Mao's birth place, Shaoshan, we saw busloads of Chinese tourists visiting his birth home and buying various gift items inscribed with Mao's name and pictures. Mao was every where. Hundreds of small busts in gift shops winked at me like little pagan idols. However, one scene stood out among others.
I noticed groups of citizens marching one after another in unison behind two soldiers carrying wreaths to a huge Mao statute erected in the town's square. There were dozens of fresh ones covering the base of statue. Within ten minutes, I witnessed four or five groups of five to twenty people, offering wreaths and respect to Mao. Afterwards, they would take their pictures before the super-sized concrete Mao. It was not much different than a religious ceremony, though a very simple one. Soon after their wreaths were placed in the base of the statute, the groups would line up in rows and upon the instruction of their leaders or tourist guides, would start bowing down three times. I wondered about the meaning of the words preceded each bow. I was expecting some inspirational political slogans or something flattering remarks similar to those you find inside Chinese cookies. But, the words were no different than church bell:
"Bow once; bow twice; bow thrice!"