I was a Fulbright professor of journalism in 1991, posted for a year in the Graduate School of Journalism at China's prestigious Fudan University in Shanghai.
Over the year I made many friends among the faculty and especially among my graduate students, many of whom had been democracy activists, either in Beijing or in Shanghai, during the events of the Tiananmen occupation and eventual crushing of that movement. during 1989, two years before my arrival.
At the time I was in China, there were very few statues of Mao Zedong, the celebrated leader of the victorious Chinese Communist revolution. Because of the horrors of the Cultural Revolution and earlier anti-rightist campaigns he had orchestrated, his reputation had understandably and deservedly suffered badly.
As a result, while Mao's statues had been ubiquitous all over China only a decade earlier, by the time I arrived (20 years after having graduated with a degree in Chinese language and plans to go to China to witness and write about the "glories" of the Cultural Revolution), I found in Shanghai only two statues of the Chairman -- one inside the entrance gate to Tongji University, a technical school, and and one inside the front gate of Fudan University.
The Tongji statue had a younger Mao posed in a romantic stance waiving to his people. The Fudan statue had a more forbidding statue, quite tall, featuring the chairman in his formal Mao suit, feet together, and arms clasped behind his back, looking sternly down at the viewer. The statue had been designed to look even bigger and more imposing than it was by the enlargement of the feet and the bottom of the legs, with the body shrinking to a much too small head at the top to give the illusion of height.
I asked a friend, a Fudan professor who had lived through the anti-rightist campaign of the '50s as well as the Cultural Revolution, why those two statues had been left standing, while all the others seemed to have been eliminated in Shanghai and most of China.
He smiled wanly and said, using a very Chinese turn of phrase, "They left the statues so we would never forget...and so that we would never forget."
I puzzled over his words for a moment and then I got it. He meant that the Party officials who run the two universities, which had been hotbeds of rebellion in 1989 and of democracy activism in earlier years, wanted their faculties and students both remember the excesses of Mao's Cultural Revolution (by then Mao was a very controversial figure among the Chinese people, revered as almost a god by some, and reviled by others), and also to remember what can happen to those who stand against the Chinese state and the absolute authority of the Communist Party.
The monuments to the Confederacy in the US are much the same as those Mao statues in Shanghai. After the massive suffering and death caused by the Cultural Revolution and other Maoist campaigns during the years after 1949, many people in China didn't want to be reminded of it all by having to look at monumental edifices glorifying the man responsible for those events. But of course there were many who also thought of Mao as the father of their country and revered him, sometimes, as with the cab drivers who would ride with a red-and-gold framed photo of Mao hanging from their rear-view mirror as a good luck charm, treating his image almost like an image of Buddha or Guanyin.
My own feeling is that statues honoring the generals of the Confederacy, and the CSA's president Jefferson Davis are not just an outrage -- these guys are all traitors to the United States, and were fighting not for "states' rights" as often alleged by their defenders, but for the preservation of the vile and absolutely indefensible institution of slavery -- but are an insult to any black resident of the city in which they are allowed to continue to stand.
As two of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson's great great grandchildren recently stated in a letter to the mayor of Richmond, VA published also in Slate magazine , the Confederate statues erected in the south are not about glorifying heroes of some virtuous battle, but rather were erected later in the 19th Century and on, after Reconstruction had ended, in an era when white supremacy was resurgent -- with the violent help of the Ku Klux Klan, a tsunami of lynchings, and the introduction of segregation and poll taxes to keep black people in their "place," terrified, and out of political and economic power.
The two brothers, Jack Christian and Warren Christian, in calling for the removal of Confederate statues including those of their famous/infamous ancestor Gen. Stonewall Jackson, write:
of lauding Jackson's violence, we choose to celebrate Stonewall's sister--our
great-great-grandaunt--Laura Jackson Arnold. As an adult Laura became a staunch Unionist
and abolitionist. Though she and Stonewall were incredibly close through
childhood, she never spoke to Stonewall after his decision to support the
Confederacy. We choose to stand on the right side of history with Laura Jackson
They go on to write: