Communism is still alive in many ways for my people, but in the best ways–that is, often at the butt of jokes. Chinese people might seem cold or angry at first, but I love their dark yet stupid humor. They’re good at laughing at themselves and their misfortune, which has always been quite abundant in history. The delivery might be brash, but sometimes it’s like dealing with a doberman. You gotta stare them down a second to show you aren’t afraid, and then the laughs will roll in.
In the last ten years, Mao and his aphorisms and other Cultural Revolution memorabilia have seen a resurgence. Except now they’re made cheaply and sold in gag gift stores, juxtaposed with English translations, and show up on panties or condoms–neither of which probably even existed in the 60s. You get images of Oba Mao, which the government tries lamely to prevent. What’s the political transgression there? I don’t think anyone knows. Possibly they were bummed they didn’t come up with it first, because this joke’s definitely got legs.
I bought a pocket watch just like this one year at a night market. If you inspect it closely you’ll see it’s made of $2 plastic, but the ingenious way Mao’s arm waves as each second goes by is worth at least the $15 I paid for it. Before I could decide which friend of mine to give it to–I wasn’t sure if anyone would appreciate it–my grandpa had laid eyes on it and decided to take it for himself. It’d been forever since he’d had a pocket watch, and this brought him back. He’d been a high-standing member of the Communist party, but also had a wicked sense of humor, so I think it ended up in the right hands.
Back in my parents’ youth, fashion was limited to choosing between two shirts (blue/army green), what color thread you used to hem your skirt, or which Mao pin you were going to wear. Clothing was sparse, but every household had buckets of these flimsy, aluminum pins which show busts of the chairman at different points in his life. A few years ago, my mother did a sweep of my grandparents’ apartment, and collected a tin of these to bring back to America. She’s waiting for them to become super valuable so she can sell them and buy lottery tickets.
Just some of the ways we carry him in our hearts.