Badges of Chairman Mao Zedong
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Badges of Chairman Mao Zedong

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Graduate school on badges of Chairman Mao Zedong, and the cult of Mao in general. Written in 1995, I think it was the first comprehensive English-language look at the Mao badge phenomenon.

Graduate school on badges of Chairman Mao Zedong, and the cult of Mao in general. Written in 1995, I think it was the first comprehensive English-language look at the Mao badge phenomenon.

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Badges of Chairman Mao Zedong Badges of Chairman Mao Zedong Document Transcript

  • BADGES OF CHAIRMAN MAO ZEDONG By Bill Bishop The author would like to thank Michael Michaelis, H. Lyman Miller, and Michael Schoenhals for their advice, assistance and encouragement. SUMMARY Badges carrying the image of Mao Zedong first appeared in China before liberation. They were produced sporadically until the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, when in late summer 1966 they began to be manufactured in massive quantities. From the summer of 1966 to the summer of 1969,factories, work units and army units across the country stamped out over several billion badges in tens of thousands of varieties. Mao badges were an integral part of the cult of Mao. In his history of the Cultural Revolution, Yan Jiaqi includes a section entitled "`Displaying Loyalty` and Thought Control". According to Yan, "not long after the start of the Cultural Revolution...it suddenly became the rage to have a `little red book' in hand and a Chairman Mao badge pinned to the chest." According to one very rough estimate, in 1969 over ninety percent of people wore Mao badges Each badge was embossed with Mao Zedong's countenance. The vast majority carried the left profile of Mao's head, although some showed full frontal views of his head, his body from the waist up, or, rarely, his whole body. In deference to the prevailing political mood, badges featuring Mao's right profile quickly became taboo. Badges came in many colors, although most were red. Badges usually carried slogans and frequently also depicted a revolutionary site or event. Most badges were round, although as
  • their manufacture proliferated a multitude of shapes appeared, from heart-shaped to flag-shaped, from elliptical to rectangular. Badges ranged in diameter from less than one centimeter to almost two hundred centimeters. Some badges glowed in the dark; others had moving parts. Each badge generally had attached to it a safety pin with which it could be affixed to clothing, or, for the more zealous, directly through the skin. Among the materials used were bamboo, aluminum, gold, silver, porcelain, mother-of-pearl, paper, wood, and even pieces of U.S. fighter planes downed over Vietnam. Although most of the badges were destroyed following the conclusion of the Cultural Revolution, Mao badges remain the most numerous icons from the tragic decade that many Chinese call "the ten lost years." Some depict famous scenes and events from the revolution and the early years of the PRC and thus offer an iconographic account of the official history of the Chinese Communist Party. Others show events or carry slogans from the Cultural Revolution, in effect chronicling the major decisions and episodes of the initial stages of the Cultural Revolution. To many Chinese, they are reminders of the insanity that gripped China in that period. But to a growing number of people, they have become valuable collector's items. Cultural Revolution-era Mao badges, once a symbol of loyalty and revolutionary fervor, are now commodities. There are many different approaches to analyzing the phenomenon of Mao badges, but due to the paucity of discussion of this topic in English-language scholarly literature, I have decided to give here a general overview of Mao badges during the Cultural Revolution and the resurgence of these badges in recent years. Although this paper focuses on badges manufactured during the early years of the Cultural Revolution, I begin with a brief discussion of Mao badges made before the Cultural Revolution. Then I trace the production of Mao badges in the Cultural Revolution. From there I examine the meanings of these badges for individual participants. Next I describe the design and content of Mao badges. Finally, I discuss the recent revival of popularity in Mao badges in the PRC. COMPLETE ARTICLE Badges carrying the image of Mao Zedong first appeared in China before liberation. They were produced sporadically until the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, when in late summer 1966 they began to be manufactured in massive quantities. From the summer of 1966 to the summer of 1969,factories, work units and army units across the country stamped out over several billion badges in tens of thousands of varieties. Mao badges were an integral part of the cult of Mao. In his history of the Cultural Revolution, Yan Jiaqi includes a section entitled "`Displaying Loyalty` and Thought Control". According to Yan, "not long after the start of the Cultural Revolution...it suddenly became the rage to have a `little red book' in hand and a Chairman Mao badge pinned to the chest."[ Yan Jiaqi, "WenhuaDa Geming" Shinian Shi (Tianjin: Tianjin Renmin Chuban She, 1986), 281-82.] According to one very rough estimate, in 1969 over ninety percent of people wore Mao badges.[ Song Yifan, Mao Zedong Xiangzhang Zhenpinji (Chengdu: Sichuan Renmin Chuban She, 1993), p.75.] Each badge was embossed with Mao Zedong's countenance. The vast majority carried the left profile of Mao's head, although some showed full frontal views of his head, his body from the waist up, or, rarely, his whole body. In deference to the prevailing political mood, badges featuring Mao's right profile quickly became taboo. Badges came in many colors, although most were red. Badges usually carried slogans and frequently also depicted a revolutionary site or event. Most badges were round, although as their manufacture proliferated a multitude of shapes appeared, from heart-shaped to flag-shaped, from elliptical to rectangular. Badges ranged in diameter from less than one centimeter to almost two hundred centimeters.[ Geng Shouzhong and Yang Zhimei, "Jituo Chongjing He Huainian Zhi Qing: ShoucangMao Zedong Xiangzhang," Shoucang Bolan No. 1 (1994): 5.] Some badges glowed in the dark; others
  • had moving parts. Each badge generally had attached to it a safety pin with which it could be affixed to clothing, or, for the more zealous, directly through the skin. Among the materials used were bamboo, aluminum, gold, silver, porcelain, mother-of-pearl, paper, wood, and even pieces of U.S. fighter planes downed over Vietnam. Although most of the badges were destroyed following the conclusion of the Cultural Revolution, Mao badges remain the most numerous icons from the tragic decade that many Chinese call "the ten lost years." Some depict famous scenes and events from the revolution and the early years of the PRC and thus offer an iconographic account of the official history of the Chinese Communist Party. Others show events or carry slogans from the Cultural Revolution, in effect chronicling the major decisions and episodes of the initial stages of the Cultural Revolution. To many Chinese, they are reminders of the insanity that gripped China in that period. But to a growing number of people, they have become valuable collector's items. Cultural Revolution-era Mao badges, once a symbol of loyalty and revolutionary fervor, are now commodities. There are many different approaches to analyzing the phenomenon of Mao badges, but due to the paucity of discussion of this topic in English-language scholarly literature, I have decided to give here a general overview of Mao badges during the Cultural Revolution and the resurgence of these badges in recent years. Although this paper focuses on badges manufactured during the early years of the Cultural Revolution, I begin with a brief discussion of Mao badges made before the Cultural Revolution. Then I trace the production of Mao badges in the Cultural Revolution. From there I examine the meanings of these badges for individual participants. Next I describe the design and content of Mao badges. Finally, I discuss the recent revival of popularity in Mao badges in the PRC. BADGES BEFORE 1966 The cult of Mao peaked during the middle years of the Cultural Revolution, but it had its beginnings during the Yan’an period and was officially reinforced in the 1942-45 Rectification campaign[ Maurice Meisner, Marxism, Maoism, and Utopianism (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982), 157-59.],when Mao and his associates oversaw the rewriting of CCP history and Mao "transformed himself from essentially a military figure to a cosmocratic one...to a Chinese Socrates in full possession of logic and word."[ David E. Apter, "Yan'an and the Narrative Reconstruction of Reality," in China in Transformation, ed. Tu Wei-ming (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), 211.] It is probably no coincidence then that the first Mao badge most likely appeared during this period. And it is probably also no coincidence that Kang Sheng, who helped Mao carry out the Rectification Campaign, was one of the leading manipulators of the cult of Mao during the Cultural Revolution. There is some uncertainty as to the origin of the first Mao badge, but it most likely appeared sometime during the Yan’an period. There are several badges extant from that era, and experts, unable to reach a consensus as to which is the first, have engaged in considerable debate. For example, Huang Miaoxin, a well-known Shanghainese collector, claims that the earliest badge (and one which is in his collection)was issued by the Manchurian Democratic United Army (Dongbei Minzhu Lianjun) in 1937.[ Mao Zedong Xiangzhang Shoucang Tujian (Beijing: Beijing Chuban She, 1993), 2.] But Sakurayi Chodoido, a prolific Japanese collector of pre-Cultural Revolution Mao badges, argues that Mr. Huang is mistaken because the Manchurian Democratic United Army was not actually established until January 1946. [Sakurayi Chodoido, "Tantan Menbu Youguan Mao Zedong Xiangzhang de Shuji," Shoucang No. 7 (1994): 48.] In terms of party history, Mr. Sakurayi is incorrect; according to an official dictionary of CCP history, the Manchurian Democratic United Army was established in the early 1930s. [ZhonggongDangshi Jianming Cidian (Beijing: Jiefang Jun Chuban She, 1986), 62.] It is possible that Mr. Huang is
  • Correct, but most Chinese experts believe that the first badge appeared in 1942 or 1943, during the Yan’an Rectification period. That would makes sense, if one agrees that the Cult of Mao originated during this period when Mao eliminated many of his remaining rivals and rewrote his role in CCP history.[ For other examples of this debate, see "Diyi Mei Mao Zedong Xiangzhang Zai Nali?",Shoucang No. 4, 1993, or "Diyi Mei Mao Zedong Xiangzhang Ying Zai Yanan", Shoucang No. 9, 1993.] Badges in the pre-Cultural Revolution differed from the Cultural Revolution badges in several important ways. First, pre- 1966 badges were primarily medals issued in connection with military or political schools, to soldiers and model workers, or in commemoration of the completion of public works projects or participation in military campaigns, and therefore were worn by only a tiny minority of the population. Examples include medals given to all who served in the "resist America, aid Korea" campaign, students at the "Resist Japan University" in Yan’an, and workers who built the Kang-Zang Highway. Second, these medals frequently portrayed not just Mao Zedong. Many included Mao and Zhu De, Mao and Stalin, Mao and Lu Xun, Mao and Gao Gang, Mao and Kim Il Sung, and Mao and Stalin and Kim Il Song. Third, at most only about one thousand different Mao badges were produced before 1966, as opposed to perhaps 50,000 variations from 1966-1969, and they were never manufactured in quantities approaching those of the Cultural Revolution period. [Sakurayi Chodoido,"Zaoqi Mao Zhuxi Xiangzhang Chuyi," Shoucang, No. 9 (1993): 52- 53.] BADGE PRODUCTION DURING THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION There are conflicting accounts as to when and where the first Cultural Revolution Mao badge was manufactured. But it appears certain that the first badge was made by one of the large, state-owned badge and insignia factories in either Shanghai or Beijing. One scholar, Lu Na, has written that the Shanghai Badge and Insignia Factory (Shanghai Huizhang Chang) actually began producing small quantities of a round, 1.5 cm in diameter Mao badge in late 1965, and continued through August 1966.Only in August did the factory begin making large quantities of the badges.[ Lu Na, Mao Zedong Xiangzhang Shoucang Yu Jianshang (Beijing: Guoji Wenhua Chuban She, 1993), 4.] But two other collectors, Geng Shouzhong and Yang Zhimei, claim that in mid-July 1966 the Shanghai United Badge and Insignia Factory (Shanghai Lianhe Huizhang Chang) and the Beijing Red Flag Badge Factory (Beijing Hongqi Zhengzhang Chang) began almost simultaneous production of a round, aluminum, red Mao badge 1.2 cm. in diameter.[ Geng and Yang, 4.] Zhou Jihou, a collector in Guizhou who has written the longest (290 pages) and most detailed study of the Mao badge phenomenon, offers a slightly different possibility. He writes that the Shanghai United Badge Factory did produce the first Cultural Revolution Mao badge in mid-July 1966, but it was only 1.2 centimeters in diameter and it predated by several weeks badges made in Beijing. Shanghai college students on summer break carried the badges to Beijing, and only then did the Beijing factory begin to produce the badges.[ Zhou Jihou, Mao Zedong Xiangzhang Zhi Mi: Shijie Dijiu Da Qiguan (Taiyuan: Beiyue Wenyi Chuban She, 1993), 36.] According to Zhou, the first, small batch of badges was well-received by people, who pinned them to their chests as a "revolutionary symbol". The party committee at the factory also appreciated the badges and, after enlisting several fraternal factories to provide material assistance, began to produce the badges in ever more staggering quantities. According to Zhou, by the end of July the Shanghai United Badge Factory had manufactured 32,000 badges. The factory switched production methods in August and produced 175,000 badges. In September the factory set up a Mao badge assembly line and in that month produced 1.3 million badges![ ibid, 36.]
  • Shanghai was the power center of the leftist radicals at the start of the Cultural Revolution. If one assumes that in Chinese politics there are no coincidences, and if one accepts that Cultural Revolution Mao badges first appeared in Shanghai, one must wonder whether or not any leftist officials were behind the production of Mao badges. In May 1964, Lin Biao orchestrated the mass printing and distribution to the army of "little red book" and used it to indoctrinate soldiers in Mao Zedong Thought, build up the Cult of Mao and further ingratiate himself with Chairman Mao.[ Helmut Martin, Cult and Canon: The Origins and Development of State Maoism (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1983), 28.] And the appearance of Mao badges coincided with the mid-August propaganda barrage to get a copy of the Selected Works of Chairman Mao into the hands of every citizen. At about the same time, Quotations of Chairman Mao went on sale to the general public and quickly became, as the "touchstone of loyalty to Chairman Mao", required reading for all. As Yan Jiaqi writes: "simultaneously, the wearing, manufacture and collection of different types of Mao badges also gradually developed into a kind of fanaticism."[ Yan, 47.] Is it possible that Jiang Qing, Yao Wenyuan, Kang Sheng or others encouragedt he factory to produce badges as part of the opening salvos of the Cultural Revolution? I have found no sources that explicitly link the decision to produce Mao badges with the other calculated propaganda efforts to inflate the cult of Mao, but circumstantial evidence certainly suggests that the leaders of the Shanghai factory may not have acted independently. Xu Ren designed badges during the Cultural Revolution. He also became a collector, and to date he has accumulated over 20,000 badges. He divides production of Mao badges during the Cultural Revolution into three stages. In the first stage, lasting from July 1966-May 1967, most of the badges were small, round and aluminum. There also appeared small numbers of simple plastic ones.[ Xu Ren, Xu Miao, andXu Ying, Mao Zedong Xiangzhang Wushi Nian (Xian: Shaanxi Luyou Chuban She, 1993), 3.] Badge manufacture during this stage remained largely the province of tens of specialized badge factories throughout China. When the "exchange revolutionary experiences" (chuanlian) movement began and Mao met with Red Guards eight times between August and November 1966, young Chinese carried badges from city to city. When Mao inspected the Red Guards for the first time on August 18, 1966, Red Guard representatives presented him with several different styles of Mao badges.[ Yan, 49.] Badges became more and more common in the major Chinese cities. One foreign observer wrote that "by October 1most young people were Red Guards and everyone seemed to possess a badge and a copy of Mao's "Quotations."[ Foreign Expert, "Eyewitness of the Cultural Revolution," The China Quarterly No. 28 (October-December 1966), 6.] These young revolutionaries, many on the road for the first time in their lives, seem to have had difficulty suppressing the somewhat bourgeois desire to collect souvenirs. However, those more revolutionary (or less well off) might view their motives as impure if they were to splurge on local delicacies or fashions. But how could anyone look askance at the purchase of a Mao badge from each place visited? Badges made for great souvenirs or gifts, and they were above reproach. In order to meet the Red Guards' demand, specialized badge factories ratcheted up production and came out with new varieties.[ Zhou, 40.] In late 1966 and 1967 badges first became quite fashionable among rebel factions in Beijing, and then, through the chuanlian movement, among similar organizations throughout the country as well. These types of badges first appeared on Beijing college campuses in late 1966. Some rebel organizations designed the badges themselves and then asked a specialized badge factory or a machining factory to make them. The badges were then passed out to members of the organization. The badges were inscribed with the name of the organization, the date of its founding, and an appropriate rebellious slogan; these badges served to publicize the stance or beliefs of a particular organization. After Shanghai's 1967 "January 1 Revolution", Shanghainese rebel groups also began to manufacture their
  • own badges.[ Zhou, 43.] But many other rebel factions lacked the technical or financial capabilities and so borrowed molds or made them together with other work units. Therefore, many of the badges made by rebel factions lack any identifying inscriptions[ Song Yifan, Mao Zedong Xiangzhang Zhenpin Ji(Chengdu: Sichuan Renmin Chuban She, 1993), 72.] These badges were sometimes among the spoils of victory in battles between rebel factions. One foreign observer present in Shanghai in 1966 reported the following account published in a Red Guard newspaper by one group of student rebels: "In these battles countless arm bands, Mao badges, pictures of Mao, college badges, and student cards were stolen."[Neale Hunter, Shanghai Journal: An Eyewitness Account of the Cultural Revolution (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1969), 162.] The rush to establish revolutionary committees throughout the country and then issue celebratory Mao badges for the event mark the start of the second stage of Mao badge production, which stretched from spring 1967 to September 1968. Badges were also issued to commemorate central government meetings. In a conference with cadres from Henan Province, Kang Sheng is recorded as stating: "Some cadres have suggested that maybe we should issue a Chairman Mao badge to every representative. That is an excellent idea."[ "Henan wenti xiang zhongyang di baci huibao jiyao (July 30, 1967)", in Zhongyangshouzhang guanyu henan wenti de zhishi ji fu jing huibao jiyao huibian (Henan 27 gongshe, 1967), 69. ] During this time the army also began to manufacture and issue badges. In May 1967, the General Political Department of the PLA made a set of two aluminum badges: a five-star badge bearing Mao's visage accompanied by a rectangular badge inscribed with the phrase "Serve the people".[ Xu, 12.] The pentagonal badge was to be pinned directly above the badge with the slogan. The phrase "Be Chairman Mao's good soldier" was inscribed in Lin Biao's calligraphy on the back of the top badge. This set was issued to every active member of the armed forces, from Vice-Chairman and Minister of Defense Lin Biao to enlisted soldiers. The sets were presented in solemn ceremonies, with an officer at the regimental level or above giving a speech before personally handing out each set. According to Zhou, this set, which carried the implied message that "The brilliant radiance of Mao Zedong Thought eternally illuminates the advancing people's army", symbolized that all soldiers stood by the side of "the reddest, reddest of red suns Chairman Mao". Many soldiers saw this set of badges as more precious and holy than any military medal.[ Zhou, 51.] The issuing of this set is perhaps the clearest example of the direct involvement of the Lin Biao and other top military leaders in manufacture of Mao badges. It also coincides with the beginning of the radicals' counterattack against the "February adverse current" and the "black wind" of the preceding months. [Maurice Meisner, Mao's China and After: A History of the People's Republic (New York: The Free Press, 1986), 353.] Military units continued production through 1969, and they made many of the better crafted and exquisite badges. Those badges produced by units under the Third Ministry of Machine Industry(actually the Ministry of Aviation Industry) were both plentiful and renowned for their quality and craftsmanship.[ Zhou, 48.] By 1968, in what one collector has termed a "mistake of history"[ Song, 32.], there even appeared a relatively small number of badges depicting Mao and his "closest comrade-in-arms" Lin Biao. (Most of these badges were destroyed after the "September 13 Incident", and those extant are now among the most valuable of all Cultural Revolution-era badges. Unfortunately, most that appear in markets today are recent reproductions.) The call for "the whole country to learn from the PLA" spurred a rapid increase in the numbers and types of badges produced. There was no centralized structure to oversee badge production, but a fragmented bureaucracy did develop. For example, on January 27, 1969, the First Line Headquarters (yixian zhihui bu) of the PLA approved a plan for Shaanxi Province to produce 30 million badges during 1968. [ Li Ping'an et al., Shaanxi Jingji Dashiji 1949-1985 (Xian: Santai Chuban She,
  • 1987), 295.] And soon army units at the regimental level and above and virtually every province, city and county had established a "Respectfully Manufacture Mao Zedong Badge Office".[ Xu, 12.] Theseoffices handled design, production and distribution of raw materials. Any enterprise that had the capability to manufacture badges just needed a stamp from a badge office and it could pick up aluminum, technical materials and sometimes even finished moulds. Those units or enterprises that lacked the equipment to make badges could contact the local badge office, which would then farm out the job to an appropriate factory. Specialized badge factories remained very busy, because not only did they have to fulfill their own production quotas, but they also had to meet the requests of those units and organizations that lacked the conditions to produce badges. And these factories did not accept payment for their work. By the end of 1967 tens of thousands of factories were producing badges in varying quantities.[ Zhou, 47-48.] According to collector Zhang Dekuan, this farming out of badge production makes it very difficult for collectors and researchers today to determine where and for whom some badges were made.[ Interview, August 28, 1994 in Beijing.] Sometimes factories would celebrate the completion of a new batch of Mao badges. As printing factories did upon publishing new batches of Mao's works, a badge-making factory might organize a parade of workers and cadres who, all wearing the new badge, of course, would march in the streets holding aloft red flags, beating drums, and setting off firecrackers. The procession would stop at party and government organs, where factory leaders would present some of the badges.[ Zhou, 48.] In this second stage, the Shaoshan Chairman Mao Badge factory opened in Shaoshan, XiangtanPrefecture, Hunan Province. It was China's first and only factory designed specifically for the production of Mao badges. (It continues churning out badges to this day, although its name is now the Shaoshan Crafts Factory.) Machine factories in Shenyang and Shanghai donated state-of-the-art equipment and some of the best badge designers and technicians from all over the country went to work there. At one point the factory had over 400 hundred designers and technicians working to manufacture Mao badges. The badges they produced, in aluminum, plexiglass, plastic, porcelain, bamboo and other materials, were among the most famous and sought after badges during the Cultural Revolution. In his description of the establishment of the factory, Zhou Jihou writes that "the founding of this factory was blown way out of proportion by certain 'empty-headed politicians`."[ ibid, 41-42.] He is likely referring to Hua Guofeng, who in 1967 was First Party Secretary of Xiangtan Prefecture. Hua ingratiated himself with Mao by overseeing the Shaoshan Chairman Mao Badge Factory, which was capable of producing thirty million Mao badges a year.[ Jonathan D. Spence, The Search For Modern China (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990), 643.] During this period Mao badges played a role in PRC foreign policy. In 1967, radicals rose to the fore in the Foreign Ministry, and their efforts to spread the gospel of Mao Zedong Thought included the dissemination of Mao badges. Perhaps the most famous incident occurred in Burma in June 1967. Burmese officials tried to prevent overseas Chinese students in Rangoon from wearing Mao badges. The Chinese insisted on wearing them, and anti-Chinese riots erupted. More than 100 overseas Chinese died.[ John W. Garver, Foreign Relations of the People's Republic of China (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1993), 158.] Diplomats stationed in several African countries allegedly stood on street corners and handed out Mao badges and copies of the "little red book", and a June 1967 delegation to Tirana, Albania, met with repeated requests for Mao badges.[ Lu, 5.] Chinese medical teams sent to Africa handed out badges, as did the Chinese embassy in Hanoi.[ Xu, 69.] And the Foreign Ministry in June1968 reportedly issued guidelines for receiving foreign guests that in part stated: "When the masses come into contact with foreign guests they can spontaneously and separately present Mao badges as gifts."[ Zhou, 73.]
  • The final stage of Cultural Revolution badge production lasted from September 1968 to the winter of1969. In September 1968, when Xinjiang and Tibet established revolutionary committees, all 29provinces and autonomous regions officially came under the control of revolutionary committees, and" the whole country was awash in red" (quanguo shanhe yipian hong). The types of materials used increased greatly, as did the varieties of scenes and slogans depicted. [ Xu, 37.] Badge production reached its zenith in April and May of 1969, in concert with the opening on April 1 of the Ninth CCP Congress, at which Lin Biao was written into the party constitution as Mao's successor. The months surrounding the Ninth Party Congress marked the golden age of Mao badge design and production. Badges produced during this period are among the most exquisite and artistic of all. Sets of badges became quite popular during this time. A set consisted of anywhere from three to several dozen badges. The most common theme depicted in badge sets was that of the "holy sites of the revolution". In late 1968 badges made for foreigners also appeared. Some were made for sale at the Canton Trade Fair and some for consumption by foreign experts and foreign guests in China. Most were in English, with slogans such as "Long Live Chairman Mao" or "Long Live Mao Zedong Thought!", but I have collected two that were directed towards a French audience. They both carry the slogan "Vive laPensee de Mao Tse-tung!" I have collected two sets whose slogans are in English. One contains six badges that depict holy sites of the revolution and carry the slogan "Long Live the Victory of Chairman Mao's Proletarian Revolutionary Line!" Another has nine badges that show various milestones along the Long March. Production of most aluminum badges ended after the Central Committee, in accord with instructions from Mao Zedong, on June 12, 1969 issued to party committees at all levels a circular entitled "Several issues to pay attention to when disseminating images of Chairman Mao". [Song, 70.] The circular declared that: "Unless approved by the Party Center, it is no longer permissible to manufacture Chairman Mao badges." [ Lu, 5-6.] This instruction is reported to have followed a discussion between Mao and several young people at which he decried the use of so much metal in the production of Mao badges and issued his famous (at least among Mao badge collectors) call: "Give back our planes!"[Zhou, 74] Production of aluminum badges did drop sharply, and the Chairman Mao Badge Offices gradually shut down, but not everyone listened to Mao's airplane directive. I have in my collection a badge produced by the PLA's 6297 Unit in commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the PRC and dated 10.1.1969. And following the June 12 directive, non-metallic badges enjoyed a revival through October 1, 1969. But soon after National Day, badge production ceased everywhere except at the Shaoshan Chairman Mao Badge Factory and a handful of other specialized badge factories. Production at all those factories except the Shaoshan Chairman Mao Badge Factory ended in late 1970 or early 1971.[ ibid, 76.] As Mao noted, badge production had an adverse impact on China's industrial production, but there may have been other reasons for Mao's decision to quell this aspect of the cult. According to Dr. Li Zhisui, Mao's personal physician for over two decades, Mao had become hostile towards Lin Biao by May1969.[ Li Zhisui, The Private Life of Chairman Mao (New York: Random House, 1994), 517.] If Lin were behind much of the badge production, perhaps by halting the badge madness Mao was really launching an attack against Lin. Or, as Maurice Meisner suggests, perhaps Mao ordered this step in the dismantling of his personality cult because he had "regained supremacy over the institution [the Party bureaucracy], presumably cleansed it of its `revisionist` elements, and the time had come for the cult to be `cooled down.`"[ Meisner, 171-72.] No one knows with any certainty how many Mao badges were produced during the Cultural Revolution; estimates range between 2.5 billion and 5 billion. At a meeting in March 1969, Premier Zhou Enlai
  • declared that 2.2 billion badges had been manufactured since the start of the Cultural Revolution.[ "Zhouzongli zai quanguo jihua gongzuo huiyi shang de jianghua", March 25, 1969, photocopy of hand copied transcript of transmitted text held by Fairbank Center Library.] However, the total number of badges produced during the Cultural Revolution is actually far greater. Not only did production continue for several months after Zhou's statement, but it also increased dramatically during the period surrounding the Ninth Party Congress in April. Many work units and organizations decided independently whether and how many Mao badges to produce; in contrast to the publication of The Selected Works of Chairman Mao and The Quotations of Chairman Mao, there was no unified system of registration on the municipal, provincial or national level. What is clear is that the manufacture of Mao badges led to substantial wastes of time, money, and materials. With an economic logic that only fervent communists can appreciate, Mao badges sold for less than they cost to make. According to one former Mao badge designer: At the time, one 3 cm small Chairman Mao badge of the "Four Greats", "East is Red" or "Sailing the Seas Rely on the Helmsman" type cost about one mao five fen to make. If each were sold for seven fen, then the state's loss totaled more than half.[ Zhou, 48] Zhou Jihou made a very rough and doubtless inaccurate estimate of the amount of aluminum used in the manufacture of Mao badges, but even so his guess is useful in illustrating the magnitude of the waste. Mr. Zhou assumes that 4.8 billion badges were made during the Cultural Revolution, and on average each weighed 20 grams of aluminum, for a total of 96,000 tons. He writes that if a Mig-21 used 2.5 tons of aluminum, the aluminum in Mao badges could have produced 39,600 planes. No wonder Mao wanted his planes back![ Zhou, 71.] BADGE CONTENT Mao badges provide an illustrated narrative to both the events of the Cultural Revolution and the pre1966 history of the CCP. An examination of this topic requires a monograph in itself. Here I will give a very brief introduction. Among the scenes most frequently depicted on Mao badges were the "holy sites of the revolution". The most common of these sites include: Mao Zedong's former residence in Shaoshan; the Jinggang Mountains, Zunyi, Yanan, and the Tiananmen rostrum in Beijing. Other sites included the Guangzhou Peasants' School and several of the more famous milestones along the Long March.[ Song, 19.] Badges commemorating the 1927 Autumn Harvest Uprising provide more examples of the use of a badge to visualize the narrative of party history. Perhaps the most frequently depicted scene was that of Mao going to Anyuan, Jiangxi Province, in 1927. The design of this badge derived directly from Liu Chunhua's famous 1968 oil painting, "Chairman Mao Going to Anyuan", which shows Mao leaving for Anyuan to organize coal miners there. In reality, Liu Shaoqi played a more important role in organizing the strikes in Anyuan; the painting and the subsequent badges are examples of the iconographic reconstruction of history designed to prove the primacy and precocity of Mao Zedong in guiding the revolution. Other badges attempted to affirm Mao's place in the pantheon of Communist thinkers by showing Mao together with Lenin; Lenin and Marx; or Lenin, Mark, Stalin and Engels. Badges also commemorated events during the Cultural Revolution. Perhaps the most common were those celebrating the establishment of a revolutionary committee. Thousands of revolutionary committees were set up at every level, and almost every one issued a commemorative badge. Many badges were also made in honor of one of "Chairman Mao's Latest Directives." Other frequently depicted events include: the May 7 Directive, the model operas, Mao's tours throughout the country in 1967 and 1968; the January 1 Revolution in Shanghai; and Mao's gift of mangoes to the worker-peasant Mao Zedong thought team at Qinghua University on August 6, 1968. [For a fascinating discussion of
  • Mao's gift of mangoes and its aftermath, see Edward Rice, Mao's Way (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972) 455-58.] Sunflowers and the character for loyalty (zhong) were frequent decorations on Mao badges. Both carried deep symbolic meaning. Mao Zedong was frequently referred to as the "red sun". Sunflowers always face the sun, so sunflowers were used to symbolize the masses' boundless respect and admiration towards Mao Zedong. Sunflowers often appeared in sets of three or seven, with a zhong affixed to the middle flower. Zhong characters often came in sets of three and seven as well. The numbers three and seven had symbolic meaning. Three symbolized the "three loyal to"(loyal to the great leader Chairman Mao, loyal to Mao Zedong Thought, and loyal to proletarian revolutionary line of Chairman Mao) and seven signified the boundless loyalty of the seven hundred million people to Chairman Mao.[ Li Xuemei, "Mao Zedong Xiangzhang De Tezheng," Shoucang No. 12 (1993), 9.] Although one of the objectives of the Cultural Revolution was to "smash the four olds", some Mao badges depicted traditional scenes and imagery. For example, I have one badge of uncertain origin that is inscribed with the words "On perilous peaks dwells beauty in her infinite variety", the last line from Mao's poem "The Fairy Cave".[ Mao Tsetung, Poems (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1976), 41.] The space around and below the profile of Mao's head is decorated with pine branches and a lonely pavilion nestled on an isolated hilltop. That imagery can be found in many of China's traditional landscape paintings. Maurice Meisner also discussed the seeming incongruity between some of the imagery used in the Cult of Mao and the goals of the Cultural Revolution. He writes: "There is of course nothing uniquely Chinese about the spectacle of revolutionary iconoclasts promoting the worship of traditional type icons. As Karl Marx once observed: `At the very time when men appeared engaged in revolutionizing things and themselves...they anxiously conjure up to their service the spirits of the past."[ Meisner, Marxism, Maoism, and Utopianism, 169.] DISTRIBUTION OF BADGES In mid-1967, a curious phenomenon, seemingly at odds with the goals of the Cultural Revolution, emerged. Black markets for trading in Mao badges sprang up in cities throughout China. Before these street markets appeared, Badges were primarily obtained through one's work unit or purchased at selected stores in urban areas. In Beijing, one could find badges at the Wangfujing East Wind Market, at Liulichang, at the Ganjiakou Market, and at several Xinhua bookstores, among others. These stores generally sold badges produced by badge and arts and crafts factories.[ Lu, 13.] Most of these stores had sold limited numbers of Mao badges before 1966, although there were exceptions. One employee of the Peking Municipality Department Store (formerly the Wanfujing Department until the name was changed in mid-1966) wrote that for almost 10 years rightist "black gangsters...prohibited the sale of...ChairmanMao...souvenir pins and badges." But with encouragement from Red Guards the more revolutionary of the workers overthrew the "feudalist" elements within the store's management in late August 1966 and began to sell Mao badges, Mao portraits and other revolutionary paraphernalia.[ Zhang Delin, "The Revolutionary Spirit of the Red Guards Fires Us With Courage and Zeal," Guangming Ribao, 30 August 1966, in SCMP No.3779, September 1966.] Demand for badges always outstripped supply. When the news spread that a store was preparing to sell a new batch of badges, people would line up for hours and sometimes even overnight. The stores would sell out very rapidly. This urge to buy seems rather hypocritical in light of the spiritual goals of the Cultural Revolution. But as one store clerk pointed out, "in those days you didn't say `buy` (mai), because if you said 'buy badges` people would view your political consciousness as low. Instead, people
  • said 'request (qing) badges.`"[ Zhou, 40-41.] Aside from queuing at Xinhua and other stores, there was by mid-1967 yet another way to obtain Mao badges. Badge seekers could patronize the illegal street markets that sprang up in cities throughout China. At these markets badges were sometimes bought and sold and sometimes exchanged, either for different Mao badges or for other goods in demand. There was a large market in Beijing at the mouth of the Damochang Alley near Qianmen. This market was known at the time as the "loyalty station"(zhongxin zhan).[ Lu Na, 13.] One Red Guard, having traveled to Beijing in September 1966 in the hopes of seeing Chairman Mao, described his visit to the market at Damochang Alley: On the south side of the square...we discovered a brisk trade in Chairman Mao badges. Most were...the size of a one-fen coin. Some were a bit bigger, like a two-fen coin. I inquired whether anyone would sell me a badge. "We are not speculators," said one boy. "We only trade. Two small ones for a big one. "What if I did not have any badges to trade? "You can use Chairman Mao photos instead. Ten photos for one badge."...I ran off to find a photo dealer, came back with two packs [at a cost of one yuan six mao, not an insignificant sum in 1966], and bartered them for two small badges. [Gao Yuan, Born Red: A Chronicle of the Cultural Revolution (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987), 119-120.] There were at least two markets in Shanghai, and they were always crowded. As Dai Hsiao-ai, a Cantonese Red Guard exchanging revolutionary experiences in Shanghai, describes it: No small number of people over thirty years of age could be found walking through the markets, puffing out their chests to display all sorts of strange souvenir badges pinned on their jackets. Obviously they were in search of buyers. When we proposed trades, however, they just looked at us contemptuously; they wanted seven or eight of our badges in exchange for one of theirs.[ Gordon A. Bennett and Ronald N. Montaperto, Red Guard: The Political Biography of Dai Hsiao-ai (New York: Anchor Books, 1972), 122.] Dai had less than pure motives for visiting this market. Because supply was insufficient, some people were willing to pay a premium for badges. Dai writes that his "friends back in Kwangtung were later willing to pay high prices for badges, just as they might have done for black market goods."[ ibid, 122.] The badge markets in Shanghai had a darker side. Police considered these markets "disloyal" and frequently raided them. While there was a fair amount of innocent trading going on, there was also a fair amount of illegality. Some factory workers were known to steal aluminum materials form their factories and work units, make their own badges, and then sell them in the markets to make a quick profit. When police raided these markets, they would send in undercover officers who would surround people engaged in trades and confiscate all of the badges. But sometimes the police pocketed the badges rather than turning them in.[ Zhou, 50.] The party center eventually voiced its explicit disapproval of this trading in the June 12, 1969, circular that ordered an end to most Mao badge production. The Central Committee pointed out that: "[The masses] should respect and fervently love Chairman Mao badges. It is forbidden to use Chairman Mao badges to carry out exchanges of Chairman Mao badges on the street."[ ibid, 74.] Among the many badge collectors during the Cultural Revolution, perhaps the most powerful was Ye Qun, Lin Biao's wife. According to Zhang Yunsheng, one of Lin Biao's secretaries, she was a fanatical badge collector who would leave Maojiawan in disguise and, along with an female member of her staff and two plainclothes bodyguards, prowl the streets in search of new badges. When she saw a badge she liked, "she would immediately stop the person wearing it. She would first ask for it very politely. If the person refused, she would offer an old badge in exchange. If that did not work, she would offer several
  • or even dozens, as many as it took to get the badge into her hands." Her ambition was to collect ten thousand badges and present them to Chairman Mao on the occasion of his 73rd birthday. But Mao, on learning of her intentions, was not impressed. Ye Qun's enthusiasm soon cooled and her several thousand badges ended up in a storeroom. [Zhang Yunsheng, Maojiawan Jishi: Lin Biao Mishu HuiyiLu (Beijing: Zhuoqiu Chuban She, 1988), 229.] Badges also became a medium of exchange. Dai Hsiao-ai tells of Shanghai students who bartered Mao badges for train tickets.[ Bennett and Montaperto, 123.] Badges were also quite popular as gifts. In the recent Zhang Yimou film "To Live" a young Red Guard presents as an engagement gift a new set of "The Selected Works of Chairman Mao" and several eye-catching Mao badges. In a recent biography, Anchee Min tells how Comrade Lu, her lover, had been so taken by the belts the performers of a model opera wore that she traded her best collection of Mao badges for one of them.[ Anchee Min, Red Azalea: Life and Love in China (New York: Pantheon, 1994), 89.] Lu Na recounts the story of a Beijing woman who, in the hopes of moving out of her cramped and dilapidated home, visited the head of the local housing authority carrying a gift of a large bag of Mao badges. Five days later her family moved into a spacious courtyard house. [Lu, 13.] REFLECTIONS Fanned by the machinations of Lin Biao and other members of the Cultural Revolution Group, in 1969 the Cult of Mao reached its zenith of insanity and transcended politics. In contrast to the bureaucratic planning and direction surrounding the publication and dissemination of Mao's writings, as the manufacture of badges spread to thousands of factories, army units and work units, there was no centralized control over badge production. In spite, or perhaps because of this lack of central direction, the badges became a symbol of the closeness of each individual citizen to Chairman Mao. It is currently quite fashionable to describe Mao as simply another tyrannical Chinese emperor. This view is superficial and mistaken. In traditional China, the emperor, or tianzi, was not a god; rather he was an intermediary between heaven and earth. He was also distant from his subjects, who were forbidden under penalty of extremely painful death from even laying eyes upon him. Mao ascended to power stressing his origins from and closeness with the Chinese masses. No emperor ever issued or allowed the manufacture of badges carrying his likeness. Mao badges, pinned directly above each individual's heart, became symbols of the close ties between Mao and the people. The proliferation of Mao badges served "to link the individual directly to Mao through a relationship of worship" and allowed the state to become "embedded inside subjects [citizens] with a thoroughness perhaps never attained by the attenuated system of identification found in the old emperor system."[ Mayfair Mei-hui Yang, Gifts, Favors and Banquets: the Art of Social Relationships in China (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994), 264-65.] It would be irresponsible to present a discussion of Mao badges without at least briefly mentioning Walter Benjamin's seminal essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction". This essay, while primarily focusing on the tremendous potential impact of the developing arts of photography and cinematography, does have some relevance for the mass manufacture of Mao badges within the context of the cult of Mao. A main aspect of Benjamin's argument is that in an age of mass reproduction, art, "instead of being based on ritual...begins to be based on another practice--politics."[Walter Benjamin, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), 224.] The mass production of Mao badges certainly became politicized, but at the same time Mao badges were
  • the objects of intense ritual. According to one interpreter of Benjamin, mass produced art "becomes incapable of commanding respect as a ritual or cult object...It ceases to be an object of religious veneration [and] forfeits its `cult value`."[ Richard Wolin, Walter Benjamin: An Aesthetic of Redemption (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 188.] That would seem to negate the relevance to Mao badges of much of Benjamin`s essay. But Benjamin further argues that "cult value does not give way without resistance. It retires into an ultimate retrenchment: the human countenance."[Benjamin, 225-26.] And that relates directly to several billion Mao badges that, simultaneously politicized and ritualized, all carried Mao Zedong's countenance. Badges meant different things to different people. Many wore them to express their sincere and heartfelt love for Chairman Mao. At the same time, wearing badges became an indispensable ritual and symbol of one's revolutionary fervor. People with bad family backgrounds were forbidden from wearing them. There was a saying during the Cultural Revolution: "Loyal or disloyal, look at one's actions"[zhong bu zhong, kan xingdong]. There were three measures of loyalty. First, can you dance the loyalty dance? Second, do you have a "little red book"? Can you recite it? Third, do you wear a Chairman Mao badge? According to Zhou Jihou, "the wearing or not wearing of a Mao badge signified one's feelings and attitude towards Mao Zedong, signified a line of demarcation between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, and was the touchstone of loyalty towards the leader [Chairman Mao]." But as the Cultural Revolution became more brutal and people feared making even the most trivial political missteps, badges to some became a kind of talisman (hushen fu) that would ward off evil. By wearing a Mao badge people could demonstrate their revolutionary fervor and loyalty to Mao, and up to a point the badge could help them avoid disaster.[ Zhou, 45.] There was an accepted way to wear a Mao badge. It should be pinned to the clothes slightly above the heart. This became more difficult as some stalwarts began to wear several, and sometimes even dozens. The badges ended up pinned across the chest, on both arms, and on hats.[ Zhou, 45.] To some, the numbers and sizes of badges they wore was a measure both of their political record and social standing. The bigger the badge or the more they wore proved that they were more revolutionary and loyal to Mao than anyone else. In the initial stages, when Red Guards embarked on "new long marches" to "exchange revolutionary experiences", the adoration towards Mao was mostly spontaneous and genuine. But by1969, when people set up shrines with plaster busts and portraits of Mao in their homes to which they" asked for instructions in the morning and reported to at night", the cult had become forced and formalistic. ["Wenge" Zhi Mi, ed. Shao Di (Beijing: Chaohua Chuban She, 1993), 168.] In the early days of the Cultural Revolution, in the words of Maurice Meisner: "the Mao cult had stimulated the masses to take revolutionary and iconoclastic actions; at the end...it simply produced icons for the masses to worship." [Meisner, Marxism, Maoism, and Utopianism, 170.] Factories and work units also believed that by designing fancier and larger varieties and producing ever greater quantities of badges they could prove that they were more loyal and revolutionary. This competition between producers was a major driving force in the evolution of Mao badges from small, round, red aluminum badges adorned only with Mao's profile to badges of all shapes, sizes, colors and content.[ Zhou, 53-54.] Whether or not this kind of competition was in accord with the selfless ideals of the cultural revolution, it certainly helped propel the development of Mao badges from purely political instruments to icons imbued with both political and artistic value. Red Guards in Beijing to see Chairman Mao were desperate to obtain Mao buttons. As Gao Yuan recounted, he spent a considerable sum in order to be able to trade for two Mao badges. But to him it was more than worth it. "I pinned one on my chest and the other inside my pocket. I was sure I could feel Chairman Mao's radiance burning into me."[ Gao, 120.] Another former Red Guard describes how
  • Red Guards, waiting to see Chairman Mao "traded Revolutionary [sic] paraphernalia madly among themselves in an effort to get the largest possible Chairman Mao buttons."[ Liang Heng and Judith Shapiro, Son of the Revolution (New York: Vintage Books, 1984), 122.] The size of a badge reflected the wearers loyalty to Chairman Mao. One young man was a fifteen year-old high school student when in 1969 he and his classmates were sent to the countryside for military training. All of his classmates wore Mao badges. He wore one of the largest ones, and he describes his pride: The badge I was wearing was known as an "eighty-round steamship." "Eighty-round" referred to the eighty millimeter diameter of the badge. It was one of the largest badges available. The larger the badge, the more loyal one was...At the time this badge was the largest, newest and most fashionable type. It was also a piece of exquisite craftsmanship. My classmates looked at me in envy and stole frequent glances at my chest. I was quite cocky. It was as if I were the most loyal, and I strutted around very proudly. [Feng Jicai, 100 Ge Ren De Shinian (Jiangsu: Jiangsu Wenyi Chuban She, 1991), 87-88.] In a recent documentary about Red Guards, Huang Ling, a 17 year-old Red Guard in 1966 and now an engineer and a party member, told of a chilling display of loyalty from a middle school student in Beijing. Huang recounted: I remember that at the Beijing No.6 middle school there was a student with a bad family background...and he didn't have the right to wear a Mao badge. He was furious, believing that "he too should have the right to warmly love Chairman Mao". But he could not wear a Chairman Mao badge, so he pinned one through his flesh, on his chest, and then wore his clothes over it so no one could see it. He said: "a Chairman Mao badge is stuck closely to my chest.[ Wu Wenguang, Geming XianchangYijiu Liuliu: Yi Bu Jilupian De Paishe Shouji (Taibei: Shibao Wenhua Chuban Qiye Youxian Gongsi, 1994), 72.] But by late 1971 not everyone still treated Mao badges with respect and adoration. Sometimes love for family members outweighed love for Chairman Mao. In late 1971 Chengdu native Lang Jia was sent down to the Yunnan countryside. His father, whom he had not seen in years, was in a cadre school and went to meet Lang's train as it passed through a local station. Lang saw his father standing outside the station, but the train did not stop. Lang scribbled a note to toss out the window, but realized he needed something to weigh it down. As he describes it: I had to find something to add weight to the paper, but the only thing I had was a badge of Mao pinned on the right pocket of my shirt. I took it off and wrapped it in the paper. I tossed it from the window...and the badge and its message landed far enough away from the train.[ Wen Chihua, The Red Mirror: Children of China's Cultural Revolution (Boulder: Westview Press, 1995), 63-64.] Even two years earlier Lang would probably have gone to jail as an active counterrevolutionary, but by late 1971 the "Mao badge fever" had begun to cool off substantially, The majority of Chinese citizens continued to wear Mao badges into 1971, although their numbers decreased gradually. After the revelations of Lin Biao's failed coup attempt and subsequent flight in the "September 13 Incident", when Lin Biao and his participation in building the cult of Mao were officially repudiated, the number of Chinese who pinned Mao badges to their chests declined dramatically. By late1972 Mao badges mainly appeared only on government officials and small numbers of peasants. In contrast to the Ninth Party Congress, when every delegate had a badge, at the Tenth Party Congress in
  • 1973 only a handful of high-level leaders wore Mao badges.[ Song, 76.] Most people wrapped up their badges and stored them away. MAO BADGES AFTER THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION The February 25, 1980, issue of Xuanchuan Dongtai included a commentary that warned: "The masses...should not improperly dispose of...Chairman Mao badges...or use them for purposes for which they were not intended."[ "The Proper Disposal of Mao Badges, etc.", in Chinese Law and Government Vol. 24, No. 4, Winter 1991-92, 87.] The appropriate handling of Mao badges eventually became an issue for the highest levels of the CCP. Following the February 1980 Fifth Plenum of the Eleventh Party Congress, the Central Committee on July 30, 1980 issued a circular entitled "Directive Concerning Several Issues in Upholding `Less Publicity for the Individual.`"[ Hao Mengbi and Duan Haoran, eds., Zhongguo Gongchandang Liushi Nian (Nanjing: Jiefangjun Chuban She, 1984), 707.] The directive informed Party committees at all levels that "Chairman Mao badges should to the fullest extent possible be recalled and re-used so as to avoid wasting large amounts of metal materials."[ Sanzhong QuanhuiYilai, ed. by Zhonggong Zhongyang Wenxian Yanjiu Shi (Jilin: Renmin Chuban She, 1982), 509.]Citizens were told to turn in badges to their work units or neighborhood committees.[ Lu, 6.] Campaigns to turn over badges occurred periodically through the decade, and by 1988 perhaps ninety percent of the Cultural Revolution badges had been turned in and destroyed.[ Song, 70.] Even if that large a percentage of Mao badges had disappeared into the smelting pot, several million badges still remained in circulation. Those extant badges spent most of the eighties tucked under beds or stuck into closets, although by the mid-eighties one could occasionally spot dusty badges on sale in flea markets. Then Cultural Revolution-era Mao badges reappeared suddenly in late 1988 and 1989, pinned to the chests of small number of young people and intellectuals in several cities around China or displayed in one of the several exhibitions that opened throughout China.[ Lu, 9-10] While the number of people wearing badges may have been small, it was a noteworthy phenomenon. This sudden popularity was a part of a general "Mao Zedong Fever" that swept through society. Pictures of and books and movies about the Chairman became popular as well. For many young people it was just a fad. Two young people from Guangzhou, when asked by a Chinese journalist why they wore Mao badges, responded: "There is no why: others wear them, so we wear them too."[ Zhang Qian, "On the `Search for Mao Zedong` Trend Among College Students", Daxuesheng No. 1, 10 January 1990, pp. 8-9, in JPRS-CAR-90-028, 18 April 1990, 13.] But for others Mao badges became a vehicle used to express dissatisfaction with conditions in contemporary China. The emergence of this "Mao Fever" was closely linked to the political and economic climate of China during the period. In early 1989 times were tough for many Chinese. Inflation was high, corruption was rampant, living standards stagnated for most. There was considerable pessimism about the success of the reform policies. In the words of a Chinese commentator: "people became extraordinarily dejected, agitated and resentful. Under these circumstances it is extremely easy for people to have a certain nostalgia for the past."[ Shi Fu, "Thoughts About the 1989 `Mao Zedong Craze` and the `Fortune-telling Craze`", Daxuesheng No. 3, 10 March January 1990, pp. 10-11, in JPRS-CAR-048, 5 July 1990, 85.] The June 4, 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square only heightened these feelings and accelerated this "search for Mao Zedong". As one member of the Marxism-Leninism Study Institute at Beijing Normal University observed, "the appearance of the `search` phenomenon is not unrelated to the recent turmoil....In today's atmosphere of weakened authority and loss of credibility, [people] get nostalgic."[Xin Ming, "On Search for Mao Zedong Fever", Daxuesheng No. 2, 10 February 1990, pp.6-15, in JPRSCAR-90-037, 14 May 1990, 24.] Mao's rule was seen as a time when there was little corruption, society
  • was relatively egalitarian, and values and morality were important. Setting aside the question of whether or not this idealized vision of the past were accurate, the wearing of Mao badges became for some a kind of implicit protest against the government and its policies, a symbolic comparison of contemporary China with the "good old days." The initial resurgence in popularity of badges may have stemmed from dissatisfaction with current conditions, but by early 1992 economics began to play the leading role. By this time very few people wore badges; instead, people began to sell them in large numbers in flea markets throughout China. Mao badges had "become a commodity with collectable value."[ Cui Lili, "Mao Badge Craze Returns to China," Beijing Review, May 10-16 1993, 32.] There were three events that sparked the rapid commoditization of Mao badges: Deng Xiaoping's Southern tour; the publication of the "Resurgence of Cultural Revolution Relics`"; and, to a lesser extent, the gathering publicity and commercialization surrounding the approaching December 26, 1993 centennial of the birth of Mao Zedong. The first event had an effect not just on Mao badges but on society in general. Deng Xiaoping's southern tour in early 1992 set off a mad scramble to make money. Economic retrenchment may have officially ended several months earlier, but Deng's trip had a cathartic effect on Chinese society. Everyone rushed to get rich, and just about everything went up for sale. The second event had a direct impact on the creation of a market for Mao badges. In May 1992 Wang Zhuangling wrote a short article entitled "Resurgence of `Cultural Revolution Relics`" that first appeared in New Culture News. Major papers around the country quickly reprinted the article. According to Mr. Wang, various artifacts from the cult of Mao were now worth substantial amounts of money. Specifically, he claimed that some Mao badges could fetch up to US $400 overseas. This article prompted many to pull out their long-forgotten Mao badges and put them up for sale.[ Zhou, 222.]Some started to compare Mao badges to Cultural Revolution-era stamps, some of which were worth several thousand yuan. Perhaps not coincidentally, the best Beijing badge market is located in a corner of the very well-developed Temple of the Moon stamp market. Throughout 1992 the prices of Mao badges increased sharply. Beginning in late 1992, several collectors published books about Mao badges. Most consisted primarily of photographs of badges. Only two made a serious attempt to discuss the history and development of Mao badges. Several included "reference" prices for Mao badges. The market price for badges very quickly approached the reference price listed in the most recent book. For example, The Pictorial Handbook for the Collection of Mao Zedong Badges appeared in September 1993. The reference prices were significantly higher than the prevailing market prices. As Zhang Dekuan, one of the contributing collectors explained to me, Huang Miaoxin, the main collector, had insisted on listing what he understood were the international prices for Mao badges. The prices of Mao badges jumped quickly, and the value of Mr. Huang's collection skyrocketed. [Interview, August 28, 1994 in Beijing] By mid-1993 trade in Mao badges had became so lucrative that elaborate fakes had appeared. I mentioned above that the publicity surrounding the centennial of Mao's birth was one of three factors contributing to rise of the market for Mao buttons. My main reason for discounting the importance of the centennial of Chairman Mao's birth in the sudden demand for Mao badges is that, if that were the case, prices should have begun to drop by early 1994. But that did not happen. More and more people--Chinese citizens, foreigners and overseas Chinese--started collecting Mao badges and prices continued to rise. Mao badges had become a kind of investment vehicle. In 1994, the Beijing Review estimated that there were 100,000 badge collectors in China, including
  • 2,000 who have acquired at least 10,000 badges and a handful who have amassed over 100,000. There are even stores in several cities that deal in the badges. A mix of greed and nostalgia motivates most collectors. One well-known collector, Rao Guixiang of Guangdong Province, began collecting Mao badges after he realized that "Mao badges, souvenirs of the `Cultural Revolution`, could be as worthwhile to collect as early coins."[ Cui, 32-33.] The trade in antique coins, like the trade in stamps, has become widespread and extremely lucrative. In Huanghelou, Hubei Province, Mr. Chen Changjun has established the Mao Zedong Badge City, an enterprise devoted to the exchange, study, and exhibition of Mao badges in China. But Mr. Chen has also set his sights on foreign markets: he plans to sell abroad some 60,000 badges in 8,000 styles.[ Chan Wai-fong, "Giant Mao Statue Goes Under Hammer Abroad," South China Morning Post, November 3, 1994, 10.] Greed is a motivating factor of most collectors, but there is at least one exception. Wang Anting, a native of Chengdu, Sichuan Province, has collected Mao badges for over forty years. He now has over20,000, so many that even the Guinness Book of World Records lists him. An American couple offered him 5 million dollars for his collection. Mr. Wang refused to sell. An overseas Chinese businessman offered him about ten thousand dollars. (The disparity in offers may prove little except that Western Mao badge collectors tend to overpay.) He declined again. Now he is negotiating with the Museum of Chinese History in Beijing to donate his collection. In return, the museum will help him move to Beijing and give him a life-long sinecure.[ "Guinness World Record For Mao Zedong's Badges," Xinhua, February 17, 1992.] Overall, the reemergence of Mao badges can be divided into two periods. In the first, from 1988 through 1991, nostalgia, reverence for Mao, dissatisfaction with society, and fashion led in various combinations to the return of Mao badges. In the second phase, begun in early 1992 and continuing through the present, greed, and to a lesser extent the centennial of the birth of Mao Zedong, led to the surge of trade in Mao badges. This commodification and commercialization of Mao badges is a fitting metaphor for the evolution of ideology and values in the PRC over the last two and a half decades. During the Cultural Revolution the cult of Mao became China's religion. With the deification of Mao Zedong, Mao buttons were icons imbued with deep religious meaning. There is today a tremendous spiritual vacuum in the PRC. "Money-worship" is for many the new ideology, and Mao buttons have now become a speculative commodity.