Frequent contributor Robert Horvat sent me these photos, and there’s no other category I can put this article in besides “Anomalous”: here is a strange, curious, whimsical, slightly creepy and probably rare artifact from the Chinese Revolution. In this small ceramic figure, Chairman Mao Zedong rides in an official-looking car with several Chinese Communist cronies, one of whom is armed. Robert encountered this figure in the home of a friend in Australia who said only they got it overseas. He had never seen anything quite like it, and neither have I.
Originally upon looking at these photos I suspected the figure was intended to commemorate the proclamation by Chairman Mao of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, but on second thought my guess is that it actually depicts the Cultural Revolution, which would date it no earlier than 1966. Mao is seen as elderly and portly, as he usually was depicted at that time, and given the prominent eyebrows I believe the gentleman to his left is supposed to be either Zhou Enlai (Chou En-Lai) or Lin Biao, both prominent figures in the Cultural Revolution, and note that whoever he is he’s clutching a “Little Red Book” which must be Quotations of Chairman Mao. Furthermore, the Cultural Revolution was a time when Mao was consolidating his personality cult, and this sort of knickknack would be likely to have been produced at this time, when the Communist Party deliberately sought to make the image of Mao ubiquitous and inescapable. Though what the deal is with the bright red lipstick I’ll never know.
The figures in the front seat are worth examining. One of them may be Jiang Qing, Mao’s wife and another important contributor to the Cultural Revolution, and perhaps even the androgyny of the figures is intended to send a political message: “Mao Zedong Thought,” as it was called, was supposed to unite the masses irrespective of gender. The gun is also an interesting touch. Is it a reminder of Mao’s famous slogan, “Power grows from the barrel of a gun”? Or a veiled warning not to go against the Party line? Dissenters from Mao’s program were treated pretty harshly during the Cultural Revolution, which emphasized public humiliation and “struggle sessions” where people were encouraged to admit their political mistakes and reform themselves in front of their peers. Though this figurine looks like a toy and may even have been created as one, its message is deadly serious.
If anyone recognizes this figurine and knows any more about it, put it in the comments below. (Please do not comment or email asking to buy it or where to get one–I don’t know where, and in any event I don’t own the figurine).