Mao’s Mango Fever
Do you know that a basket of mangoes can change the course of history? That’s exactly what happened on the fifth of August 1968, when Chairman Mao gave a basket of mangoes to the Workers’ Mao Zedong Thought Propaganda Team sent to university campuses to quell the escalating armed Red-Guard factionalism (the mangoes had been given to him by the Pakistani foreign minister). A mango fever ensued that enveloped the whole country, and the mangoes played a crucial role in delegitimating the red guards (the mangoes were not for them!). Tens of thousands mango replicas travelled up and down the country in reliquary-like containers held in parades by reverential revolutionary-committee members. This is a crucial chapter at the height of the Cultural Revolution that has heretofore been neglected even by experts on that period of China’s political history.
I have written about Mao’s mangoes in the following articles:
2010. ‘Mao’s Travelling Mangoes: Food as Relic in Revolutionary China’, Past and Present supplement 5 (Relics and Remains), edited by Alexandra Walsham; pp. 256-75. [Download article here]
2013. ‘(The Film) The Song of the Mango (芒果之歌): Political Awakening and the Magical Fruit’, in Mao’s Golden Mangoes and the Cultural Revolution, edited by Alfreda Murck, pp. 78-95. (catalogue for exhibition of artefacts of the mango cult held at Museum Rietberg, Zürich, Feb-Jun, 2013; Scheidegger & Spiess). [German version of article in exhibition catalogue published concurrently: ‘Maos Mango. Massenkult der Kulturrevolution’]
And I participated in BBC Radio Four's programme on Mao's Golden Mangoes (first aired on Feb 12, 2016).