Spencer Museum of Art The University of Kansas


Chairman Mao's Golden Mangoes
  • Chairman Mao's Golden Mangoes
  • 19-Sep-2006 - 31-Dec-2006
  • Asia Gallery, Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas

On August 5, 1968, two years into the chaos of China's Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao Zedong sent mangoes to the Worker's Propaganda Team during their standoff with the Red Guard occupying the campus of Qinghua University in Beijing. The Red Guard, a mass militia of youth established in 1966 and sanctioned by Mao himself, was then spinning out of control. Mao mobilized workers from factories in Beijing to bring the Red Guard into submission. The gift of the mangoes- exotic fruits presented to Mao by the foreign minister of Pakistan-signified that Mao was now siding with the worker-peasant class instead of the students; he was designating workers as the leading class in the Cultural Revolution.

An unexpected side effect of this benevolent yet highly political gesture was the elevation of the mango from fruit to a "religious" symbol. The last half of 1968 marked the height of Mao's personality cult, and the gift of golden mangoes inspired something close to a religious frenzy. The generous gesture from the god-like Chairman Mao inspired poetry and newspaper articles devoted to the golden mangoes bearing the good will of Mao. Workers lined up to see and sniff the mangoes in awe; when mangoes showed the inevitable signs of decay, they were boiled in huge pots of water, so each worker could share a spoonful of Mao's blessing. Even then, their veneration for the sacred object did not diminish: wax replicas were made to replace fresh mangoes, and the mango was used as a political/religious motif not only on the National Day Parade floats, but also on everyday utensils praising the kind regards of Chairman Mao.
The above text was adapted from
"Golden Mangoes of Pakistan-The Life Cycle of a Cultural Revolution Symbol," by Alfreda Murck, Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing. Murck will lecture September 21 at 5 PM in the Spencer Auditorium, supported by the Franklin D. Murphy Lecture Fund.
The enthusiasm for mangoes as a demonstration of the worker-peasant class's support for Mao endured for about a year. After 1969, mangoes disappeared from the active symbolic repertoire of Chinese politics. Although the Cultural Revolution symbolism of the mangoes has been largely forgotten, its ephemeral significance is inscribed in the artifacts of the era.

Objects on display are loans from private collections.

Alfred Murck's lecture and this installation are co-sponsored by the Spencer Museum of Art, the Kress Department of Art History & the Center for East Asian Studies.