Featured post

Contemporary Narratives - Photography: A Short Guide to History, Theory, and Practice: Online Course Starting April 27th 2022

  Sign up to my new series of talks on Contemporary Narratives - Photography: A Short Guide to History, Theory, and Practice .  Starts on Ap...

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Chairman Mao: 'Chinese democracy must follow the American path'

by Ernest Cole, from House of Bondage. A good class of photographer in every way!

I laughed my socks off when I heard about this on the radio this morning. Then I read it and laughed some more - not because of what was written but because of who was identified as the author.

In national terms and on a personal level, Russia telling America how things are is aggression, hypocrisy and megalomania talking to aggression, hypocrisy and megalomania, the only difference is the Russian side has a bit more of a conscious menace to it and the American side thinks it's some kind of music-hall preacher.

Just because somebody says something doesn't mean it isn't complete caca.

I'm currently reading Frank Dikotter's latest book, The Tragedy of Liberation. It's the story of the history of the Chinese liberation from 1945-1957 (a prequel to Dikotter's amazing book on the disasters of the Great Leap Forward, Mao's Famine).

It's a barrel of laughs as one might imagine, a story of the wanton misery inflicted on a people by a people. The funniest part is before liberation, when Mao's envoys were negotiating at Peace talks with President Truman's envoy, George Marshall. Mao sent Zhou Enlai as his envoy. Zhou, writes Dikotter, '...was a master of deception, cultivating a close relationship to Marshall to present the communists as agrarian reformers keen to learn from democracy. Zhou even persuaded Mao solemnly to declare that 'Chinese democracy must follow the American path'. Mao would agree to almost anything on paper, as long as nobody was checking what he was doing on the ground.'

Fantastic isn't the word for it. True tragedy is there in bucketloads. When Mao begins land reform, areas have quotas of who is to be killed ( 1 in 1,000 was an average) and cadres went into the countryside to encourage killing. Soon people were being killed for what they owned - kill this 'landlord' and you get a horse's leg, kill that one and you get a jar. 

Villagers made lists of people to be killed, but then added to the list as they realised that if they left any members of a family alive, they would seek revenge. So the lists just kept on getting bigger and bigger.

Even the definition of landlord was suspect (the word Mao used was a sinification of a Japanese word introduced in the 19th century). In many places there were no landlords, so the cadres outrage was taken out on the nearest thing available - Sichuan Province, for example, 'it was enough for a farmer actually to make a profit in order to be classified as 'a landlord'.'

Every individual was given a class registration. There were good classes, middle classes and bad classes. 

Good Classes

Revolutionary cadres, soldiers and martyrs.
Industrial workers
Poor and lower-middle peasants

Middle Classes

The Petty Bourgeoisie
Middle Peasants
Intellectuals and Professionals

Bad Classes

Rich Peasants

In this atmosphere, being poor was good and praiseworthy, so productivity dropped dramatically because high productivity meant higher wealth which meant you were more at risk of denunciation, criticism and death. 

Any form of pleasure was also frowned upon. So in Shanghai and other cities there was a gradual closure of brothels, gambling dens, bars and other forms of entertainment. It became a dead city.The way people looked also changed with make-up, jewellery and hairstyles all disappearing. 'The fashion was simplicity almost to the point of rags.'

People resisted, rebelled and found ways to blend in with the atmosphere of violence and hatred that was created but it was a terrible, terrible time that was set to get even worse over the following ten years. 

Mao's China was an extreme example of an ideology gone wrong, but I wonder how much it is the ideology as much as the sense of control that matters - the ideology is by the by. I saw this on Benjamin Chesterton's Facebook yesterday, and wondered if this fatwa against photography wasn't pretty much the same thing. 

India's leading Islamic seminary Darul Uloom has issued a fatwa, saying "photography is unlawful and a sin"...

Mufti Abdul Qasim Nomani, Mohtamim (vice chancellor) of Darul Uloom Deoband, said on phone, "Photography is un-Islamic. Muslims are not allowed to get their photos clicked unless it is for an identity card or for making a passport."

The last bit is kind of inconsistent - if it's haram it's haram, surely. Anyway, he strikes me as a bit of a Maoist in his fanaticism (and the article points out that there are many people who disagree with him - very politely).

It's all part of that fanatical hair-shirt no-fun tendency that ideologues tend to have. There's a tiny possibility you might get it in photography as well, a pursed-lipped, cat's-arse moth of disapproval of all thing non-ideologically sound, the kind of shrill pointing that Donald Sutherland did at the end of the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. So I wonder what photography's good classes, middle classes and bad elements would be. I came up with this (just now so it's might need reworking).

Good Classes

Concerned Photographers
War Photographers
Died in the course of action Photographers
Collaborative Photographers
Car Photographers
Technical Staff

Middle Classes 

Food Photographers
Social Photographers
Photography Writers
University Lecturers
Artistic Directors

Bad Classes

Agency Workers
Magazine Editors
Art Buyers
Picture Editors
Gallery Owners

Fashion Photographers
Commercial Photographers

  And given the nature of the post, it seems a good time to Puritan Wife Swap again.


Stan B. said...

Nice historical transition!

When my neck is on the line during my sham trial, I'll be quick to point out that I never got one penny for anything I ever wrote, never had an advert, and was never, ever on any "Best Of" list.

Then, just as they're about to reluctantly release me with just the obligatory beating, someone will stand up in the back and scream out that he was one of two who've sent me a book.

I'm doomed.
Long live the Revo...!

colin pantall said...

Er, that sounds like vanity there at the beginning. Sounds like you're bragging about what a good member of the working classes you are - which make you a bad element. You are doomed. We're all doomed!

Stan B. said...

If it pleases- it was nothing more than a very short admission of my selfless dedication to the state, nothing more than should be expected from any comrade.

Exactly why such "class trials" are such... shams. They conflate and confuse accomplishment, or lack thereof, with virtue (not that I in any way associate myself with any of the above).

colin pantall said...

Stan, I feel I've released your inner Mao and created a monster. Chairman Stan has a certain ring to it...

Stan B. said...

If that's the case...

"Let a thousand flowers bloom!"

BTW- Did ya know the good Chairman never brushed his teeth? They supposedly had a rather pronounced green patina to them.

"Does a tiger ever brush his?"