I remember reading a book about Mao Tse Tung, as he was known then, when I was very young. He cut quite a learned and heroic character in the book and it left a lasting impression. Turns out it was a fairy tale.
Reading up on him now has left me filled with horror, largely because I managed to reach the age of 44 without having realised what a horrendous impact Mao had on China. Mao has been the topic of our dinner-table conversation for the last few nights. His is a good story for the kids, simply because it is an excellent example of human nature (the first thing he did after consolidating control was to build himself an indoor swimming pool) and, reprising one of our favourite topics, that the world and people’s motivations are complex. “Why did he create a famine that killed 30 million people in one of the worlds most fertile counties?” “Why did he get rid of all the doctors and engineers?” There’s simply no simple answer to those questions.
The only event we had scheduled for today was a visit to Mao’s preserved body in his mausoleum (“no, Callum, that’s not why they call big tombs ‘mao-soleums”). Interestingly Mao, along with most senior Party members, was a signatory to a document stating that his body should be cremated. The fact they embalmed him and stuck him in a ruddy great building in the middle of Tianamen Square just goes to show how quickly your power evaporates when you’re dead.
We arrived two minutes after the midday closing time for the mausoleum and so failed in our efforts for the day. Our fall-back museum plan failed when it was closed for renovations, and the playground in the park we visited was closed because all Chinese children are so heavily rugged-up today they resemble nothing more than little coloured spheres with no hope of running or bending. We did see some marvelous, 2000-year old dragons in the park that survived the Cultural Revolution only because the park rangers buried them in the gardens for a few years. Mao in action again.
Earlier, after a slow breakfast we had settled down to some serious morning schoolwork. The significant element was a narrative from both boys. They had been working on their narratives in the heads for a few days and so were keen to get them down on paper. Once they had finished writing them, they dictated them to Jennifer who typed them into their blogs. Callum’s is here. Declan’s is here.
Read up on Mao first though. The boys’ stories are just what you’ll need to cheer you up after any description of what Mao wrought.