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Mao makes a comeback amid economic crisis

Text by Sébastien LE BELZIC , Henry MORTON , Beijing, China

Latest update : 2009-03-20

Many Chinese are looking for solutions from the father of the People’s Republic, Mao Zedong, amid the economic crisis. Mao's Little Red Book is making an impressive comeback among Chinese students, anxious about their future.

A wave of communist nostalgia is sweeping China. The financial crisis has already cost some 25 million people here their jobs, and students graduating from university this year face an uncertain future. Many are now turning to the thoughts of Chairman Mao for comfort, and his Little Red Book is making an impressive comeback.


“We are selling five times as many copies of his book as before the crisis,” Fan Jinggang, the owner of Utopia books near Beijing University tells us. “At the beginning we wanted to create an alternative bookshop, to give people different choices,” Fan explains of his shop that specializes in communist publications. “However, with the onset of the financial crisis, social issues are now the main thing that our customers are worried about.”


“Everyone was equal”


Many of those perusing the shelves in Utopia are students from Beijing University. “I have spent so much money in going to university to study,” 22-year-old student Yang Lu tells us, “and I will graduate next June, but I don’t know if I will be able to find work. In this kind of situation, how could we not feel nostalgic for Mao, when all students were guaranteed work?”



“During Mao’s time, everyone was equal, nobody received preferential treatment, but today, it is only officials who are rich and in good health. That sense of equality under Mao was a good thing,” another student tells us. In a country where capitalism is only a relatively new arrival, it is perhaps not so surprising that people turn back to the past for solace in these troubled economic times.


“We have been selling 200 copies a month since the start of the crisis,” we are told by the owner of Utopia, which has quadrupled its shelf space to meet demand for Communist literature – Mao’s Little Red Book sitting alongside histories of the Soviet Union and biographies of Hugo Chavez. “Utopia has become one of the faces of the anti-liberal movement, “ Utopia’s owner Fan continues under the watchful gaze of several portraits of Chairman Mao.


No mention of the purges


While not going in to detail about his increased revenue, Fan points to the success of his website,, which has become a rallying point for fans of the founder of the People’s Republic.


Some of the comments posted on Fan’s forum would probably make the great leader blush. “Communism is the best thing that has ever happened to us,” gushes Yuzu, “We must do all we can to preserve it.”


Another poster, Yan Wang, adds, “Mao ridded China of poverty, but now we have this crisis. Mao spared no efforts in putting China on the world stage, and now we must protect his legacy.”


Of course no mention is made of the purges, the Cultural Revolution, or human rights – issues that are left out of university curricula, and which are only carefully discussed in history books or on the internet. Fan Jinggang assures us that his website is free of any censorship, and that the comments posted are genuine feelings of warmth towards Mao. And in a country which boasts 300 million net users, it appears the computer age has given a new lease of life to the Little Red Book.

Date created : 2009-03-19