Dazhai Spiritual

October 9th, 2007

Danwei has a great post up about religion at Dazhai. It includes a translation of an article by Li Xiangping called Dazhai Builds a Temple. It’s well worth reading, but there was one aspect of that article that grabbed my attention:

There is a pervasive belief in Mao Zedong among the people of Dazhai. A “poor fellow” who had fought with Chen Yonggui against the Langwozhang Gulley told me that he didn’t believe in any other gods. He only believed in Mao Zedong. Every year when he venerates his ancestors, he will bow before a statue of Chairman Mao and offer incense. A middle-aged man who looked like a village cadre was even more direct: “Without Chairman Mao, there’d be no Dazhai today. Chairman Mao is the God of Wealth for the people of Dazhai.” A woman who ran a hotel in Dazhai said, “Chairman Mao is our account-book.” When I asked whether the construction of Pule Temple would influence the faith of the people of Dazhai in Chairman Mao, practically everyone shook their heads. They believe that there is no conflict between worshiping Guanyin and belief in Chairman Mao.

It’s not uncommon to see Chairman Mao lucky charms hanging from car mirrors, and there’s still no shortage of posters, busts, statues, badges and other Mao memorabilia, iconography and stuff in general floating around. In many people’s minds Mao has already been elevated from Liberation hero and great chairman to Boddhisatva or God.
That’s hardly surprising- a lot of the Cultural Revolution looked, smelt, felt, and tasted like religious worship. But it seems that the continued worship of Mao isn’t just the leftovers of Mao-era brainwashing- I’ve met plenty of Chinese people younger than me who at least revere Mao- but a continuation of what seems to be quite a strong tradition in China.

I’m no export, and corrections would be most welcome, but it seems to me that a lot of the gods and boddhisatvas worshipped in China were ancient heros who became legends and were then mythologised and then became worshipped as gods. Mazu springs to mind. This seems to tie in perfectly with the veneration of ancestors. And it seems like Mao is the latest hero to suffer this fate.

And maybe I’m reading it wrong, but Li Xiangping seems to think this is a uniquely Chinese phenomenon. I don’t see much difference between Chinese worship of Mao and the veneration or worship of Mary and the saints in the Christian tradition. Really: What’s the difference between hanging a Mao lucky charm or a St Christopher from the rear-view mirror of your Santana?

5 Responses to “Dazhai Spiritual”

  1. John Says:

    It happens both ways. A lot of heroes are, in origin, gods who have been demoted. I believe the Irish hero Lugh Lamhfada was originally a solar deity and quite a few Greek heroes were probably demoted gods. Think of saints such as St Brigit who started out as gods in the Celtic world and were assimilated to the Christian pantheon.

    You’re right to be sceptical about this being a uniquely Chinese phenomenon, though. Nonetheless, it doesn’t say much for a country wanting to be a modern nation state that recent leaders should become the subject of irrational superstitions.

  2. wangbo Says:

    You’re right, and I think it says something about the quality of education, especially in rural and poorer areas, that Mao could so quickly have been deified. Of course, the personality cult of the 50s, 60s and 70s doesn’t help matters, but the fact that many young Chinese also revere him is disturbing.

    Scary thought of the day: What if many Brits had Margaret Thatcher icons in their homes to which the prayed and burnt incense…

  3. John Says:

    I think there are probably a few Tories who already do that. Shudder.

  4. renmenbi.com Says:

    Its hard to compare Margaret Thatcher to Mao as they both did very different things for their respective country. But in terms of impact, Mao did bring forward a new China so for a “few” he did become a god/saint. No difference than the church who beatify someone to “sainthood” because of his good deeds.

  5. wangbo Says:

    Renminbi: I wasn’t intending to compare Thatcher and Mao- that was just a sick thought that crept into my mind as I was replying to John.

    Your absolutely right about Mao, though, and his beatification/deification is exactly the same as the church’s beatification of people.

    John: I try not to think what Tories might get up to in their homes. The possibilities are just too scary.