Mao Town

Húnán province is famous for being the birth place of Mao Zedong. Sháoshān, a small town some 130km from Chángshā, is the exact place of Mao’s birth. A day trip was in order to visit some of the historical sights associated with the man himself.

The first indication of the town’s connection with Mao, was at the train station where a giant picture of Mao hangs above the main entrance

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First stop, was the Museum of Comrade Mao. The museum, with no English captions, has some self explanatory pictures of Mao growing up, photos of Mao’s family and friends, some artefacts such as the abacus Mao learned to count on and one of Mao’s old P.E socks. Then some pictures of known Chinese Olympians, they say that Mao’s love of sports set the foundations for China’s success in the Olympics decades later. Through some souvenir shops flogging Mao plates, Mao posters, Mao badges, Mao books and Mao pens, then past the part-time photographers making a kuai or two snapping pictures of the punters with a Mao dummy, which was far too big and actually looked more like one of the Thunderbirds gone horribly wrong. Then, the hoi poloi are ushered into a room where the men removed their hats, patriotic music is played and the people’s heads are bowed in respect for the Great Helmsman. This is when I realised how ridiculous this whole thing was…

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Once a popular Chinese historian stated that a trip to Sháoshān, was the same as visiting Yasakuni Shrine in Japan where WWII criminals are honoured. The man was publicly censured for his ‘ludacrous’ comments. I was beginning to think the historian was right, personally amazed at how revered Mao still is in China.

So, the fact that Mao’s policies led to the deaths of millions seemed to have been totally forgotten about, some three million tourists a year still make the pilgrimage to Sháoshān. A quick bite to eat from a stall cooking up Mao-style braised pork and onto Mao’s old school, where you can learn about Mao’s early education, and look into Mao’s old class room at his desk. Then, more souvenir shops selling Mao smoking sets, Mao chocolate, Mao snow globes, Mao busts and Mao statues…

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Statues handed out at China’s annual film awards, The Maoees

Inside the Mao Zedong memorial park, is a giant golden statue of Mao. A stones throw away is Mao’s childhood house. A walk through the humble home takes you past the room where Mao was born, Mao’s bedroom, Mao’s brothers bedroom, a living area where Mao held an infamous secret communist party meeting and numerous kitchens and farm facilities. Then through more souvenir shops selling Mao key chains, Mao necklaces, Mao 3D crystal cubes, Mao stickers and Mao communist party caps…

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Still causing the deaths of millions

Let’s face it, this whole thing was absurd, I’d had enough. Deciding to skip the dropping water cave, where Mao lived for 11 days during 1966 and Sháo Peak, a small mountain where some of Mao’s poems are engraved at the top. We took a short cut out of the complex past his parent’s tombs and a final gauntlet of souvenir shops with Mao stamps, Mao coins, Mao mugs, Mao ashtrays and Mao playing cards. Then finally, a few small booths showing videos of Mao’s greatest moments and a place where you could even have yourself superimposed shaking Mao’s hand…

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Zhong Zhigang, Mao’s old class mate. The students of this school were destined for great things, Zhong became a farmer and never left Sháoshān

Feeling like I was about to lose my Maobles… I mean marbles, we jumped on the first bus back to Chángshā. But not before a hawker could push a t shirt in my face reading ‘My girlfriend went to Mao’s home town and all I got was this lousy t-shirt’…

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