Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-55597f9d44-mzfmx Total loading time: 0.425 Render date: 2022-08-12T13:25:39.478Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true

Long Live Chairman Mao! Death, Resurrection, and the (Un)Making of a Revolutionary Relic

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 February 2022

Hang Tu*
Affiliation:
Department of Chinese Studies, National University of Singapore

Abstract

Why does Mao's embalmed corpse continue to arouse powerful religious feelings among contemporary Chinese writers after the end of his rule, from fantasies of resurrection to yearnings for redemption? While extant scholarship focuses on the sociopolitical aspects of Mao's posthumous cult, this essay reveals the crucial role that literary narrative plays in the (un)making of Mao's quasi-religious appeal. Drawing on literary genres such as diary, memoir, science fantasy, and satirical fiction, I argue that the political theology of Mao can be read as a grand “political fiction” that linked the doubling of Mao's immortal body with the perpetual sovereignty of the Chinese Communist Party. However, even as literary narrative authorizes the political mythology of Mao, contemporary Chinese literature also demonstrates its capacity for ideological critique. My narrative begins with the party's controversial effort to sacralize Mao's biological remains, from the ritualized display of political sovereignty to the ambiguous allusion to religious miracle. Then I look at the bizarre resurrection of Mao's flesh in Liu Cixin's 劉慈欣 1989 science fiction novel China 2185. The story features a cybernetic uprising in the distant future, when a computer engineer breaks into the Mao mausoleum and “uploads” Mao's mind into cyberspace. Lastly, I draw on the satirical fictions of Yan Lianke 閻連科 and Chan Koonchung 陳冠中 to reveal the desacralizing impacts of neoliberal capitalism on the Maoist political religiosity.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Association for Asian Studies, Inc., 2022

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

References

Achen, Christopher H., and Bartels, Larry M.. 2017. Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Anagnost, Ann. 1997. National Past-Times: Narrative, Representation, and Power in Modern China. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
Apter, David, and Saich, Tony. 1994. Revolutionary Discourse in Mao's Republic. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Arendt, Hannah. 1973. The Origins of Totalitarianism. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.Google Scholar
Barmé, Geremie R. 1996. “The Irresistible Fall and Rise of Chairman Mao.” In Shades of Mao: The Posthumous Cult of the Great Leader, edited by Barmé, Geremie, 374. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe.Google Scholar
Bernstein, Anya. 2019. The Future of Immortality: Remaking Life and Death in Contemporary Russia. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Breckman, Warren. 1999. Marx, the Young Hegelians, and the Origins of Radical Social Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Cao, Hong. 2010. Tiananmen wangshi zhuizong baogao 天安門往事追蹤報告 [A memoir of Tiananmen]. Beijing: Zhongyang wenxian.Google Scholar
Chan, Koonchung. 2020. Beijing Lingongli 北京零公里 [Zero-point Beijing]. Taipei: Maitian chubanshe.Google Scholar
Chau, Adam. 2010. “Mao's Traveling Mangoes: Food as Relic in Revolutionary China.” Past and Present 206:256–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chen, Xiaomei. 2016. Staging the Chinese Revolution. New York: Columbia University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cook, Alexander C., ed. 2014. Mao's Little Red Book: A Global History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dirlik, Arif. 2015. “Mao Zedong in Contemporary Chinese Official Discourse and History.” In The Use of Mao and the Chongqing Model, edited by Cheng, Joseph Y. Y., 1144. Hong Kong: City University of Hong Kong Press.Google Scholar
Freud, Sigmund. 1989. The Future of an Illusion. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar
Gallagher, Catherine. 2018. Telling It Like It Wasn't: The Counterfactual Imagination in History and Fiction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gentile, Emilio. 2006. Politics as Religion. Translated by George Staunton. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Gordon, Peter E. 2013. “Weimar Theology: From Historicism to Crisis.” In Weimar Thought: A Contested Legacy, edited by Gordon, Peter and McCormick, John P., 150–78. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gordon, Peter E. 2016a. “Critical Theory between the Sacred and the Profane.” Constellations 23 (4): 466–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gordon, Peter E. 2016b. “Secularization, Dialectics, and Critique.” In The Weight of All Flesh: On the Subject-Matter of Political Economy, edited by Santner, Eric L., 183203. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Habermas, Jürgen. 2010. An Awareness of What Is Missing: Faith and Reason in a Post-secular Age. Translated by Cronin, Ciaran. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
Kahn, Victoria. 2014. The Future of Illusion: Political Theology and Early Modern Texts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Kantorowicz, Ernst H. 2016. The King's Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Kaye, Lincoln. 1994. “Mummy Dearest: The Expensive Art of Preserving a Great Leader.” Far Eastern Economic Review 157 (35): 17.Google Scholar
Landsberger, Stefan R. 1996. “Mao as the Kitchen God: Religious Aspects of the Mao Cult During the Cultural Revolution.” China Information 11 (2–3): 196214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lee, Haiyan. 2016. “Mao's Two Bodies: On the Curious (Political) Art of Impersonating the Great Helmsman.” In Red Legacies in China: Cultural Afterlives of the Communist Revolution, edited by Li, Jie and Zhang, Enhua, 245–70. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Leese, Daniel. 2011. Mao Cult: Rhetoric and Ritual in China's Cultural Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lefort, Claude. 2006. “The Permanence of the Theologico-Political?” In Political Theologies: Public Religions in a Post-secular World, edited by de Vries, Hent and Sullivan, Lawrence E., 148–87. New York: Fordham University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Li, Hua. 2015. “The Political Imagination in Liu Cixin's Critical Utopia: China 2185.” Science Fiction Studies 42 (3): 531–32.Google Scholar
Li, Zhisui. 1994. The Private Life of Chairman Mao. Translated by Hung-chao, Tai. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
Linke, Uli. 2005. “Touching the Corpse.” Anthropology Today 21 (5): 1319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Liu, Cixin. 2012. Zhongguo 2185 中國 2185 [China 2185]. https://www.kanunu8.com/book3/6655/ (accessed May 1, 2021).Google Scholar
Liu, Cixin. 2016. The Dark Forest. Translated by Ken Liu. New York: Tor.Google Scholar
Löwith, Karl. 1957. Meaning in History: The Theological Implications of the Philosophy of History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mao, Zedong. 1998. Jianguo yilai Mao Zedong wengao 建國以來毛澤東文稿 [Selected drafts of Mao Zedong since 1949], vol. 6. Beijing: Zhongyang wenxian chubanshe.Google Scholar
Marx, Karl. (1867) 1990. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Vol. 1. Translated by Fowkes, Ben. New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
Marx, Karl, and Engels, Friedrich. (1848) 2002. The Communist Manifesto. New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
Palmer, David A., and Goossaert, Vincent. 2011. The Religious Question in Modern China. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Palmer, James. 2012. Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Death of Mao's China. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
Perry, Elizabeth J. 2012. Anyuan: Mining China's Revolutionary Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Pitkin, Hanna Fenichel. 1967. The Concept of Representation. Berkeley: University of California Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rojas, Carlos. 2016. “Time Out of Joint: Commemoration and Commodification of Socialism in Yan Lianke's Lenin's Kisses.” In Red Legacies in China: Cultural Afterlives of the Communist Revolution, edited by Li, Jie and Zhang, Enhua, 297318. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Scarry, Elaine. 1985. The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Schmitt, Carl. 1996. Roman Catholicism and Political Form. Translated by Ulmen, G. L.. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
Schmitt, Carl. 2005. Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty. Translated by Schwab, George. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Song, Mingwei. 2015. “After 1989: The New Wave of Chinese Science Fiction.” China Perspective, no. 1:7–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Song, Weijie. 2016. “Yan Lianke's Mythorealist Representation of the Country and the City.” Modern Fiction Studies 62 (4): 644–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tumarkin, Nina. 1997. Lenin Lives: The Lenin Cult in Soviet Russia. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Verdery, Katherine. 2000. The Political Lives of Dead Bodies. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
Voegelin, Eric. 2000. “Science, Politics, and Gnosticism.” In Modernity without Restraint: The Political Religions, The New Science of Politics, and Science, Politics, and Gnosticism, edited by Henningsen, Manfred, 243314. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.Google Scholar
Wakeman, Frederic. 1985. “The Remains of Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Tse-tung.” Representations, no. 10:146–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wang, Shaoguang. 1995. Failure of Charisma: The Cultural Revolution in Wuhan. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Wang, David Der-wei. 1997. Fin-de-Siecle Splendor: Repressed Modernities of Late Qing Fiction, 1849–1911. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wang, David Der-wei. 2016. “Red Legacies in Fiction.” In Red Legacies in China: Cultural Afterlives of the Communist Revolution, edited by Li, Jie and Zhang, Enhua, 184213. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Wang, David Der-wei. 2020. Why Fiction Matters in Contemporary China. Waltham, Mass.: Brandeis University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wu, Hung. 2005. Remaking Beijing: Tiananmen Square and the Creation of a Political Space. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Xie, Piao. 2016. “Baocun Mao Zedong yiti de riri yeye” 保存毛澤東遺體的日日夜夜 [Days and nights of preserving Mao Zedong's corpse]. Yanhuangchunqiu 炎黃春秋 [China through the ages] 7:2530.Google Scholar
Yan, Lianke. 2011. Faxian xiaoshuo 發現小說 [The discovery of fiction]. Tianjin: Nankai daxue chubanshe.Google Scholar
Yan, Lianke. 2013. Lenin's Kisses. Translated by Rojas, Carolos. New York: Grove Press.Google Scholar
Yu, Hua. 2011. China in Ten Words. Translated by Barr, Allan H.. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar
Yu, Shuji. 2013. “Guanyu maozhuxi yiti baocun de huiyi” 關於毛主席遺體保存的回憶 [Recollections of the preservation of Chairman Mao's corpse]. Yanhuangchunqiu 炎黃春秋 [China through the ages] 8:47.Google Scholar
Yurchak, Alexei. 2015. “Bodies of Lenin: The Hidden Science of Communist Sovereignty.” Representations 129 (1): 116–57.Google Scholar
Zabarksy, Ilya, and Hutchinson, Samuel. 1997. Lenin's Embalmers. Translated by Barbara Bray. London: Harvill Press.Google Scholar
Lifan, Zhang and Zhiqiang, Pu. 2014. “Huohua Mao Zedong yiti shishi qianzang de ti'an” 火化毛澤東遺體實施遷葬的提案 [A petition calling for the cremation of Mao Zedong]. Beijing Spring, March 6. http://beijingspring.com/bj2/2010/240/201436203307.htm (accessed January 19, 2022).Google Scholar

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Long Live Chairman Mao! Death, Resurrection, and the (Un)Making of a Revolutionary Relic
Available formats
×

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Long Live Chairman Mao! Death, Resurrection, and the (Un)Making of a Revolutionary Relic
Available formats
×

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Long Live Chairman Mao! Death, Resurrection, and the (Un)Making of a Revolutionary Relic
Available formats
×
×

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *