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Kill a man and you go to jail… kill 45 million and you get commemorated in souvenir shops

People in Shaoshan in China, the birthplace of Chairman Mao, are making good money selling keepsakes of history’s most prolific mass murderer. I find it odd that the BBC reporter doing a little video on that somehow neglected to ask “why are you selling souvenirs of a man responsible for murdering tens of millions of your fellow Chinese people?”

Actually I think we all know why that question never got asked.

Clearly Braunau am Inn in Austria is missing a trick.

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27 comments to Kill a man and you go to jail… kill 45 million and you get commemorated in souvenir shops

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    I visited the gift shop in the Stalin museum in Gori, Georgia earlier this year. In the end, I couldn’t bring myself to actually buy anything.

  • Paul Marks

    Good Michael – good.

    As for Mao stuff.

    If they produce a chamber pot with his image in it I may buy it.

    But there is a serous point here.

    Mao was a terrible evil doer, read not just “Mao: The Untold Story”, read the academic works of Frank Dikotter – Mao was a monster.

    I believe in objective reality (I am a Realist – with a big R.). Objective reality is important – it matters.

    So this tap dance about “people see Mao in different ways – and different ways of seeing something are equally valid” just makes me want to vomit. This idea that if something “works for you” it is true – as that is the only definition of truth there can be….

    William James (and his Pragmatist chums) has a lot to answer for.

    Although not as much as Mao has to answer for.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Then there is the young doctor from Argentina who was martyred in Bolivia and has been honored in legend, film, iTunes, on T-shirts, and god-only-knows what else.

    I always liked the Dissident Frogman’s graphic treatment of him. Although frankly it is not very respectful.

    So what do the Chinese and (an ignorant–I hope–minority of) Americans have in common?

  • revver

    I saw Mao souvenirs in a shop where I live in Toronto. Whereas selling them in China is in some respects unsurprising, expats who sell such things in a western nation demonstrate a level of ignorance and ingratitute that borders on sickening.

    Every city has a “little China” district you can see for yourself.

  • Fraser Orr

    I watched a movie recently about an (eye) doctor who went on a missionary journey to N. Korea. He was there for ten days and in that time performed some insanely large number of cataract surgeries. AT the end of the documentary all the patients were in a large room with the dressings still on their eye. The first one to have her dressing removed was a young lady in her early twenties, who had been blind in her eye for seven years. This disorder made her ineligible for marriage, so she was there with her father.

    The doctor removed the bandage, and her father asked if she could see. “Yes, I can see very well.” She replied.

    The very next thing out of the father’s mouth was “We must thank the great General.” And the immediately went to the ubiquitous picture of Kim Il Un, and started crying for joy “Thank you great leader, praise you great leader” and everyone else joined in clapping and yelling like they were at a Benny Hin revival and healing meeting. Narry a word to the doctor whose training, skill and charity had restored her sight. And so the scene repeated for all the patients.

    Were they just covering their real feelings? I think not. If you have only had one point of view from the womb then you believe the delusion.

    When I was in China a few years ago, it was evident to me that the Chinese held Mao in the very highest regard. They spoke of him in the revered tones that Americans speak of Washington or Jefferson (blinding ignoring the ugly blot on those men’s character’s too.)
    Most people don’t live in real-ville.

    And I might add there is a certain delicious irony in the delightfully free market thinking of exploiting the exploiter for personal gain. It is such a poke in the eye to Che and Mao who so reviled the free market.

  • Why would the Chinese care that Mao killed millions of people? After all, it wasn’t they who were killed, it was others. What, you thought the Chinese gave a shit about one another? Nope. Like an awful lot of nationalities, the Russians included, they couldn’t give two shits about one another, and the fate of somebody else is of secondary importance to woolly concepts such as making a country “strong” or “respected”. How else did they end up in a situation where millions of Chinese were very easily persuaded to murder millions of others: it wasn’t Mao pulling the triggers, it was his followers. Ditto with Stalin and the Russians, there had to be a few million willing volunteers to get on with the slaughter otherwise it would have gone nowhere. Note that the Nazis made a point of murdering other people wholesale, but not people who were identical to those doing the murdering. It’s not the case that communism forces people to murder their own by the million, it’s more the case that communism only takes root in places where people are already willing to do it. China is one of them, which is why their continued worship of Mao isn’t surprising.

  • Fraser, I saw that documentary on North Korea. Unbelievable scenes, praising some chubby fuckwit for saving her sight when the doctor who carried out the operation is stood right there. Brainwashed doesn’t even begin to cover it. Programmed, more like.

  • Mr Ed

    What’s the point in praising the eye surgeon when it woud get you killed or in a GULAG? They weren’t dumb, survival instinct kicked in.

    With Mao, what is seen and what is not seen. We see the survivors or their offspring, and they all know the apparatus is still there. The dead do not protest.

  • Ben

    Tim Newman, Spot on.

    Mr Ed, Also.

  • rosenquist

    I have a friend who has a sofa cushion with an Andy Warhol portrait version Mao’s face, so I guess its not really a picture of Mao but a picture of an iconic Andy Warhol work.

    As for the famous image of Che you see everywhere – well that is more a case of the postmodern image transcending it’s referent; it is generally just a shorthand for a 6th form politics and some vague notion of rebellion, rather than a picture of any real person.

  • John B

    Legislation providing subsidy and tax breaks encouraging farmers to grow grain crops go produce ethanol, and motor fuel companies to add it to their fuel products, has caused uncounted deaths and hardship in poorer Countries.

    None of the Western Dear Leaders are on their way to the Hague, and are praised, promoted and kept safe by bodyguards… seems churlish then to complain about Mao over the body count.

  • None of the Western Dear Leaders are on their way to the Hague, and are praised, promoted and kept safe by bodyguards… seems churlish then to complain about Mao over the body count.

    This is perhaps the biggest pile of shit I have read in a comment for quite some time, and that is really saying something.

    Yes the whole biofuel boondoggle is absurd and uneconomical to boot, but to liken that to what happened in The Great Leap Forward just makes you look like a half wit.

  • Rosenquist, can one hope that it’s a seat cushion?

  • Fraser Orr

    @Tim Newman
    I don’t know why you are picking on the Chinese and Russians particularly. The plain fact is that if you rip the veneer of civilization off, people of all colors, creeds and races will do despicable things. I’m sure you are familiar with the Stanford prison experiment which is a pretty compelling demonstration that the veneer is very thin and the glue rather weak.

    Of all nations, for a whole nest of complex historical reasons, Britain and Britons have sinned much less than others in this area. However, we have left many a trail of bodies in India, Africa and America to make us blush, even if our French, German, Japanese and Chinese cousins’ sins are much more grievous.

    Why this sort of thing happens one place and not another is a pretty interesting study in why people do what they do. After WWII and the depredations of the Japanese Empire, I suppose even Mao seemed like a pretty good guy.

    I think we all have both the capacity for compassion, and the capacity for dreadful acts. It all depends on where we presently sit on Maslow’s hierarchy along with a whole mess of nature and nurture. But rest assured, every society has their Mao, their Stalin, their Hitler. What matters is whether we put them in charge.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Personally, I want a Himmler sweatshirt….

  • Paul Marks

    Julie – what I find scary is that the basic economic and philosophical ideas of “Che” (not really his ideas of course – he just adopted long refuted fallacies) are still shared by the entire establishment in his native Argentina (including among many people who describe themselves as non Communists – but still come out with the stupid nonsense about the harm the rich do, and how “justice” is about “fair shares”).

    Indeed the Argentine in St Peter’s Rome (who is not a Communist) comes out with this stuff all the time – because he has never heard anything else in his life. All economic problems are caused by capitalism, the rich must be made to share more with the poor, if something bad happens the answer is even more regulations (as “lack of regulation” and “greed”) must be blame, and on and on…..

    An unforeseen problem with having a Pope from the Third World is that he seems to hold the very principles that took Argentina (once an advanced country) into the Third World.

    Good people (and the Pope is a good person) prepare the ground for monsters like Mao – they do so by promoting economic and social chaos and decline.

    They do not intend to do this (their intentions are good) they do it because of (and I must use the word) ignorance.

  • I don’t know why you are picking on the Chinese and Russians particularly.

    Because the Chinese were under discussion already and the Russians I know fairly well. I could have mentioned the Koreans and Vietnamese as well, but ran out of space.

    The plain fact is that if you rip the veneer of civilization off, people of all colors, creeds and races will do despicable things.

    Yes, but only in certain cases do they do these horrible things to people just like them.

    However, we have left many a trail of bodies in India, Africa and America to make us blush, even if our French, German, Japanese and Chinese cousins’ sins are much more grievous.

    Yes, but I’m not making the point that people will go and slaughter those who have a different colour skin, speak a different language, and have altogether different customs and a way of life. My point was that Communism – and as far as I know, only Communism – requires people to be willing to slaughter en masse those who are pretty much exactly the same as one another. There are no tribal differences, no different skin colour, language, food, traditions, etc. Just a perceived difference in “class”. This is quite distinct from Europeans wiping out Native Americans.

    Why this sort of thing happens one place and not another is a pretty interesting study in why people do what they do.

    Indeed, it is fascinating, which is why I touched on it.

    But rest assured, every society has their Mao, their Stalin, their Hitler. What matters is whether we put them in charge.

    I agree with the first part: just listen to any number of British lefties – particularly doctors, it seems – and you can readily identify those who would gleefully be loading people onto railway cars. Think of Richard Murphy, for example. But I’m not sure that merely being in charge is enough, there needs to be a critical mass of people who go along with it, for whatever reason. And the thing that strikes me about the Russian purges is the willingness of ordinary people to go along with it, either actively or passively. And then I take one look at Russia, where conscripts are beaten almost to death in the army; and conscripts in the Afghan war were robbed, beaten, and treated like absolute shit by their fellow soldiers (literally had their uniforms stolen on arrival and were forced to buy new ones); and I’m seeing major differences between Russians and Brits (for example) already.

    I am pretty sure I could be talked into shooting a few foreigners, or dusky-looking immigrants with dodgy religious practices, if I was young and impressionable and enough propaganda had been applied. But I don’t think you’d ever get me rounding up and shooting those who I went to school with, share my accent, like the same stuff that I do, and up until last week were my friends. And I honestly believe most British wouldn’t either (key word: most). But the Chinese, and Russians, have demonstrated a willingness to do so. As I said, even the Germans stopped short of murdering their own en masse.

  • As someone who knows Russians fairly well (and loves them too, god bless them), I think that Tim has a point. Sad, that.

  • Fraser Orr

    I’ve only known one Russian, and a bunch of other Eastern Europeans. They all seemed pretty independent thinkers to me, however, data is not the plural of anecdote.

    I think there are many examples of Europeans slaughtering people barely distinguishable from them, after all, German Jews were barely descernable from Aryan Jews, were this not true all that geneological research wouldn’t have been needed. For sure we only kill and torment the “other” but it is remarkably simple to “other” someone. Political propagandists are especially good at it.

    I grew up in Glasgow, near Ibrox home of Rangers FC, and those Celtic fans sure seemed “other” to me. All over Scotland “English” people are other. During la Terreur, especially after they had offed all the aristocrats, it was pretty easy to other a people that were barely ditingishable, until the chief distingisher himself felt the kiss of the blade.

    So I stand by my view that it is the putting of the bad guy in charge that leads to all these terrible things (how he gets there is another matter.) For, once in charge, he can manipulate the population with the levers of power to other all his enemies, and it is quite disturbing how willingly a huge number of people go along. (Again, I’d reference the Stanford prison experiment, or the Milgram experiment as terrifying evidence of the groundlessness of most people’s moral centers, and how easily people in authority can manipulate them.)

  • Nick 'nice-guy'Gray

    Even us Australians go in for the same sort of thing. To some people, Ned Kelly was a hero taking on oppression. To others, he was a gangster in cumbersome costume. He was certainly the biggest event to occur in that area, so, of course, they try to make as much as they can from it. (I’ve sometimes wondered if you could mix up a Doctor Who/Ned Kelly story, with the Doctor defeating some Cybermen in early Victoria, and Ned only hearing the part about men in metal uniforms?)

  • Mr Ed

    Well did not the British Army load the ‘victims of Yalta‘ onto trains for deportation to the USSR?

    As for killing their fellow citizens in large numbers, this has not happened yet in Great Britain, or even in Ireland in modern times despite the severe tensions there, but are not people being taught to hate, in the name of Equality, those who reject equality?

  • Fraser, personally I am very far from disputing your point. FWIW, I do take Tim’s point to be cultural. We are all individuals, but we behave very differently when in groups, especially when those groups are large enough. How easy it is to herd a particular population into such large groups, for what purposes, and how they will conduct themselves once so herded, does very much – although by no means entirely – depend on the prevailing culture.

  • Vinegar Joe

    At least Mao bathed. Che Guevara t-shirts are available all over Europe and the UK.

  • Thanks Alisa, yes, my point is cultural. I cannot even begin to attempt to explain exactly why some cultures behave differently from others, but the fact that they do is indisputable. I attempted to answer the question of why some countries are poor by observing that in some poor countries there is simply no trust between individuals (again I used Russia as my example, having lived and worked there). If three Japanese businessmen get together to fund and execute a project, they will almost immediately trust one another. If three Americans do so, they don’t need to trust each other but they trust the legal status of the contract and the legal system which backs it. Take three Russians, and all three will immediately be on the defensive because they will assume – probably correctly – that one or both of the other two will be seeking to flee with the money or shaft him in some other way right from the outset. My observations of Nigeria, which got me in deep trouble with my employer, were that the honest Nigerians were vastly outnumbered by the crooks, and the prevailing culture does not condemn criminal behaviour and hence the place is a dump where Singapore, for example, isn’t. (Incidentally, the Russians drive me nuts because socially they are the most warm, friendly, hospitable, fun, and loyal people on the planet. Just don’t do business there.)

    Culture counts for one hell of a lot of individual and group behaviour, and I don’t think it can be automatically assumed that all cultures would implement Communism in the way the USSR or China did. I’m not ruling out any culture by saying it could never happen there, but it shouldn’t be assumed it could because it has happened elsewhere.

  • Indeed, Tim. BTW, I do remember that post fondly. I am also reminded that I need to return to regular reading of WSotD – always time well spent.

  • Slartibartfarst

    Still awaiting the much-rumoured launch/opening of a gift shop in Mecca selling Mohammed novelties. For example, pictures, effigies and associated knick-knacks, including T-shirts, turbans, pikes, life-sized severed heads, knives, sabres, false beards, prayer-mats etc. – maybe even books like “Sharia’h for Dummies” and an innovative waterproof and fireproof Koran.