I came across an article today in the Chinese press about an 81 year old man who has collected over 10,000 Chairman Mao badges, and how he even rejected an offer of 5 million RMB to sell his collection. His collection is impressive but no where near the biggest or the best in China. After seeing this article, I decided to Google “Chairman Mao Badges“.
In 1991-92 I collected about 3,000 badges while living in Beijing. I stopped in 1993 when it became apparent that a lot of reproductions were hitting the market, and I don’t think I have bought one in 15 years. I thought they would be a good investment (so far not really; stamps or propaganda posters would have been better ones), but that was a secondary reason for collecting them. I thought that through these badges I could get a much better understanding of the insanity of the Cultural Revolution and of the people who participated in it and suffered from it.
I ended up writing a long paper in graduate school, under the guidance of my advisor Alice Miller, about Mao badges. I was happy to see that said paper is still the top result in the above Google search. I believe that my (now quaint and somewhat embarrassing 1995 grad school paper) was the first long-form English-language essay on the Mao Zedong badge phenomenon. It did turn out to be an excellent way to learn a lot about the Cultural Revolution, as well as the psychologies (pathologies?) that both precipitated it and were caused by it. I tried to get it published in a scholarly journal but was rejected. So much for a budding academic career…
Subsequently, Melissa Schrift wrote her doctoral dissertation and Mao badges, which then become a very interesting book-Biography of a Chairman Mao Badge: The Creation and Mass Consumption of a Personality Cult. The British Museum sponsored a research project in 2007 that culminated in an excellent book-Chairman Mao badges: Symbols and Slogans of the Cultural Revolution.
For nostalgia purposes, I dug up my original paper, reformatted it as best I could, and uploaded it to Slideshare. It was written pre-Google and Wikipedia, and the software I used had no capacity for inputting Chinese characters. Frankly I don’t expect anyone to read it, nor would I encourage you to unless you have run out of Ambien, but I thought it would make sense to take ownership of the hosting of this paper.
Please tell me what you think in the comments.
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