Tiananmen Square

A Portrait of the Chairman

Mao Portrait

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The official portrait of Mao, the human face of the revolution, was hung on Tiananmen Gate shortly after 1949, and was changed as Mao and the revolution aged. The Chairman's image is supported on either side by two exhortative slogans: "Long Live The Unity of the Peoples of the World!" and "Long Live The People's Republic of China!"

In May 1989, protesters from Mao's home province of Hunan splattered it with paint. It was an act of sacrilege. They were all given heavy jail sentences. [A short description of these protestors is available in the Characters section.]

Mao was the center of a massive personality cult during the Cultural Revolution. His picture was the main feature of this cult. In the early 1990s, a new, popularly-based cult, called the MaoCraze (Maore), spread through China like a prairie fire. Once more Chairman Mao became a cultural icon for the young. [See "EveryMao," in Geremie R. Barmé, Shades of Mao: The Posthumous Cult of the Great Leader (Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1996).]

On the afternoon of May 23, 1989, the third day of martial law in Peking, the portrait of Mao Zedong on Tiananmen Gate was splattered with coloured paint. Even the student demonstrators were shocked by the impertinence of this unprecedentedly irreverent gesture, and student marshals immediately apprehended the culprits and turned them over to the police. Shortly afterwards, a violent storm struck Peking. The skies turned a dark and ominous yellow and angry winds lashed the demonstrators, felling a tree by the moat in the imperial palace. Many took the storm as an evil omen.

The portrait was replaced that evening.

[From Geremie R. Barmé and Linda Jaivin, New Ghosts, Old Dreams (New York: Random House, 1992).]

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