“Mao’s Golden Mangoes and the Cultural Revolution” on display at the Wang Center at Stony Brook University. Photo courtey of Charles B. Wang Center
By Kevin Rutigliano
To an ordinary individual, a mango may appear to be an ordinary fruit. But for 18 months in China during the Cultural Revolution, it became a symbol of propaganda for a country in a time of political upheaval.
An exhibition in the Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University called “Mao’s Golden Mangoes and the Cultural Revolution” displays all the various forms of propaganda involving the mango during the Cultural Revolution.
In 1966, Chairman Mao Zedong, the leader of China, started the Cultural Revolution as a way to enforce communism in China. The Cultural Revolution was a socio-political movement that sought to remove capitalist and cultural elements in Chinese society. The movement also aimed to enforce Maoist political ideology in China and strengthen Mao’s position within the government.
In 1968 there was a turning point in the Cultural Revolution. Mao initially wanted the students to lead the Cultural Revolution, but now he wanted the industrial working class to be its leaders. Mao needed a way to show that he cared for the industrial workers.
This came to him the in form of a mango. When a visiting Pakistani foreign minister presented Mao with a gift of mangos, Mao’s propaganda team had found a symbol to show Mao’s compassion for the working class.
These mangoes were preserved and sent throughout China’s factories so that workers could see them. The mango then became a nationwide symbol of Mao’s love for Chinese workers.
The Cultural Revolution ended after Mao’s death in 1976. By then, millions were persecuted in China and some sources estimate around one million people died.
The exhibition shows propaganda posters that prominently display the mango. Not only were these images on posters, but they were put on anything, even cigarette packages and dinner plates.
The exhibition also gives detailed explanations of all the images and the origins of how the mango became a propaganda tool for Mao’s Cultural Revolution. The detailed explanations also include where and when a particular artifact (that was pictured) originated in some cases.
The exhibition also had an event, which was held on Oct. 4, where participants could can their own mangoes. An upcoming event will be the screening of “Morning Sun,” a historical film about of the Cultural Revolution, on Oct. 23.
Jinyoung Jin, Associate Director of Cultural Programs at the Wang Center, explained the importance and significance of the exhibit.
“At Stony Brook University I’m sure there are many courses on that period,” Jin said. “But whether it is fine art, posters, or photography it is good to provide another layer of perspective and understanding to culture.”
Overall this exhibit would be interesting to anyone interested in politics, history, culture or art. It brought an interesting perspective regarding the Cultural Revolution by focusing on symbolism within the movement as opposed to the movement itself.
By doing this, the exhibit is able to colorfully show the Cultural Revolution through the artwork of Maoist propaganda. This leaves one both in awe of the beauty of the propaganda and shocked about how manipulative and pervasive it can be under a totalitarian society.
The exhibition will be on display until Jan. 10, 2015.