“Actually, it was a gun in my pocket.”
Mae Zedong (December 26, 1893 -- November 22, 1980) was an actress, writer and communist revolutionary famous for her daring double entendres and her belief that proletarian revolution could come from the peasant classes. After winning control of mainland China in 1949, Zedong modernized the country through a series of risque comedies and films, filled with quips, one-liners and denunciation of "reactionary" elements. These were later collected into the "Little Black Book," which became a standard text for revolutionaries into the 1960s.
Zedong has been criticized by many outside observers for her brutal display of breasts, her break with the "Puritan reductionists" of the Soviet Union and her "Great Leap Forward into a Pile of Strong, Virile Men." However, she is praised for generally raising living standards in China and liberating the Chinese from their sexual hang-ups. Maeist thought influences rebels around the world, many of whom dream of a leveled society guided by matronly women with dirty minds.
Zedong was born in Hunan province, the daughter of a local official. The family had an attraction to the stage, and young Mae appeared before her first audience at the age of five. Zedong developed a provocative dance number and attracted a following, but the long hours and low pay wore her down, and she became frustrated at her inability to become a headliner. During a break between shows one day in 1915, a professor, enchanted by her act, came backstage to "introduce some theory" into her. While the young Zedong rebuffed his advances, she did accept his copy of Das Kapital, and read it with interest. She quickly connected her career frustrations with the capitalist structure of the theater world. In her next performance, she harangued her audience and urged them to "embrace the goal of a classless society," shaking her hips to show the struggle between the bourgeois and the proletariat. The audience responded with delight, missing the societal critique.
Zedong quickly turned to writing, first composing essays for Hunan newspapers and then turning to plays. Her first effort, Dialectic Struggles of Urban Classes and Nobility After the Jacquerie Revolt, did not find an audience, but the second, Sex, became a notorious hit. Zedong was imprisoned on morals charges and held in jail for 13 days, but enjoyed a solid box office. She followed the effort with a series of plays, including The Drag, The Wicked Age and Diamond Lil Will Suffer For Her Crimes Against the People, which catapulted her to fame.
The Communist Revolution
In 1929, Zedong led a revolt against the corrupt Nationalist regime, urging the people to "rise up and see me sometime." The revolution, successful in its initial phases, was soon surrounded by outside forces, and Zedong began the "Long March" to Shaanxi Province, where she had been offered a three picture contract. From here, Zedong concentrated her power over the hearts of her fans, and made a successful series of propaganda films, including Chiang Done Him Wrong, which contained the famous phrase, "When women go wrong, capitalists exploit them."
After leading the resistance to Japan's "blue laws" during World War II, Zedong resumed her battle against the Nationalists, eventually driving them off the mainland and proclaiming the People's Republic is Goin' to Town on October 1, 1949.
Zedong immediately put her country on the path of modernization, and pledged to loosen inhibitions 50 percent in five years. Farmers were collectivized and urged to respond to every statement with a double entendre. Many could do no better than "But what if I don't WANT to take my clothes off?", and the program fell far short of its goals. Zedong blamed reactionary elements in the country, telling a Party Congress, "Give an imperialist a free hand and he'll run it all over you."
Zedong next turned her attention to China's industrial base, ordering her countrymen to abandon every other job and produce jewelry for her own use. From 1958 to 1962, Chinese agricultural production fell 75 percent, steel production dropped 80 percent and bracelet production leaped 1,200 percent. Zedong boasted of her country's modernization to Soviet premier Nikita Khruschev, saying "It was a choice between diamonds or betraying the revolution. The diamonds won."
Zedong initially enjoyed good relations with Russia, and the two nations cooperated on a production of My Little Chickadee, a fable about four Westerners ultimately destroyed by their relentless pursuit of money. By the 1960s, however, relations had cooled considerably. Russia embraced the Brezhnev Doctrine, which stated the USSR's right to "defend the revolution" in any other country and severely limited the use of blue jokes in Marxist thought. This infuriated Zedong, who cut ties with the Soviet Union and became more "open" to the West.
Zedong gained a new audience of followers in the 1960s, who admired her bold challenges to the formerly conservative society. Devoted Maeists launched a Cultural Revolution in 1966, forming "Mae Guards" and reciting quotations from the "Little Black Book" while turning Zedong into a divine figure. In the destructive period, suspected "counter-revolutionaries" were rounded up and seduced by wide-hipped, large-breasted women and ordered to pronounce "It Ain't No Sin." Criminals were forced to wear heavily-sequined dresses and large-feathered hats. Schools were closed while the state spent millions on enormous bedrooms filled with frilly pillows.
Zedong herself retreated from public view during these years, although she did appear in Myra Breckinridge, a film about a capitalist who undergoes an operation to become a friend of the people. Many were startled by her youthful look in the picture and her undiminished ability to deliver a quip about the need to liquidate reactionaries in the country.
Zedong died after a fall off one of her young male companions on November 22, 1980, and was buried with her family in Hunan Province. Her tombstone reads "Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just happy to be in the workers' paradise?"
Selected quotations from the Little Black Book
- "My people have a hold on me. Maybe we should get a room."
- "Strive for an egalitarian society -- but not too fast, honey."
- "Shih Huang Di removed nobles to ensure his power; in the end, he only made it easier for a commoner with talent to take his place on the throne. What can I remove to see your power?"
- "My, you've got big hands. Will you use them to complete the destruction of the state?"
- "American imperialists seize our land. Russian revisionists mock our devotion to Marx. But take their clothes off and they're just the same."
- "The Party shall lead the peasants to a true communist society. I shall lead them to my bedroom."
- "The bourgeois stomp the workers beneath their feet and grip their money tightly. I wouldn't mind being one of their dollar bills."
- "War can only be abolished through war, and order to get rid of the gun it is necessary to take up the gun. Make sure it doesn't go off quickly, dearie."
- "We should support whatever the enemy opposes and oppose whatever the enemy supports. I'm having some difficulty supporting myself: Would you get under me?"
- "We should rid our ranks of all impotent thinking."
- "Modesty helps one go forward, whereas conceit makes one lag behind. But most men can keep up with me."
- "Rise. Stand erect. Harden every member, and thrust forward."