Editor’s Note: This is the fourth of a series of reports from Dawn Fotopulos, an associate professor of business at The King’s College, New York, about China.

This post is a reflection upon one small aspect of our trip: the visit to Tiananmen Square and Mao’s tomb in Beijing. Tiananmen Square is a vast open space flanked by an ancient palace on one end (now draped with Mao’s likeness) and Mao’s tomb on the other.

“Tiananmen” is actually two words that mean “heaven” and “peace.” We certainly pray that this square can be a place where heaven comes down to earth so peace can reside there.

The photo (below) accompanying this post reflect statues that look ready to take flight right outside Mao’s tomb. There were four of them, one posted at each corner of the complex as if angelic sentinels keeping vigil.

Look carefully at the archetypes captured in these statues. There are men and women from every walk of life, dressed in a great variety of Chinese garb. There was the soldier, the farmer, the maiden, and the “leader,” grasping a book.

Their muscles bulged and they looked very well-fed: this in stark contrast to what really happened to the Chinese people under Mao’s Great Leap backward in the 1960s.

Poor weather, planning, and implementation left millions of Mao’s countrymen starving. What poor weather and lousy central planning couldn’t accomplish, the Communist Party completed with its brutal subjugating of anyone with an education.

Those in power at that time took their task one step further.

Statues of Mao and company

Our guide told us that if you were unfortunate enough to wear glasses simply because you were myopic, that was reason enough for the party to torture or even kill
you. Why? Because wearing glasses gave you the appearance of being intelligent.

My dear friend’s father had to leave China when Mao assumed power because her dad was a nuclear engineer and a Christian: dual strikes against him. Few, if any, with those credentials were allowed to live.

Like dust in the wind

The statues remaining there today depict hope, strength, and provision. Like the yellow dust of Xi’an that swiftly shifts its course, these promises remained unfulfilled but for a select few, leaving millions and millions of Chinese in the lurch. Dr. Li Zhisui, Mao’s personal physician for 20 years, once claimed, “eating chicken every day was an unimaginable luxury.”

The large, imposing structure housing Mao’s wig-topped remains looked like China’s answer to the Lincoln Memorial. As you entered, there was even a large marble statue of Mao seated with his left leg crossing over his right with his arms resting on the arms of his chair. The statue’s countenance was marked by a benign stare, remarkably similar to that of “Honest Abe.” It’s amazing how marble can be a great equalizer. Even murderers look benevolent.

It’s hard to imagine, but under Mao’s 26-year reign, 30 million people lost their lives. And that’s the published number! No doubt there are millions more unaccounted for. But, the Chinese learned well from the Russians. Countless Chinese fled their homeland, never to return, having seen the black clouds gathering over their great nation. How devastating that must have been.

What is most remarkable to me is how well China has compensated only 35 years after Mao’s death. In less than two generations, the country has survived the gutting of its knowledge base and made great strides toward entering the 21st century.

While many will tout China’s great economic rise, all is not rosy yet. Until China manages to secure predictable energy sources (and ones that won’t kill the populace), modern sanitation, and potable and plentiful drinking water, its growth will be severely stunted, just as the growth in any developing country is.

Our next post we take you to The Forbidden City.

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