In the evening haze heroes are coming home


  Edgar Snow was, I think, the first westerner to interview Mao.  He met with him in the old fortified stronghold of Pao An in northwestern China in 1936.  By that time Mao had already been fighting the Nationalists for 10 years.  Snow recounted this visit and much much more in his classic Red Star Over China which the Economist called “An exciting and vivid account of one of the world’s most important events…”

  His take squared with neither Warhol’s nor my facile conception.  Snow found Mao “gaunt” and “Lincolnesque”.  He sensed a “force of destiny” and was impressed with his breadth of knowledge.  Mao’s reading list included: Ghandi, Nehru, Spinoza, Kant, Goethe, Hegel, Rousseau, Darwin, Adam Smith, not to mention of course the Confucian analects etc and the Marxist philosophers.

  He had knowledge of the “negro problem” in American which he compared unfavorably with the treatment of minorities in the USSR.  He thought little of Mussolini or Hitler, but believed that FDR was anti-fascist and that they’d be able to work together. 

  Interestingly, Snow didn’t think Mao’d fit in with the intellectual elite because he could be found coarse and vulgar.  For example, during a meeting once, he took off his pants to attenuate the effects of the intense summer heat.

  Some thirty-six years later the image registered by Henry Kissinger was much more fully formed:  “I have met no one…who so distilled raw concentrated willpower… His very presence testified to an act of will.  His was the extraordinary saga of a peasant’s son… who conceived the goal of taking over the Kingdom of Heaven, attracted followers, led them on the Long March of six thousand miles, which less than a third survived, and from a totally unfamiliar territory fought first the Japanese and then the Nationalist government, until finally he was ensconced in the Imperial City, bearing witness that the mystery and majesty of the eternal China endured even amidst a revolution that professed to destroy all established forms.”

  Whoa.  Certainly the Chairman was also responsible for untold hardship, starvation, cruelty, misery, and death.  Those did loom largest in the memory formed by my early schooling.  Just as certainly however he was indeed the ‘Great Helmsman’ at the launch and early voyage of what has become modern China.  (Even though if back on the scene today he’d do a double take)

  Mao is on my mind because oldest daughter gave me a book of his poetry for Christmas.  Of interesting insights it is full.  Nixon recounts Zhou Enlai commending a verse of Mao’s: “The beauty lies at the top of the mountain”.  I agree with Mao, Zhou, and our former president, but probably with a far more literal interpretation than might have been theirs.

  In the spring of 1927 (the year my father was born…) Mao wrote The Tower of the Yellow Crane

China is vague and immense where the nine rivers pour.
The horizon is a deep line threading north and south.
Blue haze and rain.
Hills like a snake or tortoise guard the river. 
The yellow crane is gone.  Where?
Now this tower and region are for the wanderer.
I drink wine to the bubbling water – the heroes are gone.
Like a tidal wave a wonder rises in my heart. 

  Thirty two years later he wrote Return to Shaoshan*: 

I regret the passing, the dying, of the vague dream:
my native orchards thirty-two years ago.
Yet red banners roused the serfs, who seized three-pronged lances
when the warlords raised whips in their black hands.
We were brave and sacrifice was easy
and we asked the sun, the moon, to alter the sky.
Now I see a thousand waves of beans and rice
  and am happy.
In the evening haze heroes are coming home. 

  Clothes (or the lack thereof) don’t make the man I guess.  At least not less inscrutable.  Or two dimensional. 

*Shaoshan was Mao’s native village.

One Response to “In the evening haze heroes are coming home”

  1. andrew Says:

    not totally unrelated but pretty much, I watched “seven years in Tibet” last night and thought of you for the whole thing. Not the part about how he ditched his family and son (hahahahha) but the parts about why he loved climbing and being compassionate towards the Tibetans. And in the end when he was climbing with his son. I really want to go to Tibet now. – ps im remixing that one moby song you like. You probably dont remember it but you will when i play it for you.

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