Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Since Predator Came: Mao Zedong's Imperial Attitudes

Mao Zedong in 1949; Picture and article from Time Magazine 4-13-1998
"When Dr. Li suggested that [Mao] take some antibiotic to protect his sexual partners, Mao told Dr. Li: 'If it's not hurting me, then it doesn't matter. Why are you getting so excited about it?'"---New York Times
The November/December 1994 issue of Foreign Affairs published a review of Dr. Li Zhisui's memoir, The Private Life of Chairman Mao. [I wrote earlier about Mao and his private physician Dr. Li Zhisui/Zhi-Sui here.]

The Foreign Affairs article, by John E. Wills, Jr., a Professor of History at the University of Southern California, was titled "The Emperor Has No Clothes: Mao's Doctor Reveals the Naked Truth."

Dr. Wills wrote:

Mao was frequently charming when meeting someone for the first time; his willfulness and urge for total control became apparent only after the individual was irretrievably enmeshed in the inner circle. He had no use for the proprieties of dress, work hours, and leisure time observed by others. People came to Mao when he was ready to talk or work, at any hour of the day or night. These peculiarities...and his indoor swimming pool - an amazing luxury in 1950s China - were Dr. Li's first indications that he was dealing with someone who cast himself as a revolutionary leader but whose conduct and attitudes reminded one of China's emperors.

Dr. Li would later learn more about Mao's "imperial" attitudes and witness firsthand Mao's voracious appetite for a never-ending stream of eager young women. Dr. Li's brief testimony on this subject in a 1993 television documentary, much milder than the details in the book, produced furious condemnations from Chinese government spokesmen and such harsh pressure on Hong Kong that the program was not broadcast there. The current Chinese leadership, after all, is a product of the same basic political order that produced and sustained Mao. Its senior leaders were part of his high command and saw a great deal of him. If the Chinese people could become any more cynical about their leadership, Dr. Li's revelations might provide a push in that direction. His book is sure to arouse a good deal of controversy, with the powers that be in the People's Republic doing everything they can to impugn its authenticity and accuracy.

...Dr. Li thought Mao's conduct imperial: he lived in isolation, shared his bed with many young women, and traveled around the nation to luxury villas in a great cocoon of guards and private trains. Dr. Li is in general not judgmental about the endless parade of young women in Mao's bed, citing the Daoist practice of using sex for longevity. But he was shocked by Mao's lack of concern about transmitting a vaginal infection from one woman to another. Far more insight into the pathologies of the inner circle is provided by his many accounts of the flattery and servility that surrounded the chairman; his description of these traits in the widely respected Zhou Enlai will upset many in China, if they ever have a chance to read it. Especially horrifying is his picture of the vast Potemkin village of perfectly planted fields full of peasant women dressed in red and green, with village blast furnaces smoking everywhere, as the chairman's train traveled south in the first autumn of the Great Leap Forward. Dr. Li describes a leader who has lost touch with reality and confesses that he himself was caught up in the enthusiasm. As millions died in the famines brought on by the Great Leap policies, Mao acknowledged it by occasionally abstaining from eating meat. [full text]

Robert Elegant also reviewed Dr Li's book for The National Review on November 21, 1994:

This extremely detailed anatomy of the revolutionary who created the People's Republic of China and then virtually destroyed his own creation is all but unique. So might Nero's soothsayer have written or Caligula's valet, if either had survived in his position for 22 years, as did Dr. Li, and if either had been vouchsafed the personal and political confidence Mao gave his physician, whom the paranoid Chairman clearly considered so entirely his own creature that no possible harm could come from such extended indiscretion.

Dr. Li saw Mao Zedong in all moods and at all times, from the insomniac vigor of 1955 to the protracted death scene of 1976. Even if the Chairman did lie to him, whether occasionally or often, as seems likely, the reality of the Chairman's behavior was always before his eyes.

During the arduous two decades that came close to destroying his own family life, Dr.Li saw a man who professed great concern for the Chinese masses, but repeatedly sacrificed them to his visions and his whims. Mao could let millions die to further his dream of becoming an immortal by creating the "stage of pure Communism" over which Karl Marx rhapsodized.

He could also pass on his genital infections to the dozens of young women with whom he slept, in part because he hoped to absorb their youthful energy. He could not be bothered to undergo the treatment that would have cured his ailments. [full text]

Writing in The New York Times (10-2-1994), Richard Bernstein reports:

Once, Dr. Li recalls, Mao sent him one of his sexual partners, a young woman who had come down with trichomonas vaginalis, which is sexually transmitted. Dr. Li treated her and several others who got the disease.

"The young women were proud to be infected," he writes. "The illness, transmitted by Mao, was a badge of honor, testimony to their close relations with the Chairman."

Mao himself showed no symptoms of the disease, though he was clearly a carrier of it, Dr. Li said. When Dr. Li suggested that he take some antibiotic to protect his sexual partners, Mao told Dr. Li: "If it's not hurting me, then it doesn't matter. Why are you getting so excited about it?" [full text]

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