Mao's Golden Mangoes and the Cultural Revolution

  • 15 February – 16 June 2013

    Poster of Mao Zedong in front of a parade

    June 1969, colour printing on paper
    72.0 x 106.3 cm
    Museum Rietberg Zürich
    Gift of Alfreda Murck
    Photo: Rainer Wolfsberger


    Why would anyone have the idea of preserving a half-rotten mango in formaldehyde and cherish it as a great treasure? Why would wax imitations of mangoes be carried in processions, and venerated like religious relics? How could an innocuous fruit become the bearer of a powerful political message? This exhibition tells the story of a most unusual propaganda symbol in China during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–1976). In 1966, Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution as a mass movement: he called upon school and university students to set about creating a new society and eradicating everything that belonged to the past. The young people accepted this task with enthusiasm – and rapidly plunged the country into chaos. Two years later, Mao decided to bring the movement back under the control of the Party. But officially he pronounced that from now on the working class should be leaders in everything. It was at precisely this time that Mao received a box of mangoes as a gift from the visiting foreign minister of Pakistan. The very same night Mao ordered that these exotic fruits should be presented to the workers. The mangoes were quickly seen as a symbol of Mao’s benevolence and devotion to the masses, and became the focus of cult admiration. The symbol soon entered popular culture, with mangoes decorating cups, bowls, cigarette packets, badges, blankets and other everyday objects. For more than a year China was gripped by mango fever. And then the mango vanished from the propaganda repertoire, as quickly as it had come.