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Guest Contributor
Matt Dunn - The Independence Institute

Matt Dunn is a managing editor of The Independence Institute is a non-profit, non-partisan Colorado think tank.


Dinner With Chairman Mao
Depotism and terror as trendy and chic...

[Matt Dunn] 4/27/04

"But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao,
you ain't gonna make it with anyone, anyhow."
--John Lennon, from "Revolution"

Some months ago, in Denver's trendy Cherry Creek enclave, a $2 million restaurant opened with a startling retro-chic theme - to wit, the glorification of the late Chinese communist dictator, Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (1893-1976).

Setting foot inside "Mao," you find two huge portraits of the Chairman, a custom-made Mao bust, and slick menus fashioned after the Little Red Book. A hagiographic essay on the menu's back page sanitizes the Chairman's bloody legacy:

"Mao was a visionary, a long-distance swimmer whose simple words still reverberate throughout China's culture... He floated over history. What came natural for him set trends for others. Witness the recent revival of his signature high-collared jacket."

Though we might have expected an ounce of controversy around such homage to one of the world's foremost mass-murderers, the scandal that hit the Denver papers at the grand opening had nothing to do with genocide, and everything to do with pornography. Seems the restaurateurs thought it would be clever to run soft-porn films on the video screens at the bar - thus irritating sundry patrons, and thus undermining their ethical free pass.

Amidst the trivial talk of pornography, swimming and high-collared jackets, not much was mentioned about the true nature of Mao's rule, which marks a profoundly pathological 'float over history.' If even John Lennon was able to see through the Chairman as far back as the White Album, we should ask how it can be possible that, some 35 years of research down the road, our avant-garde has yet to do the same.

Regarding Mao's "visionary" qualities, Thomas Sowell sums them up by aligning Mao with his proper bedfellows: "Lenin, Hitler and Mao were the pre-eminent 20th Century examples of leaders who sought to adjust people to visions, even when that entailed the deaths of millions of human beings."

So, could Lenin and Hitler be next in line for eponymous Cherry Creek restaurants?

The death toll of Mao's visionary land reforms, leaps forward, political purges, re-education programs and wayward cultural revolutions has "been exceeded only once," says Mao biographer Philip Short, and that was "by all the dead in the Second World War." Though the actual number of Mao's victims remains incalculable, the tally may exceed 60 million.

Such horrors assume an additional pallor when considering the brutal Chinese occupation of Tibet, involving the deaths of 800,000 Tibetans, and noting China's official sponsorship of Pol Pot, the communist tyrant who killed off one-third of the Cambodian population.

Things move closer to home on the realization that, without Mao's support for comrade Kim Il Sung's plans to attack the South, there would not have been a Korean War. When Kim later encountered a crusty Douglas MacArthur, Mao was obliged to intervene, explaining his game plan to Stalin in 1951: "After we have consumed hundreds of thousands of American lives in a few years, the Americans will be forced to retreat, and the Korean problem will be settled."

One can only imagine the extent of Mao's disappointment when but 34,000 American soldiers were killed, and a free, democratic South Korea went on to become an economic powerhouse.

To put the Chairman's overall death toll statistics in perspective, the "Mao" restaurant, which seats 220, would have to be filled to capacity every night for over 700 years to account for all of his victims.

The perspective could be enhanced by adding in the millions sent by Mao into his ghastly prison camps, and, further, by adding in much of the rest of the Chinese population, which, though not formally imprisoned, lived in a society so refined in its techniques of terror and thought control that Orwell himself would have been amazed.

As Bill Buckley observed in 1978: "Under Mao the Chinese achieved the total suppression of every liberty catalogued in our own Bill of Rights: none to practice one's religion, to speak out, to read, to educate oneself, to travel, to own land or a home, to be tried by due process." Ironically, on the culinary front, Buckley added in 1983: "There were ten thousand restaurants in Shanghai when Mao took over, fewer than one thousand today."

Defenders of Mao might argue that he held China together, against the odds, and forged it into something of a superpower. They might point out that Mao ended the humiliations suffered at the hands of the colonials and the Japanese, and managed to restore a general sense of Chinese national pride - at least for those who survived his rule.

I would concede a thin sliver of truth to such contentions. But it wears ever thinner in light of the economic success story of Taiwan, as administered by General Chiang Kai-Shek, who lost out to Mao's communists in 1949. Under Chiang's leadership, Taiwan's per capita GNP soared ahead multi-fold, while the Mainland sputtered in stagnation.

China's per capita level of food consumption, by the end of Mao's rule in the 1970s, remained at the same substandard level as in the 1930s. In between these benchmarks, the apocalyptic Chinese famine of 1959 to 1961 - resulting from Mao's agricultural policies - remains the single largest man-made disaster in recorded history. Twenty-five million starved to death.

Had Chiang prevailed in the Chinese civil war, chances are he would have accomplished a good deal more than Mao, in a far shorter time frame - minus the multiple catastrophes.

Though Cherry Creek's "Mao" is splendidly designed and serves first-rate Asian cuisine, the misguided selection of Mao as a mascot should give us all an attack of gastritis. But perhaps we should raise some sort of toast, anyhow, to an upscale free-market American restaurant glorifying the communist trendsetter who brought swimming, high-collars and genocidal fervor into fashion. CRO

Matt Dunn is a managing editor of
Copyright 2004 The Independence Institute




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