Throwback Thursday: Maoist Golden Mango Love in the Summer of ’68

Throwback Thursday takes a look back into Beijing's past, using our nine-year-strong blog archives as the source for a glance at the weird and wonderful of yesteryear.

We've all benefitted from China's obsession with fruit and it can be said that the plethora of fruit stacked high and never more than 200 meters away from you at any given time is one of the blessings of living here. Besides the straightforward consumption of fruit, China also has fructose-laced political ties that trace back at least half a century back, specifically 1968. Yes, the Beijinger blog may not have even been alive then but this story harks back to the curious mango-related events of the 1960s in 2013 (a triple Throwback threat, if you will).

Dubbed mango madness in a more liberal media, this story revolves around a gifting of mangoes, one of the greatest fruits on earth. Sadly, the receiver, none other than Chairman Mao, was not such a fan on account of them being too messy to eat (and probably too healthy given his touted penchant for hong shao rou).

Though the details of this story are murky, and the facts, ranks, and figures vary, it is said that in 1968, the foreign minister of Pakistan was visiting Beijing and brought with him a crate of mangoes as a gift to Chairman Mao. But this seemingly innocent gesture sparked a series of unforeseen events. As a true communist, Mao never frowned at a regifting opportunity and so ordered his mango bounty to be sent to some of his favorite propaganda factory workers. Along with a letter of thanks, the crate of mangoes has been delivered to workers much in need of a refreshment given that they were in charge of breaking fighting between factions of Red Guards. 

North China had barely seen any mangoes at the time, and for the workers, it was the epitome of an exotic and unfamiliar fruit. They initially didn't understand that it was even edible, but after a long investigation (various sources report cases of intense smelling, caressing, and other means of inquisition), they welcomed the fruit as a symbol of Chairman's selflessness, which was to be preserved rather than savored.

When the workers were due to return to work, they divided the mangoes and carried them back to their respective factories in Beijing. In order to preserve them as long as possible, some workers bathed the fruit in formaldehyde, while others were waxed or put in glass cases. However, nature always finds a way, and when the mangoes began to rot, one of the factories boiled them up into a soup for the workers to line up and get a spoonful.

Since real mangoes were so scarce at the time, the workers settled on wax mangoes to take the place of their gifted fruit, which proved much easier to transport and parade around. City by city, mango fever spread across China and shortly after word of Mao's selflessness had gone viral, a float designed to look like a bowl of mangoes was displayed during China's 1968 National Day Parade. At that time, mangoes began to represent the People's Republic's gratitude and dependence on the workers.

'68 was truly mango mad and everything from wax mangoes, to mango branded cigarettes were in wild adoration. However, not long after, the fad faded away as quickly as it came. It is rumored that mango souvenirs from the time still float around Beijing's flea markets and go for quite modest prices. Better yet, eschew the glass case and go for a bag of real, ripe mangoes from your local grocer instead. 

More by this author here.
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Images: Collectors Weekly, Telegraph

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Throwback Thursday: Maoist Golden Mango Love in the Summer of ’68

Throwback Thursday takes a look back into Beijing's past, using our nine-year-strong blog archives as the source for a glance at the weird and wonderful of yesteryear.

We've all benefitted from China's obsession with fruit and it can be said that the plethora of fruit stacked high and never more than 200 meters away from you at any given time is one of the blessings of living here. Besides the straightforward consumption of fruit, China also has fructose-laced political ties that trace back at least half a century back, specifically 1968. Yes, the Beijinger blog may not have even been alive then but this story harks back to the curious mango-related events of the 1960s in 2013 (a triple Throwback threat, if you will).

Dubbed mango madness in a more liberal media, this story revolves around a gifting of mangoes, one of the greatest fruits on earth. Sadly, the receiver, none other than Chairman Mao, was not such a fan on account of them being too messy to eat (and probably too healthy given his touted penchant for hong shao rou).

Though the details of this story are murky, and the facts, ranks, and figures vary, it is said that in 1968, the foreign minister of Pakistan was visiting Beijing and brought with him a crate of mangoes as a gift to Chairman Mao. But this seemingly innocent gesture sparked a series of unforeseen events. As a true communist, Mao never frowned at a regifting opportunity and so ordered his mango bounty to be sent to some of his favorite propaganda factory workers. Along with a letter of thanks, the crate of mangoes has been delivered to workers much in need of a refreshment given that they were in charge of breaking fighting between factions of Red Guards. 

North China had barely seen any mangoes at the time, and for the workers, it was the epitome of an exotic and unfamiliar fruit. They initially didn't understand that it was even edible, but after a long investigation (various sources report cases of intense smelling, caressing, and other means of inquisition), they welcomed the fruit as a symbol of Chairman's selflessness, which was to be preserved rather than savored.

When the workers were due to return to work, they divided the mangoes and carried them back to their respective factories in Beijing. In order to preserve them as long as possible, some workers bathed the fruit in formaldehyde, while others were waxed or put in glass cases. However, nature always finds a way, and when the mangoes began to rot, one of the factories boiled them up into a soup for the workers to line up and get a spoonful.

Since real mangoes were so scarce at the time, the workers settled on wax mangoes to take the place of their gifted fruit, which proved much easier to transport and parade around. City by city, mango fever spread across China and shortly after word of Mao's selflessness had gone viral, a float designed to look like a bowl of mangoes was displayed during China's 1968 National Day Parade. At that time, mangoes began to represent the People's Republic's gratitude and dependence on the workers.

'68 was truly mango mad and everything from wax mangoes, to mango branded cigarettes were in wild adoration. However, not long after, the fad faded away as quickly as it came. It is rumored that mango souvenirs from the time still float around Beijing's flea markets and go for quite modest prices. Better yet, eschew the glass case and go for a bag of real, ripe mangoes from your local grocer instead. 

More by this author here.
Email: [email protected]

Images: Collectors Weekly, Telegraph

Provided: 
Paid: