John Gittings

John Gittings first visited China during the Cultural Revolution and was the Guardian China specialist from 1983 to 2003. He is now a research associate at the Centre of Chinese Studies at SOAS.

The newsagent at the end of my lane in Shanghai always sold out of Nanfang Zhoumo (‘Southern Weekend’) within hours. For those reporting on China, this famous – and to the Communist Party leadership, maddening – investigative weekly published in Guangzhou was, and still is, essential reading. One week it might contain a serious discussion on the death penalty, the next...

Chiang Kai-shek celebrated his 50th birthday (by the Chinese way of counting) in October 1936. To mark the occasion, every schoolchild in the country – or in those parts not already occupied by the Japanese army – was instructed to contribute 15 cents, and every teacher one dollar, to help purchase fighter planes from the US. A new spirit of patriotism was stirring as Japan...

After Deng

John Gittings, 6 July 1995

Mao Zedong used to point him out to foreign visitors. ‘That little man,’ said the Chairman, ‘will go a long way.’ Such praise was belittling in more than one sense and Mao made sure during the Cultural Revolution that Deng went nowhere. Yet Deng Xiaoping bounced back, once while Mao was still alive and then definitively after his death. The image of someone small but determined, refusing to be crushed by criticism, is very strong. In 1978, when Deng swept away Mao’s immediate successors, his admirers in Beijing compared him to the immortal Monkey of the classic Ming Dynasty novel Journey to the West who whirls his staff and vanquishes demons ten times his size. Affectionately they called him His Excellency Deng – literally, Big Man Deng.’

Communists have parents too

John Gittings, 5 August 1993

I arrived by bus at a dusty crossroads outside Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong, in a fine mist which stippled the dark water of the paddy fields. An out-of-work student with a motorbike for hire drove me to the Shaoshan Guesthouse. It was damp and empty except for a group of civil servants visiting at official expense. In the village square, some workers were desultorily clearing the ground where a statue of Mao is to be erected – the first in nearly twenty years. On 26 December, China will commemorate the l00th anniversary of his birth. At the Guesthouse the choice was between a tourist room with three single beds and dirty sheets, or Mao Zedong’s old suite, which had a double bed with a wooden canopy and a bath almost as large, at five times the price. I chose the suite, less for the clean sheets than for the opportunity to sit at his desk, listen to the wind in the bamboos outside, study the ink spots on the worn leather, and think about the Chairman.’

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