On 5 August 1968, Mao received the Pakistani foreign minister Mian Arshad Hussain, who brought with him a basket of golden mangoes as gifts for the Chairman. Instead of eating the mangoes, Mao [who hated sweets] decided to give them to the Capital Worker and Peasant Mao Zedong Thought Propaganda Team … that had earlier been sent to the Qinghua University in Beijing to rein in the rival Red Guard gangs. Two days later, on 7 August, the People’s Daily, the official news organ of the Communist Party-state, carried a report on the mango gift that included the following extra-long headline in extra-large font: ‘The greatest concern, the greatest trust, the greatest support, the greatest encouragement; our great leader Chairman Mao’s heart is always linked with the hearts of the masses; Chairman Mao gave the precious gifts given by a foreign friend to the Capital Worker and Peasant Mao Zedong Thought Propaganda Team’.
Mao gave the mangoes to Wang Dongxing, who divided them up, distributing one mango each to a number of leading factories in Beijing, including Beijing Textile Factory, where I was then living. The workers at the factory held a huge ceremony, rich in the recitation of Mao’s words, to welcome the arrival of the mango, then sealed the fruit in wax, hoping to preserve it for posterity. The mangoes became sacred relics, objects of veneration. The wax-covered fruit was placed on an altar in the factory auditorium, and workers lined up to file ...
This is going to be a long post.
The idea of Chinese people worshipping wax mangoes because some Pakistani minister didn't have time to have a proper gift made for his visit to China is indeed quite startling. Of course some people will instantly run into the old stereotype of those perfid Orientals slaves, who have been forever worshipping their tyrants as Gods on Earth. But that's bullshit. The Chinese have always been a fairly unruly bunch, and the Emperor was never worshipped as a God, unlike the Roman Emperors of our humanistic West.
And the Chinese aren't stupid either, they've always been one of the major civilizations on Earth, often world leader in wealth, scholarship and technology. They have the longest unbroken literary tradition; not having undergone a dark age, it's amazing how many ancient books are still extant in China.
So why did this intelligent, civilized people fall so low as to worship a rotten Pakistani mango? Politics, that's why. They are humans and so are vulnerable to politics. And modern politics can get very, very ugly.
I'll quote liberally from the original post by Marquez:
The idea of a “cult of personality” is in some ways a peculiarly modern one. Practices of “leader worship” were of course not unknown in the past; one might almost say that they were basical...