Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mao in Love

Last week I visited the restored lane house where Mao lived for nine months in 1924 with the second of his four wives, Yang Kaihui, their two young sons, and Yang’s mother. He was thirty-one years old. The Chinese Communist Party was an infant of three.

Many historians now estimate that Mao could be held responsible for 70 million deaths.

Yang might be included in this number. She was arrested in Changsha by a local warlord, and executed on November 14, 1930. Mao, who was by then a leader of the Red Army—and involved with another “revolutionary wife”—made no move to save her.

Some of this information, of course, is not mentioned in the exhibit. The official text, in Chinese and English, is properly fawning. For example: “Although from 1927 to 1949 Mao Zedong was unable to come to Shanghai personally . . . , Mao Zedong timely gave instructions to point out the way forward for the struggle of the People of Shanghai.”

The setting is benign, approaching somnolence. On the morning that I went, there were no other visitors. Without any sense of historical perspective, you might imagine yourself at a shrine to the love-nest of some long-forgotten martyrs.

Note: Although at least one guidebook lists a Weihai Lu address, the entrance is around the corner at 120 Maoming Lu.

To restore your sense of Shanghai’s reality, enter the gate at 590 Weihai Lu and walk north toward the Nanjing Road West Metro Station. I revived considerably by watching the lane’s residents hanging laundry and washing vegetables.

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