The China Institute in New York is currently shining a light on the unlikely moment when the humble mango became a symbol of revolutionary zeal.
The story begins in 1968, when an ambassadorial delegation from Pakistan brought Mao Zedong a basket of fresh mangoes, their national fruit. As a symbol of his benevolence during a crucial moment in the establishment of the Cultural Revolution, the revolutionary leader delivered the gift to a group of workers, and China’s mango infatuation was born.
The tropic fruit, then unfamiliar in China, was instantly transformed into a symbol of the leader’s love for his people. Mango mania quickly swept the nation. Wax and plastic duplicates were created and displayed in glass boxes as objects of worship. The image of the bright fruit also started to appear in propaganda paintings and posters, and on ceramics and textiles. Mangoes were displayed prominently at the National Day Parade in 1968 and were even the star of the 1976 film The Song of the Mango.
But the craze disappeared as quickly as it had begun, and within a year China’s fruit fanaticism was over. Mao’s Golden Mangoes and the Cultural Revolution contains over 80 examples of mango memorabilia which will continue to be showcased at the China Institute until 26 April 2015. The story is also told in more detail in an eponymous book to accompany the exhibition.
Top – Mango reliquary from the Landsberger collection; Bottom – detail from the poster Forging ahead courageously while following the great leader Chairman Mao!, 1969.