News / Asia

Q&A with Alexander Cook: The Powers of Mao's Little Red Book

FILE - A Chinese, dressed as a Red Guard and holding a
FILE - A Chinese, dressed as a Red Guard and holding a "Little Red Book" (quotations of Chairman Mao), performs in front of a portrait of the late Chairman Mao Zedong at a restaurant named "Red Classic" in Beijing.
One of the enduring symbols of modern China has been Mao’s little red book. First published in 1964, the quotations of Chairman Mao Zedong have had different impacts and meanings for China over the last half-century. The book has also been translated and used for various purposes around the world.
 
Alexander Cook is Assistant Professor of History at the University of California, Berkley, where he teaches modern Chinese history. His interest in Mao’s quotes led him to develop a global network of scholars who have come to understand the compilation’s meanings in different parts of the world, which, as he tells VOA’s Jim Stevenson, come together in a text titled Mao’s Little Red Book, A Global History.
 
COOK: The book, surprisingly, is 50 years old. It definitely belongs to a bygone era, but it still has a bit of residual power to it. It is a lightning rod for opinion.
 
STEVENSON: Your research gets into different aspects of the little red book that we really have not looked at over the past 50 years.
 
COOK: There are a few things that we wanted to bring out in the project, things that hadn’t really been said about the little red book.
 
The first is this idea the little red book is not just a text. It is an object that moves around and has a life of its own. Often, people are not really reading it. Often reading the thing is not important. Often it’s waving it at somebody or having it in your pocket, the symbolism of the thing that allows it to be used in many different ways.
 
By taking a global perspective, we’re able to step outside of China. There are several chapters about China itself which I think are really interesting. But we also have the opportunity to show what happens when this thing moves around, it travels and takes on a life of its own. What do people do with the little red book in France, in Italy, in Yugoslavia, Tanzania, India, all of these places we talk about. People put the book to their own uses, a tool and a device that they can use to pursue their own ends.
 
I don’t know what it is about the text, if it is the little size or the red color or the words that are inside it. But the text seems to have had a sort of talismanic property such that someone who is holding the text feels empowered to violence.
 
STEVENSON: Were there any veins of a positive non-violent action coming out of the book that you were able to discern in your research?
 
COOK: Yes. I think one thread that does come through is because it is an authoritative text, in some ways we describe it almost like a religious text, even in its circulation. The only books that are comparable to it are things like the Bible and the Koran. As a religious text, you can imagine that maybe it holds a kind of power over the believers. But on other hand, you can see in places where the book was adopted, including in China, there is almost a religious reformation. It is almost like an education in the liberal arts, and education in rhetoric. Because the text can be used to argue for so many things, in a way it breaks down that kind of authority and allows people to begin to articulate their own desires, their own beliefs in a way to begin to speak freely. We can view this text as a tool of totalitarian dictatorship. But it has this ironic quality of emancipating people’s minds and teaching them how to think and speak freely.

Jim Stevenson

For over 35 years, Jim Stevenson has been sharing stories with the world on the radio and internet. From both the field and the studio, Jim enjoys telling about specific events and uncovering the interesting periphery every story possesses. His broadcast career has been balanced between music, news, and sports, always blending the serious with the lighter side.

You May Like

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: paitoon su from: Thailand
May 14, 2014 5:05 AM
I read this book before when I was in university and being an student club activist.I also had group studied on this book with my friends at that time.We misunderstood that this book will bring freedom and fairness to Thai Society.But almost 40 year passed by the conclusion we have is this little red book just bring war,lost of innocents live ,lost of original culture ,norms and value in many Asian and Latin American region especially China.Until now its evil influence still dominate some Thai and Chinese both civilian and officer in several level.Mao himself never do as he wrote in the book except bringing diaster to more than half of Chinese people during his ruling from 1949-1976.Though today Chinese leader against to bring back Mao's era but the totalitarian regime still being protected .I'd like you to read the nine commentaries on CCP posting on www.theepochtimes.com that telling us how Mao's idea hurt China and this world.

by: Jonathan huang from: Canada
May 07, 2014 10:55 PM
At my parents age, almost every one can recite this little red book fluently. When New China was just come to from the WWII and the civil war, majority Chinese were illiterate, this book actually helped to lift vast of Chinese out of illiterate. This book is almost a book of freedom and a book of democracy. One day this book will lead Chinese to democracy again.
In Response

by: eic from: Chian
May 14, 2014 8:27 AM
if your believe in this, why did you emigrate to Canada?
In Response

by: Anonymous
May 13, 2014 7:57 AM
You are wrong

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More