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 "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.
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

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline 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.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

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

All About America

AppleAndroid