Everyone is aware of the Little Red Book of Mao’s quotations that was carried by millions of Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution.
I was less aware that he was a poet and loved books to the end of his life.
An example from a collection of Mao’s poems is Ode to the Plum Blossom:
After wind and rain seeing off the spring,Flying snow comes as a harbinger of the spring.
On the ice-covered cliff,
The plum blossom still shines,
Pretty, she does not claim the spring for herself,
Content to be a herald of spring
When hills are ablaze with wildflowers,
In their midst she smiles.
I cannot think of a current political leader who could have written Ode to the Plum Blossom.
Trying to gain some insight into what Mao might have given to Shang, Chen gains access to Mao’s private quarters which had been closed to the public for several years.
Qiu Xiaolong describes Mao’s bedroom at the end of his life in Beijing:
What struck him as unusual in the room was the extraordinarily big bed. Larger that a king-size one, apparently custom-made, but apart from its size, it was simple and plain. About a quarter of the bed was practically covered with books. It appeared as if Mao had slept with books.
I found the photo of Mao's bedroom at the top of this post in a Chinese website. I do not know when it was taken but I find it incredibly evocative of Qiu Xiaolong’s description of the room.
While sleeping with books is far from an image surprising to avid readers and book bloggers it was not what I expected to hear of Mao.
What was he reading:
Chen reached out and picked one up, Zizhi Tongjian, sometimes called the “Mirror of History.” It was a history book written by Sima Guang, a renowned Confucian scholar in the Song dynasty, intended to mirror history in such a way that emperors could learn lessons by examining it. Mao was said to have read it seven or eight times. Most of the books on the bed turned out to be similar classics and histories.
There is nary a mention of any of the works of Karl Marx or later communist writers.
It was a solitary existence for Mao in those final years filled with books:
And Chen couldn’t help imagining Mao alone in the room, reading late into the night. According to the official publications, Madam Mao didn’t live with Mao. In his last ten years, Mao lived by himself – except for his personal secretaries, nurses and orderly …… At night, however, surrounded by the ancient books, paranoid of “capitalist roaders” who would try to usurp his power and “restore capitalism,” Mao suffered from insomnia, hardly able to move because of his failing health …
I am not sure what emotions I have in learning that Mao, who brought about the deaths of millions, especially through the Cultural Revolution, cared passionately about books and wrote poetry.