April 2015

Aluminum and Mao badges wholesale: four receipts from the Cultural Revolution (1967–68)

(click on the title to view the document)


“The history of the Mao badges,” Daniel Leese observes in Mao Cult, “has probably become the best-researched subtopic of the Mao cult.” I agree. But what is significant is what this observation tells us about the limitations of our knowledge of PRC history. Because, how much do we really know about this “best-researched” subject? Aside from an appreciation of the aesthetics of the badges themselves and an understanding of the political sociology of wearing and displaying them, what have we so far managed to produce in terms of knowledge concerning the rise and decline of revolutionary lapel pins in Mao’s China?

Take, for example, the economics of the badges, including the clusters of activity centered on their production, supply and demand, marketing, pricing, and distribution. The relevant macro-level records no doubt survive somewhere in the archives of China’s light industry sector, but where from there? Potentially able to liven up the historian’s narrative is “stuff” to be found in some rather more unusual places. This month’s documents (four in total) were discovered between the pages of the work-diary of one Zhong Wenku, a cadre in the No. 3 Beijing Municipal Works Corporation. I purchased it for a pittance in Liulichang many years ago. In 1967–1968, Zhong had been a go-between and fixer negotiating contacts between badge producing factories, providers of raw material (e.g. aluminum), and various wholesale badge customers/consumers in the greater Beijing region. Typical notes in his 80-page diary read “Delivered 500斗私批修 badges to Zhang Yuejin whose unit still owes us 16 yuan 4 mao 8 fen” and “Ordered 200 kilo’s worth of aluminum from Xianghe. The municipal bureau wants 10,000 badges: they will receive 130 kilo, while the Red Hospital General HQ gets 60 kilo. Delivery date prior to National Holiday, contact is Meng Desheng.”

Note to all PRC historians: buy, preserve, and read more 工作笔记!You never know what you may find in them…