Modern context for historical perspective
The spring of 1968 saw violent fighting between Red Guard factions at Qinghua University in Beijing. Workers on "Propaganda Teams" occupied the campus and suppressed Red Guard fighting. As a reward, Mao presented the teams with mangoes, which became a cultural sensation. An industry sprang up around acrylic presentation boxes for the mangos that combined mass production with individual customization. Production for items like this dedicated to the Cult of Mao required not just a central figure for cult worship but an entire industry that merged the economic underpinnings of production and distribution with the artistic and cultural underpinnings of photography and artifact creation.
Our recreation of the box, for Professor Fei Hsien Wang's Contemporary China history course (HIST-G387), introduced students to several questions about the original preservation box. Students encountered simple (but surprising) issues of scale, explored the artistic choices that frame Mao's face as the center of a cult experience, and considered the production requirements behind the original box. By framing their encounter with history through the lens of a maker-produced box, students were able to use their own modern context productively in order to understand the historical experience residents of 1968 communist China had as they came in contact with Mao's golden mangoes.