15 September 2012

Harold and the Mao suit

“Here I am, by the hair of my chinny chin chin, I am a hare,” said Harold.

Harold was not the type of hare to wear a suit of tweed with a plaid waistcoat.

He had no use for a fob watch.


Harold was perfectly happy wearing his Mao suit as he travelled through life.

Not that the Communist styling of this garment was an expression of any particular sympathy he cherished for the masses. Nor did he entertain a secret delight at wearing a costume so deeply symbolic of the Great Leap Forward. For a hare, as I am sure you can see, such a choice in clothing could thus be the source of a delicious irony.

But absolutely not. Harold preferred to taste his irony in the greens of the field. Even the most rudimentary student of recent Chinese history knows the prelude to the Cultural Revolution was no laughing matter. Hordes of peasants knew this too, right up until the moment when they starved to death. And then they knew no more.

Still, today in China, no high school student will find a text book refer to events fifty years previous as anything more than a time of serious economic difficulties. The story of Du Xingmin, who often dressed in a similar, if somewhat larger Mao suit, is not widely known. Mr Du wrote about the theft of grain by the local party secretary and was accused of sabotage. Before his arrest, he was beaten and both his eyes were gouged out.

Although in the following months, 128 people in Mr Du’s village died of starvation, Harold today found beauty enough to satisfy him in the utilitarian lines of the suit. The cotton formed a loose fitting simplicity that allowed his pelt to breathe and impeded the progress of no pursuit. Four patch pockets was certainly nothing to scoff at for so practical a hare. Harold also happened to be an ardent devotee of the Transcendentalists.

In fact, his life had thus far demonstrated an unquestionable faith in Thoreau’s admonition, ‘…beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.’ Indeed, this particular suit was one of two worn by Harold’s father until the day he had a precipitous meeting with a motor vehicle.

As luck would have it, Harold’s father was not wearing his Mao suit the fateful day of his disastrous attempt to cross the road. Luck was definitely not having Harold’s father anymore, but Harold himself was approaching the age when all respectable hares go about their business fully clothed. He shortly found himself entering a brief but dignified period of mourning proudly dressed in a not new suit.

Thereafter, the Mao suit was his constant companion. Amongst the variety of possessions within its pockets, including a battered copy of Walden and selected essays of Emerson, there was no little red book to be found.

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