They’re Good Mangoes, Mao

a stack of yellow mangoes
Photo by Raymond FVelazquez via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Why did China’s 1968 National Day parade include a float made to look like an enormous bowl of mangoes? Because of Mao’s mango madness. The fruit took on cult status after Mao re-gifted a box of mangoes sent from Pakistan — he didn’t like fruit — to factory workers who quelled a spate of youth violence in the spring of ’68. They became more than just fruit. They were a direct message from the Dear Leader. Collectors Weekly’s Ben Marks brings us the details.

After the People’s Liberation Army moved in to assume peacekeeping duties at Qinghua (they were always the true power behind the throne), the workers returned to their respective factories. Each of the eight factories that supplied workers to the Propaganda Teams received a Pakistani mango from the original case. If the workers were treated like heroes upon their return, the perishable mangoes were given the sort of deference usually reserved for religious relics and artifacts.

One factory preserved its mango in formaldehyde, another tried to stem the fruit’s decay by sealing it in wax before placing it on an altar so that factory workers could solemnly file by to pay their respects to this token from on high. When that mango began to rot through its porous wax shell, it was peeled and boiled in an enormous pot of water—each factory worker was permitted a teaspoon of the precious fruit’s sacred broth.

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