"utterly black and without a single virtue"

It is a cold and rainy day.

The long struggle waged by the forces of the Coldening of late fall against the decadent forces of Global Warming finally appears to be succeeding.

But in a dying last gasp, the last flowers of November are in full bloom on my front porch, defying the Coldening with their decadent splendor.


Actually, they aren't growing on my front porch; instead the rose bush has extended a long stalk which has reached into the porch, using the column for support. It is as if the roses are expressing a preference for the warmer and more protected area closer to the house. They don't like the cold weather any more than I do.

That their rebellion against nature can itself be seen as part of a natural process is a contradiction which should trouble no one.

Or maybe it should trouble everyone?

Consider Chairman Mao's famous Hundred Flowers Campaign, launched in the winter of 1957 (when the only flowers to be found would have been growing in artificially heated bourgeois surroundings). The campaign was best known for a simple slogan in a speech which caused so much confusion among the masses:

Let a hundred flowers blossom, let a hundred schools of thought contend.
Well, why not?

Mao explains in terms which would be understandable to any Westerner:

Throughout history at the outset new and correct things often failed to win recognition from the majority of people and had to develop by twists and turns through struggle. Often, correct and good things were first regarded not as fragrant flowers but as poisonous weeds. Copernicus' theory of the solar system and Darwin's theory of evolution were once dismissed as erroneous and had to win out over bitter opposition.
Tough to argue with that.

And it's also tough to argue with this:

Dogmatic criticism settles nothing. We are against poisonous weeds of whatever kind, but eve must carefully distinguish between what is really a poisonous weed and what is really a fragrant flower. Together with the masses of the people, we must learn to differentiate carefully between the two and use correct methods to fight the poisonous weeds.
Mao also reminded everyone of the universal principle that one man's weed is another man's flower, and so forth:
....the two slogans -- let a hundred flowers blossom and let a hundred schools of thought contend -- have no class character; the proletariat can turn them to account, and so can the bourgeoisie or others. Different classes, strata and social groups each have their own views on what are fragrant flowers and what are poisonous weeds.
Bear in mind that the Hundred Flowers Campaign was widely seen as a deliberately laid trap, which caused bourgeois rightists, landlords and intellectual undesirables to show their true colors by encouraging them to say what they actually thought.

Mao's goal, while it might seem contradictory, was clearly to encourage free speech in order to better destroy it. This is reflected in a another speech six months later -- in the fall of 1957, after the rightists had been given the entire Spring and the Summer to play around like uncontrolled and irresponsible grasshoppers:

We brought forth "let a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend", and so they let themselves go. In the past the bourgeoisie had been subservient, and now they raised a great clamor. We had only brought forth frank airing of views and the rightists aired their views and made a great racket.
My favorite line in the fall speech was another seeming contradiction:
Repairing temples is done to achieve the goal of tearing down temples.
To put it in more modern and more secular terms, sometimes instead of destroying a village in order to save it, it is necessary to save a village in order to destroy it!

In light of what Mao had said twenty years earlier (before he gained power), the Hundred Flowers Campaign should have come as no surprise:

....it is bad as far as we are concerned if a person, a political party, an army or a school is not attacked by the enemy, for in that case it would definitely mean that we have sunk to the level of the enemy. It is good if we are attacked by the enemy, since it proves that we have drawn a clear line of demarcation between the enemy and ourselves. It is still better if the enemy attacks us wildly and paints us as utterly black and without a single virtue; it demonstrates that we have not only drawn a clear line of demarcation between the enemy and ourselves but achieved a great deal in our work.
In order to destroy nihilism, we must first appear to become nihilists?

Well, does that mean that in order to destroy virtue, we must first appear to become virtuous?

The covert manufacture of new morality emanates from the penumbra.


Is it Mao, or is it the flowers?

posted by Eric on 11.06.07 at 09:45 AM


The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution produced one moment which was amazingly daft. It was an article so mad that a translation was published in a Soviet newspaper. It was entitled, "Let Us Study the Philosophical Questions in Distributing Watermelons." No joke.

Bleepless   ·  November 6, 2007 10:30 PM

Post a comment

April 2011
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30


Search the Site


Classics To Go

Classical Values PDA Link


Recent Entries


Site Credits