In late August of 1975, Mao Zedong, leader of China’s Cultural Revolution and fashion icon, sat down with this reporter at the Imperial Palace — one of his favorite restaurants — for an impromptu interview.
tony garcia: I really appreciate this opportunity, sir.
Mao Zedong (through his interpreter): You should. So, what do you think of the suit?
tg: Pardon me?
MZ: My suit. You like it? I designed it myself.
tg: Oh, it’s very original.
MZ: How about the collar? I call it the Mao Collar.
tg: Reminds me of a jacket from the sixties called the Nehru Jacket.
MZ: Don’t mention that running dog Nehru! Guy calls me up and reverses the charges. Says he’s dying to play mah-jongg. So I invite him over and what does he do? Steals my design and eats me out of house and home! I should have invited Gandi over; he eats a little popcorn and he’s full.
tg: Um, to get back to the jacket, I thought it was created in India in the 1940s.
MZ: Hey, it’s has a mandarin collar, doesn’t it?
MZ: So there!
tg: Right. So how does one address you? As Chairman Mao? Mr. Chairman?
MZ: Either one is fine. Just don’t call me Bunkie.
MZ: I told you not to call me that, you sycophantic toady who suckles at the teats of the bourgeoisie! Zhou EnLai used to call me that back in school. He came this close to getting his ass kicked.
tg: I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to offend you.
MZ: Yeah, yeah. So tell me, when was the last time you were in Belgium?
tg: Last year.
MZ: I understand that in some towns there the women can become pregnant by staring at their shadows.
tg: That’s news to me.
MZ: Never happened, huh?
tg: I don’t think so.
MZ: I knew it. Damn People Magazine.
tg: Can we talk about your formative years.
MZ: Which ones were those?
tg: At Peking University.
MZ: Okay, if you say so. It’s all a blur to me.
tg: I understand in 1917 you moved to Beijing where you worked at the university library. And it was there that you were first introduced to the sociopolitical theory of Marxism.
MZ: Huh? Sorry, my mind was on lunch. You see the waiter around here anywhere?
tg: No, I haven’t. Getting back to your introduction to Marxism…
MZ: Oh, good grief, not that nonsense.
tg: Excuse me?
MZ: Come on — a communist society, free from central government, and based on voluntary associations between the workers? Please…
tg: I’m stunned; I really am. I mean, you’re the architect of the Great Leap Forward, land reform, the Campaign to Suppress Counter-revolutionaries, the Chinese diaspora–
MZ: What was that last one?
tg: The Chinese diaspora?
MZ: You’ve got a way with words, you know that?
tg: Mr. Chairman, I’m asounded that you’re calling Marxist-communist ideology nonsense.
MZ: Hey, I’m 82; I get confused. So sue me already.
tg: Fine. So how were you able to implement such sweeping reform throughout China?
MZ: One night I had this dream: China as the cultural and financial mecca of the world, with the U.S. as a bedroom community. So I initiated a series of open-air forums, brought my vision directly to our Great Mass of People, and they bought into it.
tg: That’s amazing — winning over their hearts and minds.
MZ: Well, it didn’t hurt that I also had more guns than our Great Mass of People.
tg: I’m sure it didn’t.
MZ: So tell me, you purveyor of creeping capitalism, what do you think of Barbra Streisand?
MZ: Barbra Streisand. You know, “People… People who need people… ARE THE LUCKIEST–”
tg: I got it; I got it.
MZ: Well I don’t get it. How could she have married that putz Elliott Gould? As an actor, the guy stinks.
tg: He starred in MASH.
MZ: Well, stop the presses! Elliott Gould was in MASH!
tg: Not one of your favorite movies, I take it.
MZ: You watch that movie you think the Korean War was all about golf and football, big nose.
tg: I think Robert Altman, the director, might have been trying to illustrate the absurdity of war.
MZ: Absurdity? You want absurdity? I’ll give you absurdity: Peter Gunn, a great TV show and they take it off the air after 3 seasons. Meanwhile, Mr. Ed, a show about a talking horse — a talking horse! — runs for 8 years.
tg: It was the kind of escapist entertainment popular back in the 50’s and 60’s.
MZ: Ah, bullshit!
tg: Okay, let’s move on.
MZ: Hey, before we do, I gotta ask you a question. Is it true some Caucasians still tie themselves together to keep from being snatched away by eagles?
tg: Not where I live.
MZ: Live in a restricted neighborhood, do you?
tg: Something like that. Now, during China’s civil war, your forces defeated Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists who then retreated to Taiwan. Shortly thereafter, you founded the People’s Republic of China.
MZ: What are you — writing your history term paper? Get to the present, for chrissake!
tg: Okay then, let’s talk about President Richard Nixon.
MZ: That guy had the worst Chinese accent I’ve ever heard. Bar none.
tg: I didn’t know that. It’s my understanding that when Nixon told his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger that he wanted to open relations with China, Kissinger told the National Security Council that Nixon had lost his mind, primarily because you yourself had referred to Nixon as a gangster.
MZ: No! I never called him a gangster! I was very sympathetic to Mr. Nixon’s travails. I called him a psychopathic thug. But you know how these things get lost in translation.
tg: Of course. But it must have come as a shock to you when Mr. Nixon, this staunch anticommunist, sought to normalize relations between the two countries.
MZ: I just thought he needed a fourth for bridge. I heard the guy loved to play cards.
tg: I see. As I understand it, the subject of detente was first broached at a fashion show in Warsaw, Poland where delegations from the U.S. and China were in attendance.
MZ: Now, that’s true. After the show the American ambassador came running after us shouting in Polish: “I’m from the American Embassy! I saw President Nixon in Washington! He wants to establish relations with China!”
tg: And how did your people respond?
MZ: They ran.
tg: They ran?
MZ: Who knew what the hell the guy was saying? We don’t speak Polish.
tg: Oh. So what did your people do?
MZ: They grabbed this guy who was urinating on a building and asked him to translate. Luckily for them he happened to be the Polish Ambassador to China.
tg: Okay, okay… In 1969 you declared that the Cultural Revolution was over.
MZ: Yeah. With the Beatles breaking up, I figured it was time.
tg: Wait — are you serious?
MZ: You trying to start a fight?
tg: No, it’s just that… The breakup of the Beatles?
MZ: Come on, you couldn’t see that coming? Yoko hanging out at the studio all the time like some nitwit groupie. You hear that album she put out — what was it called, Fly? Sounded like someone strangling a chicken. Speaking of which, here comes lunch! You don’t mind Bird’s Nest Soup, do you?
tg: No, not at all.
MZ: Good. I hope you don’t slurp your soup. I hate that sound. Hate it. Zhou Enlai used to slurp his soup. He came this close to getting his ass kicked.