How Pakistani Mangoes Became Maoist Propaganda

The regifting of a fruit sparked a political frenzy in a country where they were little-known.

Myles Karp

March 8, 2021

How Pakistani Mangoes Became Maoist Propaganda
Poster of mango on porcelain plate, 1968 (Museum Rietberg Zurich, courtesy of Alfreda Murck)

Revolutionary movements need symbols. The communists of the Russian Revolution used the iconic hammer and sickle to communicate the power of workers and farmers. The American Revolution had the “Don’t Tread On Me” flag, with a rattlesnake symbolizing tenacious defensiveness. And for a while, Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution in China had mangoes.

For the last two years of the 1960s, China practically worshipped mangoes. Rotting mangoes were preserved in formaldehyde and enshrined in glass, wax casts of mangoes featured prominently in home altars, papier-mâché mangoes paraded around Beijing in state processions. But eating the precious fruit, which became almost a religious relic, was virtually unthinkable.

This is the story of how and why the mango, with limited familiarity and history in China, became a symbol of Chairman Mao and his revolutionary struggle to root out his opposition.