In the early 2000s, there were a couple of Chinese restaurants in Little Bourke Street named after Mao and Deng. They did not last long, because the food was not very good (the Post Mao Cafe based it’s menu on what apparently was Mao’s favourite dishes, which appears to have been the Chinese answer to the chiko rolls, fish & chips, and pie floaters which bogans here in Australia might like).
I did visit Post Mao Cafe once (once was more than enough as far as the food went). What did impress me was the sheer volume of Communist kitsch on the walls. There were marble statues (only mantel piece sized) of Mao seated, and wall sized murals of Mao.
I said to the waitress that I was impressed by all the Mao materials they had, but that he was not a very good person. She replied: ‘Why do you say that?”
I said: “Well, he did cause about 50 million people to die in the Great Leap Forward.”
She was quite surprised about this, which was the first exposure I had to the sad reality that most citizens of Communist China know less about the true post war history of China than Homer Simpson.
One of my friends, about a decade ago, married a North Vietnamese princess. That is, she was not your typical Vietnamese-Australian like the ones in my Physics and Chemistry classes in high school – the South Vietnamese who fled when the communists rolled their tanks into Saigon in 1975. She was a student whose father had been a colonel on the other side, fighting what they considered (probably rightly, despite my anti-communist concerns) a war of liberation.
When the Colonel and his Lady (if you pardon me writing in my bourgeois way) came to visit Australia to meet their new son-in-law, I ended up taking my friend John, his brother, and the Colonel to a boozy lunch at Jim Wong’s in Footscray. He seemed to enjoy this, although Vietnamese do not really get along well with the Chinese.
His English was very limited, although he did understand words like ‘fascist’ (I was talking about my beloved uncle Tony) and other political terms (I believe that he was quite fluent in Russian though).
After lunch, I was given a lift back to my place, where I gave my newfound communist acquaintance a choice of wines to take home from a winery delivery I had just received. He chose the sparkling wine in a Champagne shaped bottle, which did not surprise me, given that Vietnam was colonised by the French for a while, and whether they like to admit it, this has influenced their tastes a lot.
To impress John’s father in law that John had suitable friends, I showed the Colonel my busts of Ho Chi Minh and Chairman Mao, and I dug out my East German drop banner. I am certain I made the impression on the Colonel that I was some sort of closet communist in the north western suburbs of Melbourne.
Aside from his in-laws, my friend John is about as close to being a communist in sympathy as I am. Apparently he was quite surprised by my collection of communist materials. When he next saw me, he asked me: “Why the hell have you got all that communist crap in your house?”
To which I replied: “Kitsch value.”
This had not occurred to my friend, but it is true.
Whilst communism is an amoral and murderous idealogy (although to be fair, Marxism is very clearly in the Western tradition of philosophy, and whilst you might disagree with it, you can at least respect it’s place in that continuity), I try to appreciate the kitschiness of their tacky memorabilia. Hence I have busts of Mao, Ho, Lenin and Stalin.
I even occasionally like to read my copy of the Red Book, for laughs of course.
For the most part, aside from the fact that I do not find the Peoples Republic of China at all cute or funny, I like to celebrate that the Cold War ended with the Soviet Union whimpering to a stop rather than with an atomic bang by collecting communist kitsch memorabilia.
Indeed, if there were gnome sized statues of Lenin, I would like to decorate my back yard with them, festooning my citrus trees with Lenin looking garden gnomes.
It is probably still possible to buy online full sized statues of Lenin exported from behind the former Iron Curtain, and I think that it would be quite amusing to get one such and install it in the middle of my front garden.
But I am not sure that the good people of Avondale Heights would quite appreciate my sense of humour.