This talk reinterprets one of the most famous phenomenon of the Cultural Revolution, the Mao badge fad, when tens of millions of Chinese collected billions of badges of Chairman Mao. The Cultural Revolution was intended to be the single greatest anti-bourgeois campaign of the Mao era (1949-76). But in its most famous activities such as badge collecting, the Cultural Revolution also nourished a thriving bourgeois consumer culture that encouraged consumer desire, production outside of state planning, and inequality through unequal distribution and conspicuous consumption. Badge collecting was, to borrow Mao’s expression, the negation rather than the fulfillment of the Socialist Revolution.
Karl Gerth writes on the history and contemporary implications of Chinese consumerism. His latest book, As China Goes, So Goes the World: How Chinese Consumers are Transforming Everything, explores the wide-ranging ramifications and future implications of China’s shift toward a market economy over the past thirty years. Professor Gerth’s first book, China Made: Consumer Culture and the Creation of the Nation, examines the connections between nationalism and consumerism in China in the first half of the twentieth century. He is currently a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study.