K is for Karl, M is for Marx
First there was Bo Xilai’s “Red Culture Campaign” in Chongqing, which encouraged people to sing and dance to old revolutionary songs, study the works of Mao, and even receive “red text messages” featured Chairman Mao’s sayings. You could tell it was catching on when China’s heir-apparent, Xi Jinping, paid a visit to Bo and officially declared “red culture” a praiseworthy thing.
Then there was the celebration of the 90th Anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, on July 1. When I arrived at Beijing airport last week, I thought I must have landed in Pyongyang by mistake! All — and I mean literally all — of the billboards along the expressway coming in from the airport, which normally tout real estate properties or consumer brands, had been transformed into giant red signs praising the Party. The entire route, to the very doorstep of my apartment, was festooned with smaller red signs and banners stretched across overpasses, urging people to “follow the lead of the Party!” I remarked to a friend here than, in last ten years I’ve been living in China, I could probably count the number of hammer-and-sickles I’ve seen on a single hand. Now I can’t walk to the corner store without counting dozens — and then there’s the big monster one they’ve planted right in the middle of Tiananmen Square.
Then this week came news that Bo’s underlings in Chongqing are planning to construct a “red theme park” devoted to the glories of the Maoist era. Plans for the $386 million project were sketchy, but the mind boggles at what kind of rides and shows such a magic kingdom might feature. The Great Leap Forward does sound kind of like a roller coaster, but not the kind I’m going to be lining up to ride. (Today I read that, after much heated criticism, plans for the park have now been scrapped as “not feasible.”)
So all this is just a lead-up to this afternoon, when I was browsing a Beijing toy store with my 20-month old son, only to find myself staring at an apparent product endorsement from … Karl Marx!
Actually, Marx isn’t really endorsing the product — more the other way around. The product — a kind of twisty plastic construction toy called Interstar — is displayed alongside a short description of Marx, featuring the Interstar logo. The implication, presumably, is that if your child grows up tinkering with these educational playthings, he or she will develop into an inspiring genius like the author of Das Kapital. I figured this had to be coming from a Chinese company — perhaps one from Chongqing! — but in fact, Interstar turns out to be produced by an Israeli company. No word on whether the Karl Marx marketing angle is an official corporate strategy, or a local improvisation.
Anyway, it certainly provides an interesting contrast to my earlier — far more capitalist — encounter with child-focused marketing in China (related in my post “A is for Audi, B is for BMW” )
I must admit, I wasn’t inclined to buy my little boy any Marxist toys. In fact, I’m giving some serious thought to ordering him some Lincoln Logs.