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The first millionaire in Communist China
"Read Chairman Mao's works, listen to Chairman Mao's words and be a good student of Chairman Mao."
Printed in April 1960

Mao Zedong was a prolific writer. The inventory of his political writings, reports, directives and speeches has yet to be fully documented. By the 1950s his royalties already amounted to more than 1 million yuan, a considerable sum for the era. Thus, the first millionaire in Communist China was the Chairman himself - long before Deng Xiaopingʼs "To get rich is glorious" launched the race to personal enrichment.

The authorʼs royalties system was abolished in 1966 with the onset of the Great Cultural Revolution, and it would not be reestablished until the nineties. Only Mao continued to receive without interruption the dividends of his works; after all, it would have been a pity not to profit from a period when his sales were virtually exploding. But Mao showed shocking ingratitude towards Lin Biao, the "editor" of his best-seller (a famous booklet with a shiny red plastic cover distributed to the tune of 700 million copies), as he was summarily executed at the beginning of seventies.

Mao's royalties were a long-kept state secret. They were paid into a special account upon which Mao rarely drew, given that the State saw to his every need. At times he withdrew a few thousand yuan that he offered to friends or family. These meager gifts were interpreted later as a proof of a great integrity (just think: he was using his own money.) After Maoʼs death, the money continued to accumulate. His widow Jiang Qing begged the Party for a portion of it, but in vain. By 2001 the royalties amounted to 131 million yuan. What to do with Mao's millions? To this day the Party has not decided.

"Qualis artifex pereo!"

Mao was also a poet and a calligrapher. In "President Mao's New Clothes" Simon Leys disabuses us, however: "One should not have any illusions about the artistic value of Mao's creations; had he not played such a role on history's stage, his poetic production, slight and often gauche, could hardly differentiate itself from that of those of hundred of thousands of amateur poets China counts with each generation of men of letters." To conclude, let us ponder a sentence uttered by the famous British sinologist, Arthur Waley: "Mao's poetry is less bad than Hitler's painting, but not as good as Churchill's."
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