A Glimpse into the Mindset of a Dictator
In Colors of the Mountain, the autobiography of Da Chen, the author relates an interesting episode from his life as a student in the Chinese schools. As Chinese schools rapidly convert from anti-intellectualism to centers of educational encouragement, the quotes of Chairman Mao are used to uphold the new shift. Yet Chen comments on Mao’s incompatibility with genuine intellectual progress.
“It was ironic to bring Mao into this drive for intellectual excellence. If Mao had known what his Little Red Guards were doing, he would have howled like a lonely wolf in his icy coffin and cried his smoke-ridden lungs out. Mao, the dictator, was the friend of the devils…” (256)
This passage directly and brilliantly unveils the essence of dictatorship and the means by which a dictatorial entity seeks to maintain its power. The philosophy of Mao the dictator had been to foster perpetual conflict among the Chinese and create the impression of an imminent crisis where none existed. In the words of the author, Mao “made fake smoke over fake fires.”
The mindset of the dictator suggests to him that his subjects will flock to his side at a time of urgency, while peace and prosperity will breed unrest, and, worse, an across-the-board desire for individual autonomy. Chen shows the consequences of this approach with a chillingly perceptual flair: “And strewn down his long path lay the bones of millions of angry ghosts.”
The soil in which autocracy springs its roots is chaos and suffering; this is required to drain resources from the general population for the alleviation of the imagined threat, as well as for the amassing of attitudinal support for the dictator’s initiatives. All the while, it is key to keep the masses ignorant and quell intelligent dissent, as Mao’s Red Guards had undertaken throughout China during the Cultural Revolution.
It is quite convenient for the dictator to brand as the source of the newest “crisis” those autonomous individuals with the greatest potential to establish social justice. This, in effect, kills two birds with one stone. Hence, extending Mao’s policy to its logical conclusion, it would come as no surprise that the man was categorically averse to any genuine, objective education.
Mao’s ruling style reminiscent of another masterful analysis of a totalitarian regime, George Orwell’s 1984, in which the collectivist ruling elites overtly claim that the purpose of their power is to inflict suffering and thereby secure their power, in brazen disregard for standard of living, while squandering the country’s resources on a perpetual world war.
Control from Beyond the Grave
In Colors of the Mountain, the young Da Chen is declined the opportunity to attend Chairman Mao’s funeral ceremony and laments this, as he has developed a vague cultist devotion to him. Da recalls,”As though the rift between the Red families and the landlords’ families were widened by the death of Mao, I was told by the school authorities not to attend the ceremony…” (138).
Despite the horrendous harm inflicted by Mao’s policies upon his family, Da Chen continues to harbor a mentality of unquestioned devotion to authority, whoever may hold such a position. His social upbringing has inculcated him with a mindset of never seeking to analyze Mao’s actions, for “he was wiser, no, the wisest.”
The submission of Da is Mao’s even beyond the grave, even though the physical control of the dictator over the lives of the Chinese people has already crumbled and been replaced with a more benign regime. The general Communist Chinese sociocultural milieu preaches that the people exist to serve the government and scorns the individualist philosophies of the Enlightenment.
Despite his striving for individual success and his recognition of the colossal obstacles placed in his way by Mao’s regime, Da cannot help but absorb this perception, almost subconsciously. There are numerous references to this: “I had been told…,” “I was to follow him…,” “I didn’t know any better,” “A cult mentality had already been forged in me…”
This is the consequence whenever an individual rejects the laws of objective reality in favor of the arbitrary edicts of other people. Because the laws of reality can be grasped by reason and authoritarian whims cannot, the individual’s rational sovereignty is discarded and he comes to worship that which possesses the greatest potential of harming him.
Simultaneously, this devotion to authority will never ingratiate the outcast individual with the elites of his society. Just as Da’s former record of academic excellence had failed to advance his prospects for a successful future, so does his reverence for Mao fail to convince the elites of his community to permit him to attend the funeral ceremony. The intent of authoritarianism is not to reward those who espouse love for it, but to punish invented “enemies” by deprivation or outright assault.
In Colors of the Mountain, Da Chen powerfully demonstrates that a cultic devotion to another human being, especially a powerful and brutal one, is always a self-defeating proposition. Dictators such as Mao are always thirsty for the blood of the innocent; the devotion of the latter will merely fuel the destroyers’ appetites.