By Mohsin Abdullah
Some years ago, when COVID-19 and new norm were unheard of, my daughter went to China for holidays. And she bought me a T-shirt as souvenir from Beijing. It had on it a picture of Mao Zedong or Chairman Mao as he was popularly known.
In fact, it was I who had asked my daughter to buy me that particular T-shirt. And I've been wearing it quite often ever since. And am proud of it.
I think you know the T-shirt I'm talking about. Probably you have one (or even two) such T-shirts. Same design. Same picture. Either you bought it yourselves or were presented by loved ones or friends who were holidaying in China.
Does that make us pro-communist? Communist sympathizers? Communists even? Heck no. I know I'm not any of the things mentioned. You, too, surely.
Why do we wear the T-shirt with Mao's face on it when we're no big fan of Mao? Because we find it "fashionable" and "stylish" or "trendy". It's part of the pop culture which started many years ago and is very much alive until now.
Other than the Mao T-shirt, included in the pop culture "menu" is his cap made famous after several rock stars from the West were seen donning it. Some caps with the red star on it.
Come to think of it, Mao jacket was quite a favorite among some western politicians!
Somehow, pop culture which originated in the West always featured personalities from the communist bloc. One of them, if not the most popular image, must be that of Che Guevara, a major figure of the Cuban Revolution. As pop culture goes, he is more famous than his "boss" Fidel Castro.
Even now, the image of Che wearing the familiar beret can be seen on T-shirts, posters, bags, you name it.
And the items are snapped up by people of all ages. In Kuala Lumpur, you can see youngsters who don't even know who Che was, proudly wearing T-shirts with his picture on it.
Drop by pop art shops the world over, you can see the popular or saleable items more often than not would be those with images of Che, Mao, Lenin, Stalin and Ho Chi Min.
And people back from study or vacation in Russia would bring home as momentos T-shirts and other items with the words CCPP emblazoned across it with the hammer and sickle symbol, never mind CCCP or the Soviet Union is no more. In fact, communism itself is not its "old self" in communist countries.
What I'm driving at (which I know you know) is this: people who wear, buy, display things with images of communist leaders and what not, are most times not communist lovers. Nor are they communists per se.
Recently police raided an eatery in Penang with wallpaper featuring Mao and "communist themed images". Some people had complained.
I'm not about to comment on whether the police action was right or wrong because this can be argued till the cows come home, till the moon turns blue and our faces turn red (not communist red pun intended).
And I'm not going to talk about the fact that Malaysia-China trade has always been good. Bilateral trade between the two countries hit a record high in 2019.
I'm not going to comment about guests at the opening ceremony of Umno general assemblies in previous years. One of the most honored guests of Umno were representatives of the Chinese Communist Party. Need I say they were from China?
Neither will I comment on the historic visit by the late Tun Razak to China in 1974 and the famous photograph of our second prime minister shaking hands with Mao.
As for the police raid on the Penang eatery, sadly, as many things in this beloved country of ours, the issue has taken a racial overtone with "quite a number" of Malays supporting the police action and quite a number of Chinese opposing it. Let's skip the whys.
I say "quite a number" because I've not carried out a detailed survey, hence do not have the actual numbers of those supporting or opposing. But I hope the "polemic" will die down soon as I'm sure it will.
Now for some help from the authorities. Help by telling us can we or can we not still wear and display "communist paraphernalia"?
The last thing I need is to get into trouble with the police the next time I go to KLCC wearing my Mao T-shirt because I'm anything but communist!
(Mohsin Abdullah is a veteran journalist and now a freelancer who writes about this, that and everything else.)