China, the Cultural Revolution
Chairman Mao pin badge
Material: Aluminium, coloured gold covered with a red plastic pattern.
c. 1966 to 1971
Obv: Head of Mao
Chairman Mao badge
Chairman Mao badge (Chinese: 毛主席像章; pinyin: Máo zhǔxí xiàngzhāng) is the name given to a type of pin badge displaying an image of Mao Zedong that was ubiquitous in the People's Republic of China during the early period of the Cultural Revolution, from 1966 to 1971. The term is also used for badges associated with Mao that do not actually have a picture of him on them. Chairman Mao badges were, together with the "little red book", one of the most visible and iconic manifestations of the Cult of Mao. It is estimated that several billion Chairman Mao badges were produced during the period of the Cultural Revolution.
Badges depicting Mao Zedong first appeared at the Chinese People's Anti-Japanese Military and Political College (中国人民抗日军事政治大学) at Yan'an during the 1930s. These early badges were homemade, usually being constructed out of the metal from used toothpaste tubes.
By the 1940s badges showing Mao by himself or together with other important people were being produced in small numbers as commemorative medals or as awards for service to the communist party or to the army. Unlike the later Cultural Revolution period badges, which normally portrayed Mao by himself, these badges frequently portrayed Mao side by side with other Chinese revolutionary figures such as Zhu De, Chen Yi, He Long, Lin Biao and Lu Xun, or showed Mao with communist leaders from other countries, such as Stalin and Kim Il Sung. During this period badges were smaller but more robust than the Cultural Revolution period badges, and some badges produced during the 1950s were even made of gold (initially 22 carat, but later reduced to 13 or 14 carat).
After the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, and throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, badges showing an image of Mao were produced mainly for special occasions, for example Chinese soldiers were given star-shaped badges with a portrait of Mao when they returned to China from the Korean War, and labourers working on the Sichuan-Tibet Highway were given gold-plated copper badges with a bilingual inscription in Chinese and Tibetan on completion of the road in December 1954. By the mid-1960s Mao badges began to become more prevalent, and were even distributed at international events such as the 1965 Leipzig Trade Fair, but it was not until the end of 1965 that small aluminium Mao badges, similar to the Cultural revolution period badges, first started to be produced in Shanghai.
Mao badges exploded in popularity with the launch of the Cultural Revolution in 1966. Almost overnight the function of Mao badges changed completely: what had previously been largely commemorative or ceremonial items worn by a comparative few suddenly became required symbols of loyalty to Mao worn by almost everyone. Along with the "little red books" of Mao's sayings, badges with a portrait of Mao become essential indicators of the wearer's loyalty to Mao, worn on the left side just above the heart. Bigger badges indicated a greater degree of loyalty to Mao, and some even pinned the badges directly into their skin as an extreme indication of their loyalty. Conversely, members of the landowning class and reactionaries were not allowed to wear Mao badges, and the conspicuous lack of a Mao badge marked them out as enemies of the people.
At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution few ordinary people wore Mao badges in the ordinary course of their daily life, and although production of badges in Shanghai increased steadily from 32,000 in July 1966 to 175,000 the following month, it was only when Mao was presented with some Mao badges by Red Guards at a mass rally at Tiananmen Square on 18 August 1966 that the wearing of these badges became widespread. In September 1966 production of Mao badges in Shanghai soared to 1.3 million, and during the height of the Cultural Revolution, from 1968 to 1971, an estimated total of between 2 and 5 billion Chairman Mao badges were produced throughout the country. Badges were primarily distributed to workers, students and soldiers by their work units, and they were not widely available for purchase at shops. Badges were further distributed by trading between friends or on the black market, and by being given as gifts.
The high tide of Mao badge mania was reached in April 1969, during the 9th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, when huge numbers of Mao badges were produced for distribution at the congress. However, the vast quantities of aluminium being used was having serious repercussions on Chinese industry, causing Mao to demand "Give me back the airplanes" (还我飞机), and in June 1969 the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China issued a document forbidding the production of any more Mao badges unless specially authorized. After the death of Lin Biao in September 1971, the wearing of Mao badges declined rapidly, and few people outside rural areas wore Mao badges in public during the latter part of the Cultural Revolution, from 1972 to 1976. After the fall of the Gang of Four in October 1976, a month after the death of Mao, work units started to organize the collection and recycling of Mao badges, although many people secretly held on to their badges.