Feature

Is China ditching Mao?

The politics of currency art.

China has issued a new 10 yuan bill that, for the first time in a decade, doesn’t carry a picture of Chairman Mao Zedong, said India’s Livemint in an editorial, and “this is, well, revolutionary.” Sure, on one level, currency notes are “mere pieces of paper.” But they’re also “useful emblems of legitimacy.” No Mao? Well, “money talks.”

I wouldn’t read too much into it, said Jonathan Fenby in Britain’s The Guardian. They replaced him with the new Olympic “Bird’s Nest” stadium, a symbol of China’s progress since Mao’s death. But he remains, as a symbol, too important to the jealously guarded “monopoly power of the Communist party rule,” and there’s no way “China’s leaders are ready to shunt Mao aside.”

Still, this is “something akin to a dollar bill without the broad face of George Washington,” said Jeffrey Cane in Portfolio’s Daily Brief blog, “or a pound note without the Queen.” China has had to make many changes in preparation for the Olympics, and “the new note is a major shift,” up there with smog reduction and forcing citizens to stop public spitting.

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