Images like Xue Song’s 薛松 (1965–) 2005 parody of Dong Xiwen’s 董希文 (1914–73) oft-revised propaganda image The Founding of the Nation (开国大典) (Wu 2005, 171–75), which whites out Mao completely are attempts at making a clean break with Mao, the myth—thus recovering Mao, the man (ill. 5.68). Artists from all generations thus disembody or reconfigure Mao, and all of them show how much power he holds over the minds of those who are trying to rid themselves of, or at least come to terms with, him. Qiu Jie’s 邱节 (1961–) Portrait of Mao (猫的肖像) of 2007 (ill. 5.69), drafted in lead on paper, shows, in a humorous pun reminiscent of the dictionary entry in Zhang Hongtu’s Unity and Discord (ill. 5.44) discussed above, a cat (猫 mao, pronounced the same way as 毛 Mao, the Chairman)—wearing a Mao suit and presented, in devotional imperative, before a background of flowers and calligraphy.
The calligraphy includes a line from one of Mao’s poems that in itself reconfigures and reverses a traditional lament about the loss of spring by Southern Song poet Lu You 陆游 (1125–1210). Mao’s poem, instead, greets the coming of spring, a trope used time and again to indicate the coming victory of revolution. The image playfully mixes several iconographies, that of the official Mao portrait on the one hand and that of traditional symbolic paintings for good luck on the other: A cat, pronounced the same way as the octogenarian 耄 stood for long life in traditional images.
Mao is thus reconfigured in the same surreal and yet highly complex manner as he is disembodied in Sui Jianguo’s Legacy Mantel series. In both cases, Mao has quite literally “lost face”—not something that often happens to a god (unless in case of iconoclasm), and not an accidental pun in a Chinese context, to be sure. But if Mao appears in contemporary depictions such as these as out of focus, overwritten, transfigured, cross-faded, and, last but not least, disembodied, it is not emptied of emotive content, but its emotive content is changed, taking on new meanings for ever new audiences.