From 1958 onwards, the Communist Party of China implemented a number of reforms in agriculture and industry to become a proper socialist economy. However, the so-called Great Leap Forward caused the Great Chinese Famine which killed 30 million people within three years. Mao Zedong’s and his party’s popularity plummeted. As a consequence, they set off the Cultural Revolution in 1966 to foster the Chinese revolutionary spirit.
The Cultural Revolution was first promoted by the Red Guards, an aggressive student group. This group wasn’t only brutal with “reactionary” forces but also fighting for power among themselves which led to civil-war-like conflicts – especially around Beijing’s university. To break up this tension, Mao sent 30,000 workers only armed with a book with his best quotes (the Little Red Book) on 27th July 1968. The Red Guards were clearly outnumbered but only gave up after killing five and hurting around 700 worker revolutionaries.
At the time, Pakistan’s foreign minister visited Mao Zedong and brought a box of mangos as a present1. Mao spontaneously gifted the fruits to the successful worker revolutionaries the next day, the 5th of August. Nobody had seen the fruit before and it became a symbol for the end of the Cultural Revolution enforced by brutal students and the beginning of an era supported by workers and farmers.
Mangos were carried around in processions, revolutionaries were gifted wax replicas, officials chartered trains to get mangos to faraway provinces and when a mango began to spoil, it would be cooked and committed revolutionaries could have a spoon of the holy broth. There were all sorts of mango-devoted products like mango cigarettes, mango water basins or mango bedsheets. A village dentist wasn’t too impressed by the mango which he got to see for the first time during a procession and compared it to a sweet potato. He was convicted of blasphemy and executed.
The Red Guards had fought against religion by destroying temples and the like. In contrast, the worshipping of mangos can be seen as an outbreak of religious behaviour. It only stopped after one and a half years and soon the wax of mango replicas was used for candles.
Mao’s wife wanted to reignite the passion when Mao was about to die in 1975 by commissioning a mango movie. He died before the film’s completion and his widow was arrested shortly after its premiere and subsequent ban. Nowadays, mangos are widely available in China and the young Chinese are mostly unaware of its holy past.

  1. Fun fact: Mao himself didn’t like mangos.