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The Red Book

March 26, 2012

I have a few objects that I really love, and one of them is my copy of Mao’s Red Book in Esperanto. I’m not sure why I’m so fond of the book – I think it has something to do with the fact that it’s such a striking historical artifact. There’s so much 20th Century history infused in this one object. (Do younger people today even know what the Red Book was?) My friend (and sometimes Esperanto translator) Daniel Cuthbert sent me the Esperanto Red Book a few years ago – I’m not sure where he found it. In any event, I was thrilled to get the book, and have kept it on my desk ever since. I’m a little sketchy on the history of Esperanto in China, but apparently there were Esperantists with Mao on his Long March back in 1934, and Esperanto has enjoyed an elevated status in China ever since. I sometimes look at the book and wonder about its previous owners. How many people carried this worn copy with them in a pocket over the years? Did many of them read through it and truly believe that this was the answer to the age-old question, how does one make the world a better place?

Mao’s ideas have long since fallen out of favor in China. I think these days the Red Book is sold more as a kitsch item to tourists than it is read seriously. Sure, today there’s something even humorous about Mao’s Red Book in Esperanto, but objects like this are still important. They are living embodiments of history and as such can tell us much about the past and also who we are today.

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