(Re-)Configuring Mao: Trajectories of a Culturo-Political Trend in West Germany
In the early 1960s, West German intellectuals began to discuss the role and importance of Mao Zedong. Recognition of Mao as a political icon soon spread into subcultural left-wing networks and publics. Driven by a desire to change the social and political conditions of West German society, artists and members of the growing student movement adopted the idea of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and reconfigured it for the West German context. At the same time, iconic images of Mao also entered popular culture. After the decline of the student movement, left-wing intellectuals’ accounts of Mao became trendsetting texts for a broad subcultural milieu. During the 1970s, an estimated 100,000-150,000 extra-parliamentary activists turned into adherents of Maoist cadre parties. Living directly at the European frontline of the Cold War, the appeal of Maoist ideology for West German activists derived from its promise to open up a “third way” beyond US capitalism and Soviet communism. The Chinese example inspired hopes for social liberalization, fundamental political change, and, for some, even national reunification. This paper traces how Mao acquired his iconic status among different West German networks and publics throughout the 1960s and 1970s and attempts to identify key agents in this process as well as their acts of trendsetting and gatekeeping.