...THAT CHAIRMAN MAO LIVED TO THE AGE OF 82 DESPITE A PROFOUNDLY UNHEALTHY LIFEstyle.
125 years, 2 months and 13 days ago (at the time of writing) - on December 26th, 1893 - a baby boy was born in Shaoshan, Hunan. This child would, 56 years later, lead a successful communist revolution in China and serve as its unrivaled - and ruthless - leader until his death in 1976. He died at the age of 82 - something of a remarkable achievement in any country or period of history.
Perhaps what is more remarkable is that, in so many respects, Mao Zedong led a life that many of us would consider dangerously unhealthy. Below is an abridged list of some of the ways in which he threw caution to the wind:
He never brushed his teeth.
In his 1988 memoir, The Private Life of Chairman Mao, Dr. Li, who functioned as Mao’s private physician, described how the leader’s teeth were dark green in colour and pungent in their odour. Mao followed a habit that was common among the Chinese peasantry of rinsing his mouth with tea in the morning, after which he would chew and swallow the leaves. When advice was offered that he might use a toothbrush, Chairman Mao replied that, since a tiger never brushes his teeth, then there was no reason for him to.
He rarely, if ever, bathed.
His refusal to brush his teeth was absolute, however, Mao’s general cleanliness, though unpalatable to most, was less so. Slightly. Other than when he occasionally went for a swim - which he famously did in the Yangtze River in 1966, marking his ‘return’ to political life after the disaster of the Great Leap Forward - he never bathed. Incidentally, when he swam in the Yangtze on that day in Wuhan, Mao set a world record swim time of 65 minutes for the 15 km distance he covered. For a 72 year old man who, to put it generously, was overweight and dangerously unfit, this ‘record’ (as it was reported by Chinese media at the time), was all the more impressive. A New York Times article entitled The Tyrant Mao, as Told by His Doctor, explained how Mao would never wash his face or hands and, other than the odd river swim, his only concession to cleanliness was an occasional ‘hot towel’ rub down from his bodyguards.
Mao setting a 'world record' with his famous swim in the Yangzte in 1966
He ate. And ate.
While millions of his people died of starvation during his rule, Mao never went hungry. In fact, at the Zhongnanhai Compound - the heavily guarded area within the Forbidden City - frequent parties would be thrown, the likes of which would, to quote Morrissey, “...make Caligula blush”. In addition to the sexual orgies engaged in by the Chairman, there were also orgies of a culinary kind. Mao’s favourite food - which he devoured with scant regard to portion control - was the rich hong shao rou. This dish consisted of cubes of sugar-caramelised pork belly coated with rice wine.
He was a prolific spreader of STD’s
Dr. Li diagnosed Mao as a carrier of trichomonas vaginalis and urged him to take an antibiotic to protect his sexual partners. Mao refused on the grounds that, since it wasn’t hurting him, it did not matter. Although it may be difficult to comprehend, the many women that he infected (and there were many) seemed to hold the disease up as a badge of honour, proving that they had been intimate with the Chairman. Wherever Mao travelled, he would have a never-ending coterie of young women brought to him to satisfy his sexual desires. It is claimed by Dr. Li that, as Mao got older the number of women required to satisfy these desires increased. As their number increased, their ages decreased. Significantly. Apparently Mao believed that the more sex he had, and the younger his partners, the longer the life he would lead. Perhaps his demanding sexual schedule is one of the reasons Mao would spend days on end dressed only in his dressing gown.
Under Chairman Mao, the Chinese people were often forced to live a life of strict morality and adhere, often pathologically, to an ideological dogma that helped cause the death and suffering of millions. All the while their leader was indulging in private behaviour that would most likely have appeared, had it been made public during his lifetime, bourgeois and decadent at best; deviant, hypocritical and immoral at worst. Regardless, Mao’s scant regard to his own health and cleanliness, is staggering.
Dr. Elliott L. Watson