The Fruit Fascination That Started a Viral Trend in China

How mangoes from Pakistan became a symbol of another nation’s cultural revolution

Emaan Majed
ZORA
Published in
7 min readAug 30, 2019

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Photo: gustavo ramirez/Getty Images

TThe year was 1968. Chairman Mao Zedong was looking down skeptically at a crate of mangoes brought to him by Pakistan’s foreign minister, Mian Arshan Hussain. Unimpressed but unwilling to rebuff his ally, Mao ordered the crate to be sent down to workers suppressing student riots in Qinghua University. The oncoming year in Chinese history — an absurd time capsule full of mango-scented water, mango bedsheets, and passersby smoking mango cigarettes on dark corners — was about to have its incipient event. As reported by Michael Moore in The Telegraph, it was in the dusty factory where the exhausted workers gathered around the delivery that the legend of mango mania in Communist China truly began.

Mangoes are known as a delicious summer staple in Pakistan and much of South Asia. I grew up rabid about them, suffering through tortuous math lessons with my grandfather to earn a delicious mango milkshake at the end. They’re not easy fruits to eat; they have to be peeled, then sliced, and their fussy nature is reportedly why Mao disliked them. Yet to the workers, the fruit’s weaknesses hardly mattered as it became a revered icon of their chairman. Mangoes attained their sacrosanct status in Chinese society by being exclusive and mysterious. Rumors were spread that, like the 2,000-year-old myth of the peach, mangoes grew on magic trees that flowered only once a millennium.

That they were abundant in the neighboring and impoverished nation of Pakistan ceased to be remembered; they became known only as an exotic fruit from a faraway land, which the great leader had sacrificed in order to give to his people. Prior to Mao’s gift, the mango was entirely unfamiliar to the Chinese, many of whom had neither seen nor heard of one before. Wang Xiaoping, a 70-year-old factory worker, recalled the time in a recording for a 2013 exhibit at a museum in Reitberg, Germany. “What is a ‘mango?’ Nobody knew,” he said “Few had even heard the word, let alone seen one. Knowledgeable people said it was a fruit of extreme rarity.”

The fruit’s arrival in the country came at a time of political unrest and…

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