Madame Mao – Introduction to Journey across 20th Century Literature


Madame Mao has been given an opportunity. She is now dead. However, according to some of the Chinese Buddhist philosophies, it is possible for her to be reincarnated. God gives her a rare opportunity, that of observing, and sometimes even communicating with people of different lands so that she may choose one personality, one setting for her new life. She will also be able to overlook written versions by selected authors, of the scenes she will witness.


Works Cited in order of appearance:

Red Azalea by Anchee Min

The Stranger by Albert Camus

God Dies by the Nile by Nawal El Saad

News of a Kidnapping by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Huit Clos (No Exit) by Jean Paul Sartre

Perfume by Patrick Suskind

Incest by Anais Nin

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates

Mao II by Don DeLillo

Madame Mao meets Anchee Min

Upon her death, Madame Mao is shocked to find out a young Chinese woman who has never met her has had the nerve to write a book about her. Remember, Madame Mao is newly dead, she is not very humble, and she still maintains some of her illusions of power. She attacks Anchee Min in a dialogue the girl experiences in a dream.


Madame Mao in The Stranger

God is not happy (although Madame Mao is delighted to have scared the wits out of the author) he wants her perspective to change slightly, show her some of the human suffering of the world so she will not trouble people unnecessarily, still goaded by her ego, which is of no good to her at this time. He sends her to Algeria, where a man is undergoing a trial to be sentenced to death:

This man is strange. He does not deny. I would have denied everything. When a stranger comes to attack you, you must attack first. That is the law of nature. This girl, Marie, she could be useful. Perhaps she could seduce the judge. He does not defend himself. I know how cruel and fickle the crowds can be. I know. But this cannot be over. You know, I was never released from jail. I was sentenced to death. And for what? Everything I did, I did for the country. These people are strange, but the girl is free, so free, this girl, Marie. She is not so young. Not so fresh. And I understand her sorrow because the man I loved only loved me for a brief while too, only for lust. But you see how she can come and go as she pleases? No pretenses. Do you know that I could not leave the house? Do you think that I could go to another man?

God, I see this land and I do not think it is right for me. I am more passionate than this character and I am more interested in group activities than solitary wanderings. Moreover, lying has never been a problem for me, I cannot relate to this man. I do not want to give up on this land entirely, is there any other place nearby?

Madame Mao in God Dies by the Nile

God – let’s try Egypt. There is much suffering but perhaps you will be able to relate to the exploitation of the young girls, since you yourself felt used by Mao.

Madame Mao is suddenly thrust in Egypt. She has a chance to look over the Mayor and get a sense of the balance of power. Here are her thoughts, somewhat different from that of the local women:

Zackeya’s home seems quiet, peaceful, like the Chinese mainland. The ground is not so dry in China. There are plants and flowers and it is humid. Even areas that are not fertile have mud and weeds. I do not understand how this woman cannot move, almost as if she is content in her misery. How can she stand to be so inactive and not react, observe, explode? How can she bend down to the ground for any man? For anything? I believe in pride, in strength, in growth, in power. This place seems so isolated. I was only isolated in a palace. Everything here is unchanging. It is hard to stand. The women are not rebellious. I think they are weak. I think their fear is the center of their existence. They are old, she is old, finished. There is no hope for this woman. But I do see that this woman has pain, sorrow. The heat is so intense here. It is so heavy. I am sweating. I do not feel beautiful. This clothing makes it worse. This shawl, all around my face. I cannot breathe. What of my trim figure? No one can see. This is not for a cause, not an army, only a strange way of life. Was always pretty.

I want to get to know the Mayor. It is the only way out. All around me, I see women suffering, yet when I walk into his mansion, it is like a palace, everything so clean. I do not want to be like Zeinab, I cannot give myself away so quickly, for then he would tire of me. If I were to stay here, I think there must be a way, perhaps one of his trusted men. I could talk to him, see whether he could arrange for us to meet. The mayor is the only powerful man in this city, if I connect with him, I have a chance, otherwise, I will be nothing. But I cannot let him use me. I cannot allow that, for that would destroy everything. He likes virgins, I think I can put up with that. Mao did it. It is something they do for their ego, and I do not think I could love the Mayor. He does not have any charm. But through him, I can have some power. I could help him become strong so that we could accomplish what is not right now. He is limited, not cunning. I think I could take care of things, though I am not sure.

God - See here this woman, Zakeya. You know what has happened. She wants to kill the mayor. Tell her what you think, perhaps you can be a source of support for her.

Madame Mao and Zackeya:


Madame Mao is trembling, part rage, part sorrow. God , how could this be? This type of thinking. I cannot stay here, this woman is masochistic. She does not fight back, except when it will destroy her. She has no happiness. I cannot have this kind of suffering, this kind of misery, like an animal. Please take me somewhere else, a land I do not know of. When I was young, I saw Western movies, from Hollywood, if there is no place for me in the US, please, let me try Europe. I do not think there is anything left for me to learn in China or in this strange land.


Madame Mao in News of a Kidnapping

This Columbia too, is a strange place. I feel myself falling in love with Pablo Escobar. He could help me. He could love me. It would be all right. I would be his partner. A new Columbia! How I suffered at the hands of the old system! Many are out to attack him but I will be his watchdog. He is so sensual. He is stronger, physically than Mao, and not so romantic and sweet but he too, holds a power. It is very powerful. It is my only chance. Where I am, I have nothing. But if I could know him, if I could somehow connect to him, be close to him, I would be able to establish a new place in society. I would be forever known as Pablo Escobar’s wife. He would be grateful and he would let me share his power. We could make beautiful paintings of the revolution. We could depict the horror of the brutality of the police and the government.

Madame Mao has a strong negative reaction to Maruja:

I hate Maruja. See how her husband fights for her? It hurts. She is not even grateful. I do not know what she does to deserve his love. He does not even glance at other women. I am sure he is faithful. She is not particularly beautiful. She is demanding while I gave up everything for my husband. I do not want her husband. He is not attractive to me. But it is inconceivable that he adores her while I, with all I have sacrificed, am only a reject, like a concubine, the last concubine. It is wrong. This woman is saved from prison by her husband while mine sent me there with his words of hatred.

Madame Mao begins to think she might perhaps be able to live the life of Maruja, although she would lack power. However, with a husband in government, he could be steered to become President and then her dream would come true in this new country. There is also still the remote chance of seducing Pablo Escobar. If he could love her with the same devotion as Villemizar does Maruja, these Colombian men seem passionate…Even if he died, still, she could lead his followers. She understands their suffering.

Madame Mao in Huit Clos (No Exit)

What a silly situation! What a foolish man! Only Ines makes any sense. But I do not understand her hatred of men. I have never conceived of being with a woman but she recognizes the man for what he is – a coward. I could never say that to Mao because I loved him too much. But Fairlynn did, and she gained his respect by it. He abandoned me, he left me, so I can understand her hatred of men. But I also understand Estelle’s sexual desire. Although I could not experience it for any and all men, as she seems to, I know what it is like to long for a man. Tang Nah, my husband # 3, had tried to kill himself, but it was all manipulation to turn everyone against me. I do not know about Estelle’s lover. He, at least succeeded in the deed. But I never cheated on my husband (except when I though Yu Qwei was dead) and did marry any man except when I was forced the first time, who I didn’t love.

Madame Mao in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Madame Mao now observes Grenouille while in all his splendor:

Grenouille is taking all the public attention. No one can see me. People idolize him. I can’t stand it. I want him out of the way but I don’t know how to have his power. I don’t know why people idolize him. Look! When he walks, people are enchanted. Many become aroused. He could lead a country with a twinge of the finger. No one is listening to my words. I hate him. I loathe him

Her feelings change upon watching his subsequent death, she begins to see him as a fellow human rather than an adversary. She relates to him and is moved:

Madame Mao cries softly.

Anais is very disturbed, and she does not seem to have a sense of self. I, on the other hand, know who I am, although I suppose we are both playing a role. I suppose we are both seeking for that ultimate love. Had I lived in France, perhaps I would have had the option to start my life anew when Mao cast me away, but I am not sure that I would have wanted it. I was in love with him and my love lasting years it was not short like Anais Nin’s. And I hated my father, my father beat my mother so I do not trust men. I expect them to hurt me, and perhaps, although Anais does not realize it, she allows them to hurt her too. Do they not use her for her body? Are they not completely unconcerned with the state of her soul? How else could they not read the disgust in her face when she does not love them? How could they not realize she was unfaithful? I fell in love with Mao because I was convinced he understood the true me, although I believe now I may have idealized him. It seems in this France, the women are able to have conversations with men where their opinions are valued. And although I thought this was the mind-state of Mao, I later realized how wrong I was.

This book is impossible to read. The sentences are interminable. I could never read long books. I always stopped at the first few pages. Mao gave me books on communism, but I never read them. His first wife read them – it did not do her much good. Mao was phony in that way. At least I did not waste time on long books. This woman, though, it is different. She is not wasting time reading someone else’s book. She writes her own. How could she write something so long? How could she find the patience? What kind of eyes does this woman have? Do they shine at the sight of any of these men? Is it not dangerous for her to be with so many men? Will she not be dishonored? In China, the village whores were mocked and ridiculed and cast aside. My mother was set apart for trying to feed herself. It seems this woman is able to talk to the men she is with. They are able to hear her. I do not understand why she would be with Allendy of her own accord if she does not love him. Why would she continue a sexual relationship if she is not interested in the man? My lovemaking with Mao was exquisite, he adored me. I loved him. He tired of me. Perhaps, if I had been like her, less easy to catch, he would not have tired of me.





Madame Mao in Tropic of Cancer

I think Henry Miller and his friend Van Doren, remind me of the worse of men. Particularly Van Doren. What is this passion with youth in women? I know what it is, this destruction. I know these men are small. What can I do? Anais, like I did Mao, has the illusion of being heard by this man but these men, they are detached from their emotions, they are not passionate. They are not a mystery. Mao had a great charm. These men are like buffoons. Mao had poetry that talked of loved and life, these men seem to simply regurgitate their pessimism & talk of art. Swine. I would have never chosen such a man. Nothing to show for himself. I hear them talk of the art but they lack the emotion. What is art without emotion? Power? The little ballerinas of the Peking operas, they represented a country, a philosophy. These men, they call their work art but I see nothing but an exaggerated preoccupation with the self and every detail of their petty existence. They have no cause. They seek nothing above and beyond themselves. They are the dogs that lay the bitch when in heat, which feeds itself when it is hungry and bites when it is scared. Henry himself says "I am a coward" and I agree. Here, too, women disposable. There is not even an attempt.

Madame Mao in Lolita

I am on a ride with this strange man. I do not find him attractive. I am 13, now. He says he is my father. In the evenings, he makes love to me. To me, it does not matter, it is a matter of survival. That is why I am here.

We go across the hill now, very far. I do not know where my mother is. I think that he has killed her, but I am not sure. I think, maybe, he will kill me too, I am scared to find out, so I do whatever he says. We are riding, still, a long time, and I see many things that amuse me. I do not miss my mother, for she is gone now. I do not miss my father, for I do not know him. I do not think it will be good to continue this journey, but for now, my spirit is dead, and I cannot fight back. So in the evening, I endure. I hope that you understand that as a child, I was not strong, although I had to be. It was later, when everything became so hard, and difficult, and painful, that is when I learned. I know, today. I know what I know now, but I did not know then. And I have no regrets. That man, you see that man, over there? He has been my lover. Because once my spirit is broken, nothing else matters. There is no risk. This man does not suspect anything, that is how it is possible for me to go on, in the shivering body of a child, in the cold. Understand me, I did what I could. There is no more to be done. I could not protect my body against this man because I needed him. Do you know what it is like to have to survive? I know. Have you ever gone hungry? I swore that I would never sell myself like my mother, but here, as a child, with a man who pretended to hold me in order to love me, I was hopeless. For I never had a father that showed a kindness to me.


Madame Mao in Black Water

Madame Mao arrives at the moment the girl begins to drown. She has an observant look, she is sober. She has matured somewhat. In the other world, she is in her seventies. She knows she is completely powerless. Although she has the power, as was seen in her dialogue with Zackeya to communicate with those who are alive, their path will not simply change for her words.

Black water. Black water. Drowning, the young child. See, look at her. See how she attempts to scream? Look, I see her cheeks, full of water. And there is no more rose in her cheeks. See how she fights? It makes me want to cry. I love her, like a child. I see the water, circling all around her, and she is sinking. The man, let's see, maybe he will save her? No? Where is he running to? Crying? Is he crying? To leave her to die and to cry? Preposterous. I do not understand the ways of man. I have told you this before. I see this child drowning and there is nothing I can do. I feel so hard. My heart has grown cold, so I cannot cry. God, help this child. Understand me, she must not go down this way.

I went down, a long time ago, but I want her to live. Can I take her body? Can I drown while she continues to live? Can I offer her that? It is so sad, my heart breaks because I cannot change events. Nothing can change, now, not even the end of this child.

So this young child will die? What more can be done? I see that it is all lost. The passion. A young child. I read this book. After observing the sad fact. And the language is different. It is the language of death. It is a young girl, but she cannot see, and she cannot breathe. And I think that I was like this too, although it was a long time ago. And I think I drowned in different waters. I think I could not choke. God allowed me to live, he allowed me to look up but I was drowning in the waters of my misery. My heart cries for this child. This girl who does not understand the ways of this world. This girl who followed a man as if he were a prophet, as Zeinab did the evil Mayor, as I, too followed Mao. Is there a need for a young girl to see a man as a God? I think I will chose this for my life. I want to die a thousand times like this young girl did, while in her innocence. I don’t want the long, incessant battle that was my life and made me cold and bitter. And this girl, she had a safe childhood, and food, and a father that did not beat her. And she had a friend. I have never had a friend. Not a female friend. I understood the love between man and woman only.

She sits on a chair

I would have liked to reach out to this young girl and tell her she is not alone. But she is. The vines are choking her, because men can be so cold. Perhaps they have been built that way, to let a young girl die. In vain I waited for remorse from my father, always, he turned the other way, as Mao did. Never did I find release. I needed someone to admire and I found it in Mao. I chose to believe he loved me because I needed it so desperately to have a reason to live. It is different from this girl, she is not at the bottom of society, as I was. She is respected and she has never suffered from hunger in her life, as I have. She has never been beat, and she has never been cast aside as if she were trash. And yet she wants to die, and I wanted to live. But now I think she was wiser to die. Black. Black. In the West, black is the symbol of death, in my home in China, it is white. So I cannot relate to this black because the death is the resurrection. If she dies, she will never, die. She is pure and innocent. My sins weigh upon me. At her funeral, people will cry genuine tears. Perhaps the American heart is softer.

I chose this death, it is the death for me, and it is the life.

Madame Mao in Mao II

They use my husband’s name. And they use my name. But I do not recognize myself in this book. It is very European, or American, or Western. A man who goes off alone. Who goes to a foreign land after being locked up in his room for years? It is the battle of the intellect. Not of ideas. I do not know what to think. I do not see why he choses to die. It seems to me I would not chose to die for a man I did not know. So desperate for adventure? There has been much adventure and much danger in my life, and I would not seek it out. It is a luxury to seek out danger. Everywhere I turned, danger was all around me, and I think that it began to excite me, but it killed my spirit or made it into another form, not beneficial to others. I am an ignorant woman, I do not play with words, but I have a connection to reality this man does not have, because no one seeks their own destruction if they are in tune with the survival instinct. And my survival has been everything I have had.

Madame Mao has finished the journey. She choses the universe of Black Water, because an early death would be less painful. She choses the death of Black Water because she could die with a father and mother who loved her and did not abandon her. She would never run out of food. And she would not give over her destiny to the man who choses her, because her life will be interfered with. A Higher Force will intervene before her spirit can become corrupt, before she can be cast aside.

Thank you, God, for this journey. Thank you for showing me the way to a different path, on a different land. Thank you for showing me that everywhere women suffer, that, in a way, I was a success because I was not completely a victim. But that my overcoming made me bitter, I cannot accept. I chose the life of comfort of the young girl in Black Water. I chose to take on a different direction. Still a part of history, still forever part of the history books. And yet not hated. A fond memory. Perhaps a forgotten memory. A select few to cry genuinely. An American girl with all the attributes. Thank you.

Madame Mao exits off stage, very slowly, very dramatically. To the sound of bongs in slow funeral like rhythm.