I’ve been seeing these Oba-Mao/Chairman Obama T-shirts all around China and Hong Kong, and it turns out that they’ve been around for quite some time. I found an article from 2009 about how the government banned the sale of these t-shirts and other souvenirs bearing this image during Obama’s visit in 2009 because they were afraid that Obama would be offended.
Would he be offended? I don’t know. If I saw images of me in Red Army-era woodprint, I’d probably be kind of amused. And confused. And also a little flattered that someone other than my mom would want to wear a shirt with my face on it. But mostly amused.
Since coming to China, I’ve actually become quite a fan of variations on these Chairman Mao images. For example, I am absolutely delighted by the Chairman Panda, which is so cute it just kills me. I first saw it when the dean at the school I work for showed me his iPhone cover bearing this image. It has all these little pandas dressed like Chairman Mao, and there’s a banner underneath that says, “We need you for the revolution!” AHHHH! So cute! YES! YES! I will join your revolution!! I tracked down this adorableness on taobao.com and bought two — one for my brother and one for me (to use when I get an iPhone someday. Ha!).
I also really like the Red Guards’ hat and got one in black several months ago. It’s super cute, but I feel a little self-conscious when I wear it. I feel like I might offend someone somehow. I asked my Chinese friends, and they assured me that there’s nothing offensive about it. I’d feel even more uncomfortable in the U.S. My brother thinks it would be OK because it would be so hipster. But let’s get real here. I’d never be able to pull off a hipster look, even if my life depended on it.