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Says One Chinese Entrepreneur, 40,000 Mao Badges in Hand: `Mao Will Continue to Be Hot'

PERSONALLY, Bo Guiting doesn't seem to think much of Mao Zedong. ``As a whole, from my heart, I respect Mao,'' Mr. Bo managed, but only hesitantly, when asked about his feelings for the late Chinese leader.

But when it comes to business, the entrepreneur effuses enthusiasm for the patriarch of Chinese communism, whose birthday centenary has opened up new capitalist horizons across China.

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Bo exhibits 30,000 Mao badges and other memorabilia at the Big Goose Pagoda, a seventh century Xian landmark where the traveling monk Xuan Zang first brought Buddhist scriptures from India.

The monks don't seem to mind the contradiction of a display honoring the professedly atheist Mao in a sacred site of Chinese Buddhism. In fact, since the exhibit opened three months ago, they have increased pagoda entrance prices by five cents (in US dollars) to raise money for a new temple wing.

Inside the small exhibit, the leader's visage is everywhere. There are fluorescent Maos, porcelain Maos, young Maos, old Maos, balding Maos, and Maos in hats. On one table stand dozens of Mao statues of different shapes and sizes.

Behind it is a map of China shaped from several hundred Mao badges. Across the room is a depiction of the famous Tiananmen Gate in Beijing, also produced with Mao badges and cellophane tape. The major exhibit features large Chinese characters, also made from Mao badges and depicting the title of the famous communist anthem, ``The East is Red.''

Bo says the display represents only part of his collection, numbering more than 40,000 accumulated since the late 1960s. Most were produced during the chaotic years of the Cultural Revolution when Mao presided over a frenzied personality cult, although some go back as far as 1951.

Bo says his most prized badges are those which are dated, bear names of military or Red Guard units for which they were made, or commemorate a faction's political victory during the Cultural Revolution. ``From the badges one can get an idea of those chaotic 10 years,'' he says.

The collector says he is sitting on a gold mine. A Shaanxi businessman offered him $35,000 for his collection. Another visitor bid $750 for one badge.

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But Bo isn't selling. His dream is to display his badges in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing and later overseas. This fall, he will attend a national conference of several thousand Mao badge collectors in Hunan, Mao's home province.

Judging from the emotional response to his exhibit, Bo predicts China's Mao mania will continue and make his badge exhibit an ongoing lucrative venture. ``People have become nostalgic about Mao because of the widespread corruption in China,'' he says. ``My gut feeling is Mao will continue to be hot in the future.''

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