SAN FRANCISCO—Despite bristling against unfair “red-baiting” of Ed Lee, the incumbent’s mayoral campaign has made central to its Chinese-language poster effort an only slightly-altered quote from Mao Zedong, the reddest communist of them all.
In posters around Chinatown and elsewhere, six Chinese characters proclaim that “With him handling things, you can take it easy.”
Those words were almost precisely what Mao wrote on a slip of paper on April 30, 1976, to his successor Hua Guofeng, four months before Mao died: “With you handling things, I can take it easy.” The phrase was instrumental in Hua’s rising to power amidst the fierce factional struggles after Mao’s death.
The Chinese version of the phrase is a symmetrical slogan of two sets of three characters (Mao’s “ni banshi, wo fangxin” to Lee’s “ta banshi, ni fangxin”), and is of a style typical to political slogans from communist China.
It’s unclear how widely recognized the Mao reference is in Chinatown, but most middle-aged and older mainland Chinese, or those who follow politics, would get it right away. The slogan even has its own Chinese Wikipedia page.
Ed Lee’s campaign manager, Tony Winnicker, could not say whether the team that formulated the slogan knew of its similarity to Mao’s version. The original idea, he said, was to communicate “the sense of getting things done or being effective,” he said in a telephone interview.
It is unclear how many of the posters were printed.
The slogan also inadvertently became an occasion for drawing attention to Ed Lee’s behind-the-scenes backer, Rose Pak.
On a couple of campaign posters adjacent to Portsmouth Square in the heart of Chinatown, an enterprising activist had made color print-outs of Rose Pak and stuck them on two posters.
In one, a picture of Pak and Lee was pasted below the words “A sagacious election choice” in Chinese.
On the other, Pak’s grinning mug is pasted atop the Chinese character for “you” in the second part of the campaign phrase, making it say: “With him in charge, Rose Pak can take it easy.”
A few days later someone had ripped off the Pak pictures; faint shreds of torn white paper were the only vestiges of that short-lived prank.