The Disgusting Truth About Mao Zedong's Personal Hygiene

In 2013, Business Insider wrote that deceased Communist dictator Mao Zedong was "still bigger than Jesus" in China. He was probably even bigger than John Lennon. Devoted pilgrims visited the village where he was born. China's Communist Party touts Mao as its source of legitimacy. A previously destitute farmer made a fortune by opening a chain of "Mao Family" restaurants that served Mao-themed meals such as "Long March Chicken" and the chairman's favorite braised pork. As one 23-year-old nurse observed, "Mao is a God in the East." Mao was also a god-awful human being.

In King of the Mountain, author Arnold Ludwig writes that China's celebrated despot had a hand in estimated 40 million deaths. But decades of indoctrination have in large part blinded China to just how full of crap Mao actually was. In fact, the man was chronically constipated. As Ludwig describes, the chairman's bodyguards were "trained not only to protect him against enemies but also to give him enemas if they failed" at prying the stubborn poop from his butt with their fingers first.

Even Mao's poops were regarded as special occasions. At the end of a nine-day bout of constipation his employees rejoiced, "The chairman's bowels have moved!" Having to unclog a dictators butt by hand must have been horrific enough. But it must have been especially horrendous in Mao's case because he had the personal hygiene of a garbage dump.

Brainwashing was probably the only kind of washing Mao did

Dr. LI Zhisui served as Mao's personal physician for 22 years. He knew where the bodies were buried and what horrors were buried in Mao's body. In 1994, nearly two decades after the despot's death, Li unearthed these icky secrets in a tell-all and decided to tell People all about it. The doctor revealed that the dictator never brushed his teeth, which turned green. His infected gums gushed pus. When encouraged to brush his not-at-all pearly greens, Mao growled, "Does a tiger brush his teeth?" The chairman preferred to rinse his mouth with tea and chew leaves like peasants did. He seemed to revel in his grossness As detailed in King of the Mountain, Mao once reached into his pants "to pick lice off his body deliberately" while being interviewed by a female reporter.

He also considered bathing "a waste of time." And since Mao already spent much of his precious time expelling waste due to constipation, it comes as no surprise that he only occasionally gave people's nostrils a reprieve when he went for a swim and toweled off. Li blamed the chairman's deep-seated opposition to soap and water on a "three-bath philosophy" that Chinese peasants allegedly adopted: "A bath at birth, one before marriage and one at death." However, the Independent mentions one other exception that appears in Li's tell-all. The congenitally filthy dictator claimed to clean his genitals by showering himself with women. Or as the chairman crudely put it, "I wash myself in the bodies of my women."

To make matters more revolting, Chairman Lice Crotch reportedly rivaled China's Yellow Emperor, who allegedly "deflower[ed] 1,000 virgins." In exchange for taking them to bed, he gave some of them a "minor venereal disease." Li urged him to take medication so that his partners didn't keep getting the short end of Mao's disease-infested stick. But true to form, the chairman acted like a massive dictator, dismissively insisting, "If it doesn't bother me, it doesn't matter." And since Mao didn't exhibit symptoms, it didn't bother him.

Barefoot and repugnant

One of the giant ironies of Mao's reign is that he waged a major campaign that promoted peasant hygiene, improved sanitation, and reduced STDs. Per the Journal of Global Health, the communicable disease control (CDC) implemented under Mao led to a huge boost in life expectancy and dramatic drops in infant mortality, STDS, and other maladies. NPR reports that he remedied a shortage of competent doctors by organizing a system of so-called "barefoot doctors" who had basic medical training and augmented their knowledge with a rigorous three-to-six-month crash course. These insta-physicians were dispersed to villages.

All together Mao

Unfortunately, because this is Mao we're talking about, these important advancements were accompanied by a great leap backward. As you may have guessed, the iron-fisted despot wasn't trying to improve people's health out of the goodness of his heart. He wanted to increase agricultural productivity as part of his signature Great Leap Forward, an effort to modernize China which ended up killing millions of people and untold numbers of animals. As OZY describes, Mao called for the extermination of the "four pests" he said spread disease and became a blight on farmers by devouring hard-grown grain.

Mao wanted to eradicate rats, flies, mosquitoes, and sparrows, the last of which he also despised for being a "capitalist" animal. So vicious was his hostility toward sparrows that citizens massacred them with abandon, going so far as to "bang pots, pans and drums to keep the birds from landing, forcing them to fly until they dropped dead from exhaustion." China's war on sparrows spawned a plague of locusts that devoured crops, leading to a catastrophic famine that, combined with other hardships, claimed tens of millions of lives. So even when Mao tried to clean up the country, his disgustingness stunk up the place.