He said, “My father insisted that I go to China, just as he insisted that I attend UP (the University of the Philippines). He however never intended for me to become an armchair revolutionary.”
“Then he didn’t want you to become a Maoist?”
“Precisely because of what he had seen.”
While Jose Mariano may have been a RED BOOK-carrying revolutionary, his bookcase contained works by Brecht, Mann, Plekhanov, and Gorki, which he used in his courses. Because of this I knew that I ‘d like him. It was also easy to see why he was arrested and why his teaching populist, worker oriented literature was considered dangerous. The extreme side of him not only assured the he would be against Marcos and for the closing of American military bases (for him principally Clark Air Base) but that he’d also become an outspoken Maoist. Jose had been an associate of Jose Maria Sison. Jose Mariano considered joining Jose Maria Sison in the field and would have if it hadn’t been for his father. That was the only reason why he rejected the idea. He had also very nearly joined the Communist Party. Mere circumstances prevented him from doing it. Joining anything hardly interested him then. He wanted to travel. He wanted to go to China. In 1966 he got his chance, and he travel to Peking with a group of Filipino journalist (among them Nick Joaquin, a famous editor and essayist who wrote under the pen name of ‘Quijano de Manila’ or Manila Old Timer for the Philippines Free Press). The group met Henry Pu-Yi, the last Chinese emperor. Jose was mortified to see Pu-Yi working as a gardener on the grounds of his own palace.
The Viscount turbo-prop plane rolled to a stop in front of the terminal. Jose deplaned with the other Filipinos. There was only a handful of foreigners in the city and the country then, which meant the Filipinos were a curiosity and attracted crowds wherever they went. (China was an isolated country in those days.) It was cold: people wore plain quilted coats. He saw many old Chinese women who had trouble walking since their feet were bound when they were younger. He saw a fireworks display in Tienanmen Square and got to see Chairman Mao there, which was the only time he saw the chairman. It was after dark, of course, and he only caught a glimpse of him. Still for Jose it was the highpoint of his trip. He told me that it was hard to describe how he felt as he watched millions of Chinese marched passed by him and the chairman.
This spectacle with millions of participants defined the revolution for Jose. Jose looked on and celebrated with them. Once again, yes in Tienanmen Square, he made a fist and raised it into the air. His passion surprised him. The moment was unforgettable.
Jose advanced through the crowd in Tienanman Square, sometimes pushing his way through. But to be in a hurry would’ve been pointless. It would’ve also been a missed opportunity. To fully understand what was going on would take a long time. The sleeping Dragon was waking up, and the great debate back in the States was who lost China. Mao’s success surprised everyone. Jose was lucky to get to see it.
With what little time he had, Jose set out to see Peking from one end to the other. He rode the buses, which were almost always crowded. He took in the museums, parks and a theatrical show or two. On the surface, and from the perspective of an outsider, the revolution of Mao appeared to be working. Jose couldn’t help but compare what he saw with was happening at home… compare the chaos of Manila with the order and the regimentation of Peking…compare Peking buses with the smoke belchers he knew. He took in as much as he could and tried to make sense of it all. Of course, he wanted to see more and go behind the scenes.
Everywhere he went he ran into the Red Guards. By and large he was impressed with them and understood why they were needed. To him, however, they too often seemed heavy-handed, particularly when he saw that they had taken over the schools. (Perhaps it raised the fear that this could happen at home.) Jose was curious and decided to go inside one. When he went through the front gate and entered a courtyard of a school, Red Guards questioned him before they turned him away. Eventually he had to sadly rejoin his group and didn’t get to see as much of Peking as he wanted to.
He brought home a few souvenirs from China: an English copy of THE LITTLE RED BOOK, a Chinese flag, and a recording of the song “The East is Red.” A few years later they would’ve been confiscated. Little did he know then that possession of these items would one day lead to his death.