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Mahatma, freedom icon of Chinese underground

A Chinese rock magazine has featured Mahatma Gandhi on its cover, complete with guitar-shaped glasses, fingers flashing the peace sign and Rolling Stones-like tongue sticking out. Sutirtho Patranobis reports.

world Updated: Feb 09, 2012 01:47 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

Independence icon, father of our nation, global leader and now, freedom symbol with a rock star touch. A Chinese rock magazine has featured Mahatma Gandhi on its cover, complete with guitar-shaped glasses, fingers flashing the peace sign and Rolling Stones-like tongue sticking out.

The magazine, I love rock music (in Chinese) - which also goes by its English name, So Rock! Magazine - seems part of an underground culture of dissent. Its tone is satirical and the write-ups on music and entertainment mixed with sex and spoofs.

Zhu Jinhui, who claimed to be the editor, told HT in an internet chat, "Gandhi has a powerful 'qi' (roughly translated as life force in Chinese) field. He matches the Chinese imagination as god or saint. And the peace sign means 'rock' in most Chinese readers' minds."

Zhu said most "educated people of China know about Gandhi" and that "Gandhi is a symbol of freedom".

"We Chinese really need our own Gandhi," he said, adding that the magazine had carried the Mahatma's life story a few years ago.

In a country where dissenting opinion is curbed swiftly - Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are all blocked - Zhu's words could be termed outspoken. He said the magazine has been raided earlier but since it prints just 10,000 copies, the number is nothing compared to China's 1.3 billion people.

"The government has more serious problems (to deal with)."

Unlike the editor, the academics and scholars HT spoke to were less unwilling to comment. One Beijing-based Indian scholar said one had to be "prudent" while talking about Gandhi or his beliefs.

India, too, is known to be sensitive to anything seemingly disparaging about the Mahatma. Last year, American author Joseph Lelyveld's book 'Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India' was banned for references to the icon's sex life.