Chairman Mao's cloak 

Thu 13 Jun – Sun 20 Oct 2013
Mana Whenua, Level 4
Free entry
Maori; People and history 

Chairman Mao's Cloak
Image courtesy of the National Museum of China

See the prestigious kahu huruhuru (feather cloak) gifted to China's Chairman Mao by the Māori King Korokī in 1957.

In 1957, the Māori King Korokī gifted a prestigious kahu huruhuru (feather cloak) to China’s leader, Chairman Mao Zedong. Now, more than 50 years later, the National Museum of China has generously loaned the cloak to Te Papa for a brief visit home. It features as part of our Mana Whenua exhibition.

The loan is a gesture of great goodwill as China rarely lends state gifts. The New Zealand China Friendship Society played a vital role in the cloak’s return.

The story of the gift

In 1952, the New Zealand China Friendship Society was formed to encourage understanding of communist China, in a climate of Cold War distrust. Five members of the Society were invited to visit the country in 1957. They included pioneering film-makers Ramai and Rudall Hayward – the first English-speaking film-makers to be invited there.

The group presented the remarkable kahu huruhuru to Chairman Mao on behalf of Korokī. The date was 1 October, China’s National Day, the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949.

For Māori, gifting prestigious taonga (cultural treasures) has long been a custom to seal honoured relationships and signal respect. When Ramai Hayward placed the cloak around the Chinese leader’s shoulders, he said, ‘We are the smallest nation in the world, giving this gift to the largest nation in the world.’ Mao replied, ‘The smallest is as great as the largest.’

The gift featured in a documentary film that the Haywards made during their visit.