Mao Zedong (December
26, 1893 – September 9, 1976; Simplified Chinese: ???; Traditional
Chinese: ???; pinyin: Máo Zédong; Wade-Giles: ) was the
chairman of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China from 1943
and the chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of
China from 1945 until his death. Under his leadership, the CCP (Chinese
Communist Party) became the ruling party of mainland China as the result
of its victory in the Chinese Civil War. On October 1, 1949, Mao declared
the formation of the People's Republic of China at Tiananmen Square.
While in power, he started a series of experiments aimed at speeding
up China's economic development known as the Great Leap Forward. He
forged but then later split the alliance with the Soviet Union and launched
the Cultural Revolution.
Mao is widely credited for creating a mostly unified China free of foreign
domination for the first time since the Opium Wars. However, critics
point out that Mao's inappropriate economic policies in conjunction
with the Three Years of Natural Disasters caused the famine of 1959–1961,
which lead to the deaths of millions of Chinese. Mao has also been criticized
for his contribution to the split with the USSR, his establishment of
a one-party dictatorship, and initiating the internal turmoil during
the Cultural Revolution.
Mao Zedong is still sometimes referred to as Chairman Mao (???). At
the height of his personality cult, Mao was commonly known in China
as the "Four Greats": "Great Teacher, Great Leader, Great
Supreme Commander, Great Helmsman".
The eldest son
of four children of a moderately prosperous peasant farmer, Mao Zedong
was born in the village of Shaoshan in Xiangtan county (???), Hunan
province. His ancestors had migrated from Jiangxi province during the
Ming Dynasty and had pursued farming for generations.
Mao as a young man.
During the 1911 Revolution he served in the Hunan provincial army. In
the 1910s, Mao returned to school, where he became an advocate of physical
fitness and collective action.
After graduation from Hunan Normal School in 1918, Mao traveled with
his high-school teacher and future father-in-law, Professor Yang Changji
(???), to Beijing during the May Fourth Movement, when Yang lectured
at Peking University. From Yang's recommendations, he worked under Li
Dazhao, the head of the university library and attended speeches by
Chen Duxiu. While working for the Peking University library as an assistant
librarian, Mao acquired a taste for books, something he was to retain
in later years. Also in Beijing, he married his first wife, Yang Kaihui,
a Peking University student and Yang Changji’s daughter. (When
Mao was 14, his father had arranged a marriage for him with a fellow
villager, Luo [??], but Mao never recognized this marriage.) (See section
Instead of going abroad which was the path of many of his radical compatriots,
Mao spent the early 1920s traveling in China, and finally returned to
Hunan, where he took the lead in promoting collective action and labor
At age 27, Mao attended the First Congress of the Communist Party of
China in Shanghai on July 23rd, 1921. Two years later he was elected
to the Central Committee of the party at the Third Congress.
During the Chinese Civil War’s first KMT-CCP united front, Mao
served as the director of the Peasant Training Institute of the Kuomintang
(also known as KMT or Nationalist Party). In early 1927, he was dispatched
to Hunan province to report on the recent peasant uprisings in the wake
of the Northern Expedition. The report that Mao produced from this investigation
is considered the first important work of Maoist theory.
During this time,
Mao developed many of his political theories. These ideas have had a
monumental impact on generations of Chinese and have significantly affected
the rest of the world.
Mao's thought transformed traditional Marxism into a political ideology
that could work to win a revolution and consolidate power in China.
Marxism-Leninism could only exist in concrete manifestations, meaning
that it could only work if it was applied to certain situations. Mao
hypothesized that peasants could form the basis of a communist revolution,
but only if the party elites took the message of revolution to the grass
roots and make it comprehensible to the peasant population. This meant
a process of getting party cadres to understand local realities and
trying to integrate the concerns of peasants with party policy, something
called Mass Line.
Mao also built on the theories of Hegel and Marx to create a new theory
of materialist dialectics. By applying the theory of the dialectic to
real-world conflicts, then by asserting that only the empirical reality
of the conflict mattered, Mao developed a type of dialectic theory that
was studied for decades. It is difficult to determine the true validity
of this theory, however, since so many analyses of it have been heavily
influenced by political biases.
During this time, Mao also developed more practical ideas, such as a
three-stage theory of guerilla warfare and the concept of the people's
War and Revolution
Mao escaped the white terror in the spring and summer of 1927 and led
the ill-fated Autumn Harvest Uprising at Changsha, Hunan, that autumn.
Mao barely survived this mishap (he escaped his guards on the way to
his execution). He and his rag-tag band of loyal guerillas found refuge
in the Jinggang Mountains in southeastern China. There, from 1931 to
1934, Mao helped establish the Chinese Soviet Republic and was elected
chairman. It was during this period that Mao married He Zizhen, after
Yang Kaihui had been killed by KMT forces.
Mao, with the help of Zhu De, built a modest but effective guerilla
army, undertook experiments in rural reform and government, and provided
refuge for Communists fleeing the rightist purges in the cities. Under
increasing pressure from the KMT encirclement campaigns, there was a
struggle for power within the Communist leadership. Mao was removed
from his important positions and replaced by individuals (including
Zhou Enlai) who appeared loyal to the orthodox line advocated by Moscow
and represented within the CPC by a group known as the 28 Bolsheviks.
Chiang Kai-shek, who had earlier assumed nominal control of China due
in part to the Northern Expedition, was determined to eliminate the
Communists. To evade the KMT forces, the Communists engaged in the "Long
March", a retreat from Jiangxi in the southeast to Shaanxi in the
northwest of China. It was during this 9600-km, year-long journey that
Mao emerged as the top Communist leader, aided by the Zunyi Conference
and the defection of Zhou Enlai to Mao's side. At this Conference, Mao
entered the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Communist Party
From his base in Yan'an, Mao led the Communist resistance against the
Japanese in the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). Mao further consolidated
power over the Communist Party in 1942 by launching the Cheng Feng,
or "Rectification" campaign against rival CPC members such
as Wang Ming, Wang Shiwei, and Ding Ling. Also while in Yan'an, Mao
divorced He Zizhen and married the actress Lan Ping, who would become
known as Jiang Qing.
During the Sino-Japanese War, Mao Zedong's strategies were opposed by
both Chiang Kai-shek and the United States. The US regarded Chiang as
an important ally, able to help shorten the war by engaging the Japanese
occupiers in China. Chiang, in contrast, sought to build the ROC army
for the certain conflict with Mao's communist forces after the end of
World War II. This fact was not understood well in the US, and precious
lend-lease armaments continued to be allocated to the Kuomintang. In
turn, Mao spent some of the war fighting the Kuomintang for control
of certain parts of China. Both the Communists and Nationalists have
been criticised by academics for fighting amongst themselves rather
than ally against the Imperial Japanese Army.
However, Americans sent a special diplomatic envoy, called the Dixie
mission, to the Communists by 1944. According to Edwin Moise, in Modern
China: A History 2nd Edition,
Most of the Americans were favourably impressed. The CCP seemed less
corrupt, more unified, and more vigorous in its resistance to Japan
than the Guomingdang. United States fliers shot down over North China...confirmed
to their superiors that the CCP was both strong and popular over a broad
area. In the end, the contacts with the USA developed with the CCP led
to very little.
After the end of World War II, the US continued to support Chiang Kai-shek,
now openly against the Communist Red Army, led by Mao Zedong, in the
civil war for control of China as part of its view to contain and defeat
"world communism". Likewise, the Soviet Union gave quasi-covert
support to Mao (acting as a concerned neighbor more than a military
ally, to avoid open conflict with the US) and gave large supplies of
arms to the Chinese Communists, although newer Chinese records indicate
the Soviet "supplies" were not as large as previously believed,
and consistently fell short of the promised amount of aid.
On January 21, 1949, Kuomintang forces suffered massive losses against
Mao's Red Army. In the early morning of December 10, 1949, Red Army
troops laid siege to Chengdu, the last KMT-occupied city in mainland
China, and Chiang Kai-shek evacuated from the mainland to Taiwan that
Leadership of China
Mao declared the founding of the PRC on October 1, 1949.
After the Japanese were defeated in World War II, the Communists defeated
the Kuomintang in an ensuing civil war and established the People's
Republic of China on October 1, 1949. It was the culmination of over
two decades of popular struggle led by the Communist Party. From 1954
to 1959, Mao was the Chairman of the PRC. He took up residence in Zhongnanhai,
a compound next to the Forbidden City in Beijing, and there he decreed
the construction of an indoor swimming pool and other buildings. Mao
often did his work either in bed or by the side of the pool during his
chairmanship, according to Dr. Li Zhisui, who claimed to be his physician.
(Li's book, The Private Life of Chairman Mao, has been subject to controversy.)
Following the consolidation of power, Mao launched a phase of rapid
collectivization, lasting until around 1958. The CPC introduced price
controls largely successful at breaking the inflationary spiral of the
preceding ROC as well as a Chinese character simplification aimed at
increasing literacy. Land was redistributed from landowners to poor
peasants and large-scale industrialization projects were undertaken,
contributing to the construction of a modern national infrastructure.
During this period, China sustained yearly increases in GDP of about
4–9% as well as dramatic improvements in quality-of-life indicators
such as life expectancy and literacy.
Programs pursued during this time include the Hundred Flowers Campaign,
in which Mao indicated his willingness to consider different opinions
about how China should be governed. Given the freedom to express themselves,
liberal and intellectual Chinese began opposing the Communist Party
and questioning its leadership. This was initially tolerated and even
encouraged, since it was thought that constructive criticism would be
beneficial to the Party. However, after a few months, Mao's government
reversed its policy and rounded up those who criticized the Party in
what is called the Anti-Rightist Movement. Authors such as Jung Chang
allege that the Hundred Flowers Campaign was merely a ruse to root out
"dangerous" thinking more easily.
In 1958, Mao launched the Great Leap Forward, a plan intended as an
alternative model for economic growth which contradicted the Soviet
model of heavy industry that was advocated by others in the party. Under
this economic program, Chinese agriculture was to be collectivized and
rural small-scale industry was to be promoted.
At first, the Great Leap began with tremendous success, with agricultural
and steel production running very high. However, instead of maintaining
the steady growth, Mao and other party leaders believed they could achieve
unrealistically high quotas. A damaging number of agricultural peasants
were moved to steel production. Numbers were inflated, although "they
were not just lies intended for public consumption, they were actually
believed." (Moise 140)
By 1959, the Great Leap Forward had become a disaster for Red China.
Although the steel quotas were reached, critics point out much of the
steel produced was useless, as it had been made from scrap metal. According
to Zhang Rongmei, a Geometry teacher in rural Shanghai during the Great
We took all the furniture, pots, and pans we had in our house, and all
our neighbors did likewise. We put all everything in a big fire and
melted down all the metal.
Khrushchev cancelled Soviet technical support because of worsening Sino-Soviet
relations. Severe droughts also occurred, further reducing agricultural
output. Unrealistic grain demands by the government, Soviet withdrawl
of support, natural disasters, and an economy that had spent ten years
recovering from decades of war and chaos caused famine across the nation.
There is a great deal of controversy over the number of deaths by starvation
during the Great Leap Forward. A mainstream figure is that some thirty
million people died during the famine that followed. In 1957, before
the Great Leap, about 7–10 million people died. Due to the tremendous
crop failure in 1959 caused by incompetent policies from the Great Leap
Forward, around 9 to 12 million people died. According to historian
Probably there was no year when China was under Guomingdang control
when the death rate was as low as 1.46 percent. The number of excess
deaths...was about 2,500,000 (in 1959).
However, the policies of the Great Leap coincided with another round
of natural disasters in 1960. According to Sun Yefang, the death rate
was around 2.54 percent in 1960 and around 9 million "excess deaths"
occurred that year. During the so-called Three Years of Natural Disasters,
the excess number of deaths "reached 16 million and other sources
give higher figures." (Moise 142) Finally, the Great Leap ended
in 1960, as a tremendous economic failure.
The withdrawal of Soviet aid, border disputes, disputes over the control
and direction of world communism, whether it should be revolutionary
or status quo, and other disputes pertaining to foreign policy contributed
to the Sino-Soviet split in the 1960s. Most of the problems, regarding
communist unity, resulted from the death of Stalin and his replacement
by Khrushchev. Stalin had established himself as the fount of correct
Marxist thought well before Mao controlled the CCP, and therefore Mao
never challenged the suitability of any Stalinist doctrine (at least
while Stalin was alive). Upon the death of Stalin, Mao believed (perhaps
because of seniority) leadership of "correct" Marxist doctrine
would fall to him. The resulting tension between Khrushchev (at the
head of a politically/militarily superior government), and Mao (believing
he had a superior understanding of Marxist ideology) eroded the previous
patron-client relationship between the USSR and CCP.
Following these events, other members of the Communist Party, including
Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, decided that Mao should be removed from
actual power and only remain in a largely ceremonial and symbolic role.
They attempted to marginalize Mao, and by 1959, Liu Shaoqi became State
President, but Mao remained Chairman. Liu and others began to look at
the situation much more realistically, somewhat abandoning the idealism
Mao wished for.
Facing the prospect of losing his place on the political stage, Mao
responded to Liu and Deng's movements by launching the Cultural Revolution
in 1966. This allowed Mao to circumvent the Communist hierarchy by giving
power directly to the Red Guards, groups of young people, often teenagers,
who set up their own tribunals. The Revolution led to the destruction
of much of China's cultural heritage and the imprisonment of a huge
number of Chinese intellectuals, as well as creating general economic
and social chaos in the country. It was during this period that Mao
chose Lin Biao to become his successor. Later, it is unclear whether
Lin was planning a military coup (or assassination), but before he could
be questioned, Lin died trying to flee China (probably anticipating
his arrest) in a suspicious plane crash over Mongolia. It was declared
that Lin was planning to depose Mao, and he was posthumously expelled
from the CCP. Mao lost trust in many of the top CCP figures.
Mao greeted United
States President Richard Nixon (right) in a China visit in 1972
In 1969, Mao declared the Cultural Revolution to be over, although the
official history of the People's Republic of China marks the end of
the Cultural Revolution in 1976 with Mao's death. In the last years
of his life, Mao was faced with declining health due to either Parkinson's
disease or, according to Li Zhisui, motor neuron disease, as well as
lung ailments due to smoking and heart trouble. Mao remained passive
as various factions within the Communist Party mobilized for the power
struggle anticipated after his death. When Mao could not swim any longer,
the indoor swimming pool he had at Zhongnanhai was converted into a
giant reception hall, according to Li Zhisui.
As anticipated after Mao’s death on September 9, 1976, there was
a power struggle for control of China. On one side were the leftists
led by the Gang of Four, who wanted to continue the policy of revolutionary
mass mobilization. On the other side were the rightists, which consisted
of two groups. One was the restorationists led by Hua Guofeng who advocated
a return to central planning along the Soviet model. The other was the
reformers, led by Deng Xiaoping, who wanted to overhaul the Chinese
economy based on pragmatic policies and to de-emphasize the role of
ideology in determining economic and political policy.
Eventually, the moderates won control of the government. Deng Xiaoping
defeated Hua Guofeng in a bloodless power struggle shortly afterwards.
Cult of Mao
One of the reasons Mao is most remembered is the Cult of Mao, the personality
cult that was created around him. Mao presented himself as an enemy
of landowners, businessmen and Western and American imperialism, as
well as an ally of impoverished peasants, farmers and workers. Some
people argue that personality cults go against the basic ideas of Marxism,
but the propaganda that was inherent with most Communist regimes contradicted
this, as can be seen by the Cult of Stalin.
Mao said the following about cults at the 1958 Party congress in Chengdu,
where he expressed support for the idea of personality cults - even
ones like Stalin's:
"There are two kinds of personality cults. One is a healthy personality
cult, that is, to worship men like Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin.
Because they hold the truth in their hands. The other is a false personality
cult, i.e. not analysed and blind worship."
In 1962, Mao proposed the Socialist Education Movement (SEM), in an
attempt to 'protect' the peasants against the temptations of feudalism
and the sprouts of capitalism that he saw re-emerging in the countryside
(thanks to Liu's economic reforms). Large quantities of politicised
art were produced and circulated - with Mao at the centre. Numerous
posters and musical compositions referred to Mao as "A red sun
in the centre of our hearts" (????????) and a "Savior of the
The Cult of Mao proved vital in starting the Cultural Revolution. China's
youth had mostly been brought up during the Communist era, and they
had been told to love Mao. Thus they were his greatest supporters. Their
feelings for him were so strong that many followed his urge to challenge
all established authority.
In October 1966, Mao's Quotations of Chairman Mao Zedong (also known
as the "Little Red Book") was published. Party members were
encouraged to carry a copy with them and possession was almost mandatory
in order for membership. Over the years, Mao's image became displayed
everywhere, in every home, office and shop. His quotations were included
in boldface or red type in even the most mundane writings.
Mao's legacy has produced a large amount of controversy. Some people
emphasize the major failures such as the Sino-Soviet Split, the Great
Leap Forward and the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. Most mainland
Chinese believe that Mao Zedong was a great revolutionary leader, although
he made serious mistakes in his later life. According to Deng Xiaoping,
Mao was "seven parts right and three parts wrong", and his
"contributions are primary and his mistakes secondary."
Supporters of Mao point out that before 1949, for instance, the illiteracy
rate in Mainland China was 80 percent, and life expectancy was a meager
35 years. At his death, they claim illiteracy had declined to less than
seven percent, and average life expectancy had increased to more than
70 years (alternative statistics also quote improvements, though not
nearly as dramatic). In addition to these increases, the total population
of China increased 57% to 700 million, from the constant 400 million
mark during the span between the Opium War and the Chinese Civil War.
Supporters also state that under Mao's regime, China ended its "Century
of Humiliation" from Western imperialism and regained its status
as a major world power. They also state their belief that Mao also industrialized
China to a considerable extent and ensured China's sovereignty during
his rule. Some of Mao's supporters view the Kuomintang as having been
corrupt and credit Mao with driving them off the Chinese mainland to
They also argue that the Maoist era improved women's rights by abolishing
prostitution, a phenomenon that was to return after Deng Xiaoping and
post-Maoist CCP leaders increased liberalization of the economy. Indeed,
Mao once famously remarked that "Women hold up half the heavens".
Skeptics observe that similar gains in life expectancy occurred in the
East Asian Tigers, most notably Taiwan, which was ruled by Mao's opponents,
the Kuomintang. Some of the gains may have simply been the result of
a country no longer at war, so perhaps any regime could achieve such
improvements. The regime that took over in Taiwan was composed of the
same people ruling the Mainland for over 20 years when life expectancy
was so low, yet life expectancy there also increased.
Mao believed that "socialism is the only way out for China,"
because the United States and other Western countries would not allow
China to join the ranks of advanced capitalism. As if to support this
theory, the United States placed a trade embargo on China that lasted
until Richard Nixon decided Mao had made himself a force to be reckoned
with in dealing with the Soviet Union. While the Tigers obtained favorable
trade terms from the United States, most Third World capitalist countries
did not, and they saw nothing like the social gains in China or the
economic growth of the Tigers.
Some, including members of the Communist Party of China, hold Mao responsible
for initiating the Sino-Soviet Split. The Great Leap Forward and the
Cultural Revolution were also considered to be major disasters in his
policy. Still other critics of Mao fault him for not encouraging birth
control and for creating a demographic bump which later Chinese leaders
responded to with the one child policy.
There is more consensus on Mao's role as a military strategist and tactician
during the Chinese Civil War and the Korean War. Even among those who
find Mao's ideology to be either unworkable or abhorrent, many acknowledge
that Mao was a brilliant political and military strategist - Mao's military
writings continue to have a large amount of influence both among those
who seek to create an insurgency and those who seek to crush one.
Remains of Mao's personality cult: one of the last publicly displayed
portraits of Mao Zedong at the Tiananmen gate.
The ideology of Maoism has influenced many communists around the world,
including third world revolutionary movements such as Cambodia's Khmer
Rouge, Peru's Shining Path, the revolutionary movement in Nepal, and
also the Revolutionary Communist Party in the United States. China has
moved sharply away from Maoism since Mao's death, and most people outside
of China who describe themselves as Maoist regard the Deng Xiaoping
reforms to be a betrayal of Mao's legacy.
In mainland China, many people still consider Mao a hero in the first
half of his life, but hold that he was too idealistic after gaining
power. His actions during the Cultural Revolution regarding the "Four
Great Evils" polarizes many Chinese. Mao is also criticized for
creating a cult of personality. However, in an era where economic growth
has caused corruption to increase in mainland China, there are those
who regard the era of Mao as a time of peace and equality. At the same
time, contemporary views about him in the PRC are affected by bans on
works that criticise Mao heavily.
In the mid-1990s, Mao Zedong's picture began to appear on all new renminbi
currency from the People’s Republic of China. This is intended
primarily as an anti-counterfeiting measure as Mao's face is widely
recognized in contrast to the generic figures that appear in older currency.
He may be the most
powerful person who has ever lived. He controlled almost a billion people
for more than twenty five years. He controlled more than 9 million square
kilometres of land. He controlled a country whose present value is more
than $980 billion American. He overthrew an army of more than 4 million
to get it, and killed many more to keep it. This project details the
life of this once godlike ruler.
The socialist system
will eventually replace the capitalist system; this is an objective
law independent of man’s will. However much reactionaries try
to hold back the wheel of history, sooner or later revolution will take
place and will inevitably triumph.
"Speech at the Meeting of the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R in
Celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution"
The legends of say he was born into a poor peasant family, but he was
actually born on the 26th of December, 1893, in the home of a fairly
well-to-do peasant in Hunan. Mao placed his humble origins in the fact
his father was born poor and made his own money.
Even so, Mao did not escape village life until the age of 17 when he
went to middle school in Changsha, the capital of Hunan. That year,
1911, the revolution led by Dr Sun Yat-Sen overthrew the imperial government
and Mao became caught up in the political instability. He left his studies
at the school and after a period in a revolutionary army he began to
study at a Hunan Provincial library on his own. He became well acquainted
with the works of Darwin, Mill and Rousseau before he ran out of money
and joined a teaching course. There he read and loved Chinese literature,
especially tales of bandits and heroes, as well as advancing his personal
health and fitness which would serve him well in the future.
Instead of becoming a teacher at the completion of his course in 1918
he went to Peking and became a poorly paid assistant in the university
library. There he found two allies, the library chief Li Ta-chao, and
a professor of literature, Chen Tu-hsui, who were radical Marxists and
later founded the Chinese Communist Party, the CCP.
The actual founding of the CCP can be dated to the ‘May 4 Uprising’
in 1919 when thousands of students took to the streets to protest against
the concessions given to Japan under the Paris Peace Conference. This
created a general feeling of anti-imperialist and anti-Japanese sentiment.
Mao has been reported as saying "It was by this time I had become
in theory, and, to some extent, in action, a Marxist."
No political party
can possibly lead a great revolutionary movement to victory unless it
possesses revolutionary theory and a knowledge of history and has a
profound grasp of the practical movement.
"The Role of the Chinese Communist Party in the National War"
10/1938, Selected Works, Vol. II, p 208.
In 1920 Mao became principal of a primary school in Changsha, where
in his spare time he helped set up the Changsha branch of the Communist
Party. In 1921 he was one of 12 delegates at the ‘First Congress’
of the Communist Party at a time when national membership of the party
totalled 57, and he became the CCP’s General Secretary for Hunan.
By 1925 the membership was still only 900, and the CCP had joined Sun
Yat-Sen’s Nationalist party, the Kuomintang (KMT). Plans for an
ambitious 'Northern Expedition' were made to bring all of China under
KMT control. In March that year Sun Yat-Sen died, and the official leadership
of the KMT was left vacant. But a young general, Chiang Kai-Shek, took
control and the Northern Expedition preparations went ahead. Mao was
an active member of the KMT and was even criticised by CCP members who
thought he was too zealous. Mao preferred political activity among the
peasants with the KMT to the worker-orientated CCP.
Within a year of the launch of the expedition in early 1926 almost half
of China was under KMT control and Chiang Kai-Shek looked like succeeding
but for the rapidly rising CCP. Mao had found that peasants were very
responsive to the idea of the overthrowing of landlords; however some
powerful KMT officials were landlords or relatives of landlords. Nevertheless,
Mao was sent to investigate the peasant situation in Hunan in January
1927; in his report he referred to supporting insurrection among peasants
against "local bullies and bad gentry" as he could not afford
to affront to the landlords directly.
Mao’s political views left him fairly lonely as he had the support
of neither the KMT’s right wing nor Stalin in the ‘Workers’
State’ - Karl Marx had described the peasantry as ‘the class
that represents barbarism in the midst of civilisation’ - but
he knew, as did Stalin, that the CCP with its rate of growth could eventually
take over the KMT leadership.
THE CIVIL WAR
A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting
a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely
and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous
. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class
"Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan"
3/1927, Selected Works, Vol. I, p. 28.
Chiang recognised this too. In April of 1927 he ordered a ruthless massacre
of the communists and militant workers in the cities. Shanghai was the
main communist city in China and it was ‘hit’ first; purges
in other cities followed. Over the next few months CCP membership dropped
from 60 000 to 10 000.
This was actually beneficial to Mao and his ‘peasant Marxism’
hiding in the hills in two ways. Firstly, he no longer to compete with
the worker orientated urban brand of communism anymore. Secondly, because
Chiang had cut down the left wing of the KMT, he was forced to lean
on the right and this began to estrange the KMT from the peasants.
Impatient to respond to the purge Mao managed to gain control of 4 regiments
and with this tiny force he led an assault on Changsha called the ‘Autumn
Harvest Uprising’ where he expected the workers of the city would
rise and conquer like good Marxists. However Mao took such great losses
he and his forces were forced to draw back after just one week with
only a thousand dispirited soldiers left; from then on Mao stayed in
his guerilla base in the high mountains of Chingkangshan and worked
outward from there. He would work through villages one by one, finding
the landlords, gathering together the peasants to discuss the ‘crimes’
of the landlord, and then having the landlord executed at the hands
of the peasants - with the supervision of armed Red Army guards. The
offer of political stability, moderate taxes and the distribution of
the landlord’s land were naturally very attractive rewards, and
by February 1930 Mao was able to declare the ‘South-West Soviet
Despite Mao’s successes in the south, Chiang Kai-Shek defeated
nearly all the northern warlords, and set up a stable united government
that was to last until the Sino-Japanese war erupted in 1937. 1928 to
1937 has come to be regarded the ‘Nationalist decade’.
Still Chiang could not overcome the communists. The Red Army of 10 000,
assembled over just 3 years, and the high rate of expansion of CCP territory
forced Chiang to begin an ‘Encirclement Campaign’ in December
1930. The eager Red guerillas destroyed the KMT troops with ease. At
the same time the CCP leadership, pleased with Mao’s progress,
ordered him to attack the nearby cities, Changsha and Nanchang. Both
attacks were disastrous and Mao was soon powerful enough to defy such
orders from the CCP leadership.
Between 1930 and 1934, five ‘Encirclement Campaigns’ were
launched; all failed but the last, which blockaded the base to near
starvation. Mao broke out with 85 000 troops and 15 000 Party officials,
who were forced to begin the ‘Long March’, a legendary epic
of retreat from the harassment of KMT forces. In the first three weeks
25 000 men died; only 20 000 men, some recruited en route, arrived at
Yenan base a full year later. The marchers saw 11 provinces, 6000 miles
and 200 million people; they endured endless skirmishes with KMT troops,
propaganda campaigns in villages and food shortages. In 1935 when the
marchers captured Tsunyi, the Chinese Politburo elected Mao Chairman
of the Chinese Communist Party.
Mao still had his HQ in a cave, and if it had not been for the Japanese
invasion two years later, Mao may never have been able to defeat Chiang
who had enough troops to defeat Mao in any prolonged confrontation.
Nevertheless, on a visit to rally his troops in the north east, Chiang
Kai-Shek was arrested by a young KMT army general who had read of Mao’s
attempts to unite the warring parties to defeat the Japanese and was
frustrated with Chiang turning a blind eye to the Japanese invasion
of Manchuria and north eastern China. Mao surprised everyone by sending
Chou En-lai, one of his long time friends and right-hand man, to plead
for Chiang’s life, to prove to everyone defeating the Japanese
was to be given absolute priority. Chiang was forced to agree to a shaky
alliance in 1937 to slow down Japan’s invasion; Japan only stepped
up its campaign.
From 1937 until 1945 Chiang was forced to juggle his forces between
combat with the Japanese to maintain national support and the CCP to
stop them from gaining power. Meanwhile Mao was in his element, because
although the Japanese had destroyed cities and transport routes, they
lacked the manpower to move into the countryside and affect the peasants,
so his power was almost untouched. But when America entered the war
in 1941 Chiang was sure of the ultimate defeat of the Japanese and so
began to channel more and more materials to the anti-communist effort,
although chronic bribery and corruption within the KMT meant the general
population sympathised with Mao.
When America ended the war in 1945 it gave most of its surplus war materials
to Chiang, who needed them; they were faced with a Red Army of 1 million
and a People’s Militia (guerillas) of 2 million; the KMT may well
have been beaten in straight combat. Mao received most of the captured
equipment of the Russians from their Japanese prisoners in Manchuria.
There were attempts at negotiation between Mao and Chiang but they produced
nothing and full-scale civil war began in 1946. Initial victories by
Chiang meant nothing as Mao retreated in good order and turned to harass.
Corruption and inflation sabotaged the KMT effort. In 1949 Peking fell
and Chiang was forced to withdraw to Formosa. The People’s Republic
of China was declared on the 1st of October in 1949.
A well disciplined party armed with the theory of Marxist-Leninism,
using the methods of self-criticism and linked with the masses of the
people; an army under the leadership of such a Party; a united front
of all revolutionary classes and all revolutionary groups under the
leadership of such a Party - these are the three main weapons with which
we have defeated the enemy.
"On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship"
30/6/1949, Selected Works, Vol. IV, p. 422.
Aged 56, Mao now was Chairman of the most powerful political party to
have existed to date. While he was not always the only leader in power
- he shared eminence with Chou En-lai, Lin Piao and Liu Shao-chi - the
central theme of the intense ideological work carried out amongst the
people was the exaltation of Mao himself.
In the first years of the Communist regime, conservative estimates of
the number killed for voicing their opinions of the Communist party
stand at around 3 million; hostile estimates are much higher. Dissenters
were taken prisoner, executed or told ‘You are sick, comrade’,
and subjugated to formidable brainwashing procedures.
Agrarian reform was high on the agenda; production was only 75% of what
it was in 1936 and famine loomed. About a third of the peasants had
been integrated into the ‘landlordless’ system and to snap
the rest into place, Mao ordered, ‘the greatest reform in history’
(in terms of people involved), the Agrarian Reform Law. It literally
exterminated the landlord class, and the land was handed out to delighted
peasants. The system was considerably successful but that could partly
be put down to a run of good seasons.
Economic reforms placed heavy emphasis on manufacturing and mining.
Transport and communications, especially railways (to allow the movement
of food around the country), were rebuilt with speed, and education
and health were expanded. By 1952 the government claimed the economy
was at pre-civil war levels.
The first Five Year Plan was launched in 1953. Foreign visitors were
pleasantly shocked at the rate by which the country had transformed.
Mao, however, was not so pleased and in 1955 ordered the collectivisation
of farming - farming families were forced into ‘producer cooperatives’
where tools and materials were pooled, seen as the ideal socialist arrangement.
A run of bad seasons as well as the ensuing confusion made peasants
seriously disillusioned about the system.
The Hundred Flowers Campaign
The Communist Party does not fear criticism because we are Marxists,
the truth is on our side, and the basic masses, the workers and peasants,
are on our side.
Speech at the Chinese Communist Party’s National Conference on
12/3/1957, 1st pocket edition, p. 14.
In response to Krushchev’s secret speech in 1956 detailing Stalin’s
‘crimes’, Mao delivered a speech intended for intellectuals
promising new freedom of speech and the elimination of the Party’s
single ‘line’. ‘Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom, Let All
the Schools of Thought Contend’, said Mao.
However Mao became concerned when he observed the November 1956 revolt
in Hungary which would have overthrown the Communist government there
but for the military intervention of Russia, which was caused by a similar
relaxation of censorship. Still, the discussion went ahead on the 8th
of May 1957, with the inclusion of criteria for ‘distinguishing
between fragrant flowers and poisonous weeds’, the main one of
which was that ‘words and actions can be judged right if they…tend
to strengthen, not cast off or weaken, the leadership of the Communist
A huge torrent of criticism flowed out; attacks on the most basic philosophies
including many along the line of ‘the old ruling class has been
overthrown to make way for a new one’, and complaints that the
party officials were acting like plain clothes police meant Mao terminated
the idea in just 6 weeks, arresting all the dissenters and either brainwashing
them, sending them to work in the fields or having them otherwise silenced.
Relations with the USSR deteriorated rapidly in 1957 and 58; Krushchev
accused Mao of straying from true Marxist doctrine. In 1960, Russian
technicians and economic aid were withdrawn and the Russians accused
the Chinese of wanting to start a nuclear war. China responded by attempting
to form a third world superpower by aligning other communist Asian nations,
but this was largely a failure.
Instead of continuing the Five Year Plan that had succeeded from 1953-7,
Mao decided on a far more ambitious ‘Great Leap Forward’.
Mao wanted to do in a decade what Russia had done in four. By the end
of 1958 he had succeeded in driving almost the entire population into
‘communes’, organised, self-governing and self sufficient
groups of 5 000 to 10 000 households. In rural areas 26 000 communes
replaced the 750 000 collectives already in place. Soon urban communes
were abandoned as impractical, but efforts to make rural communes work
were far more wholehearted. Families were forced into military-type
lifestyles, women were compulsory participants in communal work, hours
were long and meal breaks were short. It has been spoken of as ‘the
three bitter years’, however, the failure was never fully acknowledged
to save face with Russia. For the first time since 1935, Mao was demoted
from the top job, replaced by Liu Shao-chi. In 1960 farmers returned
to the previous system of collectives; communes remained as administrative
centres. In 1962 a third Five Year Plan was forged.
The Cultural Revolution
Study Chairman Mao’s writings, follow his teachings and act according
to his instructions.
In 1964, Quotations from Chairman , better known as The Little Red Book,
was published. It was compiled by the young Army Marshal Lin Piao. It
contains hundreds of excerpts from Mao’s writings and speeches,
covering most communist philosophy. In 1966 it began a huge wave of
slogans, quotes and mottos in what has been called the Cultural Revolution,
almost certainly started by Mao himself in an attempt to regain the
leadership. Thousands of youths left studies and jobs to join the ‘Red
Guards’, basically a marauding band who knew the quotations off
by heart, opposed revisionism, careerism, bureaucracy and every other
thinkable transgression against Marxist-Leninism, all which led to anarchy
in a previously composed, organised society. They ruthlessly attacked
‘bourgeois’ professors, ‘bureaucrats’ and ‘non-revolutionary’
industry. Different groups within the Reds often argued and sometimes
fought over interpretations of the red book, and the situation was only
resolved in 1969 when the army was brought in to quell the crisis. Many
of the revolutionaries were sent back to their jobs; others were sent
to work in the fields to ‘learn from the peasants.’
A similar revolution occurred in the Party leadership; Mao’s successor,
Liu Shao-chi, suddenly admitted to many ‘crimes’ against
Marxist-Leninist-Maoism, and was subsequently ridiculed and made a symbol
of hate for the Red Guards. Mao was reinstated as leader and his greatest
ally, the Army, made up half of the party leadership elected at the
Ninth Congress. The Army commander was Lin Piao, who was soon designated
as Mao’s intended successor.
Yet Lin was killed in a plane crash in 1971, allegedly while trying
to escape from an assassination attempt on Mao. Suddenly all the little
red books, each with a glowing preface by Lin were tarnished. Mao himself
denounced the book as not nearly as influential as it was supposed to
The Army’s power in the leadership was drastically reduced again,
and soon China began to establish positive relations with the USA. President
Nixon visited Peking in 1972 and began diplomatic ‘normalisation’
by changing its policy on Taiwan, still governed by Chiang Kai-Shek.
President Ford visited in 1975 to reaffirm this so called Shanghai Communique.
Mao passed away on the 9th of September 1976.
CHINA AFTER MAO
A savage battle was fought over the leadership after Mao’s demise;
eventually Deng Xiaoping was elected party chairman and proceeded to
put far more conservative economic policies in place, as well as liberation
of freedom of speech and the press, although open attacks on the Party
were still not tolerated. He died in 1997, and today China’s head
of state is Jiang Zemin.
MAO’S HISTORICAL IMPORTANCE
Comrade is the greatest Marxist-Leninist of our era. He has inherited,
defended and developed Marxist-Leninism with genius, creatively and
comprehensively, and has brought it to a higher and completely new stage.
Lin Piao, 16/12/1966
Mao is one of three peasants in China’s history who has risen
to rule its billion or so people in a single lifetime. He destroyed
Nationalist power, unified China and oversaw the greatest social reform
in man’s history. He is recognised as a leader in Marxist doctrine,
and his theories have been acclaimed in many third-world unindustrialised
He did, indeed, develop Marxist-Leninism comprehensively, changing it
from the traditional worker orientated system to a joint worker-peasant
society. This was far more suited to the region, as the ‘broad
masses’ of Asian nations were peasants in unindustrialised countries
where food was considered far more important than political freedom.
Countries affected by the Communist movement in Asia include Indonesia,
East Timor, Malaysia, Laos, Mongolia, Cambodia, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand,
North & South Korea and Vietnam.
He will also be remembered as a military tactician. His adaptation of
guerilla techniques from the writings of ancient military experts stood
him in good stead in the civil war, which he probably would have lost
in any other circumstances.
It was only recently that China commemorated the 20th anniversary of
Mao’s death, and from news coverage of that we can see many Chinese
people still worship Mao as a demi-god, and the saviour of their people.
And, indeed, living standards in China have risen substantially in the
past 50 years - in a country where there is a one-child policy in place,
expenditure on children’s toys has multiplied four-fold from pre-one-child
days. There is much less abject poverty as a result of reforms, and
today China is making serious efforts to improve human rights, the most
recent of which is the promise to sign the Human Rights Declaration
of the United Nations.
However, generally the reforms have leveled out China with the result
that now, while there are no beggars on the street, the vast majority
of the population still live in relative poverty and spend most of theirs
days tilling fields or doing menial work in factories, the main enjoyment
of comfort by Western standards being restricted to Party officials
and some factory owners.
Mao also maintained relative isolation from the rest of the world, with
only shaky and shallow relations with the USSR and belated exchanges
with the US in the 1970’s just before his death. Otherwise China
only tried to align itself with other poorer, peasant-based nations
fit for socialist reforms.
Mao will be remembered as a socialist, a poet, a military strategist
and ruthless ruler. He has earned his place among the most powerful
rulers of the world.