According to Mao, what were the characteristics
of "Chinese" Marxism?
Mao Zedong, or Mao Tse-tung (1893-1976), was
both one of the twentieth-century's great revolutionaries and one of the
century's worst politicians.
Mao was born on 26 December 1893 in the village
of Shao-shan, Hunan Province to the son of a poor peasant who had risen to
become an affluent farmer and grain dealer. As a child, Mao attended his
village's primary school where he acquired a basic knowledge of the Confucian
classics. As a teenager, he left his family to study at a higher school
in a neighbouring county and then at a secondary school in the provincial
Scarcely had he begun his higher studies, when
a nationalist revolution broke out on 10 October 1911 against the Manchu
dynasty. Mao enlisted in the revolutionary army in Hunan and spent
six months as a soldier. (Perhaps this was his first realization of his later
famous phrase that "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.") At
the end of his military service, he drifted from job to job but eventually
graduated from the First Provincial Normal School in Ch'ang-sha in 1918.
While at the school, Mao acquired his first experience in political
activity by helping with several student organizations, the most important
of which was the New People's Study Society.
From the normal school in Ch'ang-sha, Mao went
to Peking University. Although he only spent a half year in Peking (working
as a library assistant), it was there that he encountered two of the most
important influences on his life: Li Dazhao (Li Ta-chao) and Chen Duxiu
(Ch'en Tu-hsiu)--Both later founders of the Chinese Socialist Party (CSP).
Also, while at Peking University, he experienced firsthand the May
Fourth Movement of 1919, which began with student demonstrations against
the decision of the Paris Peace Conference to give the former German concessions
in Shantung Province to Japan (instead of returning them to China). But
the Movement soon evolved into a larger intellectual search for solutions
of radical change and modernization. (This meant the adoption of
During the summer of 1919, Mao established in
Ch'ang-sha a variety of organizations that brought students, merchants and
workers together against the government. His work led him to a belief
that Marxism could be the basis of a future revolution. This determined
the future course of his life.
In September 1920 he became the principal of
the Lin Ch'ang-sha primary school, and that October he organized a branch
of the Socialist Youth League there. He also soon married Yang Kaihui (Yang
K'ai-hui), the daughter of his former ethics teacher. In July 1921
he attended the First Congress of the CSP, and two years later, when the
party entered into an alliance with Sun Yat-sen's Kuomintang (Nationalist
Party), Mao was one of the first socialists to join the Kuomintang.
In 1924, Mao returned to his native village
of Shao-shan for a rest. There, after witnessing demonstrations by peasants,
Mao suddenly became aware of the revolutionary potential of the peasantry.
Although born a peasant, Mao had forgotten his heritage until he suddenly
had the remarkable insight that peasants, not workers--the traditional object
of Marxists--could carry out the revolution.
Mao sought to channel the spontaneity
of the Hunan peasants into an organized peasant movement.
But before beginning his work with the
peasants, Mao had to flee and return for a year to Canton, where he was the
acting head of the propaganda department of the Kuomintang and served at
the Peasant Movement Training Institute.
Chiang Kai-shek had become the leader of the
Kuomintang after Sun Yat-sen died in March 1925, and although Chiang declared
his allegiance to the "world revolution" and wanted to use Soviet aid, he
also was determined to remain master of the Kuomintang. In 1926, he
expelled most socialists from responsible posts, and in July, he set out
on the Northern Expedition, aiming to unify the country under his own leadership.
In the meantime, Mao returned to Hunan to begin a more detailed
investigation of the "peasant movement," concluding that in a very short
time several hundred million peasants in China would explode.
But Mao's prediction of revolution hit a snag.
Kai-shek turned against revolution, and in April 1927, he ordered massacres
of the Shanghai workers who had delivered the city to him. The Chinese Socialist
Party was virtually annihilated in the cities and decimated in the countryside.
In the midst of this turmoil (October 1927), Mao led a few hundred peasants
to a base in the Ching-kang Shan (Ching-kang Mountains) on the Kiangsi-Hunan
border where he developed new tactics of guerrilla warfare, using the the
Red Army operating from base areas in the countryside.
In November 1931, Mao led the formation of the
Chinese Soviet Republic in a portion of Kiangsi Province. Mao felt that since
there was little hope for a worker-led revolution in the cities, the promise
of ultimate victory now seemed to reside in the gradual strengthening and
expansion of the base areas in the countryside. The Soviet regime soon came
to control a population of several million, while the Red Army, grown to
a strength of some 200,000, easily defeated the inferior troops sent by Chiang
Kai-shek. When the Red Army proved unable to stand up against Chiang's
elite units, in October 1934 the Red Army, Mao and his pregnant wife (He
had remarried in 1930 after his first wife was executed by the Kuomintang.)
abandoned the base in Kiangsi and set out for the northwest of China on the
When the some 8,000 troops who survived the
perils of the Long March arrived in Shensi Province in northwestern China
in the autumn of 1935, events were already moving toward the key phase in
Mao's development--war with Japan. In August 1935 the Communist
International, at its Seventh Congress in Moscow, proclaimed the duty of
all communists to participate in an anti-Fascist coalition, and in May 1936
the Chinese socialists accepted the proposition of such a united front against
the Japanese. By the time the Japanese began their attempt to subjugate
all of China in July 1937, the terms of the cooperation between the socialists
and the Kuomintang had been virtually settled.
In the course of the anti-Japanese war, the
Red Army broke into small units to work behind the enemy lines. This
allowed the socialists to control vast stretches of the countryside
between the cities, and by the time of the Japanese surrender, the Red Army
(somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 men) had established effective,
grass-roots, political control over a population that may have totaled as
many as 90,000,000.
During the early years of the war with Japan,
Mao, for the first time since the 1920s, turned to reading and writing. He
read some Soviet writings on philosophy and produced his own interpretation
of dialectical materialism ("On Practice" and "On Contradiction").
He also produced the major works that
explained his idea of revolutionary struggle. (In 1939, Mao divorced He Zizhen
and married a well-known film actress, Lan P'ing, later called Jiang Qing
Mao also undertook what he called the "Sinification"
of Marxism, ie.e, its adaptation to Chinese conditions.
Mao did not have much information on how
communism worked in the Soviet Union nor did he possess the ability to read
Marx or Lenin in the original. He did, however, claim to know China,
and it was this knowledge of "China" that led to differences between him
and a Soviet-oriented faction within the party, culminating in the "Rectification
Campaign" of 1942. Technically, the program aimed at giving a basic grounding
in Marxist theory to the thousands of new party members, but the real essence
of the program was the elimination of what Mao called foreign elements, in
other words, Soviet influence.
In March 1943, Mao achieved for the first time
formal supremacy over the party, becoming chairman of the Secretariat and
of the Politburo. Shortly thereafter, the continuing Rectification Campaign
resulted in a purge of elements not sufficiently loyal Mao. The campaign
was run by Kang Sheng (K'ang Sheng), later one of Mao's key supporters in
the Cultural Revolution.
The purges made Stalin especially suspicious
of Mao, and after World War II, Stalin clearly tried to prevent Mao from
engaging in a revolutionary civil war against the Kuomintang.
Nevertheless, Mao did lead the Red Army
to power, and on 1 October 1949 he declared the establishment of the People's
Republic of China.
In December 1949 Mao traveled to Moscow for
two months of difficult negotiations leading to a treaty of mutual assistance
accompanied by limited economic aid. Soon thereafter, the Chinese found
themselves intervening in the Korean War in support of the communist regime
Despite the tensions with Moscow, Mao followed
many of the policies of the Soviet Union. For example, a five-year
plan was drawn up and put into effect in 1953 (with limited Soviet technical
aid), but in 1958, Mao broke with the Soviet model and launched the Great
Leap Forward, encouraging the establishment of rural industry and the use
of rural labour to create a new agricultural infrastructure. The "Leap"
failed miserably, and, to counter growing intellectual and urban-based
opposition, in 1966, Mao--with the support of his wife, Jiang Qing, and key
ally, Lin Biao--launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
The result was again disaster as he destroyed
the party and state bureaucracy, paralyzed education and left the economy
almost a shambles.
Recovery came slowly, as Mao withdrew from active
participation in the government. Zhou En-lai seemed to emerge as the
nation's real leader when relations were reestablished with the United States.
After Mao's death on 9 September 1976, a power struggle ensued, and members
of the party who had been purged by the Cultural Revolution returned to govern
China, including Deng Xiaoping (see Deng Xiaoping).
26 December 1893, Mao was born.
10 October 1911, nationalist revolution
begun in China by Sun Yat-sen.
1919, May Fourth Movement.
September 1920, Mao organized a branch
of the Socialist Youth League in his school. Married Yang Kaihui (Yang
K'ai-hui), the daughter of his former teacher.
July 1921, Mao attended the First Congress
of the Chinese Socialist Party (CSP).
1923, when the CSP entered into Sun Yat-sen's
Kuomintang (Nationalist Party), Mao joined also.
May 1926, Chiang Kai-shek expelled most
socialists from the Kuomintang.
July 1926, Chiang Kai-shek launched the
Northern Expedition to unify the country under his leadership.
November 1926, Mao returned to Hunan
where he began his investigation of the peasant movement.
October 1927, Mao led a small group of
peasants to a base in the Ching-kang Shan (Ching-kang Mountains) on the
Kiangsi-Hunan border to begin a new type of revolutionary warfare in the
1930, Mao's wife was executed by the
Kuomintang, and he married He Zizhen (Ho Tzu-chen), with whom he had been
living since 1928.
November 1931, Mao proclaimed the Chinese
Soviet Republic, in a portion of Kiangsi Province.
1935, The Long March.
July 1937, full-fledged Sino-Japanese
1939, Mao divorced He Zizhen and married
a well-known film actress, Lan P'ing (Jiang Qing or Chiang Ch'ing).
March 1943, Mao became chairman of the
Secretariat and of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party.
1 October 1949, Mao proclaimed the People's
Republic of China.
December 1949, Mao traveled to Moscow
for two months of negotiations leading to a peace treaty.
1953, first Chinese five-year plan.
1958, the Great Leap Forward.
1966, the Great Proletarian Cultural
13 September 1971, death of Mao's
heir-apparent Lin Piao, allegedly in an airplane crash.
9 September 1976, Mao died.
11 October 1976, Mao's closest associates
(the Gang of Four) arrested. (Officials did not want another "cultural
revolution.") They were convicted, no death sentences were carried
The "Little Red Book"
As I was typing up that title, it reminded me of the
children's book The Little Blue Engine, or little golden books, or other little kids' books, but the Little Red Book associated
with Mao's cultural revolution of the 1960s was actually no laughing matter to millions of Chinese.
real title of the book was Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung (or
Mao Zedong), published from about 1964 until the leader's death in
1976. The book contained quotations from him that ranged over his
long career that had begun in the mid-1920s and was organized according to
important themes like unity, discipline, communists, etc. According
to wikipedia, somewhere
between 5 and 6.5 billion copies of the tiny book were published. (That's a lot of money!)
In China, as part of the Cultural Revolution that was directed
against intellectuals, young members of the communist party, acting as
Red Guards, were charged with the task of weeding out parasite
intellectuals and subversives. They used the book and the
quotations in the book in that process. So, if you were living in
China in the 1960s, then you had to have a copy of the Little Red Book,
carry it with you at all times and know its contents if you wanted to
avoid bad things happening to you.
If you lived anywhere else in the world in the 1960s, I'm guessing
that you might also have heard of the Little Red Book, especially if you had
radical or left-leaning tendencies. You probably also knew that Mao was the "author;"
and you claimed to know something about what was in the book--although in all probability
you never bothered to open it other than to rifle the pages. I tried to read it some years ago
and found it to be pretty much like anything that Stalin had ever written;
dry, boring and unreadable.
There are many sites that include the works
Compton's Encyclopedia Online has a nice
and a short
Zedong is a short biography of the Chinese leader from
Mao Badges (*.pdf) provides illustrations of Mao badges from the
Cultural Revolution, and
Badges of Chairman
Mao Zedong is an essay and analysis (by Bill Bishop) of the Mao
Mao's mausoleum (wikipedia), and view
his former residence (or try a CNN special).
- China must confront dark past, says Mao confidant
- The Chinese Cultural Revolution: Remembering Mao's Victims
- Mao was cruel - but also laid the ground for today's China
- Propaganda images
- Short biography with links
- Overview of Chinese Communism with information on Mao
- “Maoism - Essential Features, Shaping Of Mao's Revolutionary Worldview, Development Of Mao's Thought To 1949”
- Philosophy of Maoism
- China 1900-1976 includes information on Mao, The Five Year Plans, The Hundred Flowers Campaign, The Great Leap Forward, and The Cultural Revolution
- Revolution, the journal of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, a Maoist Communist Party
Mao has been the subject of many studies, not
all of them good. Among the best are:
Geremie Barmé, Shades of Mao: The
Posthumous Cult of the Great Leader (Armonk, NY, 1996)
Eric Chou, Mao Tse-Tung: The Man and
the Myth (1981)
Jerome Ch`en, ed., Mao Papers, Anthology
and Bibliography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970)
Ross Terrill, Mao: A Biography (1980)
Edgar Snow's books: Red Star over
China (1938) and The Long Revolution (New York, 1972]
Stuart Schram's books: Mao Tse-Tung
(1966), The Political Thought of Mao Tse-tung, rev. ed. (New York,
1969] and Mao Zedong, a Preliminary Reassessment (New York, 1983)
Great Leap Forward
Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution