Mao Zedong 1893-1976
Mao Zedong (previously Mao Tse-tung) is undisputedly the preeminent figure in modern Chinese history, and also a commanding presence in the history of the twentieth century. The Mao-led Communist revolution in 1949 ended China’s century of humiliation and laid the foundations of the rapidly developing nation of the early twenty-first century. But Mao also created much unnecessary social turmoil in the latter part of his political career; he did not know when to exit the historical stage gracefully. As a result, most Chinese today have a mixed view of Mao—a great leader who united and rejuvenated their massive country, but also one who left considerable human suffering in his wake. Mao is often compared to Qin Shihuangdi (259 bce–210 bce), the First Emperor of Qin, a brilliant but ruthless leader who created the first unified Chinese empire in 221 bce.
Mao was a complex personality who was torn between admiration for China’s past imperial glory and despair at its parlous condition in the closing decades of the nineteenth century, when he was born. As a young man, he struggled to reconcile the dichotomy in his mind (and in the minds of many others in his generation) between China’s traditional civilization and the increasing demands of a modern world dominated by the advanced nations of Europe and North America. In Marxist-Leninist theory, Mao discovered a penetrating Western critique of the West, which enabled him to adopt many of its revolutionary premises (and promises) without abandoning China’s own impressive cultural heritage. In direct intellectual descent from Mao, China’s succeeding leaders continue to claim they are building socialism with Chinese characteristics, a somewhat ambiguous concept that has yet to be fully articulated, which (at least in the narrower area of economics) is often referred to as market socialism.
Mao was born on December 26 into a moderately well-off peasant family in the village of Shaoshan in Xiangtan County, Hunan province, in south-central China, not far from the provincial capital of Changsha. He developed an early interest in political and international affairs, and his years at the First Provincial Normal School in Changsha, where he studied to be a teacher, brought him into contact with young men and women from all over the province. Seeking a wider stage after graduation, Mao set out for Beijing in 1918, where he studied and worked part-time in the library at Peking University, the nation’s premier institution of higher education, and, at the time, a hotbed of radical political thinking among many of the faculty and students.
Mao took an active interest in the student-inspired May Fourth movement, which sparked off a country-wide nationalist upsurge directed against unwanted European and Japanese influence in China. Soon after, Mao declared himself to be a Marxist-Leninist, without actually undertaking a thorough study of either the revolutionary doctrine or the Russian Revolution in 1917. After a short period as an elementary school principal and political activist back home in Hunan, he became a founding member of the Chinese Communist Party, which was formally established in Shanghai on July 23, 1921.
Consolidating Power Mao’s rural background gave him a special interest in the peasantry, and he was often at odds with his more urban-oriented colleagues. In early 1927, after an intensive study of rural conditions in his native province, Mao wrote his seminal “Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan,” in which he predicted that the peasant masses would soon rise up and sweep away the old, feudal system of land ownership that exploited and oppressed them. The Communists, he argued, should lead the peasants or get out of the way. Chiang Kai-shek’s (1887–1975) bloody coup in the spring of 1927 effectively destroyed the Communist organizations in Shanghai and other major cities, forcing them to find refuge in Jiangxi province, in the mountainous hinterland in south-central China, adjacent to Hunan where Mao had been born and raised. Mao was elected chairman of the new Jiangxi Soviet (local Communist government) in this isolated base area, but soon lost power to the Returned Student group (a reference to their study in Moscow), which took over party leadership and pushed him aside.
Mao finally came into his own during the famous Long March in 1934 to 1936, when the Communists had to flee from Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek’s fifth and finally successful military encirclement campaign to surround their base area and destroy them. At the decisive Zunyi conference in January 1935, in the early part of this arduous 6,000-mile trek, Mao was recognized as the political and military leader of the Communist movement. At the Communists’ new base area in Yan’an, a small county seat in China’s arid northwest region, Mao built an elaborate system of ideology, organization, guerrilla warfare, and rural recruitment that led quickly to the emergence of a powerful political movement, backed up by its own military forces (the Red Army). Both the party and the army grew rapidly during the war against Japan, which had invaded China in July 1937, and the Communists emerged as a formidable competitor for state power with the Nationalists.
By the end of the war in 1945, Mao was hailed as the Party’s leading political and military strategist, and, coincidentally, its preeminent ideological thinker. What was now called Mao Zedong thought was said to represent the Sinification of Marxism, that is to say, the adaptation of Marxist theory to China’s actual historical conditions. Mao’s thought, reinforced through a powerful personality cult and an oppressive rectification campaign to tame his critics, was to become the ideological foundation of the Chinese Communist movement in subsequent years.
Despite unfavorable odds, the Red Army (renamed the People’s Liberation Army) employed superior strategic tactics to defeat the Nationalists in the civil war (1946–1949). Mao wasted no time in consolidating Communist rule; he proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949, and moved decisively to consolidate its borders and occupy and reintegrate Tibet. His intention was not merely to rebuild the shattered nation, but also transform it, which, with a staggering population of over 400 million, was the world’s largest. In late 1949 to early 1950, Mao traveled to Moscow (his first trip abroad) and signed an alliance with the Soviets; but Mao and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin (1879–1953) neither liked nor trusted each other and their relationship was to prove unstable. The Korean War (1950–1953) could not have come at a worse time for the new regime, but at great cost Chinese troops succeeded in repulsing the U.S. advance into the north, near the Yalu River on the Chinese border.
Despite these international concerns, Mao launched a wide-ranging program of reconstruction and nationalization in major industrial and commercial cities such as Shanghai and Guangzhou (Canton). In the countryside, land was confiscated from the landlord class, many of whom were summarily executed by makeshift tribunals, and land passed (if only briefly) into the hands of the ordinary peasants. A comprehensive range of social reforms was also launched, including marriage reform favoring the female; a crackdown on crime, drugs, and prostitution; and clean-up campaigns targeted at government and business corruption. Although U.S. intervention had placed Taiwan beyond their grasp, by the mid to late-1950s things had gone very well for the Communists, and for this much credit must go to Mao and his fellow party leaders.
But Mao had ever more ambitious plans. He wanted to speed up the pace of economic growth, based on industrial development and the collectivization of agriculture; and he wanted to emancipate China from the bonds of the Soviet alliance, which he found increasingly restrictive. Unfortunately it was at this juncture, in the late 1950s, that Mao’s hitherto deft political touch began to fail him and he launched two disastrous political campaigns that convulsed the country and ultimately damaged his reputation. The Great Leap Forward in 1958, calling for the establishment of small backyard factories in the towns and giant people’s communes (consolidated cooperative enterprises) in the countryside, resulted in an economic lurch backward. The consequent three bitter years (1959–1961) saw rural peasants perish in the millions due to harsh conditions for the very young, the very old, and the disadvantaged. Chastened, and under criticism from his more moderate colleagues, Mao agreed to step back from the forefront of leadership; he turned his attention to the growing ideological polemic marking the growing Sino-Soviet split and left it to others to repair the untold damage at home.
In his heart, Mao believed that the Great Leap Forward had failed largely because too many party officials (cadres) did not boldly implement his policies; disparagingly, he compared them to old women tottering about in bound feet. He decided to purge these revisionist (pro-Soviet) officials and others said to be taking the capitalist road (more open to Europe and North America generally) from positions of authority. Mao and his militant party faction (the Gang of Four) called upon the nation’s youth (primarily high school and university students) to rise up and call the errant officials to account. The result was the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which witnessed the unusual spectacle of the top Communist leader declaring war on his own party organization. Millions of inflamed students and others donned Red Guard armbands, and, waving the Little Red Book (1966) of selected Mao quotations, they proceeded to carry out their assigned mission. The campaign tore the country apart from 1966 to 1969, forcing Mao to call for military intervention to restore order, and it dragged on destructively until his death in 1976. Still, from the perspective of foreign policy, the Cultural Revolution’s sharp anti-Soviet orientation succeeded in liberating China from its underlying dependency on the Soviet Union, and prepared the nation for a more independent role in international affairs in the years ahead.
Despite his miscalculations with the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, Mao wisely decided to play the American card in order to counterbalance growing Soviet military power on the conflict-prone Chinese border. With the surprise invitation to a U.S. table tennis team then in Japan to visit China, Mao set in motion the ping-pong diplomacy that led to U.S. president Richard Nixon’s state visit to China in February 1972, which culminated in the landmark Shanghai communiqué calling for a more constructive relationship between the countries. Mao and Nixon toasted each other cordially in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, laying to rest a generation of bitter enmity and setting the stage for the remarkable flowering of Sino-American relations that has continued into the early twenty-first century. It was to be Mao’s final hurrah; already in declining health (possibly suffering from Parkinson’s disease), he gradually faded from the scene and passed away peacefully at age eighty-two on September 9, 1976.
In an official assessment of his lengthy career, the Communist Party hailed Mao as an illustrious national hero who laid the foundations of the new China, but at the same time a tragic figure with all too human frailties. Mao is buried in a grand mausoleum in Tiananmen Square in Beijing and he enjoys considerable popular approbation despite his rather clouded historical record. But while many people revere Mao, many others revile him, as they do the First Emperor of Qin, who lived some two thousand years earlier. For most Chinese though, many of whom were born well after Mao’s death, he remains the human embodiment of China’s national regeneration and its reemergence as a great world power.
English historian Lord Acton (1834–1902), in his famous observation on power, concluded that “great men are almost always bad men,” and, in the case of Mao, there is considerable truth to this. Mao was a romantic visionary who set himself seemingly impossible goals, but he had the necessary qualities of leadership, persistence, and ruthlessness to reach them, at least to a degree. In addition to his political and military prowess, he is also considered a talented calligrapher and poet in the classical style, and he left behind a small corpus of work that is generally well regarded. But he was also something of an uncouth peasant who lacked personal polish, could be vulgar in his choice of words, and (even in his declining years) overly enjoyed the company of young women. As he aged, he became increasingly out of touch with political reality, vainly attempting to force the entire nation onto the Procrustean bed of his own ideological convictions (ideological fantasies, some would say).
Will history remember Mao Zedong? Undoubtedly, for Mao occupies a historical position comparable to individuals such as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Qin Shihuangdi—these individuals were a frustrating mix of good and bad, but they all left a distinctive imprint on their own historical ages. Like playwright William Shakespeare’s Caesar, they “bestrode the narrow world like a Colossus,” and to this day their achievements and failures are enshrined in countless volumes for future generations to read and ponder. The same will quite likely be true of Mao Zedong.
SEE ALSO Chinese Revolution; Communism; Little Red Book; Maoism; Nixon, Richard M.
Li, Zhisui. 1994. The Private Life of Chairman Mao: The Memoirs of Mao’s Personal Physician. Trans. Tai Hung-chao. New York: Random House.
Schram, Stuart R. 1969. The Political Thought of Mao Tse-tung. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin.
Short, Phillip. 2001. Mao: A Life. New York: Holt.
Snow, Edgar P. 1968. Red Star over China. Rev. ed. New York: Grove. (Orig. pub. 1937.)
Spence, Jonathan D. 1999. Mao Zedong. New York: Viking.
Wylie, Raymond F. 1980. The Emergence of Maoism: Mao Tsetung, Ch’en Po-ta, and the Search for Chinese Theory, 1935–1945. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Raymond F. Wylie
"Mao Zedong." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/mao-zedong
"Mao Zedong." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved June 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/mao-zedong
Mao Zedong (1893-1976) was a Chinese statesman whose status as a revolutionary in world history is probably next only to that of Lenin.
More than anyone else in recent times, Mao Zedong, with his supple mind and astute judgment, helped to reshape the social and political structures of his ancient and populous country. In doing so, Mao is likely to influence the destiny of the "third world" as well. Highly literate and sensitive, he was dedicated to a relentless struggle against inequality and injustice; thus at times he was capable of utter ruthlessness. He lived through reform and revolution in the early years of China's awakening nationalism, accepting at first the philosophies behind both movements. With the onset of the warlords' reaction after the revolution of 1911, disillusionment drove him to radicalism. This occurred at a time when Wilsonian self-determination was being ignored at the Paris Peace Conference and the messianic messages of the Russian October Revolution had attracted the attention of Chinese intellectuals, as China itself was passing through a period of traumatic cultural changes. Skeptical of Western sincerity and iconoclastic toward Confucianism, Mao sought inspiration from Marx's class struggle and Lenin's anti-imperialism to become a Communist.
Born in Hunan on Dec. 26, 1893, Mao Zedong did not venture outside his home province until he was 25. Up to then, his formal education was limited to 6 years at a junior normal school where he acquired a meager knowledge of science, learned almost no foreign language, but developed a lucid written style and a considerable understanding of social problems, Chinese history, and current affairs. He was, however, still parochial in the sense that he had inherited the pragmatic and utilitarian tradition of Hunan scholarship with the hope that somehow it would help him in his groping for ways and means to strengthen and enrich his country.
Mao's visit to Peking in 1918 broadened his view. Although his life there was miserable, he was working under the chief librarian of Peking University, who was one of the pioneer Marxists of China. On his return to Hunan in the following year, Mao was already committed to communism. While making a living as a primary schoolteacher, he edited radical magazines, organized trade unions, and set up politically oriented schools of his own in the orthodox manner of Communist agitation among city workers and students. With the inauguration of the Chinese Communist party (CCP) in 1921, of which Mao was one of the 50 founder-members, these activities were pursued with added energy and to a greater depth.
Meanwhile, the major political party, the Kuomintang (KMT), was reorganized, and a coalition was formed between the KMT and CCP on antiwarlord and anti-imperialist principles. Mao's principal task was to coordinate the policies of both parties, an ill-suited role on account of his lack of academic and social standing. In 1925, when the coalition ran into heavy weather, Mao was sent back to Hunan to "convalesce."
Champion of the Peasants
An unfortunate result of this rebuff was that he was completely left out of the nationwide strikes against Japan and Britain in the summer of that year, during which many of his comrades made their mark as leaders of the trade union movement or party politics. A by-product of his "convalescence" was that he discovered the revolutionary potential of the peasants, who had in such great numbers been displaced and pauperized by the misrule of the warlords. From then on Mao switched his attention to this vast underprivileged class of people. He studied them, tried to understand their grievances, and agitated among them.
Mao's newly acquired knowledge and experience enabled him to play a leading role in the peasant movement led by both the KMT and CCP. By 1927 he was in a position to advocate a class substitution in the Chinese Revolution. Instead of the traditional proletarian hegemony, Mao proposed that the poor peasants fill the role of revolutionary vanguard. Shortly after the publication of his Report on the Peasant Movement in Hunan, the KMT-CCP coalition broke up and the Communists were persecuted everywhere in the country.
Establishment of Soviets
Some survivors of the party went underground in the cities, to continue their struggle as a working-class party; the rest took up arms to defy the government and eventually to set up rural soviets in central and northern China. One of these soviets was Mao's Ching-kang Mountain base area between Kiangsi and Hunan, where he had to rely chiefly on the support of the poor peasants.
Under conditions of siege, the autonomy of these soviets threatened to disrupt the unity of the revolutionary movement, breaking it up into small pockets of resistance like premodern peasant wars. Doctrinally, this development was anything but orthodox Marxism. The center of the CCP, located underground in Shanghai, therefore assigned to itself the task of strengthening its leadership and party discipline. A successful revolution, in its view, had to take the course of a series of urban uprisings under proletarian leadership.
In its effort to achieve this, the center had to curb the growing powers of the soviet leaders like Mao, and it had the authority of the Comintern behind it. Its effort gradually produced results: Mao first lost his control over the army he had organized and trained, then his position in the soviet party, and finally even much of his power in the soviet government.
The Long March
The years of this intraparty struggle coincided with Chiang Kai-shek's successes in his anti-Communist campaigns. Eventually Chiang was able to drive the Communists out of their base areas on the Long March. The loss of nearly all the soviets in central China and crippling casualties and desertions suffered by the Communists in the first stages of the march were sufficient evidence of the ineptitude of the central party leadership. At the historic Tsunyi Conference of the party's Politburo in January 1935, Mao turned the tables against the pro-Russian leaders. On that occasion Mao was elected, thanks mainly to his support from the military, to the chairmanship of the Politburo.
During the low ebb of the revolutionary tide and the hardships of the Long March, those who might have challenged Mao fell by the wayside, largely through their own fault. By the time the Communists arrived at Yenan, the party had attained a measure of unity, to be further consolidated after the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937. This was the first truly nationalist war China had ever fought, in which the nation as a whole united to face the common foe. However, from 1939 onward, as the war entered a long period of stalemate, clashes began to occur between KMT and Communist troops.
By early 1941 the united front between the KMT and CCP had come to exist in name only. This new situation called for the emergence of a Communist leader who could rival Chiang in his claim to national leadership in the event of a resumption of the civil war. But this could not be done so long as the CCP remained under the Russian wing.
Events in the early 1940s helped the CCP, in its search for independence, to become nationalistic. Russia, preoccupied with its war against Hitler, was unable to influence the CCP effectively, and soon the Comintern was dissolved. Mao seized this opportunity to sinicize the Chinese Communist movement in the famous rectification campaign of 1942-1944.
Leader of the Chinese Communists
The personality cult of Mao grew until his thought was written into the party's constitution of 1945 as a guiding principle of the party, side by side with Marxism-Leninism. Under Mao's brilliant leadership the party fought from one victory to another, till it took power in 1949.
Mao's thought now guided the Communists in their way of thinking, their organization, and their action. In giving their faith to Mao's thought, they found unity and strength, an understanding of the nature, strategy, and tactics of the revolution, a set of values and attitudes which made them welcome to the peasant masses, and a style of work and life which differentiated them from the bureaucrats and the romantic, culturally alienated intellectuals.
But Mao's thought had very little to say on the modernization and industrialization of China, on its socialist construction. Therefore, after 1949 the CCP was left to follow the example of Russia, with Russian aid in the years of the cold war. The importance, and relevance, of Mao therefore declined steadily while China introduced its first Five-Year Plan and socialist constitution. Once more the pro-Russian wing of the CCP was on the ascendancy, though still unable to challenge Mao's ideological authority. This authority enabled Mao to fight back by launching the Socialist Upsurge in the Countryside of 1955 and the Great Leap Forward in 1958. The essential feature of these movements was to rely upon the voluntary zeal of the people motivated by a new moral discipline, rather than upon monetary incentives, price mechanism, professionalism, and the legalism of gradual progress. The failure of the Great Leap Forward impaired Mao's power and prestige even further. His critics within the CCP attributed the failure to the impracticability of his mass line of socialist construction; in his own view, the failure was due to inadequate ideological preparation and, perhaps, abortive implementation by the pro-Russian wing of the CCP.
At this juncture, the worsening Sino-Soviet dispute made its fatal impact. The condemnation of Russian "revisionism" cut the pro-Russian wing from its ideological source, and the withdrawal of Russian material aid practically sounded the death knell of China's attempt to emulate the Russian model. In the midst of this, Mao began his comeback.
The groundwork had been laid through the socialist education movement early in the 1960s, which started with the remolding of the People's Liberation Army under the command of Lin Piao. When this had been accomplished, Mao, with the help of the army and young students organized into the Red Guards, waged a fierce struggle against what he called the revisionists in power in his own party. This was the famous cultural revolution of 1966-1969. In this struggle it was revealed how elitist, bureaucratic, and brittle the CCP had become since 1949.
With Mao's victory in the cultural revolution, China became the most politicized nation of the world. No Chinese thought beyond the premises of Mao's thought—a state of affairs reminiscent of the Christianization of Europe in the Middle Ages. By this Mao hoped to whip up the unbound enthusiasm and altruistic spirit of the Chinese masses to work harder while enduring a frugal life. This may be the only way for a poor and populous country like China to accumulate enough capital for its rapid industrialization.
By the time Mao was in his late 70s, his lifework was essentially done, although he retained power until the end. Physically debilitated, suffering from a lifetime of effort and Parkinson's Disease, Mao's ability to rule in new and innovative ways to meet the demands of China's modernization grew increasingly enfeebled. To what degree his radical actions in his later years were due to his illness and age is a matter of debate among historians. His final years were marked by bitter maneuvering among his clique to succeed him upon his death. One of his final major acts was to reopen contact with the United States. In September of 1976, Mao died. Mao was undoubtedly the key figure in China in the 20th century and one of the century's most important movers and reformers. He had devoted his life to the advancement of a peasant class terrorized for centuries by those in power. However, in pursuit of his own goals, Mao himself could be violent and dictatorial. To Mao must go the credit for developing a revolutionary strategy of encircling the cities from the countryside, a mass line of political thought and application to bridge the chasm between the leaders and the led, and, finally, a strategy of permanent violent and nonviolent revolution to guard against the recurrence of that kind of bureaucratism which so far in history has always emerged once a revolution is over and revolutionaries have turned into reformers.
Mao's own writings, Selected Works (4 vols., 1961-1965), Selected Readings from the Works of Mao Tse-tung (1967), and Quotations from Chairman Mao (1966; 2d ed. 1967), have all been published in English in Peking. For Mao's own writings also consult Anne Freemantle, Mao Tse-tung: An Anthology of His Writings (1954), and Jerome Ch'en, Mao Papers: Anthology and Bibliography (1970).
An understanding of the historical background of Mao's revolutionary activities is provided by Jerome Ch'en, Mao and the Chinese Revolution (1965). Another biography is Stuart Schram, Mao Tse-tung (1966; rev. ed. 1969). Edgar Snow's books Red Star over China (rev. ed. 1968), which contains Mao's autobiography, and The Other Side of the River (1962) are both excellent works on Mao and the Chinese Communist movement. A brief guide to Mao, his views, and other people's views of him is provided in Jerome Ch'en, Mao (1969). See also Harrison Salisbury's The Long March (1987); Dic, Wilson's Mao Tse-tung in the Scales of History; and Brantly Womack's The Foundations of Mao Zedong's Political Thought 1917-1935 (1982).
Benjamin Schwartz, Chinese Communism and the Rise of Mao (1951), and Stuart Schram, The Political Thought of Mao Tsetung (1963; rev. ed. 1969), are also outstanding works as is Siao-Yu, Mao Tse-tung and I Were Beggars (1961). Biographies of 500 leaders of the Communist movement in China, including Mao, are in Donald W. Klein and Anne B. Clark, Biographic Dictionary of Chinese Communism, 1921-1965 (2 vols., 1971). □
"Mao Zedong." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mao-zedong
"Mao Zedong." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved June 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mao-zedong
Mao Zedong was a Chinese statesman whose status as a revolutionary in world history is probably next only to that of Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924). More than anyone else in recent history, Mao Zedong helped to reshape the social and political structures of his ancient and heavily populated country.
Mao Zedong was born in Shaoshan, Hunan, China, on December 26, 1893. Mao had two younger brothers and one younger sister. His father, Mao Jensheng, had started out as a poor peasant but eventually paid off his debts, became a landowner, and started a business trading rice. A devoted follower of the religion of Buddhism, his mother, Wen Ch'i-mei, wanted her son to have a religious career. Mao did not venture outside his home province (state) until he was twenty-five. Up to then, his formal education was limited to six years at a junior normal school where he acquired a limited knowledge of science, learned almost no foreign language, but developed a clear written style and a considerable understanding of social problems, Chinese history, and current affairs. However, Mao inherited the practical traditions of Hunan education with the hope that somehow it would help him find ways to strengthen and improve his country.
Mao's brief time in Peking, China, in 1918 broadened his view. Although his life there was miserable, he was working under the chief librarian of Peking University, who was one of the pioneer Marxists of China. (Marxists are those that believe in a social system created by Karl Marx [1818–1883] that gives the control to the working class. This system ultimately leads to communism, where goods and services are owned and distributed by the government.) On his return to Hunan in the following year, Mao was already committed to communism. While making a living as a primary schoolteacher, he edited radical (extreme) magazines, organized trade unions, and set up politically oriented schools of his own. With the rise of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1921, of which Mao was one of fifty founding members, these activities were pursued with added energy and to a greater depth.
Meanwhile, the major political party, the Kuomintang (KMT), was reorganized, and a coalition (partnership) was formed between the KMT and CCP. Mao's main task was to coordinate the policies of both parties; however, he was unable to prove himself in this position due to his lack of academic and social standing. In 1925 when the coalition ran into problems, Mao was sent back to Hunan to "convalesce," or recover.
Champion of the peasants
An unfortunate result of this setback was that Mao was completely left out of the nationwide protests against Japan and Britain in the summer of that year, during which many of his comrades made their mark as leaders of the trade union movement or party politics. Out of his "convalescence," Mao discovered the revolutionary potential of the peasants, the poor farm workers whose great numbers had been treated poorly by the warlords. From then on Mao switched his attention to this vast underprivileged class of people.
Mao's newly acquired knowledge and experience enabled him to play a leading role in the peasant movement led by both the KMT and CCP. By 1927 he was in a position to support a class substitution in the Chinese revolution. Mao proposed that the poor peasants fill the role of revolutionary vanguard (the most important positions). Shortly after the publication of his Report on the Peasant Movement in Hunan, the KMT-CCP coalition broke up and the Communists were forced underground.
Establishment of soviets
Some survivors of the party went underground in the cities, to continue their struggle as a working-class party; the rest took up arms against the government and eventually established rural soviets (small governments) in central and northern China. One of these soviets was Mao's Ching-kang mountain base area between Kiangsi and Hunan, where he had to rely chiefly on the support of the poor peasants.
The soviets threatened to disrupt the unity of the revolutionary movement, because it was thought that it would break it up into small pockets. The center of the CCP, located underground in Shanghai, China, therefore took on the task of strengthening its leadership and party loyalty. A successful revolution, in its view, had to take the course of a series of urban uprisings under proletarian (working-class) leadership. In its effort to achieve this, the center had to ease the growing powers of the soviet leaders like Mao. Its effort gradually produced results: Mao first lost his control over the army he had organized and trained, then his position in the soviet party, and finally even much of his power in the soviet government.
The Long March
The years of this struggle within the party coincided with Chiang Kai-shek's (1897–1975) successes in his anti-Communist campaigns. Eventually Chiang was able to drive the Communists out of their base areas on the Long March (a year-long, six-thousand-mile journey through the hills of Shensi). The loss of nearly all the soviets in central China suffered by the Communists proved the weaknesses of central party leadership.
When the revolutionary movement slowed and the hardships of the Long March were felt, those who might have challenged Mao for leadership fell by the wayside. By the time the Communists arrived at Yenan, China, the party had gained a measure of unity, to be further consolidated (brought together) after the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937, where China and Japan fought over land in China. This was the first truly nationalist war China had ever fought, in which the nation as a whole united to face the common foe of Japan.
By early 1941 the unity between the KMT and CCP had come to exist in name only. This new situation called for the emergence of a Communist leader who could rival Chiang in case a civil war broke out. Mao was such the person, and soon his popularity began to grow.
Leader of the Chinese Communists
The personality cult (a community of worship) of Mao grew until his concepts were written into the party's constitution of 1945 (the constitution would outline the party's rules and principles). Under Mao's brilliant leadership the party fought from one victory to another, until it took power in 1949. Mao's concepts now guided the Communists in their way of thinking, their organization, and their action. In giving their faith to Mao's belief, they found unity and strength, and an understanding of the nature, strategy, and tactics of the revolution.
But Mao's concept had very little to say about the modernization and industrialization of China. Therefore, after 1949 the CCP was left to follow the example of the Soviet Union, with Soviet aid in the years of the cold war, the four-decade period of sour relations between Communist and free-world powers.
Mao launched the Socialist Upsurge in the Countryside of 1955 and the Great Leap Forward in 1958. The essential feature of these movements was a reliance upon the voluntary spirit of the people motivated by a new moral discipline, rather than upon money. The failure of the Great Leap Forward hurt Mao's power and reputation even further.
At this time, the worsening relations with the Soviet Union made its fatal impact. Withdrawal of Soviet material aid practically all but ended China's attempt to copy the Soviet model. In the midst of this, Mao began his comeback.
During the famous Cultural Revolution of 1966 through 1969, Mao organized the army and young students into the Red Guards. With their help, Mao began to reorganize the CCP. Soon there was no Chinese thought beyond the extent of Mao's thought. By this Mao hoped to create enthusiasm of the Chinese masses to work harder while enduring a quiet and uncomplicated life. This may be the only way for a poor and heavily populated country like China to afford rapid transition into an industrialized country.
By the time Mao was in his late seventies, his life's work was essentially done, although he retained power until the end. Physically weakened, suffering from a lifetime of effort and Parkinson's Disease (a brain disorder), Mao's ability to rule in new and innovative ways to meet the demands of China's modernization grew increasingly weak. One of his final major acts was to reopen contact with the United States.
On September 9, 1976, Mao died in Beijing, China. Mao was undoubtedly the key figure in China in the twentieth century and one of the century's most important movers and reformers. He had devoted his life to the advancement of a peasant class terrorized for centuries by those in power. However, in pursuit of his own goals, Mao himself could be a violent and overpowering ruler.
For More Information
Feigon, Lee. Mao: A Reinterpretation. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2002.
Garza, Hedda. Mao Zedong. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.
Short, Philip. Mao: A Life. New York: Henry Holt, 2000.
Terrill, Ross. Mao: A Biography. New York: Harper & Row, 1980. Reprint, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999.
"Mao Zedong." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mao-zedong-0
"Mao Zedong." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved June 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mao-zedong-0
Mao Zedong or Mao Tse-tung (mou dzŭ-dŏŏng), 1893–1976, founder of the People's Republic of China. Mao was one of the most prominent Communist theoreticians and his ideas on revolutionary struggle and guerrilla warfare have been extremely influential, especially among Third World revolutionaries.
Of Hunanese peasant stock, Mao was trained in Chinese classics and later received a modern education. As a young man he observed oppressive social conditions, becoming one of the original members of the Chinese Communist party. He organized (1920s) Kuomintang-sponsored peasant and industrial unions and directed (1926) the Kuomintang's Peasant Movement Training Institute. After the Kuomintang-Communist split (1927), Mao led the disastrous "Autumn Harvest Uprising" in Hunan, leading to his ouster from the central committee of the party.
From 1928 until 1931 Mao, with Zhu De and others, established rural soviets in the hinterlands, and built the Red Army. In 1931 he was elected chairman of the newly established Soviet Republic of China, based in Jiangxi province. After withstanding five encirclement campaigns launched by Chiang Kai-shek, Mao led (1934–35) the Red Army on the long march (6,000 mi/9,656 km) from Jiangxi north to Yan'an in Shaanxi province, emerging as the most important Communist leader. During the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–45) the Communists and the Kuomintang continued their civil war while both were battling the Japanese invaders.
The civil war continued after war with Japan had ended, and in 1949, after the Communists had taken almost all of mainland China, Mao became chairman of the central government council of the newly established People's Republic of China; he was reelected to the post, the most powerful in China, in 1954. In an attempt to break with the Russian model of Communism and to imbue the Chinese people with renewed revolutionary vigor, Mao launched (1958) the Great Leap Forward. The program was a terrible failure, an estimated 20 to 30 million people died in the famine that followed (1958–61), and Mao withdrew temporarily from public view.
The failure of this program also resulted in a break with the Soviet Union, which cut off aid. Mao accused Soviet leaders of betraying Marxism. In 1959 Liu Shaoqi, an opponent of the Great Leap Forward, replaced Mao as chairman of the central government council, but Mao retained his chairmanship of the Communist party politburo.
A campaign to reestablish Mao's ideological line culminated in the Cultural Revolution (1966–76). Mass mobilization, begun and led by Mao and his wife, Jiang Qing, was directed against the party leadership. Liu and others were removed from power in 1968. In 1969 Mao reasserted his party leadership by serving as chairman of the Ninth Communist Party Congress, and in 1970 he was named supreme commander of the nation and army. The cultural revolution group continued its campaigns until Mao's death in Sept., 1976. A month later its leaders were purged and Mao's surviving opponents, led by Deng Xiaoping, slowly regained power, pushing aside Mao's successor, Hua Guofeng, and erasing the cult surrounding Mao. Mao's embalmed body is displayed in a mausoleum in Tiananmen Square, Beijing.
See his Selected Works (4 vol., 1954–56, repr. 1961–65), Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong (ed. by S. R. Schram, 1967), and Poems (tr. 1972). See also biographies by R. Terrill (1980), P. Short (2000), J. Spence (2000), J. Chang and J. Halliday (2005), and A. V. Pantsov and S. I. Levine (2012); S. Karnow, Mao and China: From Revolution to Revolution (1972); J. B. Starr, Continuing the Revolution: The Political Thought of Mao (1977); S. R. Schram, Mao Zedong: A Preliminary Reassessment (1983).
"Mao Zedong." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mao-zedong
"Mao Zedong." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved June 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mao-zedong
"Mao Zedong." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mao-zedong
"Mao Zedong." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved June 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mao-zedong
"Mao Zedong." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/mao-zedong
"Mao Zedong." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved June 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/mao-zedong