Mao Zedong (December 26, 1893 – September 9, 1976) 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, it became the ruling party of mainland China as the result of its victory in the Chinese Civil War and the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.
Mao developed a brand of Sinified Marxism-Leninism known as Maoism, paralleling the political ideology known as Stalinism. While in power, he collectivized agriculture under the Great Leap Forward. He forged, and later split, an alliance with the Soviet Union and launched the Cultural Revolution.
Mao is widely credited for creating a mostly unified China that was free of foreign domination for the first time since the Opium War. Mao is also criticized for the famine of 1958–1961 and the violence of the Cultural Revolution.
Mao Zedong is commonly referred to as Chairman Mao (毛主席, Mao Zhuxi). At the height of his cult of personality, Mao was commonly known in China as the "Four Greats": "Great Teacher, Great Leader, Great Supreme Commander, Great Helmsman (伟大导师，伟大领袖，伟大统帅，伟大舵手)".
The eldest son of four children of a moderately prosperous peasant farmer, Mao Zedong was born in the village of Shaoshan in Xiangtan county (湘潭縣), Hunan province. His ancestors had migrated from Jiangxi province during the Ming Dynasty and had pursued farming for generations.
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 (杨昌济), 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 Shi [羅氏], but Mao never recognized this marriage.) (See section 6 Family)
Instead of going abroad like 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 rights.
At age 27, Mao attended the First Congress of the Communist Party of China in Shanghai in July 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-CPC 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.
Main article: Maoism
During this time, Mao developed many of his political theories. In the field of philosophy, Mao's ideas are considered more culturally significant than original; still, his 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 democratic dictatorship.
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, yearlong 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 of China.
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.
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 falling 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 to Taiwan on the same day.
Leadership over China
Mao declared the founding of the PRC on October 1, 1949.
After defeating the Japanese, 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 Communist Party–led popular struggle. 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, forced 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, many 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.
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. In the middle of the Great Leap, Khrushchev canceled Soviet technical support because Mao was too radical in pushing for worldwide communist revolution. Severe droughts also occurred at this time, compounding the difficulties. The Great Leap ended in 1960, after food shortages affected both the Chairman's home town and Zhongnanhai itself. Both inside and outside China, the Great Leap Forward is now regarded as a disastrous policy contributing to the deaths of between thirty and sixty million people.
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 correctness 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. It was the tension between Khrushchev (at the head of a politically/militarily superior government), and Mao (with his superior understanding of Marxist ideology) that 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 deprived of 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, while Mao relinquished the position but remained Chairman of the Communist Party.
Facing the fact of not being heard on the political stage, Mao responded to Liu and Deng by launching the Cultural Revolution in 1966, in which the Communist hierarchy was circumvented 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, amongst other social chaos. 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 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 CPC figures. The Cultural Revolution and its great negative impact on China as a whole made it near-universally regarded as a disaster.
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 swim no longer, the indoor swimming pool he had at Zhongnanhai was converted into a giant reception hall, according to Li Zhisui. During this decade, a cult of personality was created around Mao in which his image was displayed everywhere and his quotations were included in boldface or red type in even the most mundane writings.
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 power struggle was won by Deng Xiaoping. He introduced economic reforms that have proven largely successful, helping China sustain the highest rate of per capita economic growth in the world for the past two decades.
Mao considered himself an enemy of landowners, businessmen, and Western and American imperialism, and an ally of the impoverished peasants, farmers, and workers. His military theories and philosophical ideas are summed up in Quotations of Chairman Mao Zedong (known in the West as the "Little Red Book") and Selected Works of Mao Zedong . Numerous posters and musical compositions during his time addressed Mao as "A red sun in the center of our hearts" (我们心中的红太阳) and a "Savior of the people" (人民的大救星).
Mao's legacy has produced a large amount of controversy. Some focus on the failures of the Great Leap and the disasters of the Cultural Revolution, and others point out that the large number of deaths during the period of consolidation of power after victory in the Chinese Civil War was small compared to the number of deaths caused by famine, anarchy, war, and foreign invasion in the years before the Communists took power.
The official view of the People's Republic of China is 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" and returned to a status of major world power, and 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 Taiwan.
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 CPC leaders increased liberalization of the economy. Indeed, Mao once famously remarked that "Women hold up half the sky".
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. On the other hand, 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. Perhaps it was only the defeat by the communists that created the political climate that made gains in Taiwan possible. Other pro-U.S. politicians in predominantly rural countries similar to and friendly with the Kuomintang in other Asian countries led no such gains—the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia under Suharto.
The experiences of the Tigers and the Deng Xiaoping reformers suggest that Mao's economic policy led to far poorer economic outcomes than a market based approach. However, Mao himself believed that "socialism is the only way out for China," because the United States and other imperialist 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. Hence, again there is a chicken-and-egg question, whether communist success led to U.S. trade concessions to anti-communist bulwarks or whether it is the Marxist-Leninist system itself that gives rise to obstacles to trade.
Many, including the Communist Party of China, hold Mao largely responsible for the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, both of which are widely seen as economic and political disasters. 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 much 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, there is an acknowledgement that Mao was one of the most brilliant political and military strategists of the 20th century, and 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.
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. Ironically, 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 became a monster after gaining power. In particular, Mao is 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 Mao as a symbol of moral incorruptibility and self-sacrifice in contrast to the current leadership.
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.
Yang Kaihui (杨开慧, 1901-1930) of Changsha: married 1921 to 1927, executed by the Kuomintang in 1930
He Zizhen (贺子珍, 1910-1984) of Jiangxi: married May 1928 to 1939
Jiang Qing: married 1939 to Mao's death
- Wen Qimei (文七妹, 1867-1919), mother
- Mao Yichang (毛贻昌, 1870-1920), father, courtesy name Mao Shunsheng (毛顺生)
- Mao Enpu (毛恩普), paternal grandfather
Mao Zemin (毛泽民, 1895-1943), younger brother
Mao Zetan (毛泽覃, 1905-1935), younger brother
- Mao Zehong , sister (executed by the Kuomintang in 1930)
- Mao Zedong's parents altogether had five sons and two daughters. Two of the sons and both daughters died young, leaving the three brothers Mao Zedong, Mao Zemin, and Mao Zetan. Like all three of Mao Zedong's wives, Mao Zemin and Mao Zetan were communists. Like Yang Kaihui, both Zemin and Zetan were killed in warfare during Mao Zedong's lifetime.
Note that the character ze (泽) appears in all of the siblings' given names. This is a common Chinese naming convention.
Mao Anying (毛岸英): son to Yang, married to Liu Siqi (刘思齐), who was born Liu Songlin (刘松林)
- Mao Anqing (毛岸青): son to Yang, married to Zhao Hua (邵华), son Mao Xinyu (毛新宇)
- Li Min (李敏): daughter to He, married to Kong Linghua (孔令华), son Kong Ji'ning (孔继宁), daughter Kong Dongmei (孔冬梅)
- Li Na (李讷): daughter to Jiang (whose birth given name was Li), married to Wang Jingqing (王景清), son Wang Xiaozhi (王效芝)
- Sources suggest that Mao did have other children during his revolutionary days; in most of these cases the children were left with peasant families because it was difficult to take care of the children while focusing on revolution.
Mao is the attributed author of Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, known in the West as the "Little Red Book": this is a collection of extracts from his speeches and articles. He wrote several other philosophical treatises, both before and after he assumed power. These include:
On Practice; 1937
On Contradiction; 1937
On New Democracy; 1940
On Literature and Art; 1942
On the Correct Handling of the Contradictions Among the People; 1957
- On Guerilla Warfare.
- "In Memory of Doctor Bethune"
- "The Foolish Man Who Removed A Mountain"
- "Serve the People"
Mao wrote poetry, mainly in the ci and shi forms. Its literary merit is difficult to evaluate in the light of the author's controversial political status, and it is more highly thought of within the PRC than abroad.
(In Chinese with Chinese subtitles)
Asia Source biography
- Becker, Jasper. Hungry Ghosts : Mao's Secret Famine, 1998.
- Li Zhi-Sui. The Private Life of Chairman Mao, 1996.
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Last updated: 09-03-2005 18:37:12