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Chairman Mao Zedong

Chairman Mao Zedong
Chairman Mao Zedong – father of the nation, 70% right

See Also: Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book

Everybody has heard of Chairman Mao. Nobody has had a greater influence over China in the past 150 years. Mao held more power over more people for longer than any other twentieth century figure.

He is widely blamed for the disasters of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution which caused millions of deaths, but in China he is highly regarded. The official Party line is that he was 70% right and 30% wrong.

Mao Zedong – Chinese Poet to Chairman Dictator

In his life Mao Zedong was a Communist theorist, an anti-government rebel, a great war leader, a wily politician, a ruthless dictator, and a poet. In death, to some he is a God-like figure and father of the nation. To others, he illustrates perfectly that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and is an unhappy memory to be forgotten as soon as possible.

Mao Zedong held absolute power until his death in 1949. He played a part in the victory of Chinese over the Japanese, and a crucial role in the victory of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the Civil War against the Kuomintang (KMT).

Chairman Mao – Propaganda on both sides

Much of what we know about Mao has been influenced by propaganda – both for and against him. Much of his early life was spent in guerrilla warfare – not a situation conducive to biography-writing. It should not be automatically assumed that sales driven biographers of today can provide a clearer view than those of the past.

Early Life of Mao Zedong

Mao began life in 1893 as the son of a ‘rich peasant’ in Shaoshan, Hunan province, a place which has now become a shrine for Mao enthusiasts. He studied in Hunan, then in Beijing, where he began to take an interest in Communism.

He became disillusioned with Soviet Communist orthodoxy, which focused on revolution in the cities, and instead began to concentrate on fermenting rebellion among the people he had grown up with – the peasants that have always made up the majority of China’s population. This is one of the key planks of the disparate set of ideas collectively termed ‘Maoism’.

By 1927 Mao was leading an army of Hunanese peasants in the Autumn Harvest Uprising. He fled to Jiangxi and established Soviet Communes in inaccessible mountain regions. Eventually, persecution by the ruling KMT forced Mao and Zhu to flee these mountain retreats in what has become known as the Long March.

Mao’s The Long March

In the Long March, Communist armies from several different Chinese regions fled the KMT to establish a new base at Yan’an in Shaanxi. The Long March, which lasted over a year, is trumpeted in propaganda as one of the great moments of the Revolution, an example of both the steely determination of the soldiers of the Red Army, and of Mao’s brilliant leadership. Estimates of the distance of the March vary from around 4,000 to 6,000 miles.

Mao the Rebel to Mao the Statesman

From the base established in Yan’an, the Communists were eventually able to take control of all of China by 1949, and Mao became Chairman Mao of the PRC.

The first few years of Communist rule are generally seen as being fairly successful – the party began collectivisation and land reforms and was fairly popular. However, Mao was not happy with the pace of reform and in 1958 he launched the Great Leap Forward.

The Great Leap Forward – Chairman Mao’s Greatest Mistake

The aim of the Great Leap Forward was to boost production at greater rates than previously seen – in part by having everyone in China run their own backyard furnaces to make steel. The programme was a complete disaster and resulted in economic ruin for China and starvation for millions of people.

Mao’s Cultural Revolution – Mistake or Madness?

Shortly after the Great Leap Forward, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution. Historians argue about why he did it – either to more effectively implement Socialism or to eliminate his enemies within the party, but we’ll obviously never be entirely sure.

The Cultural Revolution began with exhortations that the people criticise inefficient and corrupt Party cadres, and ended with mob rule, millions of lives ruined, and both the Party and State in ruins.

The Cultural Revolution was a disaster for China, and Mao was largely responsible, but it led to a disillusionment with Communism and extreme ideology in general that was to set China on the ‘reform and opening’ path that it follows today.

1976 – Death of Chairman Mao Zedong

Mao died in 1976, and now lies in a glass coffin at the centre of Tiananmen Square. His image adorns Chinese banknotes, cigarette lighters, pendants in taxi cabs and an obscene number of tacky souvenirs in the homes of proud Chinese.

Historians will probably never cease to debate his life and character, but one thing they can agree on is that his influence on Chinese history has been almost incomparably great.

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