The leader of some 700,000,000 Chinese is Mao Tse-tung Chairman of the Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China. A soldier, politician, poet, and scholar, he is considered by many as the leading interpreter of Marxist-Leninist doctrine. Himself of peasant origin, Mao has deviated from orthodox Marxism by placing the peasantry rather than the urban proletariat in the vanguard of the revolutionary struggle, in accordance with existing realities in China.
Like many of the Chinese Communist leaders, Mao Tse-tung came from an area of Central China where militarism had made itself most harshly felt, where relations between landlords and peasants were at their worst, and where Western ideas were looked upon with disfavor. He was born on December 26, 1893, in the village of Shao Shan in Hsiang T’an county of Hunan province, the eldest of four children of Mao Jensheng.
His mother’s family name was Wen. He had two brothers: Tse-min (who died in a Nationalist prison in 1941) and Tse-t’an (who was killed in the early 1930s); and one sister. His father, once a poor peasant, paid off his debts after serving in the army. And gradually acquired three and a half acres of land and a rice-trading business. He treated his family and his servants harshly, providing them with only the barest means of sustenance. Mao’s mother, a devout Buddhist, gave charity to the poor behind her husband’s back and hoped that her son might eventually enter the priesthood.
Mao Tse-tung a frail child, began to work in his father’s fields at seven and sympathized with his father’s farm laborers and with the p. a city-ridden but rebellious peasants Hunan. In his youth he engaged in a “dialectical struggle” against the authority of his father, forming a “united front” with the other members of his family. On at least two occasions he ran away from home. Entering the local private elementary school at the age of eight, Mao studied the Confucian classics but grew to dislike Confucius, whom he identified with the authoritarianism of his father and his teachers. He much preferred the romantic novels of ancient China.
After completing elementary school at thirteen he returned to the farm, where he helped his father with accounts. In September 1907 Mao entered middle school at Hsianghsiang, fifteen miles from home, with the reluctant approval of his father, who wanted to apprentice him to a rice merchant. At the school, he studied science and other modem subjects and came into contact with the ideas of the reform movement of K’ang Yu-Wei and Liang Ch’i-ch’ao, who sought to modernize the Manchu dynasty.
During vacations, Mao and a schoolmate became wandering scholars, exposing their bodies to the elements and earning their way by writing scrolls. In 1911 Mao entered secondary school at Changsha, where he wrote anti-Manchu political essays. Although he had not yet fully accepted the policies of Sun Yat-sen’s revolutionary Kuomintang movement, he decided in late 1911 to join the Nationalist regular army, where he served as an orderly to the younger officers.
He was discharged in the summer of 1912. In late 1912 Mao, who no longer received an allowance from home, entered the tuition-free teachers’ training college at Changsha, and remained for six years. There he first became influenced by Socialist writings, although his understanding of Socialism was superficial. He also founded the New People’s Study Organization, many of whose members later joined the Communist movement. Graduating in 1918, shortly after his mother’s death, Mao did not return home but went to Peiping, where he helped to organize a “work and learn” program for students who wished to study in France.
Subsequently, he took a menial position as an assistant at the Peiping L^niversity library while studying in his spare time. During this period, he had no great ambition and would have been satisfied with eventually taking a minor government post. In 1919 he returned to Hunan province, where he edited the Hsiang River Monthly Review, and organized Hunanese students in an effort to overthrow a corrupt military governor.
In 1920 he became a teacher in the first normal school at Changsha. Having in the meantime become a convinced Marxist, Mao was caught up in the May Fourth movement, which originated in student demonstrations in Peiping on May 4, 1919, that protesting against the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles that granted Japan the former German concessions in China.
This movement formed the core of the Chinese Communist Party, which held its founding congress in Shanghai in the summer of 1921. Mao, representing a small group of Communists in Hunan, was one of the twelve founding members of the party. The congress rejected affiliation with the Communist International in Moscow, and it was not until 1922 that the party established formal relations with the Comintern. After the founding congress, Mao returned to Hunan, where he set up the provincial branch of the Communist party and organized several trade unions.
After the Communist party decided, in 1923, to collaborate closely with the Kuomintang in a united front against the northern militarists, Mao became a member of the Kuomintang, while continuing to serve as a member of the central committee of the Communist party. He was regarded at this time as representing the extreme right-wing of the Communist party. He continued to be active in both the Communist Party and the Kuomintang until 1927 when Chiang Kai-shek’s massacre of the Shanghai workers brought about the break between the two parties.
In the spring of 1925, Mao had come to recognize the potential revolutionary role of the peasants and began to organize peasant unions in Hunan. In 1927, under party instructions, he wrote Report of an Investigation into the Peasant Movement in Hunan, ascribing a central role to the peasantry in the revolutionary class struggle. At first, the report was tabled by the central committee of the party, but later in the year, it was published in the central party organ.
In September 1927 Mao led some 2,000 Hunan peasants in the abortive Autumn Harvest Uprising, and he was removed from his Politburo position and from the Hunan provincial committee. He then retreated with the remnants of his forces to Chingkanshan mountain in Kiangsi province, where he was joined in April 1928 by Chu Teh, a former warlord who had gone over to the Communists. Together they established the Fourth Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, with Mao as political commissar and Chu Teh as a military commander. During his years in the mountains, Mao continued to develop the tactics of guerilla warfare.
In November 1931 the first national congress of Soviets was held at Juichin in Kiangsi province, marking the formal establishment of the China Soviet Republic, and Mao was elected chairman of the provisional Soviet government. Meanwhile, in late 1930, Chiang Kai-shek had begun his “extermination campaigns” against the Communists. Four of these campaigns were successfully repulsed by the Red armies, but in the fifth campaign, which took up the greater part of 1934, the Communist forces were severely defeated.
In October 1934 the Communists, pressed by Kuomintang forces, began their long march some 6,000 miles northward from Kiangsi to Shensi province. This legendary march was marked by heroism on the part of the Red forces, only a fraction of whom survived. In its course, Mao greatly increased his stature, and at the party conference held at Tsunyi in Kweichow province from December 1934 to January 1935, his authority was virtually unchallenged. Arriving at northern Shensi province in October 1935, Mao re-established the Soviet Republic of China, with headquarters first at Pao An and later at Yenan.
Meanwhile, the pressure of the Japanese, who had invaded Manchuria in 1931, was mounting, and in March 1936 Mao called for an anti-Japanese united front with the Kuomintang. As a result of Mao’s efforts, an agreement was reached in the spring of 1937 after the Communists had pledged to abandon the agrarian revolution. During the Japanese war, Mao lived in a cave in Yenan, where he raised his own tobacco and spent his nights studying and writing political essays. By 1938 he was universally recognized as the authoritative leader and theoretician of the Communist movement.
His primer on guerilla warfare was published in 1937. In the New Democracy (1940) Mao justified the compromise between the Kuomintang and the Communists and depicted democracy as an interim stage between feudalism and Socialism. In Coalition Government (1945) he called for a government reflecting the will of the people. Although Mao had acquired a reputation of being merely an agrarian reformer, in practice he tended to be increasingly influenced by the policies of Stalin.
From 1942 to 1944 he instituted a far-reaching “rectification” program aimed at tightening party discipline and purging undesirable elements. At the seventh party congress, in April 1945, Mao was elected chairman of the central committee and of the revolutionary military council. When the war with Japan ended in August 1945 the Communists were in a strong position. For a time, they made attempts to reach an agreement with the Kuomintang.
Following a conference between Mao and Chiang Kai-shek shortly after the Japanese surrender, Mao complained about some bitterness that Chiang had treated him “like a peasant.” Mao was said to have been strongly criticized, in late 1945, by some of the more radical elements of his party for his willingness to grant too many concessions to the Kuomintang in the effort to form a coalition government. During this period, he was still looked upon by many Western observers as an agrarian reformer with strong democratic tendencies.
After the Failure of efforts by General George C. Marshall, representing the United States government, to bring about a coalition government, the civil war resumed in the summer of 1946. The Communists constantly increased the number of their peasant adherents by promising them land redistribution. When the Red armies crossed the Yangtse River on April 21, 1949, the end of Kuomintang rule on the Chinese mainland was in sight. A few months later Mao Tsetung was virtually the supreme ruler of China.
On October 1, 1949, a week and a half after the republic had been proclaimed by the Chinese people’s political consultative conference, Mao Tse-tung was elected chairman of the new central people’s government, and an organic law and common program were adopted. In December 1949 Mao left China for the first time to visit Moscow for Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin’s seventieth birthday.
The visit resulted in the negotiation, in February 1950, of a thirty-year treaty of “friendship, alliance, and mutual assistance” between China and the Soviet Union. On the domestic scene, Mao proceeded with great vigor to transform the face of his war-torn nation. During the early 1950’s he instituted a series of rectification campaigns against waste, bureaucracy, and corruption.
Against the landlords, he began a reign of terror that lasted until 1954. Mao himself admitted later, in 1957, that during these early years some 800,000 persons were liquidated. (Other estimates of the number of persons killed by the Communists run much higher.) The first five-year plan, providing for large-scale industrialization and collectivization of agriculture was launched in November 1952. By 1956 about 83 percent of all Chinese peasants were on collective farms.
Under the constitution of September 1954, emphasizing a unified state and set up the basic organs of government, Mao was installed as Chairman of the People’s Republic of China and of the National Defense Council. He was also made honorary chairman of the national committee of the Chinese people’s consultative conference and was elected a deputy to the National People’s Congress.
At the same time, he retained his Communist party positions as chairman of the central committee, chairman of the Politburo, and member of the Politburo standing committee. He was re-elected to these positions in the party in September 1956. On February 27, 1957, fearing the possibility of revolts such as occurred in Hungary in 1956, and noting the adverse economic conditions prevailing in China at the time, Mao gave a major speech on “the correct handling of contradictions among the people.”
He conceded that contradictions could and did exist within a Socialist society and said that these could best be resolved, not by the terror that had marked the early years of Communist rule, but by means of free discussion and criticism. “Let a hundred flowers blossom! Let a hundred schools of thought contend!” he declared.
Although the new policy was received with great enthusiasm, criticism of the government far exceeded the expectations of Mao Tse-tung. By June 1957 the government again instituted police rule and suppressed its critics by force. Under an economic program designated as the “big leap forward’ – Mao, in April 1958, launched a model commune, which he named “Sputnik.”
A few months later people’s communes were established on a nationwide scale. Unlike the earlier collective farms, which were economic institutions under county administration, the communes were political units under party rule and controlled virtually every phase of an individual’s life.
However, the communes failed to alleviate the adverse economic situation and by mid-1961 the government was forced to grant farmers a greater degree of freedom and some measure of free enterprise. In late 1958 Mao requested that he not be reelected as head of state in the elections of January 1959 in order to concentrate more fully on questions of Marxist-Leninist theory and on policy matters.
He was replaced as Chairman of the People’s Republic of China by Liu Shao-chi on April 27, 1959. Most observers agree that Mao’s position of leadership remains undiminished, in view of the fact that he retains his chairmanship of the Communist party, where the real power in China resides.
Unlike Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev of the Soviet Union, Mao Tse-tung has expressed little fear of the possible consequences of nuclear war and has maintained that China could absorb hundreds of millions of casualties and emerge victoriously. He believes that the threat of global conflict could be removed only by the victory of the Communist revolution over “the United States reactionaries and their lackeys.” On the other hand, he has conceded that compromises between “imperialist” and Socialist countries could occur under certain circumstances.
Within the Communist bloc, Mao’s stature has steadily grown, especially since the death of Stalin in 1953, and he is regarded by many as overshadowing Khrushchev as the ideological leader of the Communist world. His prestige was greatly enhanced when, at a meeting of world Communist leaders in November 1957, he was instrumental in bringing about the adoption of an “anti-revisionist” manifesto aimed at Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia. In recent years relations between Communist China and the Soviet Union have become increasingly strained.
In private correspondence and at international conferences Chinese Communist spokesmen have accused the Soviet Union of having abandoned orthodox Marxist-Leninist doctrine and of having adopted a revisionist policy. Khrushchev, on the other hand, has accused Mao of seeking to incite a global conflict. Although Mao Tse-tung has renounced the ideas of Confucius, he is considered a scholar in the classical tradition of China.
A five-volume English translation of his writings has been published by Laurence and Wishart Ltd. and by International Publishers under the title Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung (1954-62). As a poet, Mao relies heavily on ancient classical forms, although he maintains that all art and literature must serve the revolution. In 1957 he reluctantly permitted the publication of some of his poems, in spite of his fears that they might have an adverse influence on Chinese youth.
Mao Tse-tung was first married at the age of fourteen to a twenty-year-old peasant girl, in a traditional ceremony arranged by his parents. This marriage was never consummated. In 1920 he married Yang K’ai-hui, the daughter of a professor at Peking University who bore him two sons. She was executed by the Nationalists during the early part of Chiang Kai-shek’s anti- Communist campaigns. Mao’s third wife, Ho Tsu-cheng (or Ho Tse-nien), a former schoolteacher, was reportedly divorced by him and is said to be living in the Soviet Union.
She bore him five children, some of whom had to be abandoned to peasants during the long march of the 1930s. His eldest son. Mao An-ying. was reportedly killed in the Korean War in November 1950. Mao is now married to Lan Ping, a former stage and motion picture actress, by whom he has two daughters. Among the people of Communist China, Mao Tse-tung is regarded as a “living Buddha” hailed in song and story as “the people’s great savior.”
His portrait is displayed everywhere, and his theories are considered infallible. On the other hand, it has been said that he is a poor administrator. Although he has acquired some wealth through royalties on his writings, he avoids worldly vanities except for good food, wine, and cigarettes. He often travels among the peasants, wearing a simple uniform without insignia of rank. In 1956 he swam the Yangtse River from Wuchang to Hankow three times. He died on September 9, 1976.
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