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Mao Zedong

Mo Zdōng (Traditional Chinese: 毛澤東, Simplified Chinese: 毛泽东, Wade-Giles: Mao Tse-tung, courtesy name: Rnzhī 润芝) (December 26, 1893 - September 9, 1976) was the leader of the Communist Party of China from 1935. Under his leadership, it became the ruling party of mainland China as the result of Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War and the founding of the People's Republic of China. In mainland China, Mao is widely credited for creating a mostly unified China that was free of foreign domination for the first time since the Opium War while at the same time criticized for economically and politically disastrous policies taken after his consolidation of power. Mao is sometimes referred to 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)", since he was, and largely still is, worshipped as a god-like figure by some common Chinese much like other founders of the Chinese dynasties in the past.

Table of contents
1 Early Life
2 Political theories
3 War and Revolution
4 Leadership over the PRC
5 Mao's Legacy
6 Family
7 External Links

Early Life

The eldest son of four children of a moderately prosperous peasant farmer, Mao Zedong was born in the village of Shao Shan in Xiangtan County (湘潭縣), Hunan province.

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 travelled with his high school teacher and future father-in-law Professor Yang Changjin to Beijing during the May Fourth Movement when Yang lectured in Peking University. From Yang's recommendations, he worked under Li Dazhao, the head of the university library and attended speeches by Chen Duxiu. Also in Beijing, he married his first wife, Yang Kaihui, a Peking University student and the daughter of Mao's high school teacher. (When he was 14 Mao's father had arranged a marriage for him with a fellow villager, Lo-shi (羅氏), but Mao never recognized this marriage.) (See #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 first KMT-CCP united front Mao served as the director of the KMT's Peasant Training Institute, and 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.

Political theories

During this time, Mao developed many of this political theories. The most signficant notion was his view of peasants as the source of revolution. Traditional
Marxist-Leninist theory had seen the vanguards of revolution to be urban workers, whereas Mao argued that in China's case, it was the peasant from which revolution would develop. During this time, Mao also developed a three stage theory of guerilla warfare and his 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 fall. Mao barely survived this mishap (he escaped his guards on the way to his execution) and he and his rag-tag band of loyal guerillas found refuge in the Jinggang Mountains, in south-east China. There, from 1931 to 1934, Mao helped established the Chinese Soviet Republic and was elected as the chairman. It was during this period that Mao married He Zizhen, after his first wife 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 south-east to Shaanxi in the north-west of China. It was in the 9600 km year-long journey that Mao emerged as the top Communist leader, aided by the Zunyi Conference and the defection of Zhou Enlai onto Mao's side.

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 a "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 actor Lan Ping, who would become known as Jiang Qing.

Leadership over the PRC

After defeating the Japanese, the Communists defeated the Kuomintang in an ensuing civil war, and established the People's Republic of China in October 1949. It was an event that culminated over two decades of Communist Party-led popular struggle. From 1954 to 1959, Mao was the Chairman of the PRC.

Following the consolidation of power, Mao launched a phase of rapid, forced collectivization, lasting until around 1958. This included the so-called Hundred Flowers campaign, in which Mao indicated he was willing to consider different opinions about how China should be governed. Given the freedom to express themselves, many Chinese began questioning the dogmas of the Communist Party. After allowing this for 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.

The Great Leap Forward was intended by Mao 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 world wide communist revolution. This, along with severe droughts, caused the Great Leap to fail to meet its goals and resulted in widespread famines in which millions of Chinese died. With this failure, the Great Leap ended in 1960, and Mao was forced to write a self-criticism.

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.

Following these events, other members of the Communist Party including Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping decided that Mao should be deprived of power. They attempted to marginalize Mao, without denouncing him, allowing him to remain a figurehead, but without any real authority.

Mao responded to this by launching the Cultural Revolution, in the late 1960s, 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.

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 Parkinson's disease and remained passive as various factions within the Communist Party mobilized for the power struggle anticipated after his death. During this decade, Mao created a cult of personality in which his image was displayed everywhere and his quotations were included in bold face or red letters in even the most mundane of writings.

After his death, 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 orthodox socialist 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 deemphasize the role of ideology in determining economic and political policy.

Furthermore, many within the People's Republic of China itself point to the phenomenal economic growth that has occurred in Mainland China as a result of the Deng Xiaoping reforms after Mao's death as evidence of the incorrectness of Mao's economic policies. Since the Deng era, China has sustained the highest rate of per capita economic growth for the past two decades.

Mao's Legacy

Mao's legacy has produced a large amount of controversy with some focus on the failures of the Great Leap and the disasters of the Cultural Revolution, and others pointing 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.

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, illiteracy had declined to less than seven per cent, and average life expectancy had increased to more than 70 years. In addition, China's population which had remained constant at 400 million from the Opium War to the end of the Civil War, mushroomed to 700 million as of Mao's death.

However Mao's opponents point out that similar gains in life expectancy occurred in the East Asian Tigers most notably Taiwan which was ruled by Mao's opponents, the Kuomintang. Furthermore, the experiences of the Tigers and the Deng Xiaoping reforms suggest that Mao's economic policy was not the optimal one for China. Other critics of Mao fault him for not encouraging birth control and for creating a demographic bump which later Chinese leaders responded to by the one child policy.

The ideology surrounding Mao's interpretation of Marxism-Leninism, also known as Maoism, has influenced many communists around the world, including third world revolutionary movements such as Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, Peru's Shining Path and the revolutionary movement in Nepal. Ironically, China has moved sharply away from Maoism since his death, and most of Mao's followers regard the Deng Xiaoping reforms to be a betrayal of Mao's legacy.

The official view of the People's Republic of China is that Mao Zedong was a great revolutionary leader who made serious mistakes in his later life. In particular Mao is criticized for creating a cult of personality. 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. 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.

Mao Zedong's picture appears 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 figures that appear in older currency.


  1. Yang Kaihui (杨开慧, 1901-1930) of Changsha: married 1921 to 1927
  2. He Zizhen (贺子珍, 1909-1984) of Jiangxi: married May 1928 to 1939
  3. Jiang Qing: married 1939 to Mao's death

Preceded by:
Chen Duxiu
Chairman of the Communist Party of China Followed by:
Hua Guofeng

See Also: Famous military writers, Mao (game), Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong

External Links