Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong (毛主席语录 Pinyin: Máo Zhǔxí Yǔlù), better known as The Little Red Book, has been published by the Government of the People's Republic of China since 1966. As its title implies, it is a collection of quotations excerpted from Mao's past speeches and publications. The book's alternative title The Little Red Book was coined by the West for its pocket-sized edition, which was specifically printed and sold to facilitate easy carrying, but that name is in fact never used and bears no meaning in China.
With the estimated number in print well exceeding one billion, it is certainly a record in Mainland China, if not the world. The book's phenomenal popularity, however, is due to the fact that it was essentially an unofficial requirement for every Chinese citizen to own, to read, and to carry it at all times under Mao's rule, especially during the Great Cultural Revolution. During the turmoil, the punishment for failing to produce the book upon being asked would range from being beaten on the spot by Red Guards to being given years of hard-labor imprisonment.
After the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976 and the rise of Deng Xiaoping in 1978, the importance of the book waned considerably, and the glorification of Mao's quotations was considered to be left deviationism and a cult of personality. In fact, the book is worth no more than a piece of memorabilia today.
During the Cultural Revolution, studying the book was not only required in schools (from primary grades to universities), but was also a standard practice in the workplace as well. All units, in the industrial, commercial, agricultural, civil service, and military sectors, organized group sessions for the entire workforce to study the book during working hours. Quotes from Mao were either bold-faced or highlighted in red, and almost all writing (including scientific essays) had to quote Mao.
To defend against the theory that it would be counter-productive, it was argued that understanding Mao's quotes could definitely bring about enlightenment to the work unit, resulting in production improvement to offset the time lost. However, this was not the case, and the Cultural Revolution was now widely considered to be an economic disaster.
During the 1960's, the book was the single most visible icon in mainland China, even more visible than the image of the Chairman himself. In posters and pictures created by CPC's propaganda artists, nearly every painted character (except Mao himself), either smiling or looking determined, was always seen with a copy of the book in his/her hand.
Mao's quotations are categorized into 33 chapters in the book. Its topics mainly deal with ideologies in the Chinese version of Socialism (or Maoism).