Mao's Cultural Revolution Essay

This essay has a total of 2648 words and 11 pages.

Mao's Cultural Revolution

Dressed in the drab military uniform that symbolized the revolutionary government of
Communist China, Mao Zedong's body still looked powerful, like an giant rock in a gushing
river. An enormous red flag draped his coffin, like a red sail unfurled on a Chinese junk,
illustrating the dualism of traditional China and the present Communist China that
typified Mao. 1 A river of people flowed past while he lay in state during the second week
of September 1976. Workers, peasants, soldiers and students, united in grief; brought
together by Mao, the helmsman of modern China. 2 He had assembled a revolutionary
government using traditional Chinese ideals of filial piety, harmony, and order. Mao's
cult of personality, party purges, and political policies reflect Mao's esteem of these
traditional Chinese ideals and history.

Mao was born on December 26, 1893 in Shao Shan, a village in Hunan Province. 3 His family
lived in a rural village where for hundreds of years the pattern of everyday life had
remained largely unbroken. 4 Mao's father, the son of a "poor peasant," during Mao's
childhood however, prospered and become a wealthy land owner and rice dealer. 5 Yet, the
structure of Mao's family continued to mirror the rigidity of traditional Chinese society.
His father, a strict disciplinarian, demanded filial piety. 6 Forced to do farm labor and
study the Chinese classics, Mao was expected to be obedient. On the other hand, Mao
remembers his mother was "generous and sympathetic." 7 Mao urged his mother to confront
his father but Mao's mother who believed in many traditional ideas replied that "was not
the Chinese way." 8 Mao in his interviews with historian Edgar Snow reports how during his
childhood he tried to escape this traditional Chinese upbringing by running away from

The rebellion Mao claims to have manifested might have distanced Mao physically from his
family but, traditional Chinese values were deeply ingrained, shaping his political and
personal persona. His father's harshness with dealing with opposition, his cunning, his
demand for reverence from subordinates, and his ambition were to be seen in how Mao
demanded harmony, order, and reverence as a ruthless dictator. Yet, Mao, was also the
kindly father figure for the people of China, as manifested in characteristic qualities of
Mao's mother: kindness, benevolence, and patriarchal indulgence.

The China that Mao was born into was fast becoming a shell of its former past. The Ch'ing
dynasty which had ruled China for 250 years was only 14 years away from its collapse. 9
Peasant rebellions, famines, and riots heralded its failing. For Mao, one particular event
when he was just ten years old, left a lasting impression. It both symbolized the
deterioration of order in Chinese traditional society and was in sharp contrast to
principles of harmony. A group of local villagers rioted for food during a famine in 1903.
The leaders were captured, beheaded, and their heads displayed on poles as a warning for
future rebels. 10

Amidst the change that quaked the Chinese nation and Mao's family's economic situation, 11
Mao sought solace in books about Chinese history and its emperors. 12 He became known in
his family as, "the scholar." As a child " fascinated by accounts of the rulers of ancient
China: Yao, Shun, Ch'in Shih Huang Ti, and Hu Wu Ti, and read many books about them." 13
Indeed, the emperors grandeur, elegance and power were a sharp contrast to the brutish
leaders that Mao was exposed to during his childhood. 14 Yao and Shun are credited with
forming the first Chinese society in the Yellow River Valley; Ch'in Shih Huang Ti unified
the Chinese empire and built the Great Wall of China; Han Wu Ti solidified the foundation
of the Han Empire. 15 In the turmoil that China was to undergo, particularly after Mao
became the head of the Communist party, we will see how he was guided by traditional
Chinese values and the history of the emperors provided him with a map for the future. 16
However, at first, he did not seem strongly focused on history or philosophy.

During the next ten years, 1909-1918, Mao drifted. In 1909 at the age of 16, he left home
to attend school in Hsiang. 17 In 1911, he enlisted in the Army for six months after which
he moved to Changsha the capital of Hunan Province where he stayed until 1918. 18 While in
Changsha, he tried numerous schools. 19 Finally, he enrolled at the Hunan Normal School,
graduating in 1918. 20

Mao's mother's died in 1918, which seemed to be a precipitant factor in his final break
with home and in September of that year he traveled to Beijing. Arriving at Beijing
University21 he was exposed to a wide range of political philosophy such as, anarchism,
communism, and western ideas of democracy and capitalism. Nonetheless, when describing to
Edgar Snow the events that stood out in his mind from his time in Beijing, Mao did not
select political ideology but three journeys to Chinese sites that captured the grandeur
of the historic Chinese Empires. He visited the wall of Hsuchou famous in the San Kuo ;
climbed the T'ai Shan, a Chinese mountain of historic and religious significance; and made
a pilgrimage to Confucius's grave. 22

Mao now age 26, returned to Changsha in the spring of 1919. 23 It was at this point that
he became active in politics. During the summer of 1919, Mao became involved in
demonstrations, which although not Marxist-inspired, were strongly anti-imperialist. 24
But, by the summer of 1920, he embraced Marxism. 25 However, like everything that Mao
embarked upon, it also had "Maoist" tenets. The Marxism that Mao espoused became by the
1930's, an amalgam of Marxism and Mao's Chinese traditional ideas. He called it,
Sinified-Marxism. 26

In 1923, after the Communists formed an alliance with the Guomingdang, the Chinese
National People's Party, 27 Mao became a leader in the combined party. 28 He was sent in
1925 to organize the Peasants of Hunan province. This event and Mao's report of it became
a pivotal point in documenting and disseminating Mao's hallmark of Chinese Communism. 29
It reflected Mao's revolutionary belief in the peasantry's ability to rule while also
giving credence to Chinese traditional ideals. With glee, Mao described the peasant
associations which had successfully taken over in Hunan. 30 In his report, Mao pays
tribute to the peasants for selectively relying on Chinese traditions of order, harmony,
and filial piety. While praising the peasants for abandoning the worship of Gods and
rejecting Buddhism, he congratulates the peasants puritan prohibitions against gambling
and drinking wine. Although the peasants rejected "the traditional Buddhist religion" by
spurning idols, Mao praises the peasants for saving certain idols such as, a statue of Pao
Cheng who was a official in the Sung Dynasty (960-1127), an impartial judge. 31 Finally,
he applauds the Hunan peasant association for restoring order, which was to be a theme
echoed by Mao during the Cultural Revolution when Mao relied on the military to restore

Mao's belief in the ability of peasants to organize and rule was at the heart of the
Communist success in attaining power. In 1927, the Guomingdang broke with the Communists.
Chased from the urban areas, the Communists fled to the countryside. 32 This proved to be
a blessing. Throughout the 1930's, the Communists organized the rural areas and solidified
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