The Life Of Mao Zedong

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The Life of Mao Zedong






The Life of Mao Zedong


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
home.
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 "[I was] 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 [three kingdoms]; 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 order.
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 the party organization. 33 The Japanese invasion of China during
World War II, also provided Mao with opportunity to draw the Chinese people
behind him in an united front against the Japanese invaders.
Mao's stature within the party continued to grow. After leading the
Communists on the Long March to the City of Yunan in Northern China in 1935,
he assumed leadership of the party at age 42. 34 Mao's belief in harmony,
set him upon a campaign that would solidify his power, and further
strengthen his role, the Rectification Campaign (1942-1943). The
Rectification Campaign was a harbin

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