Choose another writer in this calendar:
by birthday from the calendar.
This is an archive of a dead website. The original website was published by Petri Liukkonen under Creative Commons BY-ND-NC 1.0 Finland and reproduced here under those terms for non-commercial use. All pages are unmodified as they originally appeared; some links and images may no longer function. A .zip of the website is also available.
||Mao Zedong (1893-1976)|
Chinese political leader, poet and statesman, founder of People's Republic of China. Mao Zedong's ideas varied between flexible pragmatism and utopian visions, exemplified in the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. His literary production contains mainly speeches, essays and poems. Mao published some 40 poems written in classical tradition with political message. Worshiped by millions, Mao is also considered one of the 20th century most brutal dictators. It has been estimated that he was responsile for well over 70 million deaths.
At bluegreen twilight I see the rough pines
As a poet Mao continued the tradition, in which educated people composed poetry simply as an accomplishment. His texts showed talent, and he did not use the most banal idioms familiar from the works of Communist writers of his own generation. However, it is possible that Mao did not write all the poems credited to him. Much the same could be said of many of his political publications. In his early verse, Mao showed the influence of Tang (618-907) and Sung (960-1127) poets. On his walk across the Middle Kingdom, he recorded its modern history and used the mystical past to to illuminate the present. Several of his poems depicted the first battles of the peasant army and national events. After 1949 the the content became more meditative. Mao's best-known poem is the 'Snow', written in 1936, but published after he went in 1945 on a plane trip to Chongging. "North country scene: / A hundred leagues locked in ice, / A thousand leagues of whirling snow. / Both side of the Great Wall / One single white immensity."
Mao was born in the village of Shaoshan in the Hunan Province of China. At the age of six he began to work on his parents' farm. His father, Mao Jen-sheng, was a peasant farmer, who beat his sons regularly. Mao's mother, Wen Chi-mei, was a devout Buddhist. After graduating from a teacher's training in Changsha, Mao continued his studies at the University of Beijing, where he worked as an assistant at the library. During this period he discovered Marx, but also began to hate books and all things highly cultivated. Under the influence of Li Dazhao and Chen Duxiu, China's first major Marxist figures, Mao turned to Marxism. In 1921 Mao became a founding member of the Chinese Communist Party. During Bertrand Russell's visit to Hunan, he argued for the legitimacy of seizing power by force against Russell's reformist views. In the 1920s he concentrated on political work in his native Province and Jianxi Province. His highly pragmatic strategy was one of the main influences on Fidel Castro, when in 1959 he was able to take over Cuba with Che Guevara.
"The people are like water and the army is like fish," Mao wrote in Aspects of China's Anti-Japanese Struggle (1948). He recognized the revolutionary potential of the peasantry. Marx and Lenin had seen in their urban doctrine the working class as the leading revolutionary force. However, when first articulated, Mao's views were rejected by the Party in favor of orthodox policy. Mao himself was also an exception to the rule: he was one of only three peasants to gain control of his country throughout its long history - the others were the founders of the Han and Ming dynasties.
Under Comitern policy of cooperating with the Nationalists, Mao held important posts with the Guomingdang. Following the Guomindang massacre of Communist in 1927, Mao established a base in Jiangxi Province. There he directed his first major purge against dissidents.
Mao's fourth wife Chiang Ch'ing (1914-1991) was an actor. She gained first fame in Shanghai among others in Ibsen's play A Doll's House. In 1933 she joined the Communist Party, meeting Mao in Yenan and marrying him. Mao was more than twenty years older than she and had eight children. During Cultural Revolution she became an enormous force, but after Mao's death she was imprisoned with her three radical associates Wang Hongwen, Zhang Chunqiao and Yao Wenyuan. The group was called the Gang of Four. It is told, that on the day of their arrest every wine shop in Beijing was sold out of alcohol. Chiang Ch'ing committed suicide in 1991.
After the break with the Nationalist Party, Mao started the guerrilla tactics, stating later that "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." In 1934 the Nationalist government destroyed the Jiangxi Soviet, and the Communist forces started the legendary retreat and the Long March, an anabasis of 6,000 miles which has been compared to the march of Alexander the Great. In 1935 Mao's political power increased when he was elected Chairman of the Politburo. Mao's rural based guerrilla warfare led to the fall of the government. To fund the Red Army, Mao grew opium.
During World War II Mao did not fight the Japanese, but planned to divide China with Japan. The new People's Republic of China was proclaimed in 1949. The Communists were headed by Mao, who gained the upper hand over his Russian-backed adversaries. In 1949 Mao met Stalin, but after Nikita Khrushchev in his famous speech denounced Stalinism in 1956, China broke with Moscow. Stalin held Mao's son Anying hostage for for years. The "thaw" period in the Soviet Union (1955-64) was noted also in China and in 1956 Mao launched the slogan "let a hundred flowers bloom".
Mao's prestige was reinforced by his "Thought." He labelled the ideas of his opponents as "mechanical" or "dogmatic." "Be resourceful, look at all sides of a problem, test ideas by experiment, and work hard for the common good," Mao said. The basis of his ideology was Marxism-Leninism, but he adapted it to Chinese conditions, and partly he followed such CCP's theoreticians as Chen Boda and Ai Siqi. The support of the Communists among intellectuals also was rising. Zhang Dongsun, who was the most perceptive philosopher of the modern China, saw that Communists were China's only practical way out.
In his 'Talks at the Yan'an Forum on Literature and Art' (1942, Tsai Yenan wen-i tso-t'an hui shang it chiang-hua) Mao issued a set of perspective guidelines for literature, in which he emphasized the status folk tradition and oral and performing literature. The novel of land reform were followed by novels on agricultural collectivization, the central theme of art at that time. Novelists also praised the Party, the revolution, and the people. Some writers dealt with the heroism of soldiers during the Korean war. In 1958 Mao started the "Great Leap Forward", industrial and agricultural program, which did not have the success he expected. He urged to construct backyard steel furnaces to gain the Western steel production. This unrealistic project was not without a certain good will, although results were tragic: about 30 million people died in the famine (in some sources 45 million people were worked, starved or beaten to death), when ill-trained peasants were forced to carry out the gigantic industrialization plan. Mao was aware of the consequences of the policy, saying that "it is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill."
Following the disaster of the "Great Leap Forward", a new series of novels on communization appeared by authors with peasant backgrounds, among them Liu Quing and Hao Ran. The reading public was more drawn to a wave of historical novels celebrating the history of the communist revolution. Most notable were Luo Guangbin's and Yang Yiyan's works. Nevertheless, none of the new novels of socialist realism proved sufficiently politically correct to survive the censorship during the power struggle of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
By 1965 Mao feared that he was losing control. He appealed to the populace against the Party apparatus and consolidated again his power by the Cultural Revolution. Red Guards were formed in 1966 and sent into the countryside to force bureaucrats, professors, technicians, intellectuals, and other nonpeasants into rural work. In the vengeful outburst of hatred and ignorance, tens of thousands were murdered or forced to give up their jobs, and China's economy suffered. "A revolution is not the same as inviting people to dinner, or writing as essay, or painting a picture... A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another." Mao had said (in Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung, 1965) The publishing of new books and the introduction of new ideas virtually stopped. Except for the works of the deceased Lu Xun, all modern works were banned. From 1966 for the following six years publication of art journals was suspended. Art schools were closed and artists disbanded. Large numbers of old temples and monuments were smashed or vandalized. In the end, the disorder was so bad that the army was called in to repress the Red Guards and other fractions. After the chaos, Mao decided open doors to the West. China's Relationship with the United States were strained, but in 1972 President Richard Nixon journeyed to China, and broke the ice. All practical negotiations were handled by Zhou Enlai and Henry Kissinger; at the meeting with Nixon, Mao kept the discussion on a fairly abstract level.
According to Mao's personal physician Zhisui Li (in The Private Life of Chairman Mao), the leader of China used heavily barbiturates although otherwise he was in excellent health. Later in life Mao developed paranoia; Li Zhisui mentions also Mao's aversion to bathing. His personal life became secretive and in many ways morally corrupt. Lin Biao, who was designated by Mao as his successor, died under mysterious circumstances in 1969. After Lin's fall, the prime minister Zhou Enlai was a moderator between the opposing camps of Liu Shaoqi and Mao. Zhou died in 1975, and the leadership of the moderates was taken over by Deng Xiaoping. Mao's death in 1976 broke his wife's hold on power. Mao had smoked cigarettes his whole life, and he had also suffered from bronchitis, pneumonia, and emphysema. Aaccording to some sources, Mao's last words were: "I feel ill; call the doctors."
Mao's ”The Little red Book” or Mao Zedong on People's War (1967) became in the 1960s the ultimate authority for political correctness. It was carried about by millions during "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution" of 1968. The plastic-bound work, edited by the minister of defense, Lin Piao, consisted of quotations from several Mao's writings, among them Significance of Agrarian Reforms in China, Strategic Problems of China's Revolutionary War, On the Rectification of Incorrect Ideas in the Party, A Single Spark Can Start a Prairie Fire, On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People. Another compendium, also edited by Lin Piao, was entitled Long Live Mao Tse-Tung Thought.
Mao's conception of democracy was based on the leading role of the Communist party. Its the tightly disciplined organization would lead the masses. Though Confucianism emphasized submission to authorities and bureaucratic centralization, He was hostile to the philosophy, which he saw as the central ideology of China's past. Later in his career "The Great Helmsman" compared himself with Chin Shih-huang, the first Emperor, who unified China in 221 B.C.
For the most part, Mao's own philosophical work in the 1930s was summaries of Soviet texts. Two essays, 'On practice' and 'On contradiction' were printed in revised form in 1950 and 1952. These works, which could have been written in 1937, were studied and emulated throughout China. Like Lenin, Mao made a distinction between antagonist and non-antagonist contradictions, but Mao's thought was partly derived from the Chinese system of yin and yang. He stated that contradictions would continue to arise in society even after socialist revolution. With this claim he supported his doctrine of permanent revolution, which was earlier launched by Trotsky. His success in guerrilla warfare led him to declare in 1947, that "the atom bomb is a paper tiger".
Mao's thoughts were also popular among Western intellectuals and radicals, who opposed "Soviet revisionism." American journalist E.P. Snow made Chinese Communist movement known already in the 1930s with his book Red Star Over China (1937). Snow's personal relationships with the leaders of China continued decades. He was granted permission travel in 1960 around the country. In his book The Other Side of the River Snow failed to report of China's 1959-61 famine, possibly the worst in history. Much of the grain which was produced in China during this period was traded for the Soviet weapons-technology. However, Mao's popularity has been enduring even after his death.
For further reading: Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62 by Frank Dikotter (2010); Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday (2005); Chinese Marxism by Adrian Chan (2003); Children's Literature in China: From Lu Xun to Mao Zedong by Mary Ann Farquhar (1999); Mao Zedong by Jonathan D. Spence (1999); China's Road to Disaster by Frederick C. Teiwes and Warren Sun (1998); The 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written by Martin Seymour-Smith (1998); Battling Western Imperialism: Mao, Stalin, and the United States by Michael M. Sheng (1998); Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine by Jasper Becker (1997); The Private Life of Chairman Mao by Zhisui Li (1996, paperback); Mao Zedong by Rebecca Stefoff (1996, for young adults); No Tears for Mao by Niu-Niu et al (1995); Burying Mao by Richard Baum (1994); China Without Mao by Immanuel C.Y. Hsu (1990); The Thought of Mao Tse-Tung by Stuart Schram (1989, paperback); Inheriting Tradition by K. Louie (1986); Marxism, Maoism, and Utopianism by Maurice J. Meisner (1982); Chinese Thought, From Confucius to Mao Ts-E-Tung by Herrlee Glessner Glee (1971, paperback); Red Star over China by E.P. Snow (1937, rev. ed. 1968) - See also: Mao Tun - Suom.: Maolta on julkaistu runosuomennoksia mm. antologiassa Itä on punainen, toim. Markku Rautonen (1967). Muita käännöksiä: Kansalaissodasta (1971); Järjestämme opiskelun uudella tavalla: Vastustakaa kirjojen palvontaa (1971); Neljä filosofista teosta (1972); Kolme alati luettavaa kirjoitusta (1972); Kirjoituksia ja puheita yhteisrintamasta (1972); Kirjallisuuden ja taiteen kysymyksiä käsittelevässä neuvottelukokouksessa Jenanissa pidetyt puheet (1972); Joitakin johtamismenetelmiä koskevia kysymyksiä (1972); Mao Tse-tung: runot, suom. Pertti Nieminen (1973); Mao Tse-tungin teoksia 1-2, suom. Tuure Lehén (1958), Otteita puheenjohtaja Mao Tse-tungin teoksista (1967)