Biography (Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity)
[DECEMBER 26, 1893EPTEMBER 9, 1976]
Communist leader of People's Republic of China
Born in Shaoshan (Hunan), Mao Zedong was the son of a moderately wealthy peasant. After a checkered classical primary education and training at the Hunan Teacher's College, the young Mao gathered like-minded anarchists in his bookstore in Changsha. In 1921 he cofounded the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). After the collapse of the united front with the
Given the merciless nature of political conflict in Republican China (1911949) and the extraordinary brutality of the Japanese occupation (1931945), it is no surprise that Mao concluded that a "revolution is not a dinner party" (Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan, 1927). His astonishing disregard for individual human lives in later years, however, cannot be explained solely by the brutalizing experiences of his early career. Starting in the mid-1950s, Mao repeatedly affirmed his willingness to sacrifice up to a third of the Chinese population in a nuclear war so long as this would help bring about the downfall of world capitalism.
Mao's desire at Yan'an to cement his leadership of the CCP met opposition from two directions. First, pro-Soviet communists returned from Moscow to work for the Bolshevization of the party. Second, urban intellectuals who had been attracted by the utopia Yan'an seemed to promise in an otherwise corrupt China demanded greater freedoms once they recognized the repressive nature of the CCP regime. Benefiting from his disputed but, as it eventually turned out, correct decisions with regard to conduct of the civil war, Mao in the early 1940s pushed for a party purge, with the goal of installing his version of communism. A small number of dissidents were driven to commit suicide or killed. Although Mao in 1945 apologized publicly for the brutality of the campaign, it nevertheless set a precedent for future campaigns against dissidents, real or imagined.
The Korean War (1950953) against the "imperialist" United States provided the backdrop for class warfare against so-called capitalist elements, designed to rectify abuses tenant farmers and workers had endured in the past. Incomplete evidence from China's countryside suggests that it often served as a pretext for the continuation of local clan conflict by other means. According to Mao ("On the Correct Handling of Contradictions among the People," February 27, 1957), 800,000 counterrevolutionaries were killed (in 1952 China's population was 575 million).
In the wake of Nikita Khruschev's Secret Speech (February 1956), in which the Soviet leader charged his predecessor Joseph Stalin with criminal and arbitrary rule, and the resulting Hungarian uprising against Soviet occupation (October 1956), Mao tried to preempt the outburst of pent-up dissatisfaction by allowing criticism under highly controlled conditions (the Hundred Flowers Campaign that occurred during the spring of 1957). Despite all the precautions taken to avoid this, party members and intellectuals called for greater freedoms. In the resulting antirightist campaigns in subsequent years, critics, including leaders of national minorities (particularly in Xinjiang and after 1959 also in Tibet), were persecuted, lost their positions, and were sent to reeducation camps. An unspecified, but probably large, number of victims died or suffered permanent damage to their health from forced labor, abuse, and malnutrition in the camps.
By far the greatest loss of life during Mao's regime stemmed from the deadly spring famines (1959961) of the Great Leap Forward. Unlike the Ukrainian famines in the early 1930s, which Stalin had planned to crush as anti-Russian nationalism, the famine of 1959 resulted from the misguided economic policies of the Great Leap Forward. However, once it became clear that the Great Leap Forward had not only failed to produce the promised economic miracles but also led to serious economic disruptions, Chairman Mao refused to change course because he feared a loss of face, if not his preeminent position. The acrimonious debates about economic reform in 1959 convinced Mao that alleged rightists in the party wanted to replace him. After crushing his supposed enemies, Mao relaunched the Great Leap Forward in late 1959; it collapsed on its own a year later. Due to lack of direct evidence, the number of famine victims can only be calculated on the basis of incomplete demographic data. Most historians agree that excess deaths (the difference between projected and actual demographic data) total at least 20 million (with more than two-thirds of these deaths occurring in 1960 alone); high estimates stand at 65 million (in 1957 China's population was 646 million).
Although still poorly understood, the Cultural Revolution (1966976) was, in many respects, Mao's most far-reaching attempt to rid China of his supposed opponents. Unlike Stalin, who remained in firm control of the Soviet party from the 1920s, Mao never had complete command over the CCP. Many of the campaigns from 1957 onward were attempts to increase his political control over the party. However, once Mao realized by the mid-1960s that his quest for undisputed leadership had been stymied, he turned to forces outside the CCP to attack what he considered a reticent party unwilling to implement his erratic policies. The Cultural Revolution was a mixture of party purge and class warfare, during which radicalized students persecuted, humiliated, tortured, and even murdered alleged rightists or counterrevolutionaries. The exact number of those who were killed, committed suicide, or died in camps is not known; nonetheless, it is clear that most of the victims came from the educated strata, had party backgrounds, or were from minorities.
SEE ALSO China; Famine
Becker, Jasper (1996). Hungry Ghosts: China's Secret Famine. London: John Murray.
Lee, Hong Yung (1978). The Politics of the Chinese Cultural Revolution: A Case Study. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.
Mao Zedong. "On the Correct Handling of Contradictions among the People," February 27, 1957, Harold C. Hinton, ed. (1980). The People's Republic of China, 1949979: A Documentary Survey. Volume I, 1949957. Wilmington: Scholarly Resources, 53451.
Mao Zedong. "Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan, March 1927." Mao Zedong (1965). Selected Works of Mao Zedong. Volume 1. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 239.
Short, Philip (1999). Mao: A Life. New York: Henry Holt.
Teiwes, Frederick C. (1979). Politics and Purges in China: Rectification and the Decline of Party Norms, 1950965. White Plains, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe.
Lorenz M. Lüthi
Biography (Magill’s Guide to Military History)
Article abstract: Military significance: Mao led the Chinese Communist Party to victory in a successful revolt against the Nationalists and established a Communist government.
Mao Zedong became the paramount Chinese Communist Party leader and one of the most important theorists and strategists in Chinese military history. He began his military career by organizing rural-centered, armed revolts in his home province in 1927 and establishing the first Communist base in Jinggangshan in 1928. In this remote mountainous region in South China, he became the first political commissar of the Chinese Red Army and the chairman of the Chinese Soviet Republic in 1931. He transformed the revolt begun with the Chinese Revolution from an urban working-class struggle to a rural-based peasant armed rebellion. He led the Long March in 1934-1935 to save the Red Army from destruction by Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist (Guomindang) Army, emerging as the unquestionable top man in the Chinese Communist Party. In the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), his successful strategy of cooperating with Chiang and mobilizing guerrilla warfare behind Japanese lines increased Chinese Communist Party members from 40,000 in 1937 to more than one million in 1945 with nearly two million regular troops and two million militia. He was elected chairman of the Chinese Communist Party Central Military Commission in 1937, of the Politburo in 1943, and of the Central Committee in 1945.
(The entire section is 666 words.)
Biography (World Philosophers and Their Works)
Article abstract: In 1949, Communist Party chairman Mao led the People’s Liberation Army to victory over the Nationalist Party forces in China and established the People’s Republic of China. He adapted Marxist-Leninist theory and practice to Chinese conditions and created a new doctrine that he later viewed as valid on a world scale.
Mao Zedong was born into a peasant family of some means. His father, seeing little value in education, forced him to leave school at age thirteen to work on the farm. Mao, however, had acquired a taste for reading, and novels about heroic bandits, peasant rebels, and notable rulers had fired his imagination. Continuing his reading, he came upon a book calling for the modernization of China and constitutional government. It motivated him to leave home and continue his studies. At age sixteen, he entered primary school, where he became acquainted with Western liberal thought. A book on heroes led him to admire nation-building military leaders and respect the martial virtues. A short stint in a revolutionary army led to his first encounter with the ideas of socialism.
In time, Mao settled on becoming a teacher and entered normal school in 1913, graduating in 1918. He acquired an effective writing style and ideas to write about. In short, he came to believe in the goodness of humanity, the malleability of human nature, the power of the human will, the potential inherent in the Chinese peasantry, and the need to adapt Western ways to Chinese culture. He was also involved in radical organizations and thus in laying a foundation for future political action.
In 1918, Mao was at the University of Peking, where he found enthusiasm for the Bolshevik Revolution and Marxism. Back in Hunan Province in 1919, he was a leader in the anti-Japanese, antigovernment May Fourth Movement. The following year, he became a primary school director and thereby attained status and influence. By 1920, he considered himself a Marxist, and in July, 1921, was present at the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.
Russian insistence on controlling the Chinese party split it into factions. Mao accepted Russian leadership and the official party position, including Communist membership in the Guomindang, or Nationalist Party, and support for a bourgeois nationalist revolution. In 1924, illness sent him back to Hunan, where a new peasant militancy convinced him that the poor peasantry was the true revolutionary class. After his failure to spark a revolt in 1927, Mao took his ragtag army to the Jingkang Mountains. He lost his major party positions, but he built his peasant army. Beginning in 1930, the Guomindang, now his enemy, began a series of attacks against Mao’s new base area in Jiangxi, leading to the six-thousand-mile Long March that began in late 1934. By 1935, Mao was chairman of the party’s politburo. A new phase had begun.
Mao had bested the Soviet-backed so-called Twenty-eight Bolsheviks, whom he had fought politically for control of the Communist Party. Of elite background, these members lacked an understanding of the masses. The relationship between the Chinese and Soviet parties would remain strained thereafter, especially since the Soviets backed the Guomindang, in their own strategic interests, and were willing to sacrifice the Chinese Communist Party accordingly. When Japan invaded China in 1937, the Soviets, concerned about their eastern territories, called for a Guomindang-Communist United Front, even though Mao’s Yan’an base area was under Guomindang attack. Necessity, however, dictated such an alliance. The alliance was effected, both parties aware that it was but a temporary partnership.
During the Yan’an period, Mao developed what became Maoism. Contrary to Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy, he stressed the role of the peasantry over that of the proletariat. Similarly, his goal was to conquer the countryside through guerrilla warfare and encircle the cities, which would later be taken by conventional warfare. He also set forth the basis for his theory of “permanent revolution,” holding that change is perpetual and conflict will continue even under communism. He also expounded his doctrine of the “mass line.” In a protracted war, the zeal of the masses must be maintained by the party cadres. The masses being infallible, it was the task of the cadres to gather their scattered ideas, synthesize them, propagate them among the masses until they accept them as their own, and then test them through action.
Meanwhile, Mao won over the peasants through fair treatment. People of all classes were called to join the anti-Japanese war, with the national (middle and patriotic) and petty bourgeoisie, and even the landlords, assured of retaining their property, at least for the moment. A clash with the Guomindang in 1940-1941 ended the United Front. This necessitated the rectification campaign of 1942-1944, as Mao believed that the recruits needed disciplining through studying Marxism-Leninism. Also, as Mao’s Sinification of Marxism was being ignored, he believed that it needed emphasizing. The tool was the so-called cult of Mao—Mao was supreme in matters of ideology and was proclaimed infallible. In 1945, “Mao Zedong Thought” was incorporated into the party constitution.
The final phase of the civil war began in late 1948. The Guomindang, led by Chiang Kai-shek, had lost both U.S. military aid and the confidence of the Chinese, and were weakened enough for the Communist People’s Liberation Army...
(The entire section is 2340 words.)
Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: Mao, Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, led the People’s Liberation Army to victory over the Chinese government headed by Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party; established the People’s Republic of China; and was the key figure in both party and government during most of his remaining years. He also adapted Marxist-Leninist theory and practice to Chinese conditions and, in effect, created a new doctrine that he later viewed as valid on a world scale.
Mao Zedong was born into a peasant family of some means. His father, seeing little value in education, forced him to leave school at thirteen to work on the farm. Mao,...
(The entire section is 2320 words.)