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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 662

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.

Unwilling to cooperate after World War II, Mao and Chiang ended their united front and resumed the civil war from 1946 to 1949. After reorganizing his five million troops into the People’s Liberation Army, Mao shifted his military strategy from a predominantly guerrilla war to a conventional mass offensive campaign in 1948. Soon he defeated Chiang’s army, founded the People’s Republic of China, and became the first president of the new Communist republic in 1949. Chiang moved the seat of the Nationalist government of the Republic of China from the mainland to Taiwan. Mao declared the “lean-to-one-side” policy, which stated that the new China would favor the Soviet Union and join the socialist and Communist camp in the Soviet-U.S. Cold War.

Mao’s decision to enter the Korean War (1950-1953) and send three million Chinese troops to fight the United Nations (U.N.) Forces (mostly U.S. forces) led the People’s Republic of China and the United States into their most hostile period in history. As an opportunity to stop a perceived U.S. invasion of China, Mao decided in early October, 1950, to organize and dispatch the Chinese People’s Volunteer forces to Korea when Joseph Stalin asked him to rescue the North Korean regime after the U.N. forces crossed the thirty-eighth parallel and pressed northward. Mao mobilized the year-old republic to fight the “War to Resist America and Aid Korea” and appointed Marshal Peng Dehuai as chief commander of the Chinese forces. Though the Chinese forces successfully pushed those of the United Nations south of the thirty-eighth parallel, U.S. air and naval superiority caused the Chinese forces to suffer very heavy losses—nearly one million casualties—including Mao’s son, who was killed in an air raid while working as a Russian translator at the Chinese People’s Volunteer forces’ headquarters. Noting that the U.N. forces could not be driven out of Korea by force, Mao began negotiations with the United States and South Korea in 1951 and concluded the truce agreement in 1953. His decisions and operations in the Indochina War of 1945-1954, the Taiwan Straits crises in 1954-1958, the Sino-Indian Border War in 1962, the Vietnam Conflict in 1961-1975, and in the first part of the Sino-Soviet border conflicts in 1969-1981 also reflected his unique strategic thinking and military tactics.

Further Reading:

Breslin, Shaun. Mao: Profiles in Power. New York: Longman, 1998.

Li, Xiaobing, and Hongshan Li. China and the United States; A New Cold War History. New York: University Press of America, 1998.

Liu, Jikun. Mao Zedong’s Art of War. China: Hai Feng, 1993.

Spence, Jonathan. Mao Zedong. New York: Penguin Putnam, 1999.

Zhang, Shuguang. Mao’s Military Romanticism. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995.

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