CB11. Mao Zedong, Past Chairman of China, A Review

30 Jun CB11. Mao Zedong, Past Chairman of China, A Review

Mao Zedong is 60% good and 40% bad. His communist party transformed China on 1 October 1949. Overnight, there was no more landlord, no prostitution, and no democracy. Revolution of this magnitude has not repeated itself in the modern era. Until Mao’s death on 9 September 1976, China was effectively under a ‘one man’ rule.

  1. In about 1,000 words, I will discuss Mao Zedong. I possess two books on Mao, and have read about and discussed him over several decades.
  2. Mao Zedong (26 December 1893 – 9 September 1976; 82 years) was a communist and chairman of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from 1 October 1949 until his death.
  3. Mao’s father was a prosperous peasant in Hunan province. Early in his life, Mao was a voracious reader and had a Chinese nationalist and anti-imperialist outlook.
  4. Mao later adopted Marxism–Leninism philosophy while working at Peking University. He became a founding member of the Communist Party of China (CPC).
  5. Mao helped found the Red Army and later became head of the Communist Party of China (CPC) during the famous Long March of 1934-1935.
  6. In the three decades of 1920s to 1949, the Communist Party of China (CPC) fought against the Kuomintang or the Chinese Nationalist Party under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. This was known as the China civil war.
  7. These were three terrible decades for China. Two thousand years of dynastic rule ended in 1911, and after that China was in chaos. Dr Sun Yat-sen (father of Republic of China), Yuan Shi-kai (President of China) and later Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek (even with substantial help from the West, the USA in particular) could not unite China.
  8. There was much corruption associated with Kuomintang (the Chinese Nationalist Party).
  9. The Communist Party of China (CPC), on the other hand, was seen as not corrupted.
  10. The famous Long March of 1934-1935 was a military retreat undertaken by the Red Army (later People’s Liberation Army) away from the Kuomintang or the Chinese Nationalist Party army. The Communists, under the eventual command of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, escaped in a circling retreat to the west and north, which reportedly traversed over 9,000 kilometres over 370 days. The route passed through some of the most difficult terrain of western China by travelling west, then north, to Shaanxi. The Long March allowed the Red Army to recuperate and rebuild in the north.
  11. Importantly, the Long March helped the Communist Party of China (CPC) gain a positive reputation among the peasants (the majority of the Chinese) due to the determination and dedication of the surviving participants of the Long March.
  12. During the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War Two (1937–1945), the Communist Party of China (CPC) temporarily allied with the Kuomintang (the Chinese Nationalist Party) under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek to fight the Japanese.
  13. After Japan’s surrender in 1945, China’s civil war resumed.
  14. Four years later, in 1949, Mao’s forces defeated the Nationalist government under Chiang Kai-shek, which withdrew to Taiwan.
  15. On 1 October 1949, Mao proclaimed the foundation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), a single party controlled by the Communist Party of China (CPC).
  16. China was looking forward to becoming a new nation with no corruption, no landlord and no prostitution.
  17. In power, Mao in 1958 launched the Great Leap Forward that aimed to rapidly transform China’s economy from agrarian to industrial (trying to follow the Soviet Union). But it led to the deadliest famine in history, resulting in the deaths of 20–46 million people between 1958 and 1962. Mao was a revolutionary, not an economist.
  18. In 1966, protecting his own power, Mao initiated the Cultural Revolution, a program to remove “counter-revolutionary” elements in Chinese society which lasted 10 years and was marked by violent class struggle, widespread destruction of cultural artifacts, and an unprecedented elevation of Mao’s cult of personality. Tens of millions of people were persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, while the estimated number of deaths ranges from hundreds of thousands to millions, including Liu Shaoqi, who was the 2nd Chairman of the People’s Republic of China.
  19. In 1972, Mao welcomed the USA president Richard Nixon in Beijing, signalling the start of a policy of opening China to the world. The USA Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger had done some groundwork for many months before the meeting.
  20. Supporters credit Mao with driving imperialism out of China; modernising the nation and building it into a world power; promoting the status of women; improving education and health care; as well as increasing life expectancy of average Chinese.
  21. Mao turned China from a feudal backwater into one of the most powerful countries in the world. The Chinese system he overthrew was backward and corrupt; he dragged China into the 20th century.
  22. For all his flaws, he is invoked as representing an egalitarian strain, a self-made man of the people who rose to power via straight talk and was not allied with moneyed interests.
  23. Scholars outside of China also credit Mao for boosting literacy – only 20% of the population could read in 1949, compared to 65.5% thirty years later.
  24. During Mao’s era, China’s population grew from around 550 million to over 900 million. Average life expectancy rose from 35 in 1949 to 63 by 1975. Health care improved during his reign.
  25. However, Mao’s regime has been called autocratic and totalitarian, and was condemned for bringing about mass repression and destroying religious and cultural artifacts and sites. His policies caused the deaths of tens of millions of people in China during his 27-year reign, more than any other 20th century leader. Estimates of the number of people who died under his regime range from 40 million to as many as 80 million, due to starvation, persecution, prison labour and mass executions. The cost in human lives is staggering.
  26. After Mao’s death in 1976, key pillars of his economic theory have been publicly dismantled for the most part by market reformers like Deng Xiaoping and Zhao Ziyang, who succeeded him as leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
  27. Though the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which Mao led to power, has rejected in practice the economic fundamentals of much of Mao’s ideology, it retains for itself many of the powers established under Mao’s reign: it controls the Chinese army, police, courts and media and does not permit multi-party elections at the national or local level. (Hong Kong is in transition mode.)
  28. Disagreements on Mao’s legacy continue. Former Party official Su Shachi has opined that “he was a great historical criminal, but he was also a great force for good.” Some historians argue that Mao Zedong was “one of the great tyrants of the twentieth century”, and a dictator comparable to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, with a death toll surpassing both.
  29. Mao’s English interpreter Sidney Rittenberg wrote in his memoir The Man Who Stayed Behind that whilst Mao “was a great leader in history”, he was also “a great criminal because, not that he wanted to, not that he intended to, but in fact, his wild fantasies led to the deaths of tens of millions of people.”  Li Rui, Mao’s personal secretary, goes further and claims he was dismissive of the suffering and death caused by his policies: Mao’s way of thinking and governing was terrifying. He put no value on human life. The deaths of others meant nothing to him.
  30. As later Chinese leaders took power, less recognition was given to the status of Mao.
  31. The Chinese government however never officially repudiated the tactics of Mao. Deng Xiaoping, who was opposed to the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, has to a certain extent rejected Mao’s legacy, famously saying that Mao was “70% right and 30% wrong”.
  32. When I was in China for the first time in 1992 (28 years ago), Mao was still revered like a ‘god’. His picture hung everywhere including within cars. His large picture is still hung in Tiananmen Square today.
  33. In December 2013, a poll from the state-run Global Times indicated that roughly 85% of the 1,045 respondents surveyed felt Mao’s achievements outweighed his mistakes.
  34. Mao was a political intellect, theorist, military strategist, poet, and visionary – one could be all these but whether he was decent or not is debatable. So, Mao’s legacy is controversial.
  35. I regard Mao as 60% good and 40% bad.
3 Comments
  • Albert Lee
    Posted at 17:12h, 03 July Reply

    Interesting reading. Very accurate description of Mao’s achievement and failure, and consistent with the book I read by Jonathan Fenby entitled ‘History of Modern China’.

    • comasters1
      Posted at 20:29h, 03 July Reply

      Albert, I realise you have lately become a ‘China expert’ and give high regard to what president Xi Jinping and his CCP are wanting to do for the ‘new China’. I take the view that president Xi Jinping, who is consistent in his leadership style since he took office in 2013, is the most powerful world leader today – not president Donald Trump of the USA, who has made many missteps particularly during this COVID-19 pandemic. I have also read the Penguin book by Jonathan Fenby (History of Modern China). Jeff

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