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Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong (毛澤東 or in the Wade-Giles transliteration, Mao Tse-tung) : Run Zhi (run4 zhi1 润芝) (December 26, 1893 - September 9, 1976) was the leader of the Communist Party of China from 1935. Under his leadership it became the ruling party of mainland China as the result of Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War and the founding of the People's Republic of China. In mainland China, Mao is widely credited for creating a mostly unified China that was free of foreign domination for the first time since the Opium War while at the same time criticized for economically and politically disastrous policies taken after his consolidation of power. Mao is sometimes referred to as "the great helmsman", since he was, and largely still is, worshipped as a god-like figure by some common Chinese much like other founders of the Chinese dynasties in the past.

Table of contents

Early Life

Eldest son of four children of a peasant farmer, Mao Zedong was born in the village of Shao Shan in Xiangtan County[?] (湘潭縣), Hunan province. He travelled with his high school teacher and future father-in-law professor Yang Changjin[?] to Beijing during the May Fourth Movement when Yang lectured in Peking University. From Yang's recommendations, he worked under Li Dazhao[?], the head of the university library and attended speeches by Chen Duxiu. At age 27, Mao attended the First Congress of the Communist Party of China in Shanghai in July 1921. Two years later he was elected to the Central Committee of the party at the Third Congress.

From 1931 to 1934, Mao helped established the Chinese Soviet Republic in south-east China, and was elected as the chairman.

War and Revolution

Starting in October 1934, What had begun as attempted worker insurrections in the port cities of Canton and Shanghai in the late 1920s, led to "The Long March", a Communist retreat from south-east to north-west China, which carried the working class ideas of Marxism into the deep and impoverished countryside of feudal China.

From their deep rural bases the Chinese Communists and their people's army led the national struggle against the Japanese militarist occupation, one of the most barbaric episodes of the Second World War. In 1937, Japan opened a full-scale war of aggression against China, which gave the Communist Party of China cause to unite with the nationalist forces of the Kuomintang. After defeating the Japanese, the Communists defeated the Kuomintang in an ensuing civil war, and established the People's Republic of China in October 1949. It was an event that culminated over two decades of Communist Party-led popular struggle.

Following the consolidation of power, Mao launched a phase of rapid, forced collectivization, lasting until around 1958. This included the so-called Hundred Flowers campaign, in which Mao indicated he was willing to consider different opinions about how China should be governed. Given the freedom to express themselves, many Chinese began questioning the dogmas of the Communist Party. After allowing this for a few months, Mao's government reversed its policy and rounded up those who criticized the Party in what is called the Anti-Rightist Movement.

The Great Leap Forward was intended by Mao as a alternative model for economic growth which contradicted the Soviet model of heavy industry that was advocated by others in the party. Under this economic program Chinese agriculture was to be collectivized and rural small scale industry was to be promoted. In the middle of the Great Leap, Khrushchev canceled Soviet technical support because Mao was too radical in pushing for world wide communist revolution. This, along with severe droughts, caused the Great Leap to fail to meet its goals and resulted in widespread famines in which millions of Chinese died. With this failure, the Great Leap ended in 1960, and Mao was forced to write a self-criticism.

The withdrawl of Soviet aid, border disputes, disputes over the control and direction of world Communism, whether it should be revolutionary or status quo, and other disputes pertaining to foreign policy contributed to the Sino-Soviet Split in the 1960s.

Following these events, other members of the Communist Party including Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping decided that Mao should be deprived of power. They attempted to marginalize Mao, without denouncing him, allowing him to remain a figurehead, but without any real authority.

Mao responded to this by launching the Cultural Revolution, in the late 1960s, in which the Communist hierarchy was circumvented by giving power directly to the Red Guards, groups of young people, often teenagers, who set up their own tribunals and punished with judicious zeal. This Cultural Revolution tore apart the fabric of society and set back many of the advances made in the previous decade and a half.

In 1969, Mao declared the Cultural Revolution to be over, although the official history of the People's Republic of China marks the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976 with Mao's death. In the last years of his life, Mao was faced with declining health due to Parkinson's disease and remained passive as various factions within the Communist Party mobilized for the power struggle anticipated after his death. During this decade, Mao created a cult of personality in which his image was displayed everywhere and his quotations were included in bold face or red letters in even the most mundane of writings.

After his death, there was a power struggle for control of China. On one side were the leftists led by the Gang of Four, who wanted to continue the policy of revolutionary mass mobilization. On the other side were the rightists[?], which consisted of two groups. One was the restorationists led by Hua Guofeng who advocated a return to orthodox socialist central planning along the Soviet model. The other was the reformers, led by Deng Xiaoping, who wanted to overhaul the Chinese economy based on pragamatic policies and to deemphasize the role of ideology in determining economic and political policy.

Furthermore, many within the People's Republic of China itself point to the phenomenal economic growth that has occurred in Mainland China as a result of the Deng Xiaoping reforms after Mao's death as evidence of the incorrectness of Mao's economic policies. Since the Deng era, China has sustained the highest rate of per capita economic growth for the past two decades.

Mao's Legacy

Mao's legacy has produced a large amount of controversy with some focus on the failures of the Great Leap and the disasters of the Cultural Revolution, and others pointing out that the large number of deaths during the period of consolidation of power after victory in the Chinese civil war was small compared to the number of deaths caused by famine, anarchy, war, and foreign invasion in the years before the Communists took power.

Supporters of Mao point out that before 1949, for instance, the illiteracy rate in Mainland China was 80 percent, and life expectancy was a meager 35 years. At his death, illiteracy had declined to less than seven per cent, and average life expectancy had increased to more than 70 years. In addition, China's population which had remained constant at 400 million from the Opium War to the end of the Civil War, mushroomed to 700 million as of Mao's death.

However Mao's opponents point out that similar gains in life expectancy occurred in the East Asian Tigers and the experiences of the Tigers and the Deng Xiaoping reforms suggest that Mao's economic policy was not the optimal one for China. Other critics of Mao fault him for not encouraging birth control and for creating a demographic bump which later Chinese leaders responded to by the one child policy.

The ideology surrounding Mao's interpretation of Marxism-Leninism, also known as Maoism, has influenced many communists around the world, including third world revolutionary movements such as Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, Peru's Shining Path and the revolutionary movement in Nepal. Ironically, China has moved sharply away from Maoism since his death, and most of Mao's followers regard the Deng Xiaoping reforms to be a betrayal of Mao's legacy.

The official view of the People's Republic of China is that Mao Zedong was a great revolutionary leader who made serious mistakes in his later life. In particular Mao is criticized for creating a cult of personality. In mainland China many people still consider Mao a hero in the first half of his life, but hold that he became a monster after gaining power. However, in an era where economic growth has caused corruption to increase in mainland China, there are those who regard Mao as a symbol of moral incorruptiblity and self-sacrifice in contrast to the current leadership.

Mao Zedong's picture appears on all new renminbi currency from the People's Republic of China. This is intended primarily as an anti-counterfeiting measure as Mao's face is widely recognized in contrast to the figures that appear in older currency.

See Also

External Links

  • The Encyclopedia of Marxism (http://www.marxists.org/glossary/m.htm) gives a Marxist view of Mao's life. Parts of this article are based on it.
  • MIM (http://www.etext.org/Politics/MIM/) provides a wealth of information about Maoism.

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