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History of the PRC – Part Ten Posted by on Dec 12, 2010 in Uncategorized

For Part Ten of this history lesson, we’re going to divert from the story a bit to focus on an especially important character in this saga – Mao Zedong (毛泽东 – Máo zé dōng). These days, you still see the Chairman’s face just about everywhere you go in China. From massive statues of the man in front of universities and business, to small trinkets with his likeness in Beijing taxis, to t-shirts, mugs, and handbags, and not to mention every banknote in China, Mao is all over the place.

Born to a farmer in Shaoshan, Hunan province on December 26, 1893, Mao came from modest beginnings. His youth was split between attending school and working on the family farm. His family were peasants, but his father was better off than most. Speaking of his father, Mao said, “He was a severe taskmaster. He hated to see me idle.” During the Xinhai Revolution in 1911, Mao was a part of the Revolutionary Army in Hunan. After the war, he would go back to school and he graduated from the First Provincial Normal School uf Hunan in 1918. As a student, Mao excelled at history, geography, and essay writing.

Although Mao’s father had arranged a marriage between his son and Luo Yixiu (罗一秀), Mao never formally recognized this marriage. Instead of settling down to the life of a married farmer, Mao had bigger plans. He joined Professor Yang Changji on a trip to Beijing in 1919. Yang, who worked at Peking University (北京大学 – Běi jīng dà xué) helped Mao gain employment there as an assistant librarian. While in Beijing, Mao also took a few classes and did plenty of reading in the library, discovering Marxism and Communist theories.

While Mao was at the Provincial school in Hunan, he must have been hot for teacher, as he would go on to marry one of his teachers, Yang Kaihui (杨开慧), who also happened to be Yang’s daughter. At the time, the Russian revolution and its impact was just reaching China. Realizing that revolution in China would not work quite the same as it did in Russia, Mao decided that the key to power and reform would come with the peasants, and not the industrial workers as Marx had taught and Lenin and Stalin had obeyed in Russia.

Soon enough, Mao was involved in politics. Mao helped co-found the Chinese Communisty Party (CCP) in 1921. At age 27, he attended the first session of the National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Shanghai. Just two short years later, he was elected as one of five commissars for the third Congress session. At the time, the Communists were working together with the KMT, and Mao moved steadily up the ranks.

When the KMT/CCP alliance weakened and fighting began, Mao would eventually become disillusioned with the revolution and he would move back to Shaoshan. However, uprisings in Shanghai and Guangzhou sparked his political interests again, and in 1925 he would become Propaganda Director of the KMT.

Mao led his first peasant uprising in 1927, and although it was unsuccessful, his army steadily grew as he appealed to the masses in the Chinese countryside. He would win the trust of the peasant population in China, which would prove to be a very smart move.

In 1930 a local KMT warlord named Hei Jang kidnapped Mao’s wife and their son, Mao Anying (毛岸英). The KMT had Mao’s family thrown in prison, and they wanted Yang to renounce Mao and Communism publicy. She would not oblige, and KMT soldiers tortured and killed her while young Anying was forced to watch.

It should come as no surprise that Mao then stepped up his efforts to take down the KMT. We’ll cover Mao’s quest to overthrow the KMT and his eventual rise to power in the next few posts…

It is worth noting that Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping, claimed in 1981 that Mao was correct 7o percent of the time and wrong 30 percent of the time. From that same year, the Chinese Communist Party had this to say about the Great Helmsman:

“Comrade Mao Zedong was a great Marxist and a great proletarian revolutionary, strategist and theorist. It is true that he made gross mistakes during the “cultural revolution”, but, if we judge his activities as a whole, his contributions to the Chinese revolution far outweigh his mistakes. His merits are primary and his errors secondary. He rendered indelible meritorious service in founding and building up our Party and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, in winning victory for the cause of liberation of the Chinese people, in founding the People’s Republic of China and in advancing our socialist cause. He made major contributions to the liberation of the oppressed nations of the world and to the progress of mankind.”

Love him or hate him, it’s hard to deny Mao’s importance and his place in history. Mao even came in at #89 on The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History. One thing that should be noted is that it is not legal to publicly criticize Mao in China, so if you do have some qualms with the legendary Chairman, leave them at home before you visit!

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.

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