|Preceded by||Zhang Wentian
(As General Secretary)
|Succeeded by||Hua Guofeng|
September 27, 1954 – April 1959
|Preceded by||Position Created|
|Succeeded by||Liu Shaoqi|
|Preceded by||Position Created|
|Succeeded by||Hua Guofeng|
October 1, 1949 – December 25, 1954
|Preceded by||Position Created|
|Succeeded by||Zhou Enlai|
December 25, 1954 – September 9, 1976 (honorary)
|Born||26 December 1893(1893-12-26)
Shaoshan, Hunan, China
|Died||9 September 1976 (aged 82)
Beijing, People’s Republic of China
|Political party||Communist Party of China|
|Spouse(s)||Luo Yixiu (1907–1910)
Yang Kaihui (1920–1930)
He Zizhen (1930–1937)
Jiang Qing (1939–1976)
|Hanyu Pinyin||Máo Zédōng
[mɑʊ̯˧˥ t͡sɤ˧˥ d̥ʊŋ˥˥]
Mao Zedong, also transliterated as Mao Tse-tung, listen (help·info); (December 26, 1893 – September 9, 1976) was a Han Chinese revolutionary, political theorist and communist leader. He led the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from its establishment in 1949 until his death in 1976. His theoretical contribution to Marxism–Leninism, military strategies, and his brand of Communist policies are now collectively known as Maoism.
Mao remains a controversial figure to this day, with a contentious and ever-evolving legacy. He is officially held in high regard in China as a great revolutionary, political strategist, military mastermind, and savior of the nation. Many Chinese also believe that through his policies, he laid the economic, technological and cultural foundations of modern China, transforming the country from an agrarian society into a major world power. Additionally, Mao is viewed as a poet, philosopher, and visionary, owing the latter primarily to the cult of personality fostered during his time in power. Mao’s portrait continues to be featured prominently on Tiananmen and on all Renminbi bills.
Conversely, Mao’s social-political programs, such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, are blamed for costing millions of lives, causing severe famine and damage to the culture, society and economy of China. Mao’s policies and political purges from 1949 to 1976 are widely believed to have caused the deaths of between 40 to 70 million people. Since Deng Xiaoping assumed power in 1978, many Maoist policies have been abandoned in favour of economic reforms.
“Revolution is not a dinner party, nor an essay, nor a painting, nor a piece of embroidery; it cannot be advanced softly, gradually, carefully, considerately, respectfully, politely, plainly, and modestly. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.”
– Mao Zedong 
In 1927, Mao conducted the famous Autumn Harvest Uprising in Changsha, as commander-in-chief. Mao led an army, called the “Revolutionary Army of Workers and Peasants”, which was defeated and scattered after fierce battles. Afterwards, the exhausted troops were forced to leave Hunan for Sanwan, Jiangxi, where Mao re-organized the scattered soldiers, rearranging the military division into smaller regiments.
Mao also ordered that each company must have a party branch office with a commissar as its leader who would give political instructions based upon superior mandates. This military rearrangement in Sanwan, Jiangxi initiated the CPC’s absolute control over its military force and has been considered to have the most fundamental and profound impact upon the Chinese revolution. Later, they moved to the Jinggang Mountains, Jiangxi.
In the Jinggang Mountains, Mao persuaded two local insurgent leaders to pledge their allegiance to him. There, Mao joined his army with that of Zhu De, creating the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army of China, Red Army in short. Mao’s tactics were strongly based on that of the Spanish Guerillas during the Napoleonic Wars.
From 1931 to 1934, Mao helped establish the Soviet Republic of China and was elected Chairman of this small republic in the mountainous areas in Jiangxi. Here, Mao was married to He Zizhen. His previous wife, Yang Kaihui, had been arrested and executed in 1930, just three years after their departure.
In Jiangxi, Mao’s authoritative domination, especially that of the military force, was challenged by the Jiangxi branch of the CPC and military officers. Mao’s opponents, among whom the most prominent was Li Wenlin, the founder of the CPC’s branch and Red Army in Jiangxi, were against Mao’s land policies and proposals to reform the local party branch and army leadership. Mao reacted first by accusing the opponents of opportunism and kulakism and then set off a series of systematic suppressions of them.
Under the direction of Mao, it is reported that horrible methods of torture took place and given names such as ‘sitting in a sedan chair’, ‘airplane ride’, ‘toad-drinking water’, and ‘monkey pulling reins.’ The wives of several suspects had their breasts cut open and their genitals burned. Short (2001) estimates that tens of thousands of suspected enemies, perhaps as many as 186,000, were killed during this purge. Critics accuse Mao’s authority in Jiangxi of being secured and reassured through the revolutionary terrorism, or red terrorism.
Mao, with the help of Zhu De, built a modest but effective army, undertook experiments in rural reform and government, and provided refuge for Communists fleeing the rightist purges in the cities. Mao’s methods are normally referred to as Guerrilla warfare; but he himself made a distinction between guerrilla warfare (youji zhan) and Mobile Warfare (yundong zhan).
Mao’s Guerrilla Warfare and Mobile Warfare was based upon the fact of the poor armament and military training of the Red Army which consisted mainly of impoverished peasants, who, however, were all encouraged by revolutionary passions and aspiring after a communist utopia.
Around 1930, there had been more than ten regions, usually entitled “soviet areas”, under control of the CPC. The relative prosperity of “soviet areas” startled and worried Chiang Kai-shek, chairman of the Kuomintang government, who waged five waves of besieging campaigns against the “central soviet area.” More than one million Kuomintang soldiers were involved in these five campaigns, four of which were defeated by the Red Army led by Mao. By June 1932 (the height of its power), the Red Army had no less than 45,000 soldiers, with a further 200,000 local militia acting as a subsidiary force.
Under increasing pressure from the KMT encirclement campaigns, there was a struggle for power within the Communist leadership. Mao was removed from his important positions and replaced by individuals (including Zhou Enlai) who appeared loyal to the orthodox line advocated by Moscow and represented within the CPC by a group known as the 28 Bolsheviks.
Chiang, who had earlier assumed nominal control of China due in part to the Northern Expedition, was determined to eliminate the Communists. By October 1934, he had them surrounded, prompting them to engage in the “Long March“, a retreat from Jiangxi in the southeast to Shaanxi in the northwest of China. It was during this 9,600 kilometer (5,965 mile), year-long journey that Mao emerged as the top Communist leader, aided by the Zunyi Conference and the defection of Zhou Enlai to Mao’s side. At this Conference, Mao entered the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China.
According to the standard Chinese Communist Party line, from his base in Yan’an, Mao led the Communist resistance against the Japanese in the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945). However, Mao further consolidated power over the Communist Party in 1942 by launching the Shu Fan movement, or “Rectification” campaign against rival CPC members such as Wang Ming, Wang Shiwei, and Ding Ling. Also while in Yan’an, Mao divorced He Zizhen and married the actress Lan Ping, who would become known as Jiang Qing.
During the Sino-Japanese War, Mao Zedong’s military strategies, laid out in On Guerrilla Warfare were opposed by both Chiang Kai-shek and the United States. The US regarded Chiang as an important ally, able to help shorten the war by engaging the Japanese occupiers in China. Chiang, in contrast, sought to build the ROC army for the certain conflict with Mao’s communist forces after the end of World War II. This fact was not understood well in the US, and precious lend-lease armaments continued to be allocated to the Kuomintang.
In turn, Mao spent part of the war (as to whether it was most or only a little is disputed) fighting the Kuomintang for control of certain parts of China. Both the Communists and Nationalists have been criticised for fighting amongst themselves rather than allying against the Japanese Imperial Army. Some argue, however, that the Nationalists were better equipped and fought more against Japan.
In 1944, the Americans sent a special diplomatic envoy, called the Dixie Mission, to the Communist Party of China. According to Edwin Moise, in Modern China: A History 2nd Edition:
- Most of the Americans were favorably impressed. The CPC seemed less corrupt, more unified, and more vigorous in its resistance to Japan than the KMT. United States fliers shot down over North China…confirmed to their superiors that the CPC was both strong and popular over a broad area. In the end, the contacts with the USA developed with the CPC led to very little.
After the end of World War II, the U.S. continued to support Chiang Kai-shek, now openly against the People’s Liberation Army led by Mao Zedong in the civil war for control of China. The U.S. support was part of its view to contain and defeat world communism. Likewise, the Soviet Union gave quasi-covert support to Mao (acting as a concerned neighbor more than a military ally, to avoid open conflict with the U.S.) and gave large supplies of arms to the Communist Party of China, although newer Chinese records indicate the Soviet “supplies” were not as large as previously believed, and consistently fell short of the promised amount of aid.
In 1948, the People’s Liberation Army starved out the Kuomintang forces occupying the city of Changchun. At least 160,000 civilians are believed to have perished during the siege, which lasted from June until October. PLA lieutenant colonel Zhang Zhenglu, who documented the siege in his book White Snow, Red Blood, compared it to Hiroshima: “The casualties were about the same. Hiroshima took nine seconds; Changchun took five months.”
On January 21, 1949, Kuomintang forces suffered massive losses against Mao’s forces. In the early morning of December 10, 1949, PLA troops laid siege to Chengdu, the last KMT-occupied city in mainland China, and Chiang Kai-shek evacuated from the mainland to Taiwan (Formosa) that same day.
Leadership of China
The People’s Republic of China was established on October 1, 1949. It was the culmination of over two decades of civil and international war. From 1954 to 1959, Mao was the Chairman of the PRC. During this period, Mao was called Chairman Mao (毛主席) or the Great Leader Chairman Mao (伟大领袖毛主席).
The Communist Party assumed control of all media in the country and used it to promote the image of Mao and the Party. The Nationalists under General Chiang Kai-Shek were vilified as were countries such as the United States of America and Japan. The Chinese people were exhorted to devote themselves to build and strengthen their country through Communist ideology. In his speech declaring the foundation of the PRC, Mao is famously said to have announced: “The Chinese people have stood up” (though whether he actually said it is disputed).
Mao took up residence in Zhongnanhai, a compound next to the Forbidden City in Beijing, and there he ordered the construction of an indoor swimming pool and other buildings. Mao often did his work either in bed or by the side of the pool, preferring not to wear formal clothes unless absolutely necessary, according to Dr. Li Zhisui, his personal physician. (Li’s book, The Private Life of Chairman Mao, is regarded as controversial, especially by those sympathetic to Mao.)
In October 1950, Mao made the decision to send the People’s Volunteer Army into Korea and fought against the United Nations forces led by the U.S. Historical records showed that Mao directed the PVA campaigns in the Korean War to the minute details.
Along with Land reform, during which significant numbers of landlords were beaten to death at mass meetings organized by the Communist Party as land was taken from them and given to poorer peasants, there was also the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries, which involved public executions targeting mainly former Kuomintang officials, businessmen accused of “disturbing” the market, former employees of Western companies and intellectuals whose loyalty was suspect. The U.S. State department in 1976 estimated that there may have been a million killed in the land reform, 800,000 killed in the counterrevolutionary campaign.
Mao himself claimed that a total of 700,000 people were executed during the years 1949–53. However, because there was a policy to select “at least one landlord, and usually several, in virtually every village for public execution”, the number of deaths range between 2 million and 5 million. In addition, at least 1.5 million people, perhaps as many as 4 to 6 million, were sent to “reform through labour” camps where many perished. Mao played a personal role in organizing the mass repressions and established a system of execution quotas, which were often exceeded. Nevertheless he defended these killings as necessary for the securing of power.
Muslim General Ma Bufang announced the start of the Kuomintang Islamic Insurgency in China (1950–1958), in January 9 1950, when he was in Cairo, Egypt saying that Chinese Muslims would never surrender to Communism and would fight a guerilla war against the Communists. In 1951, Bai Chongxi made a speech to the entire Muslim world calling for a war against Russia, and Bai also called upon Muslims to avoid the Indian leader Nehru, accusing him of being blind to Soviet imperialism. In 1951, Bai Chongxi made a speech to the entire Muslim world calling for a war against Russia, and Bai also called upon Muslims to avoid the Indian leader Nehru, accusing him of being blind to Soviet imperialism. Bai also called Stalin an ogre and claimed he and Mao were engineering World War Three. General Ma Liang (general), who was related to Ma Bufang, had 2,000 Chinese Muslim troops under his command around Gansu/Qinghai. Chiang Kai-shek sent agents in May 1952 to communicate with him, and Chiang offered him the post of Commander-in-chief of the 103rd Route of the Kuomintang army, which was accepted by Ma. The CIA dropped supplies such as ammunition, radios, and gold at Nagchuka to Ma Liang. Ma Yuanxiang was another Chinese Muslim General related to the Ma family. Ma Yuanxiang and Ma Liang wrecked havoc on the Communist forces. In 1953, Mao Zedong was compelled to take radical action against them.
Starting in 1951, Mao initiated two successive movements in an effort to rid urban areas of corruption by targeting wealthy capitalists and political opponents, known as the three-anti/five-anti campaigns. A climate of raw terror developed as workers denounced their bosses, wives turned on their husbands, and children informed on their parents; the victims often being humiliated at struggle sessions, a method designed to intimidate and terrify people to the maximum. Mao insisted that minor offenders be criticized and reformed or sent to labor camps, “while the worst among them should be shot.” These campaigns took several hundred thousand additional lives, the vast majority via suicide.
In Shanghai, people jumping to their deaths became so commonplace that residents avoided walking on the pavement near skyscrapers for fear that suicides might land on them. Some biographers have pointed out that driving those perceived as enemies to suicide was a common tactic during the Mao-era. For example, in his biography of Mao, Philip Short notes that in the Yan’an Rectification Movement, Mao gave explicit instructions that “no cadre is to be killed,” but in practice allowed security chief Kang Sheng to drive opponents to suicide and that “this pattern was repeated throughout his leadership of the People’s Republic.”
Following the consolidation of power, Mao launched the First Five-Year Plan (1953–58). The plan aimed to end Chinese dependence upon agriculture in order to become a world power. With the Soviet Union‘s assistance, new industrial plants were built and agricultural production eventually fell to a point where industry was beginning to produce enough capital that China no longer needed the USSR’s support. The success of the First Five Year Plan was to encourage Mao to instigate the Second Five Year Plan, the Great Leap Forward, in 1958. Mao also launched a phase of rapid collectivization. The CPC introduced price controls as well as a Chinese character simplification aimed at increasing literacy. Large scale industrialization projects were also undertaken.
Programs pursued during this time include the Hundred Flowers Campaign, in which Mao indicated his supposed willingness to consider different opinions about how China should be governed. Given the freedom to express themselves, liberal and intellectual Chinese began opposing the Communist Party and questioning its leadership. This was initially tolerated and encouraged. After a few months, Mao’s government reversed its policy and persecuted those, totalling perhaps 500,000, who criticized, as well as those who were merely alleged to have criticized, the Party in what is called the Anti-Rightist Movement. Authors such as Jung Chang have alleged that the Hundred Flowers Campaign was merely a ruse to root out “dangerous” thinking.
Others such as Dr Li Zhisui have suggested that Mao had initially seen the policy as a way of weakening those within his party who opposed him, but was surprised by the extent of criticism and the fact that it began to be directed at his own leadership. It was only then that he used it as a method of identifying and subsequently persecuting those critical of his government. The Hundred Flowers movement led to the condemnation, silencing, and death of many citizens, also linked to Mao’s Anti-Rightist Movement, with death tolls possibly in the millions