Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Series-Disabled Legend Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong was born on 26 December, 1893 in a village called Shaoshan in Xiangtan County (湘潭縣), Hunan province and died on 9 September, 1976. Mao Zedong was a Chinese military and political leader who led the Communist Party of China (CPC) to victory against the Kuomintang (KMT) in the Chinese Civil War, and was the leader of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from its establishment in 1949 until his death in 1976.

Regarded as one of the most important figures in modern world history, and named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century, Mao Zedong is still a controversial figure today, over 30 years after his death. Mao Zedong is generally held in high regard in mainland China where he is often portrayed as a great revolutionary and strategist who eventually defeated Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in the Chinese Civil War, and transformed the country into a major power through his policies. However, many of Mao Zedong’s socio-political programmes such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution are blamed by critics from both within and outside China for causing severe damage to the culture, society, economy and foreign relations of China, as well as a probable death toll in the tens of millions.

Although still officially venerated in China, his influence has been largely overshadowed by the political and economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping and other leaders since his death. Mao Zedong is also recognised as a poet and calligrapher.

The eldest child of a relatively prosperous peasant family, his ancestors migrated from Jiangxi province during the Ming Dynasty, and had settled there as farmers. Mao Zedong’s father was Mao Jen-sheng, a peasant farmer. Mao Zedong’s good friend Chan Pak-Lam guided Mao Zedong in his youth. Wen Chi-mei, his mother, was a very devout Buddhist. Due to his family’s relative wealth, his father was able to send him to school and later to Changsha for more advanced schooling.

During the 1911 Revolution, Mao Zedong enlisted as a soldier in a local regiment in Hunan which fought on the side of the revolutionaries. Once the Qing Dynasty had been effectively toppled, Mao Zedong left the army and returned to school.

After graduating from the First Provincial Normal School of Hunan in 1918, Mao Zedong travelled with Professor Yang Changji, his high school teacher and future father-in-law, to Beijing during the May Fourth Movement in 1919.

Professor Yang held a faculty position at Peking University. Because of Professor Yang’s recommendation, Mao Zedong worked as an assistant librarian at the University with Li Dazhao as curator. Mao Zedong registered as a part-time student at Beijing University and attended many lectures and seminars by famous intellectuals, such as Chen Duxiu, Hu Shi, Qian Xuantong, etc. During his stay in Beijing, he read as much as possible, and through his readings, he was introduced to Communist theories. Mao Zedong married Yang Kaihui, Professor Yang’s daughter who was his fellow student, despite an existing marriage arranged by his father at home. Mao Zedong never acknowledged this marriage. In October 1930, the Guomindang (GMD) captured Yang Kaihui with her son, Anying. The GMD imprisoned them both and Anying, then, was later sent to his relatives after the GMD killed his mother, Yang Kaihui. At this time , Mao Zedong was living with a co-worker, He Zizhen, a 17 year old girl from Yongxing, Jiangxi. Mao Zedong turned down an opportunity to study in France because he firmly believed that China’s problems could be studied and resolved only within China. Unlike his contemporaries, Mao Zedong concentrated on studying the peasant majority of China’s population.

On 23 July, 1921, Mao, age 27, attended the first session of the National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Shanghai. 2 years later, he was elected as 1 of the 5 commissars of the Central Committee of the Party during the 3rd Congress session. Later that year (1923), Mao Zedong returned to Hunan at the instruction of the CPC Central Committee and the Kuomintang Central Committee to organise the Hunan branch of the Kuomintang. In 1924, he was a delegate to the 1st National Conference of the Kuomintang, where he was elected an Alternate Executive of the Central Committee. In 1924, he became an Executive of the Shanghai branch of the Kuomintang, and Secretary of the Organisation Department.

For a while, Mao Zedong remained in Shanghai, an important city that the CPC emphasised for the Revolution. However, the Party encountered major difficulties organising labor union movements and building a relationship with its nationalist ally, the Kuomintang. The Party had become poor, and Mao Zedong was disillusioned with the revolution and moved back to Shaoshan. During his stay at home, Mao Zedong’s interest in the revolution was rekindled after hearing of the 1925 uprisings in Shanghai and Guangzhou. Mao Zedong’s political ambitions returned, and he then went to Guangdong, the base of the Kuomintang, and took part in the preparations for the 2nd session of the National Congress of Kuomintang. In October 1925, Mao Zedong became acting Propaganda Director of the Kuomintang.

In early 1927, Mao Zedong returned to Hunan where, in an urgent meeting held by the Communist Party, he made a report based on his investigations of the peasant uprisings in the wake of the Northern Expedition. This is considered the initial and decisive step towards the successful application of Mao Zedong’s revolutionary theories.

Mao Zedong had a great interest in the political system, encouraged by his father. Mao Zedong’s 2 most famous essays, both from 1937, ‘On Contradiction’ and ‘On Practice’, are concerned with the practical strategies of a revolutionary movement and stress the importance of practical, grassroots knowledge, obtained through experience. Both essays reflect the guerrilla roots of Maoism in the need to build up support in the countryside against a Japanese occupying force and emphasise the need to win over ‘hearts and minds’ through ‘education’. The essays, reproduced later as part of the ‘Red Book, warn against the behaviour of the blindfolded man trying to catch sparrows, and the ‘Imperial envoy’ descending from his carriage to ‘spout opinions’.

In addition to his limited formal education, Mao Zedong spent 6 months studying independently. Mao Zedong was first introduced to communism while working at Peking University, and in 1921 he co-founded the Communist Party of China (or CPC) Mao Zedong first encountered Marxism while he worked as a library assistant at Peking University.

Other important influences on Mao Zedong were the Russian revolution and, according to some scholars, the Chinese literary works: Outlaws of the Marsh and Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Mao Zedong sought to subvert the alliance of imperialism and feudalism in China. Mao Zedong thought the Nationalists to be both economically and politically vulnerable and thus that the revolution could not be steered by Nationalists.

Throughout the 1920s, Mao Zedong led several labour struggles based upon his studies of the propagation and organisation of the contemporary labour movements. However, these struggles were successfully subdued by the government, and Mao Zedong fled from Changsha after he was labeled a radical activist. Mao Zedong pondered these failures and finally realised that industrial workers were unable to lead the revolution because they made up only a small portion of China’s population, and unarmed labour struggles could not resolve the problems of imperial and feudal suppression.

Mao Zedong began to depend on Chinese peasants who later became staunch supporters of his theory of violent revolution. This dependence on the rural rather than the urban proletariat to instigate violent revolution distinguished Mao Zedong from his predecessors and contemporaries. Mao Zedong himself was from a peasant family, and thus he cultivated his reputation among the farmers and peasants and introduced them to Marxism.

In 1927, Mao Zedong conducted the famous Autumn Harvest Uprising in Changsha, Hunan, as commander-in-chief. Mao Zedong 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 Zedong re-organised the scattered soldiers, rearranging the military division into smaller regiments. Mao Zedong 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 Zedong persuaded 2 local insurgent leaders to pledge their allegiance to him. There, Mao Zedong joined his army with that of Zhu De, creating the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army of China, Red Army in short. (the Fourth Front of Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army of China).

From 1931 to 1934, Mao Zedong helped establish the Soviet Republic of China and was elected Chairman of this small republic in the mountainous areas in Jiangxi. Here, Mao Zedong was married to He Zizhen. Mao Zedong’s previous wife, Yang Kaihui, had been arrested and executed in 1930, just 3 years after their departure.

In Jiangxi, Mao Zedong’s authoritative domination, especially that of the military force, was challenged by the Jiangxi branch of the CPC and military officers. Mao Zedong’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 Zedong’s land policies and proposals to reform the local party branch and army leadership. Mao Zedong reacted first by accusing the opponents of opportunism and kulakism and then set off a series of systematic suppressions of them. It is reported that horrible forms of torture and killing took place. Jung Chang and Jon Halliday claim that victims were subjected to a red-hot gun-rod being rammed into the anus, and that there were many cases of cutting open the stomach and scooping out the heart. The estimated number of the victims amounted to several thousands and could be as high as 186,000. Critics accuse Mao Zedong’s authority in Jiangxi was secured and reassured through the revolutionary terrorism, or red terrorism.

Mao Zedong, 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 Zedong’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 Zedong’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 10 regions, usually entitled “soviet areas,” under control of the CPC. The prosperity of “soviet areas” startled and worried Chiang Kai-shek, chairman of the Kuomintang government, who waged 5 waves of besieging campaigns against the “central soviet area.” More than 1,000,000 Kuomintang soldiers were involved in these 5 campaigns, 4 out of which were defeated by the red army led by Mao Zedong. 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 pressures from the KMT encirclement campaigns, there was a struggle for power within the Communist leadership. Mao Zedong 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 Kai-shek, 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 Zedong emerged as the top Communist leader, aided by the Zunyi Conference and the defection of Zhou Enlai to Mao Zedong’s side. At this Conference, Mao Zedong 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 Zedong led the Communist resistance against the Japanese in the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). However, Mao Zedong’s further consolidated power over the Communist Party in 1942 by launching the Zheng Feng, or “Rectification” campaign against rival CPC members such as Wang Ming, Wang Shiwei, and Ding Ling. Also while in Yan’an, Mao Zedong divorced He Zizhen and married the actress Lan Ping, who would become known as Jiang Qing.

During the Sino-Japanese War, Mao Zedong’s strategies 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 Zedong’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 Zedong 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. However, the Nationalists were better equipped and did most of the fighting against the Japanese army in China.

In 1944, the Americans sent a special diplomatic envoy, called the Dixie Mission, to the Communist Party of China.

Most of the Americans were favorably impressed. The CPC seemed less corrupt, more unified, and more vigorous in its resistance to Japan than the Guomindang. 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.

Then again, modern commentators have disputed such claims. Amongst others, Willy Lam stated that during the war with Japan:

The great majority of casualties sustained by Chinese soldiers were borne by KMT, not Communist divisions. Mao Zedong and other guerrilla leaders decided at the time to conserve their strength for the “larger struggle” of taking over all of China once the Japanese Imperial Army was decimated by the U.S.-led Allied Forces.

After the end of World War II, the U.S. continued to support Chiang Kai-shek, now openly against the Communist Red 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 Zedong (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.

On 21 January, 1949 Kuomintang forces suffered massive losses against Mao Zedong’s Red Army. In the early morning of December 10, 1949, Red Army 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.

Chinese poster depicting Mao as “the Helmsman”, his revolutionary epitaph, 1969
Stalin and Mao Zedong depicted on a Chinese postage stampThe People’s Republic of China was established on 1 October, 1949. It was the culmination of over 2 decades of civil and international war. From 1954 to 1959, Mao Zedong was the Chairman of the PRC. During this period, Mao Zedong 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. In his speech declaring the foundation of the PRC, Mao announced: “The Chinese people have stood up!”

Mao Zedong 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 Zedong 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.)

Mao Zedong’s first political campaigns after founding the People’s Republic were land reform and the suppression of counter-revolutionaries, which centered on mass executions, often before organised crowds. These campaigns of mass repression targeted former KMT officials, businessmen, former employees of Western companies, intellectuals whose loyalty was suspect, and significant numbers of rural gentry. The U.S. State department in 1976 estimated that there may have been 1,000,000 killed in the land reform, 800,000 killed in the counterrevolutionary campaign. Mao Zedong himself claimed a total of 700,000 killed during the years between 1949 to 1953. However, because there was a policy to select “at least 1 landlord, and usually several, in virtually every village for public execution”, 1, 000,000 deaths seem to be an absolute minimum, and many authors agree on a figure of between 2,000,000 and 5,000,000 dead. In addition, at least 1.5,000,000 people were sent to “reform through labour” camps. Mao Zedong’s personal role in ordering mass executions is undeniable. Mao Zedong defended these killings as necessary for the securing of power.

Following the consolidation of power, Mao Zedong launched the 1st 5 Year Plan from 1953 to 1958. The plan aimed to end Chinese dependence upon agriculture in order to become a world power. With the USSR’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 1st 5 Year Plan was to encourage Mao Zedong to instigate the 2nd 5 Year Plan, the Great Leap Forward, in 1958. Mao Zedong also launched a phase of rapid collectivisation. The CPC introduced price controls as well as a Chinese character simplification aimed at increasing literacy. Land was taken from landlords and more wealthy peasants and given to poorer peasants. Large scale industrialisation projects were also undertaken.

Programmes pursued during this time include the Hundred Flowers Campaign, in which Mao Zedong 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 Zedong’s government reversed its policy and persecuted those, totalling perhaps 500,000, who criticised, and were merely alleged to have criticised, 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 Zedong 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.

In January 1958, Mao Zedong launched the 2nd 5 Year Plan known as the Great Leap Forward, a plan intended as an alternative model for economic growth to the Soviet model focusing on heavy industry that was advocated by others in the party. Under this economic program, the relatively small agricultural collectives which had been formed to date were rapidly merged into far larger people’s communes, and many of the peasants ordered to work on massive infrastructure projects and the small-scale production of iron and steel. All private food production was banned; livestock and farm implements were brought under collective ownership.

Under the Great Leap Forward, Mao Zedong and other party leaders ordered the implementation of a variety of unproven and unscientific new agricultural techniques by the new communes. Combined with the diversion of labor to steel production and infrastructure projects and the reduced personal incentives under a commune system this led to an approximately 15% drop in grain production in 1959 followed by further 10% reduction in 1960 and no recovery in 1961. In an effort to win favour with their superiors and avoid being purged, each layer in the party hierarchy exaggerated the amount of grain produced under them and based on the fabricated success, party cadres were ordered to requisition a disproportionately high amount of the true harvest for state use primarily in the cities and urban areas but also for export. The net result, which was compounded in some areas by drought and in others by floods, was that the rural peasants were not left enough to eat and many millions starved to death in what is thought to be the largest famine in human history. This famine was a direct cause of the death of tens of millions of Chinese peasants between 1959 and 1962. Further, many children who became emaciated and malnourished during years of hardship and struggle for survival, died shortly after the Great Leap Forward came to an end in 1962.

The extent of Mao Zedong’s knowledge as to the severity of the situation has been disputed. According to some, most notably Dr. Li Zhisui, Mao was not aware of anything more than a mild food and general supply shortage until late 1959.

“But I do not think that when he spoke on 2 July, 1959, he knew how bad the disaster had become, and he believed the party was doing everything it could to manage the situation” Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, in Mao: the Unknown Story, alleged that Mao knew of the vast suffering and that he was dismissive of it, blaming bad weather or other officials for the famine.

“Although slaughter was not his purpose with the Leap, he was more than ready for myriad deaths to result, and hinted to his top echelon that they should not be too shocked if they happened (438-439).”

Whatever the case, the Great Leap Forward led to millions of deaths in China. Mao Zedong lost esteem among many of the top party cadres and was eventually forced to abandon the policy in 1962, also losing some political power to moderate leaders, notably Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping. However, Mao Zedong and national propaganda claimed that he was only partly to blame. As a result, he was able to remain Chairman of the Communist Party, with the Presidency transferred to Liu Shaoqi.

The Great Leap Forward was a disaster for China. Although the steel quotas were officially reached, almost all of it made in the countryside was useless lumps of iron, as it had been made from assorted scrap metal in home made furnaces with no reliable source of fuel such as coal. According to Zhang Rongmei, a geometry teacher in rural Shanghai during the Great Leap Forward:

We took all the furniture, pots, and pans we had in our house, and all our neighbors did likewise. We put all everything in a big fire and melted down all the metal.

Moreover, most of the dams, canals and other infrastructure projects, which millions of peasants and prisoners had been forced to toil on and in many cases die for, proved useless as they had been built without the input of trained engineers, whom Mao Zedong had rejected on ideological grounds.

Several leaders expressed concern that the Great Leap Forward was not as successful as planned. The most direct of these was Minister of Defence and Korean War General Peng Dehuai. Mao Zedong, fearing loss of his position, orchestrated a purge of Peng and his supporters, stifling criticism of the Great Leap policies.

There is a great deal of controversy over the number of deaths by starvation during the Great Leap Forward. Until the mid 1980s, when official census figures were finally published by the Chinese Government, little was known about the scale of the disaster in the Chinese countryside, as the handful of Western observers allowed access during this time had been restricted to model villages where they were deceived into believing that Great Leap Forward had been a great success. There was also an assumption that the flow of individual reports of starvation that had been reaching the West, primarily through Hong Kong and Taiwan, must be localised or exaggerated as China was continuing to claim record harvests and was a net exporter of grain through the period. Censuses were carried out in China in 1953, 1964 and 1982. The first attempt to analyse this data in order to estimate the number of famine deaths was carried out by American demographer Dr Judith Banister and published in 1984. Given the lengthy gaps between the censuses and doubts over the reliability of the data, an accurate figure is difficult to ascertain. Nevertheless, Banister concluded that the official data implied that around 15,000,000 excess deaths incurred in China during 1958 to 1961 and that based on her modelling of Chinese demographics during the period and taking account of assumed underreporting during the famine years, the figure was around 30,000,000. The official statistic is 20,000,000 deaths, as given by Hu Yaobang. Various other sources have put the figure between 20,000,000 and 72,000,000.

On the international front, the period was dominated by the further isolation of China, due to start of the Sino-Soviet split which resulted in Khrushchev withdrawing all Soviet technical experts and aid from the country. The split was triggered by border disputes, and arguments over the control and direction of world communism, and other disputes pertaining to foreign policy. Most of the problems regarding communist unity resulted from the death of Stalin and his replacement by Khrushchev. Stalin had established himself as the successor of “correct” Marxist thought well before Mao Zedong controlled the Communist Party of China, and therefore Mao Zedong never challenged the suitability of any Stalinist doctrine (at least while Stalin was alive). Upon the death of Stalin, Mao Zedong believed (perhaps because of seniority) that the leadership of the “correct” Marxist doctrine would fall to him. The resulting tension between Khrushchev (at the head of a politically/militarily superior government), and Mao Zedong (believing he had a superior understanding of Marxist ideology) eroded the previous patron-client relationship between the CPSU and CPC. In China, the formerly favourable Soviets were now denounced as “revisionists” and listed alongside “American imperialism” as movements to oppose.

Partly-surrounded by hostile American military bases (reaching from South Korea, Japan, Okinawa, and Taiwan), China was now confronted with a new Soviet threat from the north and west. Both the internal crisis and the external threat called for extraordinary statesmanship from Mao Zedong, but as China entered the new decade the statesmen of the People’s Republic were in hostile confrontation with each other.

At a large Communist Party conference in Beijing in January 1962, called the “Conference of the 7,000” State President Liu Shaoqi denounced the Great Leap Forward as responsible for widespread famine. The overwhelming majority of delegates expressed agreement, but Defense Minister Lin Biao staunchly defended Mao Zedong A brief period of liberalisation followed while Mao Zedong and Lin plotted a comeback. Liu and Deng Xiaoping rescued the economy by disbanding the people’s communes, introducing elements of private control of peasant smallholdings and importing grain from Canada and Australia to mitigate the worst effects of famine.

Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping’s prominence gradually became a challenge to Mao Zedong’s position of power. Liu and Deng, then the State President and General Secretary, respectively, had favoured the idea that Mao Zedong should be removed from actual power but maintain his ceremonial and symbolic role, and the party will uphold all of his positive contributions to the revolution. They attempted to marginalise Mao Zedong by taking control of economic policy and asserting themselves politically as well.

Facing the prospect of losing his place on the political stage, Mao Zedong responded to Liu and Deng’s movements by launching the Cultural Revolution in 1966. Under the pretext that certain liberal “bourgeois” elements of society, labeled as class enemies, continue to threaten the socialist framework under the existing dictatorship of the proletariat, the idea that a Cultural Revolution must continue after armed struggle allowed Mao Zedong to circumvent the Communist hierarchy by giving power directly to the Red Guards, groups of young people, often teenagers, who set up their own tribunals. Chaos reigned over the country, and millions were prosecuted, including a famous philosopher, Chen Yuen. During the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong closed the schools in China and the young intellectuals living in cities were ordered to the countryside. They were forced to manufacture weapons for the Red Army. The Revolution led to the destruction of much of China’s cultural heritage and the imprisonment of a huge number of Chinese citizens, as well as creating general economic and social chaos in the country. Millions of lives were ruined during this period, as the Cultural Revolution pierced into every part of Chinese life, depicted by such Chinese films as To Live, The Blue Kite and Farewell My Concubine. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, perished in the violence of the Cultural Revolution. When Mao Zedong was informed of such losses, particularly that people had been driven to suicide, he blithely commented: “People who try to commit suicide — don’t attempt to save them! . . . China is such a populous nation, it is not as if we cannot do without a few people.”

It was during this period that Mao Zedong chose Lin Biao, who seemed to echo all of Mao Zedong’s ideas, to become his successor. Mao Zedong and Lin Biao formed an alliance leading up to the Cultural Revolution in order for the purges to succeed. Mao Zedong needed Lin’s clout for his plan to work. In return, Lin was made Mao Zedong’s successor. By 1971, however, because of Lin’s grip over the military and Mao Zedong’s own paranoia, a divide between the 2 men became clear, and it was unclear whether Lin was planning a military coup or an assassination attempt. Lin Biao died trying to flee China, probably anticipating his arrest, in a suspicious plane crash over Mongolia. It was declared that Lin was planning to depose Mao Zedong, and he was posthumously expelled from the CPC. At this time, Mao Zedong lost trust in many of the top CPC figures. The highest-ranking Soviet Bloc intelligence defector, Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa described his conversation with Nicolae Ceauşescu who told him about a plot to kill Mao Zedong with the help of Lin Biao organised by KGB.

In 1969, Mao Zedong 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 Zedong’s death. In the last years of his life, Mao Zedong was faced with declining health due to either Parkinson’s disease or, according to Li Zhisui, motor neurone disease, as well as lung ailments due to smoking and heart trouble. Mao Zedong remained passive as various factions within the Communist Party mobilised for the power struggle anticipated after his death.

At 5:00 in the afternoon of 2 September, 1976, Mao Zedong suffered another myocardial infarction (heart attack), far more severe than the previous 2 and affecting a much larger area of his heart. Mao Zedong’s body was giving out. The personal doctors group began emergency treatment immediately. X-rays indicated that his lung infection had worsened, and his urine output dropped to less than 300 cc a day. Mao Zedong was awake and alert throughout the crisis and asked several times whether he was in danger. Mao Zedong’s condition continued to fluctuate and his life hung in the balance. 3 days later, on 5 September Mao Zedong’s condition was still critical, and Hua Guofeng called Jiang Qing back from her trip. Jiang Qing spent only a few moments in Building 202 before returning to her own residence in the Spring Lotus Chamber. On the afternoon of 7 September, Mao Zedong took a turn for the worse. Jiang Qing came to Building 202 (where Mao Zedong was staying) where she learned the news. Mao Zedong had just fallen asleep and needed the rest, but she insisted on rubbing his back and moving his limbs, and she sprinkled powder on his body. The medical team protested that the dust from the powder was not good for his lungs, but she instructed the nurses on duty to follow her example later. The next morning, 8 September, she came again. Jiang Qing wanted the medical staff to change Mao Zedong’s sleeping position, claiming that he had been lying too long on his left side. The doctor on duty objected, knowing that he could breathe only on his left side, but she had him moved nonetheless. Mao Zedong’s breathing stopped and his face turned blue. Jiang Qing left the room while the medical staff put him on a respirator and performed emergency cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Mao Zedong barely revived, and Hua Guofeng urged Jiang Qing not to interfere further with the doctor’s work, as her actions contributed to Mao Zedong’s death. Mao Zedong was taken off life support few minutes after midnight, 9 September was chosen because it was an easy day to remember. Mao Zedong had been in poor health for several years and had declined visibly for some months prior to his death. Mao Zedong was a chain smoker. Mao Zedong’s body lay in state at the Great Hall of the People. A memorial service was held in Tiananmen Square on 18 September, 1976. There was a 3 minute silence observed during this service. Mao Zedong’s body was later placed into the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, although he wished to be cremated and had been 1 of the 1st high-ranking officials to sign the “Proposal that all Central Leaders be Cremated after Death” in November 1956.

Mao Zedong’s figure is largely symbolic both in China and in the global communist movement as a whole. During the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong’s already glorified image manifested into a personality cult that stretched into every part of Chinese life. Mao Zedong presented himself as an enemy of landowners, businessmen, and Western and American imperialism, as well as an ally of impoverised peasants, farmers and workers.

At the 1958 Party congress in Chengdu, Mao Zedong expressed support for the idea of personality cults if they venerated figures who were genuinely worthy of adulation:

“ There are two kinds of personality cults. One is a healthy personality cult, that is, to worship men like Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin. Because they hold the truth in their hands. The other is a false personality cult, i.e. not analyzed and blind worship. ”

In 1962, Mao Zedong proposed the Socialist Education Movement (SEM) in an attempt to educate the peasants to resist the temptations of feudalism and the sprouts of capitalism that he saw re-emerging in the countryside (due to Liu’s economic reforms). Large quantities of politicised art were produced and circulated — with Mao Zedong at the centre. Numerous posters and musical compositions referred to Mao Zedong as “A red sun in the centre of our hearts” (我们心中的红太阳) and a “Savior of the people” (人民的大救星).

The Cult of Mao Zedong proved vital in starting the Cultural Revolution. China’s youth had mostly been brought up during the Communist era, and they had been told to love Mao Zedong. Thus they were his greatest supporters. Their feelings for him were so strong that many followed his urge to challenge all established authority.

In October 1966, Mao Zedong’s Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, which was known as the Little Red Book was published. Party members were encouraged to carry a copy with them and possession was almost mandatory as a criterion for membership. Over the years, Mao Zedong’s image became displayed almost everywhere, present in homes, offices and shops. Mao Zedong’s quotations were typographically emphasised by putting them in boldface or red type in even the most obscure writings. Music from the period emphasized Mao Zedong’s stature, as did children’s rhymes. The phrase Long Live Chairman Mao Zedong for 10,000 years was commonly heard during the era, which was traditionally a phrase reserved for the reigning Emperor.

After the Cultural Revolution, there are some people who still worship Mao Zedong in family altars or even temples for Mao Zedong.

As anticipated after Mao Zedong’s death, there was a power struggle for control of China. On one side was the left wing led by the Gang of Four, who wanted to continue the policy of revolutionary mass mobilisation. On the other side was the right wing opposing these policies. Among the latter group, the restorationists, led by Chairman Hua Guofeng, advocated a return to central planning along the Soviet model, whereas the reformers, led by Deng Xiaoping, wanted to overhaul the Chinese economy based on market-oriented policies and to de-emphasize the role of Maoist ideology in determining economic and political policy. Eventually, the reformers won control of the government. Deng Xiaoping, with clear seniority over Hua Guofeng, defeated Hua in a bloodless power struggle a few years later.

Mao Zedong’s legacy has produced a large amount of controversy. Many historians and academics are critical of Mao Zedong, especially his many campaigns to suppress political enemies and gain international renown, some comparing him to Hitler and Stalin.

Supporters of Mao Zedong credit him with advancing the social and economic development of Chinese society. They point out that before 1949, for instance, the illiteracy rate in Mainland China was 80%, and life expectancy was a meager 35 years. At his death, illiteracy had declined to less than 7%, and average life expectancy had increased to more than 70 years (alternative statistics also quote improvements, though not nearly as dramatic). In addition to these increases, the total population of China increased 57% to 700,000,000, from the constant 400,000,000 mark during the span between the Opium War and the Chinese Civil War. Supporters also state that, under Mao Zedong’s government, China ended its “Century of Humiliation” from Western and Japanese imperialism and regained its status as a major world power. They also state their belief that Mao Zedong also industrialised China to a considerable extent and ensured China’s sovereignty during his rule. Many, including some of Mao Zedong’s supporters, view the Kuomintang, which Mao Zedong drove off the mainland, as having been corrupt.

They also argue that the Maoist era improved women’s rights by abolishing prostitution, a phenomenon that was to return after Deng Xiaoping and post-Maoist CPC leaders increased liberalisation of the economy. Indeed, Mao Zedong once famously remarked that “Women hold up half the heavens”. A popular slogan during the Cultural Revolution was, “Break the chains, unleash the fury of women as a mighty force for revolution!”

Skeptics observe that similar gains in literacy and life expectancy occurred after 1949 on the small neighboring island of Taiwan, which was ruled by Mao Zedong’s opponents, namely Chiang Kai-Shek and the Kuomintang, even though they themselves perpetrated substantial repression in their own right. The government that continued to rule Taiwan was composed of the same people ruling the Mainland for over 20 years when life expectancy was so low, yet life expectancy there also increased. A counterpoint, however, is that the United States helped Taiwan with aid, along with Japan and other countries, until the early 1960s when Taiwan asked that the aid cease. The mainland was under economic sanctions from the same countries for many years. The mainland also broke with the USSR after disputes, which had been aiding it.

Another comparison has been between India and China. Noam Chomsky commented on a study by the Indian economist Amartya Sen.

Amartya Sen observes that India and China had “similarities that were quite striking” when development planning began 50 years ago, including death rates. “But there is little doubt that as far as morbidity, mortality and longevity are concerned, China has a large and decisive lead over India” (in education and other social indicators as well). In both cases, the outcomes have to do with the “ideological predispositions” of the political systems: for China, relatively equitable distribution of medical resources, including rural health services and public distribution of food, all lacking in India.
The United States placed a trade embargo on China as a result of its involvement in the Korean War, lasting until Richard Nixon decided that developing relations with China would be useful in also dealing with the Soviet Union.

Mao Zedong’s military writings continue to have a large amount of influence both among those who seek to create an insurgency and those who seek to crush one, especially in manners of guerrilla warfare, at which Mao Zedong is popularly regarded as a genius. As an example, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) followed Mao Zedong’s examples of guerrilla warfare.

The ideology of Maoism has influenced many communists around the world, including Third World revolutionary movements such as Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, The Communist Party of Peru, and the revolutionary movement in Nepal. The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA also claims Marxism-Leninism-Maoism as its ideology, as do other Communist Parties around the world which are part of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement. China itself has moved sharply away from Maoism since Mao Zedong’s death, and most people outside of China who describe themselves as Maoist regard the Deng Xiaoping reforms to be a betrayal of Maoism, in line with Mao Zedong’s view of “Capitalist roaders” within the Communist Party.

As the Chinese government instituted free market economic reforms starting in the late 1970s and as later Chinese leaders took power, less recognition was given to the status of Mao Zedong. This accompanied a decline in state recognition of Mao Zedong in later years in contrast to previous years when the state organised numerous events and seminars commemorating Mao Zedong’s 100th birthday. Nevertheless, the Chinese government has never officially repudiated the tactics of Mao Zedong.

In the mid-1990s, Mao Zedong’s picture began to appear on all new renminbi currency from the People’s Republic of China. This was officially instituted as an anti-counterfeiting measure as Mao Zedong’s face is widely recognised in contrast to the generic figures that appear in older currency. On 13 March, 2006 a story in the People’s Daily reported that a proposal had been made to print the portraits of Sun Yat-sen and Deng Xiaoping.

In 2006, the government in Shanghai issued a new set of high school history textbooks which omit Mao Zedong, with the exception of a single mention in a section on etiquette. Students in Shanghai now only learn about Mao Zedong in junior high school.

Mao Zedong lived in the government complex in Zhongnanhai, Beijing.

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