Term Paper: Mao Zedong

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Mao Zedong

Born on December 26, 1893, in Hunan province, Mao Zedong was a product of rural China. Lacking access to a telephone, a telegraph system, or even a local newspaper, he had to rely on his own devices in shaping his own impressions of the outside world.6 in keeping with his maverick image, he later recalled how as a youth he enjoyed reading historical romances, featuring "tales of heroic bandits" who fought against social injustice, callous bureaucrats, and court corruption. 7 His father, who had become a fairly wealthy farmer and grain dealer, was a stern, autocratic disciplinarian, who contributed, albeit unintentionally, to Mao's identification "with the great rebels of the past." Raised in the tradition of the Confucian classics and influenced by his own "romantic sense of self and history," Mao describes how at the age of thirteen he staged "a strike" against his father and later made an alliance with his mother -- a devout Buddhist -- his brother, and a household laborer to form "the Opposition" or a "United Front" and challenge his father's authority as "the Ruling Power" within the family. His personal rebellion enabled him to attend a newer, more modern school, where he was exposed to more "radical" Western educational thinking and methods. He then entered the Hunan Normal School, where he developed his interest in Western ideas, the social sciences, and such historical figures as Peter the Great, Napoleon, and George Washington in their roles as "warriors and nation builders." In keeping with the formation of his new political outlook, he also familiarized himself with the burgeoning national revolutionary movement within China, led by Sun Yat-sen, who espoused the principles of nationalism, democracy, and socialism.

As Mao continued to grow politically, he soon discovered the world of newspapers and acquired what he described as "the newspaper reading habit." He even admitted to having engaged as a student in some of his own "muddled" exercises in political journalism. Instinctively attuned to the politics of his time, he was deeply moved by the outbreak of the 1911 revolution and joined the ranks of the revolutionary army.

Mao, who was now imbued with the revolutionary spirit, was nonetheless at a loss for political direction. "Confused, looking for a road," and lacking a firm political foundation, he spent the next four or five years searching for his own political identity, reading independently, and participating in student organizations and study groups, the most important of which was the New People's Study Society.

Mao immersed himself in his work as editor of the Hunan student newspaper and committed himself to revolutionary politics. Ideologically, he capitalized on the movement's abandonment of liberalism in favor of Marxist theory and its emphasis on cooperation between students and workers in promoting a socialist revolution. His exposure to Marxist thought also convinced him that scientific socialism provided him with the most reliable basis for the study of social conflict.

Stemming in part from intellectual dialectics, political polemics, native cultural traditions, and the dynamics of Sino-Soviet politics, Mao's relationship to Marxism has always been a complex issue. For example, it was only after the Bolshevik Revolution that Marxism became an important political force in China. And it was only in 1920 that Mao was able to read a complete translation of the Communist Manifesto. Once he accepted the Marxist perspective, however, his conversion was complete, and he would later celebrate communism as "the most complete, progressive, revolutionary and rational system in human history." As one who had flirted at times with anarchism and grappled with the tenets of permanent revolution, he also felt strongly that Chinese nationalism needed to balance the goals of the international proletariat with the needs of the Chinese people and their revolution.

Though his acquaintance with Marxism was in many respects limited, his commitment to the pursuit of a liberating revolutionary ideal was total. He based his expansive revolutionary outlook on the following assumption: "change people's thoughts and you change them, change the Chinese people and China changes, and a changed China could change the world." In time he would develop his own form of revolutionary Marxism, which transcended the elitist tenets of Confucian intellectuals, who viewed the peasants as dirty and ignorant, and the industrial bias of western Marxists, who favored the urban proletariat. He did so by drawing upon China's feudal tradition of peasant wars and uprisings and by capitalizing on his ability to transform the revolutionary potential of the peasantry into a massive agricultural proletariat. Mao's revolutionary ideas also produced a new social and intellectual reconfiguration among China's educated elite. By challenging the rigorous intellectual assumptions of the past, it spawned a new cultural phenomenon wherein many of "the literate men" of China, who had always sought "to rise above the people," were now willing "to share [their] knowledge with the 'dark masses'" and in some cases "even idealize them."

For now, however, Mao turned his attention to the formation of the Chinese Communist Party. He attended the founding congress of the party in Shanghai in July 1921 and became active in its organizational structure. Although the Soviets played a major role in providing theoretical guidance, instructional aid, and advisers to the Chinese communists, the party remained primarily an "indigenous" political "phenomenon." Its leadership, however, did not question the political wisdom of the Soviet line, nor did it challenge the responsibility of communist parties to adhere to the policies put forth by the Third International in Moscow, which Lenin had created to promote the cause of worldwide proletarian revolution.

Given the momentous significance of the Bolshevik revolution and the uneven development of Marxist revolution around the world, it did not come as a surprise that revolutionary Marxists routinely deferred to the Soviet Union as the model of proletarian revolution and looked to Moscow for political guidance and direction. In keeping with these new historical developments, Chinese communists celebrated Lenin's revolutionary leadership, respected Stalin's prominent position within the revolutionary movement, and drew hope and ideological inspiration from the Bolshevik Revolution. Though materially disadvantaged and fighting "with less foreign help than any army in modern Chinese history," the communists would ultimately prevail through a policy of tenacious self-reliance and a strategy of basing their political and military effort on the support of the people.

One of the key components of the emerging national revolution was the desire to free China from the weight of the European and Japanese imperialists. Mao frequently exhibited his own abiding contempt for the foreigners, who routinely humiliated the Chinese people and rudely posted signs such as the one outside a park in Shanghai that read "Chinese and dogs not allowed." In his desire to wage a campaign against foreign oppression and exploitation, Mao enthusiastically embraced Moscow's policy of a "united front" and endorsed the attempt to promote cooperation between communist and nationalist forces.

Armed with a Marxist, populist conviction that the land belonged to those who till it, Mao was able to use his role as director of the Peasant Movement Training Institute to plant the seeds for "the agrarian revolution." Though Mao's early organizational efforts reflected his innovative, structurally creative nature, it would be a mistake to conclude that he had already embarked on his own course of revolutionary Marxism. As Stuart Schram observed, Mao, who was still but "an apprentice" in the study of Marxist-Leninist thought, did not acquire "an adequate grasp of Marxist theory" until his "power had crystallized in practice." But no one could doubt his "revolutionary passion [and] energy." As a modernist he sought to root out all forms of superstition and social conventions that held the peasants back. As an advocate of direct peasant revolutionary action and the leading author of an early Draft Resolution on the Land Question commissioned by the Kuomintang, Mao championed the confiscation of all land from undesirable elements of the "gentry, corrupt officials, militarists and all counter-revolutionary elements in the villages." But the opposition to the revolution among military commanders and officials, who wanted to protect their own landed interests within the Kuomintang, made it impossible to implement the terms of the declaration.

When nationalist Chinese forces massacred approximately 5,000 workers and communists in Shanghai in the spring of 1927, other issues quickly supplanted the land question. Divided as it was into one world of elegant homes, expensive cars, and lavish wardrobes and another world of factories, malnutrition, and child labor, Shanghai served as the quintessential example of a "foreign-dominated" city and as the perfect backdrop for the violent confrontation between Chinese Nationalists and communists. When the Reds called for a general strike, truckloads of thugs, armed "with a license to kill," descended upon the strikers and slaughtered thousands, even feeding some of the "victims... live into the boilers of locomotives." The Shanghai massacre was followed in turn by "a nationwide reign of terror," which accumulated approximately 300,000 victims, sparing neither age nor gender. Suddenly, it seemed as if Soviet insistence on cooperation with the Chinese nationalists was a bankrupt policy that sacrificed… [END OF PREVIEW]

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