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Mao Zedong

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Mao Zedong
Official 1960–1966 portrait of Mao Zedong
1st Chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China
In office
June 19, 1945 – September 9, 1976
1st vice-chairman Liu Shaoqi
Lin Biao
Zhou Enlai
Hua Guofeng
Preceded by Himself (as Central Politburo Chairman)
Succeeded by Hua Guofeng
1st Chairman of the Central Politburo of the Communist Party of China
In office
March 20, 1943 – April 24, 1969
Preceded by Zhang Wentian
(as Central Committee General Secretary)
Succeeded by Himself (as Central Committee Chairman)
1st Chairman of the CPC Central Military Commission
In office
August 23, 1945 – 1949
September 8, 1954 – September 9, 1976
Preceded by Position created
Succeeded by Hua Guofeng
1st Chairman of the National Committee of the CPPCC
In office
September 21, 1949 – December 25, 1954
Honorary Chairman
December 25, 1954 – September 9, 1976
Preceded by Position Created
Succeeded by Zhou Enlai
1st Chairman of the People's Republic of China
In office
September 27, 1954 – April 27, 1959
Premier Zhou Enlai
Deputy Zhu De
Preceded by Position Created
Succeeded by Liu Shaoqi
Member of the
National People's Congress
In office
September 15, 1954 – April 18, 1959
December 21, 1964 – September 9, 1976
Constituency Beijing At-large
Personal details
Born (1893-12-26)December 26, 1893
Shaoshan, Hunan
Died September 9, 1976(1976-09-09) (aged 82)
Resting place Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, Beijing
Nationality Chinese
Political party Communist Party of China
Spouse(s) Luo Yixiu (1907–1910)
Yang Kaihui (1920–1930)
He Zizhen (1930–1937)
Jiang Qing (1939–1976)
Religion None (atheist)
Mao Zedong
Simplified Chinese 毛泽东
Traditional Chinese 毛澤東
Hanyu Pinyin Máo Zédōng
[mɑ̌ʊ tsɤ̌tʊ́ŋ]
Chairman Mao
Chinese 毛主席

Mao Zedong ( simplified Chinese: 毛泽东; traditional Chinese: 毛澤東; pinyin: Máo Zédōng, also transliterated as Mao Tse-tung listen), commonly referred to as Chairman Mao (December 26, 1893 – September 9, 1976), was a Chinese communist revolutionary, and political theorist. The founding father of the People's Republic of China from its establishment in 1949, he governed the country as Chairman of the Communist Party of China until his death. In this position he converted China into a single-party socialist state, with industry and business being nationalized under state ownership and socialist reforms implemented in all areas of society. Politically a Marxist-Leninist, his theoretical contribution to the ideology along with his military strategies and brand of policies are collectively known as Maoism.

Born the son of a wealthy farmer in Shaoshan, Hunan, Mao adopted a Chinese nationalist and anti-imperialist outlook in early life, particularly influenced by the events of the Xinhai Revolution of 1911 and May Fourth Movement of 1919. Coming to adopt Marxism-Leninism, he became an early member of the Communist Party of China (CPC), soon rising to a senior position. In 1922, the Communists agreed to an alliance with the larger Kuomintang (KMT), a nationalist revolutionary party, whom Mao aided in creating a revolutionary peasant army and organizing rural land reform. In 1927 the KMT's military leader Chiang Kai-shek broke the alliance and set about on an anti-communist purge; in turn, the CPC formed an army of peasant militia, and the two sides clashed in the Chinese Civil War. Mao was responsible for commanding a part of the CPC's Red Army, and after several setbacks, rose to power in the party by leading the Long March. When the Empire of Japan invaded China in 1937, sparking the Second Sino-Japanese War, Mao agreed to a united front with the KMT, resulting in a CPC-KMT victory in 1945. The Chinese Civil War then resumed, in which Mao led the Red Army to victory as Chiang and his supporters fled to Taiwan.

In 1949 Mao proclaimed the foundation of the People's Republic of China, a one-party socialist state controlled by the Communist Party. After solidifying the reunification of China through his Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries, Mao enacted sweeping land reform, overthrowing the feudal landlords before seizing their large estates and dividing the land into people's communes. He proceeded to lead a nationwide political campaign known as the Great Leap Forward from 1958 through to 1961, designed to modernize and industrialize the country, however agrarian problems worsened by his policies led to widespread famine. In 1966, he initiated the Cultural Revolution, a program to weed out counter-revolutionary elements in Chinese society, which continued until his death.

A deeply controversial figure, Mao is regarded as one of the most important individuals in modern world history. Supporters praise him for modernizing China and building it into a world power, through promoting the status of women, improving education and health care, providing universal housing and raising life expectancy. In addition, China's population almost doubled during the period of Mao's leadership, from around 550 to over 900 million. As a result, Mao is still officially held in high regard by many Chinese as a great political strategist, military mastermind, and savior of the nation. Maoists furthermore promote his role as a theorist, statesman, poet, and visionary, who has inspired revolutionary movements across the globe. In contrast, critics have labeled him a dictator whose administration oversaw systematic human rights abuses, and whose rule is estimated to have caused the deaths of 40–70 million people mainly through starvation, forced labor and executions, placing his rule at the top of the list of most people killed by democide in human history.

Early life

Childhood: 1893–1911

Mao was born on December 26, 1893 in the rural village of Shaoshanchong in Shaoshan, Hunan Province. His father, Mao Yichang, had been born a poverty-stricken peasant, and had gained two years of education before joining the army. Returning to agriculture, he became a moneylender and grain merchant, buying up local grain and selling it in the city for a higher price, becoming one of the wealthiest farmers in Shaoshan, with 20 acres of land. Zedong described his father as a stern disciplinarian, punishing his four children—the boys Zedong, Zemin and Zetan, and an adopted girl, Zejian—for perceived wrongdoings, sometimes by beating them. His wife, Wen Qimei, was a devout Buddhist who tried to temper her husband's strict attitude. Zedong became a Buddhist, venerating a bronze statue of the Buddha, but abandoned this faith in his mid-teenage years. His father was largely irreligious, although after surviving an encounter with a tiger, gave offerings to the gods in thanks. The family lived with Yichang's father, Mao Enpu, who died when Zedong was ten.

Mao's childhood home in Shaoshan, in 2010, by which time it had become a tourist destination.

Mao's father recognised the financial value of a basic education, sending the 8-year-old Mao to the local Shaoshan Primary School. Learning the value systems of Confucianism, one of the dominant moral ideologies in China, Mao later admitted that he didn't enjoy the classical Chinese texts preaching Confucian morals, instead favouring popular novels like Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Water Margin. Reacting against his Confucian upbringing, aged 11 Mao ran away from home, heading for what he believed was a nearby town, but his father found him and brought him home.

At the age of 13, Mao finished primary education, and his father had him married to the 17-year-old Luo Yigu, uniting their land-owning families. Never living together, Mao refused to recognise her as his wife, becoming a fierce critic of arranged marriage and temporarily moving away to live with an unemployed student. Luo was locally disgraced and eventually died in 1910. Working on his father's farm, Mao read voraciously in his spare time, developing a "political consciousness" from Zheng Guanying's Sheng-shih Wei-yen (Words of Warning to an Affluent Age), a booklet which lamented the deterioration of Chinese power in East Asia, arguing for technological, economic and political reform, modelling China on the representative democracies of the western world. Influenced by Great Heroes of the World, Mao was inspired by the military prowess and nationalistic fervour of American George Washington and Frenchman Napoleon Bonaparte.

His political views were shaped by Gelaohui-led protests which erupted following a famine in Hunanese capital Changsha; Mao supported the protester's demands, but the armed forces suppressed the dissenters and executed their leaders. The famine spread to Shaoshan, where starving peasants seized his father's grain; disapproving of their actions as morally wrong, Mao nevertheless claimed sympathy for their situation. Aged 16, Mao moved to a higher primary school in nearby Dongshan. Here, he was taught alongside younger students of a higher social standing, and was bullied for his scruffy appearance and peasant background.

The Xinhai Revolution: 1911–1912

Mao in 1913.

In 1911, Mao convinced his father to allow him to attend middle school in Changsha. The city was "a revolutionary hotbed", with widespread animosity towards the absolute monarchy of Emperor Puyi. While some advocated a reformist transition to a constitutional monarchy, most revolutionaries advocated republicanism, arguing for an elected presidency. The primary figurehead behind the republican movement was Sun Yat-sen, an American-educated Christian who led a secret society known as the Tongmenghui. At Changsha, Mao came under the influence of Sun's newspaper, The People's Independence (Minli bao), penning his first political essay, which he stuck to the school wall; later admitting it was "somewhat muddled", it involved the creation of a republic governed by Sun, but with concessions made to the moderates by having Kang Youwei as premier and Liang Qichao as minister of foreign affairs. As a symbol of rebellion against the Manchu monarch, he and a friend cut off their queue pigtails—a sign of subservience to the emperor—before forcibly cutting off those of several classmates. Mao discovered socialism from a newspaper article; proceeding to read pamphlets by Jiang Kanghu, the student founder of the Chinese Socialist Party, Mao remained interested yet unconvinced by the idea.

Inspired by Sun's republicanism, the army rose up against the emperor across southern China, sparking the Xinhai Revolution. Changsha initially remained under monarchist control, with the governor proclaiming martial law to quell protest. When the infantry brigade guarding the city defected to the revolution, the governor fled, leaving the city in republican hands. Supporting the revolution, Mao joined the rebel army as a private soldier, but was not involved in the fighting. The northern provinces remained loyal to the emperor, and hoping to avoid a civil war, Sun Yat-sen—proclaimed "provisional president" by his supporters—compromised with the monarchist general Yuan Shikai. The monarchy would be abolished, creating the Republic of China, but the monarchist Yuan would become president. The Xinhai Revolution over, Mao resigned from the army in 1912, after six months of being a soldier.

Fourth Normal School of Changsha: 1912–1917

Returning to education, Mao enrolled and dropped out of a police academy, a soap-production school, a law school and an economics school. His father only approved of the latter, but the lectures were in English, which Mao didn't understand, and so Mao abandoned it for the government-run Changsha Middle School; he soon dropped out of this too, finding it rooted in Confucianism. Undertaking his studies independently, he spent much time in the Changsha public library, reading core works of classical liberalism such as Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations and Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws, as well as the works of western scientists and philosophers such as Charles Darwin, J.S. Mill, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Herbert Spencer. Viewing himself as an intellectual, years later he admitted that at this time he thought himself better than working people. Inspired by the work of Friedrich Paulsen, the liberal emphasis on individualism led Mao to believe that strong individuals were not bound by moral codes but should strive for the greater good; that the end justifies the means. Seeing no use in his son's intellectual pursuits, Mao's father cut off his allowance, forcing Mao to move into a hostel for the destitute.

In early life, Mao was influenced by the publications of two revolutionaries, Sun Yat-sen (left) and Chen Duxiu (right), both of whom argued that China had to adopt various western political philosophies in order to modernise.

Desiring to become a teacher, Mao enrolled at a teacher training college, the Fourth Normal School of Changsha, which had high standards, yet low fees and cheap accommodation. Several months later, it merged with the First Normal School of Changsha, widely seen as the best school in Hunan. Professor of Ethics Yang Changji urged Mao to read a radical newspaper, New Youth (Xin qingnian), the creation of his friend Chen Duxiu, Dean of the Faculty of Letters at Peking University. Although a Chinese nationalist, Chen argued that China must look to the west, adopting "Mr. Democracy and Mr. Science" in order to cleanse itself of superstition and autocracy. Mao published his first article, "A Study of Physical Culture", in New Youth in April 1917, instructing readers to increase their physical strength to serve the revolution. He joined The Society for the Study of Wang Fuzhi (Chuan-shan Hsüeh-she), a revolutionary group founded by Changsha literati who wished to emulate Wang Fuzhi, a philosopher who symbolized Han resistance to Manchu invasion.

In his first school year, Mao befriended an older student, Xiao Yu; together they went on a walking tour of Hunan, begging and writing literary couplets to obtain food. Mao remained active in school politics, and in 1915 was elected to the position of secretary of the Students Society. He used his position to forge an Association for Student Self-Government, leading protests against school rules. In spring 1917, he was elected to command the students' volunteer army, set up to defend the school from marauding warlord soldiers, getting students to sharpen young bamboos to spear any soldiers who tried to climb over the school walls. Mao undertook feats of physical endurance with Xiao Yu and Cai Hesen, who later became one of the founding members of the Chinese Communist Party. They described themselves as the "Three Heroes," a sobriquet taken from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and with other young revolutionaries formed the New People's Study Society to debate Chen Duxiu's ideas. Mao graduated in the spring of 1918, ranking number three after Cai and Xiao. In October he returned to Shaoshan for his mother's funeral.

Early revolutionary activity

Peking and Marxism: 1917–1919

Following the success of the October Revolution in the Russian Empire, in which Marxists took power, Mao came under the theoretical influence of Karl Marx (left) and Lenin (right).

Mao moved to the capital city of Peking, where his mentor Yang Changji had recently taken a job at Peking University. Yang wrote in his journal that "it is truly difficult to imagine someone so intelligent and handsome" as Mao, securing him a job at the university library, where Mao became assistant to the librarian Li Dazhao, an early Chinese communist. Li authored a series of articles in New Youth on the October Revolution which had just occurred in Russia, during which the communist Bolshevik Party under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin had seized power. Lenin was an advocate of the socio-political theory of Marxism, first developed by the German sociologists Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the mid-19th century, and Li's articles brought an understanding of Marxism to the Chinese revolutionary movement.

Mao claimed he was initially influenced by anarchism and became "more and more radical" as the months went on. Reading and discussing Marx's work with Li and other members of a Marxist Study Group, he "developed rapidly toward Marxism" under Li's tutelage during the winter of 1918–19, looking for ways to combine it with ancient Chinese philosophies that would be applicable to modern China. Adopting an orthodox Marxist-Leninist position by accepting not only Marx's ideas but also those of Lenin, he viewed Chinese nationalism as a powerful tool in the national liberation struggle against western and Japanese dominance, but unlike orthodox Marxist-Leninists, viewed nationalism as intrinsically valuable in itself.

Paid a low wage, Mao lived in a cramped room with seven other Hunanese students, but believed that Peking's beauty offered "vivid and living compensation." A number of his friends took advantage of the Mouvement Travail-Études to study in France, but Mao turned down the opportunity, perhaps because of a lack of ability to learn languages. Remaining at the university, he tried to strike up conversations with senior academics, but most snubbed him because of his rural Hunanese accent and lowly position. By joining the university's Philosophy and Journalism Societies, he attended lectures and seminars by the likes of Chen Duxiu, Hu Shi, and Qian Xuantong, but various lecturers still treated him with contempt and refused to answer his questions. Mao's time in Peking ended in the spring of 1919, when he traveled to Shanghai with friends departing for France. On the way visiting historic sites like Qufu, he traveled much of the journey on foot.

Student rebellions: 1919–1920

China had fallen victim to the expansionist policies of the Empire of Japan, who had conquered large areas of Chinese-controlled territory with the support of France, the U.K. and the U.S. at the Treaty of Versailles. Under the control of the warlord Duan Qirui, the Chinese Beiyang Government had accepted Japanese dominance, agreeing to their Twenty-One Demands despite popular opposition. In May 1919, the May Fourth Movement erupted in Peking, with Chinese patriots rallying against the Japanese and Duan's government. Duan's troops were sent in to crush the protests, but unrest spread throughout China In Changsha, Mao helped organize protests against the pro-Duan Governor of Hunan Province, Zhang Jinghui. Mao was a founding member of the United Student Association and in July 1919 began production of a weekly radical magazine, Hsiang River Review (Hsiang-chiang P'ing-lun). Using vernacular language that would be understandable to the majority of China's populace, he advocated revolutionary socialist views; in one notable article, he proclaimed the need for a "Great Union of the Popular Masses", but failed to present a Marxist analysis of how the revolution should proceed.

Students in Peking rallied during the May Fourth Movement.

Zhang ordered the United Student Association and its associated weekly shut down, but Mao continued publishing after assuming editorship of student magazine New Hunan (Hsin Hunan). When this too was shut down by Zhang, Mao began publishing in popular local newspaper Ta Kung Po. Several of these articles advocated feminist views, calling for the liberation of women in Chinese society; alongside his early experiences with forced arranged marriage, this was possibly influenced by the recent death of his mother and his romantic involvement with Yang Kaihui, daughter of the recently deceased Yang Changji. In November 1919, Mao took a leading role in the re-organization of the banned United Student Association, and in December helped organize a student strike in Changsha. The strike secured some concessions, but Mao and other student leaders felt threatened by Zhang, and were sent as representatives to China's provincial centers; thus, Mao returned to Peking.

In Peking, Mao found that his articles had achieved a level of fame among the revolutionary movement, and set about soliciting support in overthrowing Zhang. Coming across newly translated Marxist literature such as Thomas Kirkup's A History of Socialism, Karl Kautsky's Karl Marx's Ökonomische Lehren and Marx and Engels' The Communist Manifesto, he was further committed to communism. Moving to Shanghai, he worked as a laundryman and met Chen Duxiu, noting that Chen's adoption of Marxism "deeply impressed me at what was probably a critical period in my life." In Shanghai, Mao met an old teacher of his, Yi Peiji, a revolutionary and member of the Kuomintang (KMT), or Chinese Nationalist Party, which was gaining increasing support and influence. Yi introduced Mao to General Tan Yankai, a senior KMT member who held the loyalty of troops stationed along the Hunanese border with Kwantung. Tan was plotting to overthrow Zhang, and Mao aided him by organizing the Changsha students. In June 1920, Tan led his troops into Changsha, while Zhang fled. In the subsequent reorganization of the provincial administration, Mao was appointed headmaster of the junior section of the First Normal School.Now receiving a large income, he married Yang Kaihui in the winter of 1920.

Founding the Communist Party of China: 1921–1922

Location of the first Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in July 1921, in Xintiandi, former French Concession, Shanghai.

The Communist Party of China was founded by Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao in the French concession of Shanghai in 1921 as a study society and informal network. Mao set up a Changsha branch, also establishing a branch of the Socialist Youth Corps. Opening a bookstore under the control of his new Cultural Book Society, its purpose was to propagate revolutionary literature throughout Hunan. Helping to organize workers' strikes in the winter of 1920–1921, he was involved in the movement for Hunan autonomy, hoping that a Hunanese constitution would increase civil liberties in the province, making his revolutionary activity easier; although the movement was successful, in later life, he denied any involvement. By 1921, small Marxist groups existed in Shanghai, Peking, Changsha, Wuhan, Canton and Tsinan, and it was decided to hold a central meeting, which began in Shanghai on July 23, 1921. The first session of the National Congress of the Communist Party of China was attended by 13 delegates, Mao included, and initially met in a girls' school that had been closed for the summer. After the authorities sent a police spy to the congress, the delegates moved to a boat on South Lake near Chiahsing to escape detection. Although Soviet and Comintern delegates attended, the first congress ignored Lenin's advice to accept a temporary alliance between the Communists and the "bourgeois democrats" who also advocated national revolution; instead they stuck to the orthodox Marxist belief that only the urban proletariat could lead a socialist revolution.

Now party secretary for Hunan, Mao was stationed in Changsha, from which he went on a Communist recruitment drive. In August 1921, he founded the Self-Study University, through which readers could gain access to revolutionary literature, housed in the premises of the Society for the Study of Wang Fuzhi. Taking part in the YMCA mass education movement to fight illiteracy, he opened a Changsha branch, though replaced the usual textbooks with revolutionary tracts in order to spread Marxism among the students. He continued organizing the labor movement to strike against the administration of Hunan Governor Zhao Hengti, particularly following the execution of two anarchists. In July 1922, the Second Congress of the Communist Party took place in Shanghai, though Mao lost the address and couldn't attend. Adopting Lenin's advice, the delegates agreed to an alliance with the "bourgeois democrats" of the KMT for the good of the "national revolution." Communist Party members joined the KMT, hoping to push its politics leftward. Mao enthusiastically agreed with this decision, arguing for an alliance across China's socio-economic classes; a vocal anti-imperialist, in his writings he lambasted the governments of Japan, Great Britain and the United States, describing the latter as "the most murderous of hangmen." Mao's strategy for the successful and famous Anyuan coal mines strikes (contrary to later Party historians) depended on both "proletarian" and "bourgeois" strategies. The success depended on innovative organizing by Liu Shaoqi and Li Lisan who not only mobilized the miners, but formed schools and cooperatives. They also engaged local intellectuals, gentry, military officers, merchants, Red Gang dragon heads, and church clergy in support.

Collaboration with the Kuomintang: 1922–1927

Mao the revolutionary in 1927.

At the Third Congress of the Communist Party in Shanghai in June 1923, the delegates reaffirmed their commitment to working with the KMT against the Beiyang government and imperialists. Supporting this position, Mao was elected to the Party Committee, taking up residence in Shanghai. Attending the First KMT Congress, held in Canton during January and February 1924, Mao was elected an alternate member of the KMT Central Executive Committee, in February 1924 putting forward four resolutions to decentralize power to urban and rural bureaus. His enthusiastic support for the KMT earned him the suspicion of some Communists. In late 1924, Mao returned to Shaoshan to recuperate from an illness. Discovering that the peasantry were increasingly restless due to the upheaval of the past decade, some had seized land from wealthy landowners to found communes; this convinced him of the revolutionary potential of the peasantry, an idea advocated by the KMT but not the Communists. As a result, he was appointed to run the KMT's Peasant Movement Training Institute, also becoming Director of the Party's Propaganda Department, editing KMT newsletter, the Political Weekly (Zhengzhi zhoubao). Through the Peasant Movement Training Institute, Mao took an active role in organizing the revolutionary Hunanese peasants and preparing them for militant activity, taking them through military training exercises and getting them to study various left-wing texts. In the winter of 1925, Mao fled to Canton after his revolutionary activities attracted the attention of Zhao's regional authorities.

The Communists dominated the left wing of the KMT, struggling for power with the party's right wing. When party leader Sun Yat-sen died in May 1925, he was succeeded by a rightist, Chiang Kai-shek, who initiated moves to marginalize the position of the Communists Mao nevertheless supported Chiang's decision to overthrow the Beiyang government and their foreign imperialist allies using the National Revolutionary Army, who embarked on the Northern Expedition in 1926. In the wake of the Northern Expedition, peasants rose up, appropriating the land of the wealthy land-owners, whom were in many cases killed. Such peasant uprisings angered senior KMT figures and generals, who were themselves wealthy land-owners, emphasizing the growing class and ideological divide within the revolutionary movement.

"Revolution is not a dinner party, nor an essay, nor a painting, nor a piece of embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another."

— Mao, February 1927.

In March 1927, Mao appeared at the Third Plenum of the KMT Central Executive Committee in Wuhan, which sought to strip General Chiang of his power by appointing Wang Jingwei leader. At the Third Plenum, Mao played an active role in the discussions regarding the peasant issue, defending a set of "Regulations for the Repression of Local Bullies and Bad Gentry", which advocated the death penalty or life imprisonment for anyone found guilty of counter-revolutionary activity, arguing that in a revolutionary situation, "peaceful methods cannot suffice". In April 1927, Mao was appointed to the five-member Central Land Committee of the KMT, urging peasants to refuse to pay rent. Mao led another group to put together a "Draft Resolution on the Land Question", which called for the confiscation of land belonging to "local bullies and bad gentry, corrupt officials, militarists and all counter-revolutionary elements in the villages." Proceeding to carry out a "Land Survey", he stated that anyone owning over 30 mou (four and a half acres), constituting 13% of the population, were uniformly counter-revolutionary. He accepted that there was great variation in revolutionary enthusiasm across the country, and that a flexible policy of land redistribution was necessary. Presenting his conclusions at the Enlarged Land Committee meeting on 22 April, many expressed reservations, some believing that it went too far, and others not far enough. Ultimately, his suggestions were only partially implemented.

Civil War

The Nanchang and Autumn Harvest Uprisings: 1927

Flag of the Chinese Workers' and Peasants' Red Army

Fresh from the success of the Northern Expedition to overthrow the warlords, Chiang turned on the communists, who by now numbered in the tens of thousands across China. Ignoring the orders of the Wuhan-based KMT government, he marched on Shanghai, a city controlled by communist militias. Although the communists welcomed Chiang's arrival, he turned on them, massacring 5000 with the aid of the Green Gang. Chiang's army then marched on Wuhan, but was prevented from taking the city by communist General Ye Ting and his troops. Chiang's allies also attacked communists; in Peking, 19 leading communists were killed by Zhang Zuolin, while in Changsha, Ho Chien's forces machine gunned hundreds of peasant militiamen. That May, tens of thousands of communists and their sympathisers were killed by nationalists, with the CPC losing approximately 15,000 of its 25,000 members.

"'Eagles cleave the air,
Fish glide in the limpid deep;
Under freezing skies a million
creatures contend in freedom.
Brooding over this immensity,
I ask, on this boundless land
Who rules over man's destiny?"

— Excerpt from Mao's
poem "Changsha", September 1927.

The CPC continued supporting the Wuhan KMT government, a position Mao initially supported, but he had changed his mind by the time of the CPC's Fifth Congress, deciding to stake all hope on the peasant militia. The question was rendered moot when the Wuhan government expelled all communists from the KMT on 15 July. The CMT founded the Workers' and Peasants' Red Army of China, better known as the " Red Army", to battle Chiang. A battalion led by General Zhu De was ordered to take the city of Nanchang on 1 August 1927 in what became known as the Nanchang Uprising; initially successful, they were forced into retreat after five days, marching south to Swatow, and from there being driven into the wilderness of Fujian. Appointed commander-in-chief of the Red Army, Mao led four regiments against Changsha in the Autumn Harvest Uprising, hoping to spark peasant uprisings across Hunan. On the eve of the attack, Mao composed a poem—the earliest of his to survive—titled "Changsha". His plan was to attack the KMT-held city from three directions on 9 September, but the Fourth Regiment deserted to the KMT cause, attacking the Third Regiment. Mao's army made it to Changsha, but could not take it; by 15 September, he accepted defeat, with 1000 survivors marching east to the Jinggang Mountains of Jiangxi.

Base in Jinggangshan: 1927–1928

Hiding in Shanghai, the CPC Central Committee expelled Mao from their rank and from the Hunan Provincial Committee, punishment for his "military opportunism", for his focus on rural activity, and for being too lenient with "bad gentry". They nevertheless adopted three policies he had long championed: the immediate formation of soviets, the confiscation of all land without exemption, and the rejection of the KMT. Mao's response was to ignore them. Setting up base in Jinggangshan City, an area of the Jinggang Mountains, Mao united five villages as a self-governing state, supporting the confiscation of land from rich landlords, who were "re-educated" and sometimes executed. He ensured that no massacres took place in the region, pursuing a more lenient approach than that advocated by the Central Committee. Proclaiming that "Even the lame, the deaf and the blind could all come in useful for the revolutionary struggle", he boosted the army's numbers, incorporating two groups of bandits into his army, building a force of around 1,800 troops. He laid down rules for his soldiers: prompt obedience to orders, all confiscations were to be turned over to the government, and nothing was to be confiscated from poorer peasants. In doing so, he molded his men into a disciplined, efficient fighting force.

"When the enemy advances, we retreat.
When the enemy retreats, we advance.
When the enemy rests, we harass him.
When the enemy avoids a battle, we attack."

Mao's advice in combating the Kuomintang, 1928.

In spring 1928, the Central Committee ordered Mao's troops to southern Hunan, hoping to spark peasant uprisings. Mao was skeptical, but complied. Reaching Hunan, they were attacked by the KMT and fled after heavy losses. Meanwhile, KMT troops had invaded Jinggangshan, leaving them without a base. Wandering the countryside, Mao's forces came across a CPC regiment led by General Zhu De and Lin Biao; they united, attempting to retake Jinggangshan. Initially successful, the KMT counter-attacked, pushing the CPC back; over the next few weeks, they fought an entrenched guerrilla war in the mountains. Central Committee again ordered Mao to march to south Hunan, but he refused, remaining at his base. Contrastingly, Zhu complied, leading his armies away; the KMT attacked Mao's base, and although his troops fended them off for 25 days, Mao left the camp at night to find reinforcements. Reuniting with the decimated Zhu's army, they returned to Jinggangshan and retook the base. Joined by a defecting KMT regiment and Peng Dehuai's Fifth Red Army, the mountainous area was unable to grow enough crops to feed everyone, leading to food shortages throughout the winter.

Jiangxi Soviet Republic of China: 1929–1934

Mao with his third wife, He Zizhen.

In January 1929, Mao and Zhu evacuated the base and took their armies south, to the area around Tonggu and Xinfeng in Jiangxi, which they consolidated as a new base. Together having 2000 men, with a further 800 provided by Peng, the evacuation led to a drop in morale, and many troops became disobedient and began thieving; this worried Li Lisan and the Central Committee, who saw Mao's army as lumpenproletariat unable to share in proletariat class consciousness. In keeping with orthodox Marxist thought, Li believed that only the urban proletariat could lead a successful revolution, and saw little need for Mao's peasant guerrillas; he ordered Mao to disband his army into units to be sent out to spread the revolutionary message. Mao replied that while concurring with Li's theoretical position, he would not disband his army or abandon his base. Both Li and Mao saw the Chinese revolution as the key to world revolution, believing that a CPC victory would spark the overthrow of global imperialism and capitalism. In this, they disagreed with the official line of the Soviet government and Comintern. Officials in Moscow desired greater control over the CPC, removing Li from power by calling him to Russia for an inquest into his errors. They replaced him with Soviet-educated Chinese communists, known as the " 28 Bolsheviks", two of whom, Bo Gu and Zhang Wentian, took control of the Central Committee. Mao disagreed with the new leadership, believing they grasped little of the Chinese situation, and soon emerged as their key rival.

In February 1930, Mao created the Southwest Jiangxi Provincial Soviet Government in the region under his control, in November suffering emotional trauma after his wife and sister were captured and beheaded by KMT general He Jian. He then married He Zizhen, an 18-year-old revolutionary who bore him five children over the following nine years. Facing internal problems, members of the Kiangsi Soviet accused him of being too moderate, and hence anti-revolutionary. In December, they tried to overthrow Mao, resulting in the Futian incident; putting down the rebels, Mao's loyalists tortured many and executed between 2000 and 3000 dissenters. Seeing it as a secure area, the CPC Central Committee moved to Jiangxi, which in November was proclaimed to be the Soviet Republic of China, an independent Communist-governed state. Although proclaimed Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars, Mao's power was diminished, with control of the Red Army being allocated to Zhou Enlai; Mao meanwhile recovered from tuberculosis.

Mao in 1931.

Attempting to defeat the Communists, the KMT armies adopted a policy of encirclement and annihilation; outnumbered, Mao responded with guerrilla tactics influenced by the works of ancient military strategists like Sun Tzu, but Zhou and the new leadership replaced this approach with a policy of open confrontation and conventional warfare. In doing so the Red Army successfully defeated the first and second encirclements. Angered at his armies' failure, Chiang Kaishek personally arrived to lead the operation; also facing setbacks, he retreated to deal with the further Japanese incursions into China. Victorious, the Red Army expanded its area of control, eventually encompassing a population of 3 million. Mao proceeded with his land reform program, in November 1931 announcing the start of a "land verification project" which was expanded in June 1933, also orchestrating education programs and implementing measures to increase female political participation. Viewing the Communists as a greater threat than the Japanese, Chiang returned to Jiangxi, initiating the fifth encirclement campaign, involving the construction of a concrete and barbed wire "wall of fire" around the state, accompanied by aerial bombardment, to which Zhou's tactics proved ineffective. Trapped inside, morale among the Red Army dropped as food and medicine became scarce, and the leadership decided to evacuate.

The Long March: 1934–1935

On 14 October 1934, the Red Army struck out at the KMT line on the Jiangxi Soviet's north-east corner. 85,000 soldiers and 15,000 party cadres broke through the encirclement at Hsinfeng and set out on the " Long March". In order to make the escape viable, many of the wounded and the ill, as well as women and children, were left behind, defended by a group of guerrilla fighters whom the KMT massacred. The 100,000 who escaped headed to Northern Jiangxi, first crossing the Xiang River after heavy fighting, and then the Wu River, where they took Zunyi, Guizhou in January 1935. Temporarily resting in the city, they held a conference; here, Mao was elected to a position of leadership, becoming Chairman of the Politburo, and de facto leader of both Party and Red Army, in part because his candidacy was supported by Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. Insisting that they operate as a guerrilla force, he laid out a destination: the Shenshi Soviet in Shaanxi, Northern China, from where the Communists could focus on fighting the Japanese. Mao believed that in focusing on the anti-imperialist struggle, the Communists would earn the trust of the Chinese people, who in turn would renounce the KMT.

From Zunyi, Mao led his troops to Loushan Pass, where they faced armed opposition but successfully crossed the river. Chiang flew into the area to lead his armies against Mao, but the Communists outmanoeuvred him and crossed the Jinsha River. Faced with the more difficult task of crossing the Tatu River, they managed it by fighting a battle over the Luding Bridge in May, taking Luding. Marching through the mountain ranges around Ma'anshan, in Moukung, Western Szechuan they encountered the 50,000-strong CPC Fourth Front Army of Zhang Guotao, together proceeding to Maoerhkai and then Gansu. However, Zhang and Mao disagreed over what to do; the latter wished to proceed to Shaanxi, while Zhang wanted to flee east to Tibet or Sikkim, far from the KMT threat. It was agreed that they would go their separate ways, with Zhu De joining Zhang. Mao's forces proceeded north, through hundreds of miles of Grasslands, an area of quagmire where they were attacked by Manchu tribesman and where many soldiers succumbed to famine and disease. Finally reaching Shaanxi, they fought off both the KMT and an Islamic cavalry militia before crossing over the Min Mountains and Mount Liupan and reaching the Shenshi Soviet; only 7-8000 had survived.

Alliance with the Kuomintang: 1935–1940

In an effort to defeat the Japanese, Mao (left) agreed to collaborate with Chiang (right).

Arriving at the Yan'an Soviet during October 1935, Mao's troops settled in Pao An. Remaining there till spring 1936, they developed links with local communities, redistributed and farmed the land, offered medical treatment and began literacy programs. Mao now commanded 15,000 soldiers, boosted by the arrival of He Long's men from Hunan and the armies of Zhu Den and Zhang Guotao, returning from Tibet. In February 1936 they established the North West Anti-Japanese Red Army University in Yan'an, through which they trained increasing numbers of new recruits. In January 1937 they began the "anti-Japanese expedition", sending groups of guerrilla fighters into Japanese-controlled territory to undertake sporadic attacks, while in May 1937, a Communist Conference was held in Yan'an to discuss the situation. Western reporters also arrived in the "Border Region" (as the Soviet had been renamed); most notable were Edgar Snow, who used his experiences as a basis for Red Star Over China, and Agnes Smedley, whose accounts brought international attention to Mao's cause.

On the Long March, Mao's wife He Zizen had been injured from a shrapnel wound to the head, and so traveled to Moscow for medical treatment; Mao proceeded to divorce her and marry an actress, Jiang Qing. Mao moved in to a cave-house and spent much of his time reading, tending his garden and theorizing. He came to believe that the Red Army alone was unable to defeating the Japanese, and that a Communist-led "government of national defense" should be formed with the KMT and other "bourgeois nationalist" elements to achieve this goal. Although despising Chiang Kaishek as a "traitor to the nation", on May 5 he telegrammed the Military Council of the Nanking National Government proposing a military alliance, a course of action advocated by Stalin. Although Chiang intended to ignore Mao's message and continue the civil war, he was arrested by one of his own generals, Zhang Xueliang, in Xi'an, leading to the Xi'an Incident; Zhang forced Chiang to discuss the issue with the Communists, resulting in the formation of a United Front with concessions on both sides on December 25, 1937.

Mao in 1938, writing On Protracted War.

The Japanese had taken both Shanghai and Nanking—resulting in the Nanking Massacre—pushing the Kuomintang government inland to Chongqing. The Japanese's brutality led increasing numbers of Chinese joining the fight, with the Red Army growing from 50,000 to 500,000. In August 1938, the Red Army formed the New Fourth Army and the Eighth Route Army, which were nominally under the command of Chiang's National Revolutionary Army. In August 1940, the Red Army initiated the Hundred Regiments Campaign, in which 400,000 troops attacked the Japanese simultaneously in five provinces; a military success, it resulted in the death of 20,000 Japanese, the disruption of railways and the loss of a coal mine. From his base in Yan'an, Mao authored several texts for his troops, including Philosophy of Revolution, which offered an introduction to the Marxist theory of knowledge, Protracted Warfare, which dealt with guerrilla and mobile military tactics, and New Democracy, which laid forward ideas for China's future.

Resuming civil war: 1940–1949

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 favourably 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 their military assistance to Chiang Kai-shek and his KMT government forces against the People's Liberation Army (PLA) led by Mao Zedong in the civil war for control of China. Likewise, the Soviet Union gave quasi-covert support to Mao by their occupation of north east China, which allowed the PLA to move in en masse and took large supplies of arms left by the Japanese's Kwantung Army.

In 1948, under direct orders from Mao, 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 great losses in battles against Mao's forces. In the early morning of December 10, 1949, PLA troops laid siege to Chengdu, the last KMT-held city in mainland China, and Chiang Kai-shek evacuated from the mainland to Taiwan.

Leadership of China

Mao Zedong declares the founding of the modern People's Republic of China, October 1, 1949

The People's Republic of China was established on October 1, 1949. It was the culmination of over two decades of civil and international wars. From 1943 to 1976, Mao was the Chairman of the Communist Party of China. During this period, Mao was called Chairman Mao (毛主席, Máo Zhǔxí) or the Great Leader Chairman Mao (伟大领袖毛主席, Wěidà Lǐngxiù Máo Zhǔxí). Mao famously announced: "The Chinese people have stood up."

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's physician Li Zhisui described him as conducting business either in bed or by the side of the pool, preferring not to wear formal clothes unless absolutely necessary. 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 fight 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.

Mao with his fourth wife, Jiang Qing, called "Madame Mao," 1946

Along with land reform, during which significant numbers of landlords and well-to-do peasants 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, and 800,000 killed in the counterrevolutionary campaign.

Mao himself claimed that a total of 700,000 people were killed in attacks on "counter-revolutionaries" during the years 1950–52. 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. He defended these killings as necessary for the securing of power.

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, spouses turned on their spouses, and children informed on their parents; the victims often were 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, suicide by jumping from tall buildings 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."

Mao at Joseph Stalin's 70th birthday celebration in Moscow, December 1949

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.

Li Zhisui, Mao's physician, suggested that Mao had initially seen the policy as a way of weakening those within his party who opposed him and 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.

Great Leap Forward

In January 1958, Mao Zedong launched the second Five-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 were ordered to work on massive infrastructure projects and on the production of iron and steel. Some private food production was banned; livestock and farm implements were brought under collective ownership.

Under the Great Leap Forward, Mao 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, these projects combined with cyclical natural disasters led to an approximately 15% drop in grain production in 1959 followed by a further 10% decline 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. Based upon 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, left rural peasants with little food for themselves and many millions starved to death in the largest famine known as the Great Chinese Famine. This famine was a direct cause of the death of some 30 million Chinese peasants between 1959 and 1962 and about the same number of births were lost or postponed. 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's knowledge of the severity of the situation has been disputed. Mao's physician believed he may have been unaware about the extent of the famine, partly due to a reluctance to criticize his policies and decisions and the willingness of his staff to exaggerate or outright fake reports regarding food production. Upon finding out the extent of the starvation, Mao vowed to stop eating meat, an action followed by his staff.

In the beginning, commune members were able to eat for free at the commune canteens. This changed when food production slowed to a halt.

Hong Kong-based historian Frank Dikötter, who conducted extensive archival research on the Great Leap Forward in local and regional Chinese government archives, challenged the notion that Mao did not know about the famine until it was too late:

The idea that the state mistakenly took too much grain from the countryside because it assumed that the harvest was much larger than it was is largely a myth—at most partially true for the autumn of 1958 only. In most cases the party knew very well that it was starving its own people to death. At a secret meeting in the Jinjiang Hotel in Shanghai dated March 25, 1959, Mao specifically ordered the party to procure up to one third of all the grain, much more than had ever been the case. At the meeting he announced that "When there is not enough to eat, people starve to death. It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill."

In Hungry Ghosts, Jasper Becker notes that Mao was dismissive of reports he received of food shortages in the countryside and refused to change course, believing that peasants were lying and that rightists and kulaks were hoarding grain. He refused to open state granaries, and instead launched a series of "anti-grain concealment" drives that resulted in numerous purges and suicides. Other violent campaigns followed in which party leaders went from village to village in search of hidden food reserves, and not only grain, as Mao issued quotas for pigs, chickens, ducks and eggs. Many peasants accused of hiding food were tortured and beaten to death.

In contrast, journals such as the Monthly Review have disputed the reliability of the figures commonly cited, the qualitative evidence of a "massive death toll", and Mao's complicity in those deaths which occurred.

Whatever the case, the Great Leap Forward caused Mao to lose esteem among many of the top party cadres and was eventually forced to abandon the policy in 1962, while losing some political power to moderate leaders, perhaps most notably Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping in the process. However, Mao, supported by 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 tragedy for the vast majority of the Chinese. Although the steel quotas were officially reached, almost all of the supposed steel made in the countryside was iron, as it had been made from assorted scrap metal in home-made furnaces with no reliable source of fuel such as coal. This meant that proper smelting conditions could not be achieved. 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 everything in a big fire and melted down all the metal."

The worst of the famine was steered towards enemies of the state. As Jasper Becker explains:

"The most vulnerable section of China's population, around five per cent, were those whom Mao called ' enemies of the people'. Anyone who had in previous campaigns of repression been labeled a 'black element' was given the lowest priority in the allocation of food. Landlords, rich peasants, former members of the nationalist regime, religious leaders, rightists, counter-revolutionaries and the families of such individuals died in the greatest numbers."

Mao with Henry Kissinger and Zhou Enlai; Beijing, 1972.


At the Lushan Conference in July/August 1959, several leaders expressed concern that the Great Leap Forward had not proved as successful as planned. The most direct of these was Minister of Defence and Korean War General Peng Dehuai. Mao, fearing loss of his position, orchestrated a purge of Peng and his supporters, stifling criticism of the Great Leap policies. Senior officials who reported the truth of the famine to Mao were branded as "right opportunists." A campaign against right opportunism was launched and resulted in party members and ordinary peasants being sent to camps where many would subsequently die in the famine. Years later the CPC would conclude that 6 million people were wrongly punished in the campaign.

The number of deaths by starvation during the Great Leap Forward is deeply controversial. 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 the 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 localized or exaggerated as China was continuing to claim record harvests and was a net exporter of grain through the period. Because Mao wanted to pay back early to the Soviets debts totaling 1.973 billion yuan from 1960 to 1962, exports increased by 50%, and fellow Communist regimes in North Korea, North Vietnam and Albania were provided grain free of charge.

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 million excess deaths incurred in China during 1958–61, and that based on her modelling of Chinese demographics during the period and taking account of assumed under-reporting during the famine years, the figure was around 30 million. The official statistic is 20 million deaths, as given by Hu Yaobang. Yang Jisheng, a former Xinhua News Agency reporter who had privileged access and connections available to no other scholars, estimates a death toll of 36 million. Frank Dikötter estimates that there were at least 45 million premature deaths attributable to the Great Leap Forward from 1958 to 1962. Various other sources have put the figure at between 20 and 46 million.

On the international front, the period was dominated by the further isolation of China. The Sino-Soviet split resulted in Nikita Khrushchev's withdrawal of all Soviet technical experts and aid from the country. The split was triggered by 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 Joseph Stalin in March 1953 and his replacement by Khrushchev. Only Albania under the leadership of Enver Hoxha openly sided with China against the Soviets, which began an alliance between the two countries which would last until the Sino-Albanian split after Mao's death in 1976.

Stalin had established himself as the successor of "correct" Marxist thought well before Mao controlled the Communist Party of China, and therefore Mao never challenged the suitability of any Stalinist doctrine (at least while Stalin was alive). Upon the death of Stalin, Mao 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 and militarily superior government), and Mao (believing he had a superior understanding of Marxist ideology) eroded the previous patron-client relationship between the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the CPC. In China, the formerly favorable Soviets were now denounced as "revisionists" and listed alongside "American imperialism" as movements to oppose.

Partly surrounded by hostile American military bases (in South Korea, Japan, 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, 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 Seven Thousand," State Chairman 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. A brief period of liberalization followed while Mao and Lin plotted a comeback. Liu Shaoqi 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.

Cultural Revolution

Mao was concerned with the nature of post-1959 China. He saw that the revolution had replaced the old elite with a new one. He was concerned that those in power were becoming estranged from the people they were supposed to serve.

Mao believed that a revolution of culture would unseat and unsettle the "ruling class" and keep China in a state of "perpetual revolution" that, theoretically, would serve the interests of the majority, not a tiny elite. Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, then the State Chairman and General Secretary, respectively, had favored the idea that Mao should be removed from actual power but maintain his ceremonial and symbolic role, with the party upholding all of his positive contributions to the revolution. They attempted to marginalize Mao by taking control of economic policy and asserting themselves politically as well. Many claim that Mao responded to Liu and Deng's movements by launching the Cultural Revolution in 1966. Some scholars, such as Mobo Gao, claim the case for this is perhaps overstated. Others, such as Frank Dikötter, hold that Mao launched the Cultural Revolution to wreak revenge on those who had dared to challenge him over the Great Leap Forward.

Believing that certain liberal bourgeois elements of society continued to threaten the socialist framework, groups of young people known as the Red Guards struggled against authorities at all levels of society and even set up their own tribunals. Chaos reigned in much of the nation, and millions were persecuted, including a famous philosopher, Chen Yuen. During the Cultural Revolution, the schools in China were closed and the young intellectuals living in cities were ordered to the countryside to be "re-educated" by the peasants, where they performed hard manual labor and other work.

The Revolution led to the destruction of much of China's traditional 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 was informed of such losses, particularly that people had been driven to suicide, he is alleged to have 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." The authorities allowed the Red Guards to abuse and kill opponents of the regime. Said Xie Fuzhi, national police chief: "Don't say it is wrong of them to beat up bad persons: if in anger they beat someone to death, then so be it." As a result, in August and September 1966, there were 1,772 people murdered in Beijing alone.

Mao greets United States President Richard Nixon during his visit to China in 1972

It was during this period that Mao chose Lin Biao, who seemed to echo all of Mao's ideas, to become his successor. Lin was later officially named as Mao's successor. By 1971, however, a divide between the two men became apparent. Official history in China states that Lin was planning a military coup or an assassination attempt on Mao. Lin Biao died in a plane crash over the air space of Mongolia, presumably on his way to flee China, probably anticipating his arrest. The CPC declared that Lin was planning to depose Mao, and posthumously expelled Lin from the party. At this time, Mao 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 organized by the KGB.

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 either Parkinson's disease or, according to his physician, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, as well as lung ailments due to smoking and heart trouble. Some also attributed Mao's decline in health to the betrayal of Lin Biao. Mao remained passive as various factions within the Communist Party mobilized for the power struggle anticipated after his death.

This period is often looked at in official circles in China and in the West as a great stagnation or even of reversal for China. While many—an estimated 100 million—did suffer, some scholars, such as Lee Feigon and Mobo Gao, claim there were many great advances, and in some sectors the Chinese economy continued to outperform the west. They hold that the Cultural Revolution period laid the foundation for the spectacular growth that continues in China. During the Cultural Revolution, China exploded its first H-Bomb (1967), launched the Dong Fang Hong satellite (January 30, 1970), commissioned its first nuclear submarines and made various advances in science and technology. Healthcare was free, and living standards in the countryside continued to improve.


Mao had been in poorer health for several years and had declined visibly for at least six months prior to his death. There are unconfirmed reports that he possibly had ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. Mao's last public appearance was on May 27, 1976, where he met the visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto during the latter's one-day visit to Beijing.

At around 5:00 pm on September 2, 1976, Mao suffered a heart attack, far more severe than his previous two and affecting a much larger area of his heart. X-rays indicated that his current lung infection had worsened, and his urine output dropped to less than 300 cc a day. Mao was awake and alert throughout the crisis and asked his team of doctors, several times, whether he was in danger. His condition continued to fluctuate and his life hung in the balance. Three days later, on September 5, Mao's condition was still critical, and Hua Guofeng called Jiang Qing back from her trip. She spent only a few minutes visiting him in Building 202 (where Mao was staying) before returning to her own residence in the Spring Lotus Chamber. On the afternoon of September 7, Mao's condition took a turn for the worse. Jiang Qing went to Building 202 where she learned the news. Mao 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, September 8, she went again. She demanded the medical staff to change Mao'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'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 barely revived and Hua Guofeng urged Jiang Qing not to interfere further with the doctors' work, as her actions were detrimental to Mao's health and helped cause his death faster. Mao's organs failed quickly and he fell into a coma shortly before noon where he was put on life support machines. He was taken off life support over 12 hours later quarter to midnight and was pronounced dead at 12:10 am on September 9, 1976. September 9 was chosen as the day to let Mao die because it was seen as an easy day to remember, being the ninth day of the ninth month of the calendar.

His body lay in state at the Great Hall of the People. A memorial service was held in Tiananmen Square on September 18, 1976. There was a three-minute silence observed during this service. His body was later placed into the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, even though he had wished to be cremated and had been one of the first high-ranking officials to sign the "Proposal that all Central Leaders be Cremated after Death" in November 1956.

As anticipated after Mao'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 mobilization. On the other side was the right wing opposing these policies. Among the latter group, the right wing restorationists, led by Chairman Hua Guofeng, advocated a return to central planning along the Soviet model, whereas the right wing 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.


A large portrait of Mao by Zhang Zhenshi at Tiananmen
"[Mao] turned China from a feudal backwater into one of the most powerful countries in the World ... The Chinese system he overthrew was backward and corrupt; few would argue the fact that he dragged China into the 20th century. But at a cost in human lives that is staggering."
— "Biography" 2005

Mao remains a controversial figure and there is little agreement over his legacy both in China and abroad. He is generally credited and praised with having unified China and ending the previous decades of civil war. He is also credited with having improved the status of women in China and improving literacy and education. His policies caused the deaths of tens of millions of people during his 27-year reign, more than any other Twentieth Century leader, however supporters point out that in spite of this, life expectancy improved during his reign. His supporters claim that he rapidly industrialized China however, others have claimed that his policies, particularly the controversially named 'Great Leap Forward' and the Cultural Revolution, were impediments to industrialization and modernization. His supporters claim that his policies laid the groundwork for China's later rise to become an economic superpower, while others claim that his policies delayed economic development and that China's economy only underwent its rapid growth after Mao's policies had been widely abandoned. Mao's revolutionary tactics continue to be used by insurgents, and his political ideology continues to be embraced by many communist organizations around the world.

In mainland China, Mao is still revered by many supporters of the Communist Party and respected by the majority of the general population as the " Founding Father of modern China", credited for giving "the Chinese people dignity and self-respect." Mobo Gao in his 2008 book The Battle for China's Past: Mao and the Cultural Revolution, credits Mao for raising the average life expectancy from 35 in 1949 to 63 by 1975, bringing "unity and stability to a country that had been plagued by civil wars and foreign invasions", and laying the foundation for China to "become the equal of the great global powers". Gao also lauds Mao for carrying out massive land reform, promoting the status of women, improving popular literacy, and positively "transform(ing) Chinese society beyond recognition."

However, Mao has many Chinese critics, both those who live inside and outside China. Opposition to Mao is subject to restriction and censorship in mainland China, but is especially strong elsewhere, where he is often reviled as a brutish ideologue. In the West, his name is generally associated with tyranny and his economic theories widely discredited—though to some political activists he remains a symbol against capitalism, imperialism and western influence. Even in China, key pillars of his economic theory have been largely dismantled by market reformers like Deng Xiaoping and Zhao Ziyang, who succeeded him as leaders of the Communist Party.

Statue of young Mao in Changsha, the capital of Hunan

Though the Chinese Communist Party, which Mao led to power, has rejected in practice the economic fundamentals of much of Mao's ideology, it retains for itself many of the powers established under Mao's reign: it controls the Chinese army, police, courts and media and does not permit multi-party elections at the national or local level, except in Hong Kong. Thus it is difficult to gauge the true extent of support for the Chinese Communist Party and Mao's legacy within mainland China. For their part, the Chinese government continues to officially regard Mao as a national hero. In 2008, China opened the Mao Zedong Square to visitors in his hometown of central Hunan Province to mark the 115th anniversary of his birth.

There continue to be disagreements on Mao's legacy. Former Party official Su Shachi, has opined that "he was a great historical criminal, but he was also a great force for good." In a similar vein, journalist Liu Bin Yan has described Mao as "both monster and a genius." Some historians claim that Mao Zedong was "one of the great tyrants of the twentieth century", and a dictator comparable to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, with a death toll surpassing both. In The Black Book of Communism, Jean Louis Margolin writes that "Mao Zedong was so powerful that he was often known as the Red Emperor ... the violence he erected into a whole system far exceeds any national tradition of violence that we might find in China." Mao was frequently likened to China's First Emperor Qin Shi Huang, notorious for burying alive hundreds of scholars, and personally enjoyed the comparison. During a speech to party cadre in 1958, Mao said he had far outdone Qin Shi Huang in his policy against intellectuals: "He buried 460 scholars alive; we have buried forty-six thousand scholars alive ... You [intellectuals] revile us for being Qin Shi Huangs. You are wrong. We have surpassed Qin Shi Huang a hundredfold." As a result of such tactics, critics have pointed out that:

The People's Republic of China under Mao exhibited the oppressive tendencies that were discernible in all the major absolutist regimes of the twentieth century. There are obvious parallels between Mao's China, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Each of these regimes witnessed deliberately ordered mass 'cleansing' and extermination.

Others, such as Philip Short, reject such comparisons in Mao: A Life, noting that whereas the deaths caused by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were largely systematic and deliberate, the overwhelming majority of the deaths under Mao were unintended consequences of famine. Short noted that landlord class were not exterminated as a people due to Mao's belief in redemption through thought reform. He instead compared Mao with 19th-century Chinese reformers who challenged China's traditional beliefs in the era of China's clashes with Western colonial powers. Short argues, "Mao's tragedy and his grandeur were that he remained to the end in thrall to his own revolutionary dreams ... He freed China from the straitjacket of its Confucian past, but the bright Red future he promised turned out to be a sterile purgatory.

Mao's English interpreter Sidney Rittenberg wrote in his memoir The Man Who Stayed Behind that whilst Mao "was a great leader in history", he was also "a great criminal because, not that he wanted to, not that he intended to, but in fact, his wild fantasies led to the deaths of tens of millions of people." Li Rui, Mao's personal secretary, goes further and claims he was dismissive of the suffering and death caused by his policies: "Mao's way of thinking and governing was terrifying. He put no value on human life. The deaths of others meant nothing to him." Biographer Jung Chang goes further still and argues that Mao was well aware that his policies would be responsible for the deaths of millions. While discussing labor-intensive projects such as waterworks and making steel, Chang claims Mao said to his inner circle in November 1958: "Working like this, with all these projects, half of China may well have to die. If not half, one-third, or one-tenth—50 million—die." Thomas Bernstein of Columbia University argues that this quotation is taken out of context, claiming:

The Chinese original, however, is not quite as shocking. In the speech, Mao talks about massive earthmoving irrigation projects and numerous big industrial ones, all requiring huge numbers of people. If the projects, he said, are all undertaken simultaneously "half of China's population unquestionably will die; and if it's not half, it'll be a third or ten percent, a death toll of 50 million people." Mao then pointed to the example of Guangxi provincial Party secretary, Chén Mànyuǎn (陈漫远) who had been dismissed in 1957 for failing to prevent famine in the previous year, adding: "If with a death toll of 50 million you didn't lose your jobs, I at least should lose mine; whether I should lose my head would also be in question. Anhui wants to do so much, which is quite all right, but make it a principle to have no deaths."

Chang and Halliday take literally Mao's penchant for talking about mass death in highly irresponsible, provocative, callous and reckless ways, exemplified by his famous remark that in a nuclear war, half of China's population would perish but the rest would survive and rebuild. In 1958, when ruminating about the dialectics of life and death, he thought that deaths were beneficial, for without them, there could be no renewal. Imagine, he asked, what a disaster it would be if Confucius were still alive. "When people die there ought to be celebrations." In December 1958 he remarked that "destruction (mièwáng 灭亡, also extinction) [of people] has advantages. One can make fertilizer. You say you can't, but actually you can, but you must be spiritually prepared." The authors note that these kinds of remarks could well have justified the indifference of lower-level cadres to peasants deaths.

Jasper Becker and Frank Dikötter reach a similar conclusion. Becker notes that "archive material gathered by Dikötter ... confirms that far from being ignorant or misled about the famine, the Chinese leadership were kept informed about it all the time. And he exposes the extent of the violence used against the peasants":

Mass killings are not usually associated with Mao and the Great Leap Forward, and China continues to benefit from a more favourable comparison with Cambodia or the Soviet Union. But as fresh and abundant archival evidence shows, coercion, terror and systematic violence were the foundation of the Great Leap, and between 1958 to 1962, by a rough approximation, some 6 to 8 per cent of those who died were tortured to death or summarily killed—amounting to at least 3 million victims.

Countless others were deliberately deprived of food and consequently starved to death. Many more vanished because they were too old, weak or sick to work—and hence unable to earn their keep. People were killed selectively because they had the wrong class background, because they dragged their feet, because they spoke out or simply because they were not liked, for whatever reason, by the man who wielded the ladle in the canteen.

Sculptures in front of Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, Beijing

Dikötter argues that CPC leaders "glorified violence and were inured to massive loss of life. And all of them shared an ideology in which the end justified the means. In 1962, having lost millions of people in his province, Li Jingquan compared the Great Leap Forward to the Long March in which only one in ten had made it to the end: 'We are not weak, we are stronger, we have kept the backbone.'"

Regarding the large-scale irrigation projects, Dikötter stresses that, in spite of Mao being in a good position to see the human cost, they continued unabated for several years, and ultimately claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of exhausted villagers. He also notes that "In a chilling precursor of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, villagers in Qingshui and Gansu called these projects the 'killing fields'."

The United States placed a trade embargo on the People's Republic as a result of its involvement in the Korean War, lasting until Richard Nixon decided that developing relations with the PRC would be useful in dealing with the Soviet Union.

Roderick MacFarquhar has stated: "What Mao accomplished between 1949 and 1956 was in fact the fastest, most extensive, and least damaging socialist revolution carried out in any communist state."

Mao'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 is popularly regarded as a genius. As an example, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) followed Mao's examples of guerrilla warfare to considerable political and military success even in the 21st century. Mao's major contribution to the military science is his theory of People's War, with not only guerrilla warfare but more importantly, Mobile Warfare methodologies. Mao had successfully applied Mobile Warfare in the Korean War, and was able to encircle, push back and then halt the UN forces in Korea, despite the clear superiority of UN firepower. Mao also gave the impression that he might even welcome a nuclear war. Soviet historians have written that Mao believed his country could survive a nuclear war, even if it lost 300 million people.

Statue of Mao in Lijiang

"Let us imagine how many people would die if war breaks out. There are 2.7 billion people in the world, and a third could be lost. If it is a little higher, it could be half ... I say that if the worst came to the worst and one-half dies, there will still be one-half left, but imperialism would be razed to the ground and the whole world would become socialist. After a few years there would be 2.7 billion people again"

But historians dispute the sincerity of Mao's words. Robert Service says that Mao "was deadly serious," while Frank Dikötter claims that "He was bluffing ... the sabre-rattling was to show that he, not Khrushchev, was the more determined revolutionary."

Mao's poems and writings are frequently cited by both Chinese and non-Chinese. The official Chinese translation of President Barack Obama's inauguration speech used a famous line from one of Mao's poems. John McCain misattributed a campaign quote to Mao several times during his 2008 presidential election bid, saying "Remember the words of Chairman Mao: 'It's always darkest before it's totally black.'"

The ideology of Maoism has influenced many communists, mainly in the Third World, including revolutionary movements such as Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, Peru's Shining Path, and the Nepalese revolutionary movement. Under the influence of Mao's agrarian socialism and Cultural Revolution, Cambodia's Pol Pot conceived of his disastrous Year Zero policies which purged the nation of its teachers, artists and intellectuals and emptied its cities, resulting in the Cambodian Genocide.

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'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'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. This accompanied a decline in state recognition of Mao in later years in contrast to previous years when the state organized numerous events and seminars commemorating Mao's 100th birthday. Nevertheless, the Chinese government has never officially repudiated the tactics of Mao. Deng Xiaoping, who was opposed to the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, has to a certain extent rejected Mao's legacy, famously saying that Mao was "70% right and 30% wrong".

In the mid-1990s, Mao Zedong's picture began to appear on all new renminbi (人民幣) currency from the People's Republic of China. This was officially instituted as an anti-counterfeiting measure as Mao's face is widely recognized in contrast to the generic figures that appear in older currency. On March 13, 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, with the exception of a single mention in a section on etiquette. Students in Shanghai now only learn about Mao in junior high school.

Public image

Mao gave contradicting statements on the subject of personality cults. In 1955, as a response to the Khrushchev Report that criticized Joseph Stalin, Mao stated that personality cults are "poisonous ideological survivals of the old society", and reaffirmed China's commitment to collective leadership. But at the 1958 Party congress in Chengdu, Mao expressed support for the personality cults of people whom he labelled as genuinely worthy figures; not those that expressed "blind worship".

In 1962, Mao 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 from Liu's economic reforms. Large quantities of politicized art were produced and circulated — with Mao at the centre. Numerous posters, badges and musical compositions referenced Mao in the phrase "Chairman Mao is the red sun in our hearts" (毛主席是我们心中的红太阳, Máo Zhǔxí Shì Wǒmen Xīnzhōng De Hóng Tàiyáng) and a "Savior of the people" (人民的大救星, Rénmín De Dà Jiùxīng).

In October 1966, Mao'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's image became displayed almost everywhere, present in homes, offices and shops. His quotations were typographically emphasized by putting them in boldface or red type in even the most obscure writings. Music from the period emphasized Mao's stature, as did children's rhymes. The phrase "Long Live Chairman Mao for ten thousand years" was commonly heard during the era.

A line to enter Mao Zedong Mausoleum.

Mao also has a presence in China and around the world in popular culture, where his face adorns everything from t-shirts to coffee cups. Mao's granddaughter, Kong Dongmei, defended the phenomenon, stating that "it shows his influence, that he exists in people's consciousness and has influenced several generations of Chinese people's way of life. Just like Che Guevara's image, his has become a symbol of revolutionary culture." Since 1950, over 40 million people have visited Mao's birthplace in Shaoshan, Hunan.



His ancestors were:

  • Máo Yíchāng (毛贻昌, born Xiangtan October 15, 1870, died Shaoshan January 23, 1920), father, courtesy name Máo Shùnshēng (毛顺生) or also known as Mao Jen-sheng
  • Wén Qīmèi(文七妹, born Xiangxiang 1867, died October 5, 1919), mother. She was illiterate and a devout Buddhist. She was a descendant of Wen Tianxiang.
  • Máo Ēnpǔ (毛恩普, born May 22, 1846, died November 23, 1904), paternal grandfather
  • Luó Shì (罗氏), paternal grandmother
  • Máo Zǔrén (毛祖人), paternal great-grandfather


Mao with Jiang Qing and daughter Li Na, 1940s

Mao Zedong had four wives who provided a total of 10 children. These were:

  1. Luo Yixiu (罗一秀, October 20, 1889 – 1910) of Shaoshan: married 1907 to 1910
  2. Yang Kaihui (杨开慧, 1901–1930) of Changsha: married 1921 to 1927, executed by the KMT in 1930; mother to Mao Anying, Mao Anqing, and Mao Anlong
  3. He Zizhen (贺子珍, 1910–1984) of Jiangxi: married May 1928 to 1939; mother to Mao Anhong, Li Min, and four other children
  4. Jiang Qing: (江青, 1914–1991), married 1939 to Mao's death; mother to Li Na


He had several siblings:

  • Mao Zemin (毛泽民, 1895–1943), younger brother, executed by a warlord
  • Mao Zetan (毛泽覃, 1905–1935), younger brother, executed by the KMT
  • Mao Zejian (毛泽建, 1905–1929), adopted sister, executed by the KMT
Mao Zedong's parents altogether had five sons and two daughters. Two of the sons and both daughters died young, leaving the three brothers Mao Zedong, Mao Zemin, and Mao Zetan. Like all three of Mao Zedong's wives, Mao Zemin and Mao Zetan were communists. Like Yang Kaihui, both Zemin and Zetan were killed in warfare during Mao Zedong's lifetime.

Note that the character (泽) appears in all of the siblings' given names. This is a common Chinese naming convention.

From the next generation, Zemin's son, Mao Yuanxin, was raised by Mao Zedong's family. He became Mao Zedong's liaison with the Politburo in 1975. In Li Zhisui's The Private Life of Chairman Mao, Mao Yuanxin played a role in the final power-struggles.


Mao Zedong had a total of ten children, including:

  • Mao Anying (毛岸英, 1922–1950): son to Yang, married to Liú Sīqí (刘思齐), who was born Liú Sōnglín (刘松林), killed in action during the Korean War
  • Mao Anqing (毛岸青, 1923–2007): son to Yang, married to Shao Hua (邵华), grandson Mao Xinyu (毛新宇), great-grandson Mao Dongdong
  • Mao Anlong (1927–1931): son to Yang, died during the Chinese Civil War
  • Mao Anhong (b. 1932): son to He, left to Mao's younger brother Zetan and then to one of Zetan's guards when he went off to war, was never heard of again
  • Li Min (李敏, b. 1936): daughter to He, married to Kǒng Lìnghuá (孔令华), son Kǒng Jìníng (孔继宁), daughter Kǒng Dōngméi (孔冬梅)
  • Li Na (李讷, Pinyin: Lĭ Nà, b. 1940): daughter to Jiang (whose birth given name was Li, a name also used by Mao while evading the KMT), married to Wáng Jǐngqīng (王景清), son Wáng Xiàozhī (王效芝)

Mao's first and second daughters were left to local villagers because it was too dangerous to raise them while fighting the Kuomintang and later the Japanese. Their youngest daughter (born in early 1938 in Moscow after Mao separated) and one other child (born 1933) died in infancy. Two English researchers who retraced the entire Long March route in 2002–2003 located a woman whom they believe might well be one of the missing children abandoned by Mao to peasants in 1935. Ed Jocelyn and Andrew McEwen hope a member of the Mao family will respond to requests for a DNA test.

Personal life

Mao's private life was very secretive at the time of his rule. However, after Mao's death, his personal physician Li Zhisui published The Private Life of Chairman Mao, a memoir which mentions some aspects of Mao's private life, such as chain-smoking cigarettes, rare bathing or dental habits, laziness, addiction to sleeping pills and large number of sexual partners.

Having grown up in Hunan, Mao spoke Mandarin with a heavy Xiang Chinese accent that is very pronounced on recordings of his speeches. Ross Terrill noted Mao was a "son of the soil ... rural and unsophisticated" in origins, while Clare Hollingworth asserted he was proud of his "peasant ways and manners", having a strong Hunanese accent and providing "earthy" comments on sexual matters. Lee Feigon noted that Mao's "earthiness" meant that he remained connected to "everyday Chinese life."

Biographer Peter Carter described Mao as having "an attractive personality" who could for much of the time be a "moderate and balanced man", but noted that he could also be ruthless, and showed no mercy to his opponents. This description was echoed by Sinologist Stuart Schram, who emphasized his ruthlessness, but who also noted that Mao showed no sign of "tak[ing] pleasure" in torture or killing in the revolutionary cause. Historian Lee Feigon also described Mao as being "draconian and authoritarian" when threatened, but expressed the opinion that he was not the "kind of villain that his mentor Stalin was". Alexander Pantsov and Steven I. Levine claimed that Mao was a "man of complex moods", who "tried his best to bring about prosperity and gain international respect" for China, being "neither a saint nor a demon." They noted that in early life, he strived to be "a strong, wilful, and purposeful hero, not bound by any moral chains". Carter noted that throughout his life, Mao had the ability to gain people's trust, and that as such he gathered around him "an extraordinarily wide range of friends" in his early years.

Writings and calligraphy

Mao's calligraphy: A bronze plaque of a poem by Li Bai. (Chinese: 白帝城毛泽东手书李白诗铜匾

Mao was a prolific writer of political and philosophical literature. He is the attributed author of Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, known in the West as the "Little Red Book" and in Cultural Revolution China as the "Red Treasure Book" (红宝书): this is a collection of short extracts from his speeches and articles, edited by Lin Biao and ordered topically. Mao wrote several other philosophical treatises, both before and after he assumed power. These include:

  • On Guerrilla Warfare (《游击战》); 1937
  • On Practice (《实践论》); 1937
  • On Contradiction (《矛盾论》); 1937
  • On Protracted War (《论持久战》); 1938
  • In Memory of Norman Bethune (《纪念白求恩》); 1939
  • On New Democracy (《新民主主义论》); 1940
  • Talks at the Yan'an Forum on Literature and Art (《在延安文艺座谈会上的讲话》); 1942
  • Serve the People (《为人民服务》); 1944
  • The Foolish Old Man Who Removed the Mountains (《愚公移山》); 1945
  • On the Correct Handling of the Contradictions Among the People (《正确处理人民内部矛盾问题》); 1957

Mao was also a skilled Chinese calligrapher with a highly personal style. In China, Mao was considered a master calligrapher during his lifetime. His calligraphy can be seen today throughout mainland China. His work gave rise to a new form of Chinese calligraphy called "Mao-style" or Maoti, which has gained increasing popularity since his death. There currently exist various competitions specializing in Mao-style calligraphy.

Literary works

Mao's calligraphy of his poem "Qingyuanchun Changsha"

As did most Chinese intellectuals of his generation, Mao received rigorous education in Chinese classical literature. His style was deeply influenced by the great Tang Dynasty poets Li Bai and Li He. He is considered to be a romantic poet, in contrast to the realist poets represented by Du Fu.

Many of Mao's poems are still popular in China and a few are taught as a mandatory part of the elementary school curriculum. Some of his most well-known poems are: Changsha (1925), The Double Ninth (1929.10), Loushan Pass (1935), The Long March (1935), Snow (1936), The PLA Captures Nanjing (1949), Reply to Li Shuyi (1957.05.11), and Ode to the Plum Blossom (1961.12).

Portrayal in film and television

Mao has been portrayed in film and television numerous times. Some notable actors include: Han Shi, the first actor ever to have portrayed Mao, in a 1978 drama Dielianhua and later again in a 1980 film Cross the Dadu River; Gu Yue, who had portrayed Mao 84 times on screen throughout his 27-year career and had won the Best Actor title at the Hundred Flowers Awards in 1990 and 1993; Liu Ye, who played a young Mao in The Founding of a Party (2011); Tang Guoqiang, who has frequently portrayed Mao in more recent times, in the films The Long March (1996) and The Founding of a Republic (2009), and the television series Huang Yanpei (2010), among others.

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