1 8 9 3 – 1 9 7 6
Mao was the son of a peasant farmer and was born in the village of Shaoshan in the Hunan province of China. He had an elementary classical education in his youth but specialised in modern subjects at Changsha First Normal School, where he was later head teacher.
He served briefly in the Nationalist army during the 1911 Revolution against the Manchu Qing dynasty and was a library assistant at Beijing University in 1918 and 1919, before working for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Hunan province from 1921 to 1927.
In June 1923, he was elected to the CCP Central Committee, and in January 1924 he became chief of the CCP propaganda under the Kuomintang (Guomindang nationalist) leader Sun Zhong Shan (Sun Yat-sen) but was later dismissed by Sun’s successor, Jiang Jie Shi (Chiang Kai-shek).
In 1927 Mao organised a peasant uprising against Jiang Jie Shi’s nationalist forces in Hunan, and when it failed, led the remnants of his army to Jiangxi province in south-east China.
He became chair of the Council of the People’s Commissars (Chinese Soviet Republic) in 1931 and between 1931 and 1934 set up a communist people’s republic (Soviet) in Jiangxi.
In an effort to evade the Kuomintang’s suppressive tactics, he led the Red Army, together with Zhu De, on the Long March north to Yan’an, in Shaanxi in 1934/35. In Yan’an, Mao built up a second people’s republic between 1936 and 1947.
He gained peasant support to the communist cause by reducing land rents and introducing fair taxes.
Mao, whose first wife had been shot by the nationalists and who had divorced his second wife, married Jiang Qing in Yan’an in 1939.
From this base, he organised the war of liberation against the Japanese occupying forces, setting up an alliance with the Kuomintang in 1936.
After 1945 and the defeat of Japan, the war was continued against the Kuomintang, with the CCP Red Army successfully employing mobile, rural-based guerrilla tactics.
They took Beijing on 31 January 1949, and afterwards met little resistance on their march south.
After the defeat of the Kuomintang forces at Nanjing in 1949, Jiang Ji Shi fled to Taiwan with his government and 2 million supporters, and a People’s Republic was subsequently established in Beijing on 2 October 1949, with Mao as the elected chair of the republic.
After Liberation, Mao initially followed a traditional Soviet-program of land redistribution and heavy industrialisation and was re-elected chair of the CCP by the first National People’s Congress in 1954.
However, from 1956, after the Soviet condemnation of Stalin, he launched a ”let a hundred flowers bloom” campaign in which criticisms were raised of the power of the new bureaucracy and he began to reject the emphasis on development through heavy industries.
From 1958 to 1962 Mao introduced a series of sweeping economic changes under his second five-year plan.
The aim of this program – known as the Great Leap Forward – was to restructure the economy and polity along communist lines, and to this end, Mao created large new agro-industrial communes, which were also designed to end the traditional divide between town and country and act as local political units.
The Great Leap Forward eventually collapsed, chiefly because of poor planning, and effectively led to the deaths of over 20 million people from famine between 1959 and 1961, as well as to Mao’s own resignation as state president in 1959 and his replacement by the more moderate Liu Shaoqi.
Mao adapted communism to Chinese conditions, as set out in the Little Red Book (1960), in which he stressed the need for rural rather than urban-based revolutions in Asia; for reducing rural-urban differences; and for perpetual revolution to prevent the emergence of new elites.
He advocated a ”mass line” form of leadership, involving the broad mobilization of the people in economic, social, and political movements.
He was also an advocate of a non-aligned Third World strategy and helped to precipitate the Sino-Soviet split of 1960, which arose when the USSR withdrew military and technical support from China.
In 1966 Mao dramatically launched the Cultural Revolution. With the assistance of the radical ‘Gang of Four‘, led by Jiang Qing, he mobilised millions of students to smash the existing political organisations and parts of the state apparatus.
Various warring factions of Red Guards appeared, and ‘liberal revisionist’ officials at high and middle levels, including Liu Shaoqi, were denounced as capitalists and removed from their posts.
When sections of the Red Guards began to develop independently of the Maoist centre, Mao collaborated with the defence minister, Lin Biao, to intervene with military force.
Finally, it was the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) which suppressed the Red Guards and ended the Cultural Revolution, and the army’s victory was crowned at the 9th Party Congress in April 1969, with the formal designation of Lin as Mao’s successor.
At the beginning of the 1970s, a new struggle between Mao and Lin broke out, leading to a reported attempt by Lin to seize power in September 1971.
Lin’s coup attempt was forestalled by Mao with the help of his prime minister Zhou Enlai, who subsequently worked alongside Mao in the reconstruction of China after the damage wrought by the Cultural Revolution.
The Mao-Zhou alliance also made an important change in China’s foreign policy after 1971 by moving towards reconciliation with the USA and Japan, and the trend towards rapprochement with the USA was further strengthened after the 10th Congress of the CCP in August 1973.
Between 1973 and 1975 Mao also launched various radical campaigns against Confucianism, ”bourgeois rights”, and ”capitulationism”.
After his death in September 1976, Mao was succeeded as chairman of the CCP by the more moderate Hua Guofeng and the ”Gang of Four” were arrested.
In 1978 the leadership of China effectively passed to Deng Xiaoping, a victim of the ”Cultural Revolution” and former ally of Liu Shaoqi.
Deng criticised the policy excesses of Maoism and devised a pragmatic new communist philosophy which sought to combine the use of the market to encourage increased production and prosperity, with continuing tight CCP control over political activities.
In July 1981 the CCP Central Committee published an authoritative official verdict on Mao Zedong and the last 20 years of his life.
It assessed Mao as ”70 % good and 30 % bad”, praising his contribution to the building of the CCP, PLA, and People’s Republic, but criticised him for becoming tyrannical and obsessed with a misguided leftist line from the mid-1950s, culminating in the disastrous Cultural Revolution.
Today, Maoism is viewed as just one of the many contributions to Chinese communist thinking.