Mao Zedong (Tse-tung) 1943–1976 China



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Mao Zedong (Tse-tung) 1943–1976 China

Mao was born on December 26, 1893, in Shaoshan, Hunan province China. His father was a poor peasant who had become a wealthy farmer and grain dealer. At age 8 he began studying at the village primary school, but left school at 13 to work on the family farm. He later left the farm to continue his studies at a secondary school in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province. When the Xinhai Revolution against the Qing Dynasty broke out in 1911 he joined the Revolutionary Army in Hunan.

Political Ideas

Mao had a strong interest in the political system, encouraged by his father. His two most famous essays, both from 1937, 'On Contradiction' and 'On Practice', are concerned with the practical strategies of a revolutionary movement and stress the importance of practical, grassroots knowledge, obtained through experience.

Both essays reflect the guerrilla roots of Maoism in the need to build up support in the countryside against a Japanese occupying force and emphasize the need to win over 'hearts and minds' through 'education'. The essays, reproduced later as part of the 'Red Book', warn against the behaviour of the blindfolded man trying to catch sparrows, and the 'Imperial envoy' descending from his carriage to 'spout opinions' .ethical ideas

Leadership of China

The People's Republic of China was established on October 1, 1949. It was the culmination of over two decades of civil and international war. From 1954 to 1959, Mao was the Chairman of the PRC. During this period, Mao was called Chairman Mao (毛主席) or the Great Leader Chairman Mao (伟大领袖毛主席).

The Communist Party assumed control of all media in the country and used it to promote the image of Mao and the Party. The Nationalists under General Chiang Kai-Shek were vilified as were countries such as the United States of America and Japan. The Chinese people were exhorted to devote themselves to build and strengthen their country through Communist ideology. In his speech declaring the foundation of the PRC, Mao is famously said to have announced: "The Chinese people have stood up" (though whether he actually said it is disputed)

Mao took up residence in Zhongnanhai, a compound next to the Forbidden City in Beijing, and there he ordered the construction of an indoor swimming pool and other buildings. Mao often did his work either in bed or by the side of the pool, preferring not to wear formal clothes unless absolutely necessary, according to Dr. Li Zhisui, his personal physician. (Li's book, The Private Life of Chairman Mao, is regarded as controversial, especially by those sympathetic to Mao.)

Along with Land reform, during which significant numbers of landlords were beaten to death at mass meetings organized by the CPC as land was taken from them and given to poorer peasants, there was also the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries, which involved public executions targeting mainly former Kuomintang officials, businessmen accused of "disturbing" the market, former employees of Western companies and intellectuals whose loyalty was suspect. The U.S. State department in 1976 estimated that there may have been a million killed in the land reform, 800,000 killed in the counterrevolutionary campaign.

Mao himself claimed that a total of 700,000 people were executed during the years 1949–53.However, because there was a policy to select "at least one landlord, and usually several, in virtually every village for public execution", the number of deaths range between 2 million and 5 million. In addition, at least 1.5 million people, perhaps as many as 4 to 6 million, were sent to "reform through labor" camps where many perished. Mao played a personal role in organizing the mass repressions and established a system of execution quotas, which were often exceeded. Nevertheless he defended these killings as necessary for the securing of power.

Starting in 1951, Mao initiated two successive movements in an effort to rid urban areas of corruption by targeting wealthy capitalists and political opponents, known as the three-anti/five-anti campaigns. A climate of raw terror developed as workers denounced their bosses, wives turned on their husbands, and children informed on their parents; the victims often being humiliated at struggle sessions, a method designed to intimidate and terrify people to the maximum. Mao insisted that minor offenders be criticized and reformed or sent to labor camps, "while the worst among them should be shot." These campaigns took several hundred thousand additional lives, the vast majority via suicide.

In Shanghai, people jumping to their deaths became so commonplace that residents avoided walking on the pavement near skyscrapers for fear that suicides might land on them



Agriculture

Following the consolidation of power, Mao launched the First Five-Year Plan (1953-8). 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.



Great Leap Forward

In January 1958, Mao Zedong launched the Great Leap Forward, a plan intended as an alternative model for economic growth to the Soviet model focusing on heavy industry that was advocated by others in the party. Under this economic program, the relatively small agricultural collectives which had been formed to date were rapidly merged into far larger people's communes, and many of the peasants ordered to work on massive infrastructure projects and the small-scale production of iron and steel. 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 and the reduced personal incentives under a commune system this led to an approximately 15% drop in grain production in 1959 followed by further 10% reduction in 1960 and no recovery in 1961 (Spence, 553).

In an effort to win favor with their superiors and avoid being purged, each layer in the party hierarchy exaggerated the amount of grain produced under them and based on the fabricated success, party cadres were ordered to requisition a disproportionately high amount of the true harvest for state use primarily in the cities and urban areas but also for export. The net result, which was compounded in some areas by drought and in others by floods, was that the rural peasants were not left enough to eat and many millions starved to death in the largest famine in human history. This famine was a direct cause of the death of tens of millions of Chinese peasants between 1959 and 1962. Further, many children who became emaciated and malnourished during years of hardship and struggle for survival, died shortly after the Great Leap Forward came to an end in 1962 (Spence, 553).

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

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

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

Cultural Revolution

Mao was concerned with the nature of post 1949 China. He saw that the revolution had replaced an old elite, with a new one. He was concerned that those in power were becoming estranged from the people they were supposed to serve. Corruption was also a concern. Mao thought that a greater threat to China was not from forces outside of the Communist Party, but from people from within who would subvert it and create a new elite who would control the masses of the population, and not serve them (capitalism from within). He thought that a renewal was required, a revolution of culture that would unseat and unsettle the "ruling class" and keep China in a state of 'perpetual revolution' that served the interests of the majority, not a tiny elite.

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 many parts of the country, and millions were persecuted, including a famous philosopher, Chen Yuen. Mao is said to have ordered that no physical harm come to anyone, but that was not always the case. 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.

Cult of Mao

Mao's figure is largely symbolic both in China and in the global communist movement as a whole. During the Cultural Revolution, Mao's already glorified image manifested into a personality cult that influenced every aspect of Chinese life. Mao was regarded as the undisputed leader of China's working class in their 100-year struggle against imperialism, feudalism and capitalism, which were the three-evils in pre-1949 China since the Opium War. Even today, many Chinese people regard Mao as a God-like figure, who led the ailing China onto the path of an independent and powerful nation, whose pictures can expel the evil spirit and bad luck.


Death: Mao's final week & days


At five o'clock in the afternoon of 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 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 several times whether he was in danger. His condition continued to fluctuate and his life hung in the balance.

On the afternoon of September 7, Mao 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 were failing and he was taken off the life support a few minutes after midnight. September 9 was chosen because it was an easy day to remember. Mao had been in poor health for several years and had declined visibly for at least 6 months prior to his death.

His body lay in state at the Great Hall of the People. A memorial service was held in Tiananmen Square on 18 September 1976. There was a 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.


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