Mao, Chairman Mao or Mao Zedong was a power house of political, social and ideological force in his life time.
Perhaps as with all those who make great changes to any social fabric and status quo, his life is not without controversy. Undoubtedly the adage there is no smoke without fire generally rings true amd there was enough smoke to indicate that Mao's methods were at times questionable.
Mao-the early years.
Mao was 7 at the turn of the twentieth century. From an early age he was exposed to events that would help secure strong loyalty with the peasant workers of China. Although Mao's family were relatively wealthy peasants, Mao witnessed severe famine during his childhood. These famines led to riots and the execution of starving peasants by the authorities. The events disturbed young Mao and had a lasting impact.
Mao did well at school and after arguing with his father (who wanted him to remain on the farm), he left his village for the nearest city, Changsha to continue his education. Mao's political interests grew with the chance loan of revolutionary literature from his cousin. Extolling the need to overthrow the county's absolutist monarchy; he would later join an army to fight for this cause.
He was eventually exposed to the writings of Karl Marx while working as an assistant at Beijing University library. From the early 1920's, Mao became convinced that Marxist ideology was the only means of saving his country from its three main setbacks; colonialism, economic backwardness and poverty.
Despite his admiration of Marx's ideology, Mao's form of marxism was unorthodox. Consequently, he was (to an extent) ostracised. In turn, he was unable to have a strong influence on the party during the early years of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party), the party he helped form. His own adaptation of Marxism where peasants played the role of the revolutionary working class would prove pragmatic in a country which had not yet fully industrialised. After establishing himself as a military leader in 1949 having beaten the Japanese, the nationalists and the Kuomintang, once and for all, Mao founded the People's Republic of China in Tiananmen Square.
Mao had a keen sense of concern for future generations of Chinese.
If we are to understand how Mao achieved his objectives by changing China radically we must understand his relationship with the Chinese people. His concern for the welfare and political consciousness of the Chinese working class motivated him from his early life. His strong ability to engage with ‘them' ensured his continuing popularity among the masses.
Mao vastly improved communications and food transportation. He also reduced rents and during the Cultural Revolution, vastly expanded educational provision. The country which had once been known as the ‘poorman of Asia' began its rapid ascent, through modernisation, to superpower status.
At a social level, life for most people, became better under Mao as the system shifted in favour of their interests. Poverty remained for some time but the industrialisation of China brought better living standards for the people. Life expectancy doubled during Mao's time in power. Literacy rapidly swelled. Social evils such as gangsterism were greatly reduced. Under Mao there was more equality for women and practises such as foot binding were abolished. Economically, Mao's vision saw China grow at a rate of 10 percent per year and agriculturally grow by 3 percent a year.
Mao had a keen sense of concern for future generations of Chinese. Not knowing in his old age, if the Cultural revolution he had set in motion would be fulfilled. He was most concerned that the cultural revolution he instigated might never achieve what he intended it to. In 1976 his last recorded remarks to the Politburo he said:
‘what will happen to the next generation if it all fails? There maybe be a foul wind and a rain of blood. How will you cope? Heaven only knows.'
Mao's concerns over the future and posterity lead to his ‘by any means necessary' attitude in overthrowing all who threatened his authority and all those members of his party he believed were following the ‘capitalist read'. He sought immortality (as it were) by ensuring his ideas would last long after his death and of course lead to the prosperity of China.
Mao changed China's destiny and brought it into the modern world
China baulking at Mao's ideology?
Mao is a revered name in China's political history, but things have dramatically changed in today's China since the strong charismatic Mao Tse Tung passed in 1976. Subsequent governments have turned their backs on Mao's socialist vision. Indeed, confronted with the difference between his vision and the China we are confronted with today, Mao might be turning in his grave.
While China today is in some parts of the media known for; sweatshops, corruption and a growing divide between the rich and the poor, this can be argued has nothing to do with the socialism that Mao implemented.
Mao's approach to politics has had a lasting impact on the country taking China's people in a radical new direction following his successful revolution and ascent to power. Although his economic policies, such as rural communes would be replaced with gradually more and more private enterprise his memory remains strong in China. Some historians, such as C. X. George Wei have commented on the strong continuity between Maoist policy and post Maoist policy in China. Wei argues that China's turn towards capitalism proves the ‘lasting utility of Maoism'.
Ultimately, Mao changed China's destiny and brought it into the modern world, a phenomenal achievement in a country which for so long, had suffered due to various periods such as The Opium Wars of the 1840s. For a long time, China had little control over its future. Mao (it can be argued) united a country previously beset with a multitude of problems which we could now attribute to so called ‘third world countries'. He has remained popular with the people and continues to be respected today.
Of course, there are those who will evidently have a multitude of arguments stating that Mao was at best a totalitarian of the highest order. Yes, his style of leadership has been replaced but his legacy remains strong. His ideas are gaining a new resurgence with those who feel modern China has moved too far away from its Socialist foundations and ideals, too far from his Marxist vision for China's future. Maoist thought has been mixed with capitalist ideology and although those socialist principles have been deeply compromised Mao as noted by Eric Li in the South China Morning Post can rest assured that he remains relevant. Whether that is positive or negative remains of course open to interpretation.
‘No one looms larger in the narrative of modern China than Mao and it is certain this is likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future.