The most important and leading political figure of Chinese history was Mao Zadong. He belonged to that rare breed of humanists who possess both, a philosopher’s mind and vigor and valor of a soldier. He influenced the thoughts and lives of people of china both as a theorist and as a leader. Western world has several misconceptions about Mao, such as, almost 30 million people were executed in his agricultural reforms and his Great Leap Forward Policy; his Cultural Revolution caused widespread violence in China etc. This paper delves into the matter and discusses whether these statements about him are true or not and how he affected the political, economical and cultural life of people of China.
Mao Zadong was born in 1893 in the house of a grain merchant. He acquired his education of ethics from First Normal School in Changsha. He also started writing at that time and his essay was published in 1917 (Icons of the 20th Century).
His studies widened his views on philosophy and politics. In 1921, he with some other leaders established Chinese Communist Party. At first it cooperated with the Kuomintang (KMT), the party trying to govern China and control the generals who were struggling among themselves for power. Kuomintang leaders were Dr. Sun Yat-sen, and after his death in 1925, General Chiang Kai-shek. As Kuomintang established its control over more of China, it felt strong enough to dispense with the communists in 1927 and tried to destroy them. Mao organized the Autumn Harvest Uprising in 1928. Other communist leaders also reacted vigorously and, after escaping, from surrounding KMT forces embarked on the famous 6,000 miles Long March. In 1931 Mao became the president of People’s Republic of China and a civil war had started between KMT under Chiang Kai-shek and Chinese Communists Party under Mao Zadong. At last in 1949 Mao triumphed and Chiang fled to the island of Taiwan (Formosa) with his supporters. Mao died in 1976.
Problems Faced by Mao Zadong
The problems facing Mao Zadong in 1949 were complex to say the least. The country was devastated after the long civil war and the war with Japan. Railways, roads, canals and dykes had been destroyed and there were chronic food shortages. Industry was backward, agriculture was inefficient and incapable of feeding the poverty-stricken masses, and inflation seemed out of control (Monthly Review). Mao had the support of peasants and many of the middle class, disgusted by the miserable performance of the KMT, but it was essential for him to improve conditions if he were to hold on to their support. To organize and control such a vast country with a population of at least 600 million must have been a superhuman task; yet Mao managed it, and China today, whatever it is, is his creation. He began closely by looking at Stalin’ methods and experimented by a process of trial and error to find which would work in china and where a special Chinese approach was necessary.
Constitution of 1950
The constitution of 1950, which was officially adopted in 1954 included the National People’s Congress (the final authority for legislation), whose members were elected for four years by people over 18, the State Council and the Chairman of the Republic (both elected by the Congress), whose function was to make sure that laws were carried out and the administration of the country went ahead; the whole system was, dominated by the Communist party. The constitution was important because it provided China with a strong central government for the first time for many years, and it has remained more or less unchanged.
Agricultural changes of Mao Zadong’s government transformed China from a country of small, inefficient private farms into one of large cooperative farms like those in Russia in the period of 1950 to 1956. In the first stage, land was taken from large landowners and redistributed among the peasants, no doubt with violence in places. The next step was achieved without violence, i.e. peasants were persuaded (not forced as they were in Russia) to join together in co-operative (collective) farms in order to increase food production. By 1956, about 95 percent of all peasants were in such co-operatives (consisting of between 100 and 300 families) with joint ownership of the farm and its equipment (Blecher, p.185).
Mao’s Industrial Revolution
Mao and his government had started industrial revolution by nationalizing most businesses; in 1953 it embarked on a Five Year Plan Concentrating on the development of heavy industry (iron, steel, chemicals and coal). The Russians helped with cash, equipment and advisers, and the plan had some success. Before it was complete, however, Mao began to have grave doubts whether China was suited to this sort of heavy industrialization. On the other hand, he could claim that under his leadership the country had recovered from the ravages of the wars; full communication had been restored, inflation was under control and the economy was looking much healthier.
The Hundred Flowers Campaign
The Hundred Flower Campaign of 1957 seems to have developed to some extent out of industrialization, which produced a vast new class of technicians and engineers. The party cadres (group who organized the masses politically and economically; the collectivization of the farms for example was carried out by cadres) believed that the new class of experts would threaten their authority. Mao and his government was pleased with their progress so far, decided that open discussion of the problems might improve relations between cadres and experts or intellectuals. Unfortunately Mao and his government got more than they had anticipated. Critics attacked the cadres for incompetence and over enthusiasm, the government for over-centralization and the party itself; some suggested that opposition parties should be allowed (Jackson). Mao hurriedly called off the campaign and clamped down on his critics, insisting that his policies were right. The campaign showed how much opposition there still was to communism and to the uneducated cadres, and convinced Mao that a drive was necessary to consolidate the advances of socialism; this ultimately paved the way for The Great Leap Forward in 1958.
The Great Leap Forward
The Great Leap Forward was the policy designed to meet the Chinese situation and not based on Russian experience; it involved further important developments in both agriculture and industry, in order to increase output (agriculture particularly was still not providing the required food) and to adapt industry to Chinese conditions (Gabriel). Great Leap Forward policy had the following important features:
· The introduction of communes, units larger than collective farms containing up to 75,000 people, divided into brigades and work teams and with an elected council. They ran their own collective farms and factories, carried out most of the functions of local governments within the commune and undertook special local projects. One typical commune, for example, in 1965 contained 30,000 people of which a third were children at school or in crèches, a third were housewives or elderly and the rest the workforce (which included a science team of 32 graduates and 43 technicians). Each family received a share-out of profits and also had a small private plot of land (The People's Republic Of China: II: The Great Leap Forward, 1958-60)
· A complete change of emphasis in industry instead of aiming the large-scale work of the types seen in Russia and the West, much smaller factories were set up in the countryside to provide machinery for agriculture. Mao talked of 600,000 “backyard steel furnaces” springing up, organized and managed by the communes, which also undertook to build roads, dams, reservoirs, and irrigation channels
At first it looked as though the Great Leap might be a failure. There was opposition to the communes, a series of bad harvests (from 1959 to 1961) and the withdrawal of all Russian aid following the breach between the two; all this coupled with the lack of experience among the cadres caused hardship in the years 1959 to 1963 (Gabriel). Even Mao’s prestige suffered and he was forced to resign as Chairman of the People’s Congress (to be succeeded by Liu Shao-chi) though he remained Chairman of the communist party (Gabriel). However, in the long term the importance of Great Leap became clear; eventually both agriculture and industrial production increased substantially, and China was managing at least to feed its massive population without famine (which rarely happened under KMT rule).
According to western scholars 16.4 to 29.5 million people were executed on Mao’s or Communist party’s order, in Great Leap Forward policy (MacFarquhar, p.330). This misconception was based on the wrong statistics provided by the revisionists. The fact is, most of the people died due to starvation in famine and due to Floods and drought, not by execution. Mao accepted the responsibility of 800,000 executions from 1949 to 1954 but these were mostly the most hated landlords who had killed the masses during World War II. All these executions were done in proper trials (Chairman Mao Talks to the People, p.77). Actually this misconception was propagated by capitalist countries, especially by United States, who did not like the success of Mao, as it was a firm supporter of Chiang Kai-shek. Mao and Communist party both accepted that they committed mistakes in Great Leap Forward, but these mistakes were necessary because the agricultural revolution of Mao was based on trial and error basis.
The commune proved to be a remarkably successful innovation- much more than merely collective farms, they are perhaps the ideal solution to the problem of running a vast country while at the same time avoiding the over-centralization that stifles initiative; the crucial decision had been taken that China would remain predominantly an agricultural country with small-scale industry scattered about the countryside. The economy would be labor intensive (relying on massive numbers of workers instead of introducing labor-saving machines). Given the country’s enormous population, this problem of the highly industrialized western nations. Other benefits were the spread of education and welfare services and the improvement of the position of women in society.
Mao’s Cultural Revolution
Through his cultural revolution from 1966-1969, Mao was attempting to keep the revolution and the Great Leap on a pure Marxist-Leninist course. In the early 1960s when the success of the Great Leap was by no means certain, opposition to Mao grew. Right-wing members of the party believed that more incentives (piecework, greater wage differentials and larger private plots, which had been creeping in some areas) were necessary if the communes were to function efficiently; also there should be an expert managerial class to push forward with industrialization on the Russian model, instead of relying on the cadres (Train). But to Mao and his allies, this was totally unacceptable; it was actually what Mao was condemning among the Russians whom he dismissed as Revisionists taking the capitalist road. The party must avoid the emergence of a privileged class and keep in touch with the masses. Between 1963 and 1966 there was a great public debate about which course to follow, between the rightists (who included Liu Shao-chi and Deng Xiaoping) and the Mao’s allies. Mao, using his position as the chairman of the party to rouse the young people, launched a desperate campaign to save the revolution. In this Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, as Mao called it, Mao appealed to the Masses. His supporters the Red Guards (mostly students) toured the country arguing Mao’s case, while schools and, later on, factories were closed down. It was an incredible propaganda exercise in which Mao was trying to renew revolutionary fervor and even to create a new kind of socialist person whose aim was to serve others. At times fighting broke between the two factions and the country seemed likely to descend into chaos. In the end, Mao and his allies were successful thanks to the army under the command of Lin Piao; order was restored and the revisionists disgraced. Afterwards the Mao’s approach was followed until 1976 when both Mao and his reliable ally Chou En-lai died.
Mao and Communist party was blamed for millions of deaths during Cultural Revolution. This is also a misconception propagated by capitalist countries. Actually very few western observers were present in China at that time; neither any comprehensive study of that situation claimed by any westerner nor there was any first hand account. If there was any killing during Cultural Revolution, it was mostly done by the opposite faction (Vincente, p.49).
Mao himself accepted the responsibility of few killings in Cultural Revolution. According to his philosophy it is perfectly legal to execute a murderer or someone who “blows a factory”. He wrote, “What harm is there in not executing people? Those amenable to labour reform should go and do labour reform, so that rubbish can be transformed into something useful. Besides, people's heads are not like leeks. When you cut them off, they will not grow again. If you cut off a head wrongly, there is no way of rectifying the mistake even if you want to” (Chairman Mao Talks to the People, p.78).
Mao should not be held responsible for whatever violence and killings happened during Cultural and agricultural revolutions in China. In United States almost 20,000 people were murdered annually (Vincente, p.50) but nobody says that President of United States is responsible for all these murders, then why should we blame Mao for being responsible to all killings during his regime.
By all means China’s achievements were impressive under Mao Zadong. China from then on emerged on the world scene as a new superpower. This is the creation of Mao Zadong. Although Mao was blamed for several killings in Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, but this is a misconception propagated by capitalist countries and by United States.
A good leader actually motivates people and gives them a burning desire to achieve their goal. People respect a leader; after observing what the leader do, so they can understand him. With this observation, a person is able to know that whether the leader is an honorable or trusted leader or just a self-serving person. It is a common experience that the self-serving leaders are lot less effective. They are just like bosses whose employees although obey but do not fancy to follow them.
According to the above definition of a leader, Mao Zadong was a true leader who was still respected and idolized by his people.