The Life Of Mao Zedong The Life of Mao Zedong Dressed in the drab military uniform that symbolized the revolutionary government of Communist China, Mao Zedong’s body still looked powerful, like an giant rock in a gushing river. An enormous red flag draped his coffin, like a red sail unfurled on a Chinese junk, illustrating the dualism of traditional China and the present Communist China that typified Mao. 1 A river of people flowed past while he lay in state during the second week of September 1976. Workers, peasants, soldiers and students, united in grief; brought together by Mao, the helmsman of modern China. 2 He had assembled a revolutionary government using traditional Chinese ideals of filial piety, harmony, and order. Mao’s cult of personality, party purges, and political policies reflect Mao’s esteem of these traditional Chinese ideals and history.
Mao was born on December 26, 1893 in Shao Shan, a village in Hunan Province. 3 His family lived in a rural village where for hundreds of years the pattern of everyday life had remained largely unbroken. 4 Mao’s father, the son of a poor peasant, during Mao’s childhood however, prospered and become a wealthy land owner and rice dealer. 5 Yet, the structure of Mao’s family continued to mirror the rigidity of traditional Chinese society. His father, a strict disciplinarian, demanded filial piety.
6 Forced to do farm labor and study the Chinese classics, Mao was expected to be obedient. On the other hand, Mao remembers his mother was generous and sympathetic. 7 Mao urged his mother to confront his father but Mao’s mother who believed in many traditional ideas replied that was not the Chinese way. 8 Mao in his interviews with historian Edgar Snow reports how during his childhood he tried to escape this traditional Chinese upbringing by running away from home. The rebellion Mao claims to have manifested might have distanced Mao physically from his family but, traditional Chinese values were deeply ingrained, shaping his political and personal persona.
His father’s harshness with dealing with opposition, his cunning, his demand for reverence from subordinates, and his ambition were to be seen in how Mao demanded harmony, order, and reverence as a ruthless dictator. Yet, Mao, was also the kindly father figure for the people of China, as manifested in characteristic qualities of Mao’s mother: kindness, benevolence, and patriarchal indulgence. The China that Mao was born into was fast becoming a shell of its former past. The Ch’ing dynasty which had ruled China for 250 years was only 14 years away from its collapse. 9 Peasant rebellions, famines, and riots heralded its failing.
For Mao, one particular event when he was just ten years old, left a lasting impression. It both symbolized the deterioration of order in Chinese traditional society and was in sharp contrast to principles of harmony. A group of local villagers rioted for food during a famine in 1903. The leaders were captured, beheaded, and their heads displayed on poles as a warning for future rebels. 10 Amidst the change that quaked the Chinese nation and Mao’s family’s economic situation, 11 Mao sought solace in books about Chinese history and its emperors. 12 He became known in his family as, the scholar.
As a child [I was] fascinated by accounts of the rulers of ancient China: Yao, Shun, Ch’in Shih Huang Ti, and Hu Wu Ti, and read many books about them. 13 Indeed, the emperors grandeur, elegance and power were a sharp contrast to the brutish leaders that Mao was exposed to during his childhood. 14 Yao and Shun are credited with forming the first Chinese society in the Yellow River Valley; Ch’in Shih Huang Ti unified the Chinese empire and built the Great Wall of China; Han Wu Ti solidified the foundation of the Han Empire. 15 In the turmoil that China was to undergo, particularly after Mao became the head of the Communist party, we will see how he was guided by traditional Chinese values and the history of the emperors provided him with a map for the future. 16 However, at first, he did not seem strongly focused on history or philosophy.
During the next ten years, 1909-1918, Mao drifted. In 1909 at the age of 16, he left home to attend school in Hsiang. 17 In 1911, he enlisted in the Army for six months after which he moved to Changsha the capital of Hunan Province where he stayed until 1918. 18 While in Changsha, he tried numerous schools. 19 Finally, he enrolled at the Hunan Normal School, graduating in 1918.
20 Mao’s mother’s died in 1918, which seemed to be a precipitant factor in his final break with home and in September of that year he traveled to Beijing. Arriving at Beijing University21 he was exposed to a wide range of political philosophy such as, anarchism, communism, and western ideas of democracy and capitalism. Nonetheless, when describing to Edgar Snow the events that stood out in his mind from his time in Beijing, Mao did not select political ideology but three journeys to Chinese sites that captured the grandeur of the historic Chinese Empires. He visited the wall of Hsuchou famous in the San Kuo [three kingdoms]; climbed the T’ai Shan, a Chinese mountain of historic and religious significance; and made a pilgrimage to Confucius’s grave. 22 Mao now age 26, returned to Changsha in the spring of 1919.
23 It was at this point that he became active in politics. During the summer of 1919, Mao became involved in demonstrations, which although not Marxist- inspired, were strongly anti-imperialist. 24 But, by the summer of 1920, he embraced Marxism. 25 However, like everything that Mao embarked upon, it also had Maoist tenets. The Marxism that Mao espoused became by the 1930’s, an amalgam of Marxism and Mao’s Chinese traditional ideas. He called it, Sinified-Marxism. 26 In 1923, after the Communists formed an alliance with the Guomingdang, the Chinese National People’s Party, 27 Mao became a leader in the combined party.
28 He was sent in 1925 to organize the Peasants of Hunan province. This event and Mao’s report of it became a pivotal point in documenting and disseminating Mao’s hallmark of Chinese Communism. 29 It reflected Mao’s revolutionary belief in the peasantry’s ability to rule while also giving credence to Chinese traditional ideals. With glee, Mao described the peasant associations which had successfully taken over in Hunan. 30 In his report, Mao pays tribute to the peasants for selectively relying on Chinese traditions of order, harmony, and filial piety.
While praising the peasants for abandoning the worship of Gods and rejecting Buddhism, he congratulates the peasants puritan prohibitions against gambling …