Mao Zedong, also transliterated as Mao Tse-tung, and commonly referred to as Chairman Mao (December 26, 1893 - September 9, 1976), was a Chinese communist revolutionary and a founding father of the People's Republic of China, which he governed as Chairman of the Communist Party of China from its establishment in 1949 until his death. His Marxist-Leninist theories, military strategies, and political policies are collectively known as Maoism.
Born the son of a wealthy farmer in Shaoshan, Hunan, Mao adopted a Chinese nationalist and anti-imperialist outlook in early life. He converted to Marxism-Leninism and became a founding member of the Communist Party of China (CPC), of which he became the head during the Long March. On October 1, 1949 Mao proclaimed the foundation of the People's Republic of China. In the following years he solidified his control through land reforms, through a psychological victory in the Korean War, and through campaigns against landlords, people he termed "counterrevolutionaries," and other perceived enemies of the state. In 1957 he launched a campaign known as the Great Leap Forward that aimed to rapidly transform China's economy from an agrarian economy to an industrial one. This campaign, however, exacerbated agrarian problems leading to one the deadliest famines in history. In 1966, he initiated the Cultural Revolution, a program to weed out supposed counter-revolutionary elements in Chinese society. In 1972, he welcomed American president Richard Nixon in Beijing, signaling a policy of opening China.This article contains Chinese text.
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A highly controversial figure, Mao is regarded as one of the most important individuals in modern world history. Supporters regard him as a great leader and credit him with numerous accomplishments including modernizing China and building it into a world power, promoting the status of women, improving education and health care, providing universal housing, and increasing life expectancy as China's population grew from around 550 to over 900 million during the period of his leadership. In contrast, critics, including many historians, have characterized him as a dictator who oversaw systematic human rights abuses, and whose rule is estimated to have contributed to the deaths of 40-70 million people through starvation, forced labor, and executions, ranking his tenure as the top incidence of democide in human history.
Mao was born on December 26, 1893 in Shaoshan village, Shaoshan, Hunan. His father, Mao Yichang, was an impoverished peasant who had become one of the wealthiest farmers in Shaoshan. Zedong described his father as a stern disciplinarian, who would beat him and his three siblings, the boys Zemin and Zetan, and an adopted girl, Zejian.1 Yichang's wife, Wen Qimei, was a devout Buddhist who tried to temper her husband's strict attitude. Zedong too became a Buddhist, but abandoned this faith in his mid-teenage years.2
At the age of eight, Mao was sent to Shaoshan Primary School where he learned the value systems of Confucianism. He later admitted that he did not enjoy the classical Chinese texts preaching Confucian morals, instead favoring popular novels like Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Water Margin.3
Mao finished primary education at the age of 13 and his father had him married to the 17-year-old Luo Yixiu, uniting their land-owning families. Mao refused to recognize her as his wife, becoming a fierce critic of arranged marriage and temporarily moving away. Luo was locally disgraced and died in 1910.4 Aged 16, Mao moved to a higher primary school in nearby Dongshan, where he was bullied for his peasant background.1
Working on his father's farm, Mao read voraciously, developing a "political consciousness" from Zheng Guanying's booklet which lamented the deterioration of Chinese power and argued for the adoption of representative democracy. Mao was inspired by the military prowess and nationalistic fervor of George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte.3 His political views were shaped by Gelaohui-led protests which erupted following a famine in the Hunanese capital Changsha. Mao supported the protester's demands, but the armed forces suppressed the dissenters and executed their leaders.1 The famine spread to Shaoshan, where starving peasants seized his father's grain. Disapproving of their actions as morally wrong, Mao nevertheless claimed sympathy for their situation.2Mao ZedongSimplified Chinese:毛泽东Traditional Chinese:毛澤東Hanyu Pinyin:Máo Zédōng Transliterations Kejia (Hakka)- Romanization:Mô Chhe̍t-tûng Mandarin- Hanyu Pinyin:Máo Zédōng- Wade-Giles:Mao Tse-tung Min- Peh-oe-ji:Mô͘ Te̍k-tong Yue (Cantonese)- Jyutping:mou4 zaak6dung1
After moving to Changsha, Mao enrolled and dropped out of a police academy, a soap-production school, a law school, an economics school, and the government-run Changsha Middle School. Studying independently, he spent much time in Changsha's library, reading core works of classical liberalism such as Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations and Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws, as well as the works of western scientists and philosophers such as Darwin, Mill, Rousseau, and Spencer.2 Viewing himself as an intellectual, he admitted years later that at this time he thought himself better than working people.3Mao's childhood home in Shaoshan, in 2010, by which time it had become a tourist destination.
Mao decided to become a teacher and enrolled at the Fourth Normal School of Changsha, which soon merged with the First Normal School of Changsha, widely seen as the best school in Hunan. Professor Yang Changji befriended Mao and urged him to read a radical newspaper, New Youth (Xin qingnian), the creation of his friend Chen Duxiu, a dean at Peking University. Mao published his first article in New Youth in April 1917, instructing readers to increase their physical strength to serve the revolution. He joined the Society for the Study of Wang Fuzhi (Chuan-shan Hsüeh-she), a revolutionary group founded by Changsha literati who wished to emulate the philosopher Wang Fuzhi.2
Seeing no use in his son's intellectual pursuits, Mao's father had cut off his allowance, forcing him to move into a hostel for the destitute.5 In his first school year, Mao befriended an older student, Xiao Yu; together they went on a walking tour of Hunan, begging and writing literary couplets to obtain food.6 In 1915 Mao was elected secretary of the Students Society. Forging an Association for Student Self-Government, he led protests against school rules. In spring 1917, he was elected to command the students' volunteer army, set up to defend the school from marauding soldiers. Increasingly interested in the techniques of war, he took a keen interest in World War I, and also began to develop a sense of solidarity with workers.3 Mao undertook feats of physical endurance with Xiao Yu and Cai Hesen, and with other young revolutionaries they formed the Renovation of the People Study Society in April 1918 to debate Chen Duxiu's ideas. The Society gained 70-80 members, many of whom would later join the Communist Party. Mao graduated in June 1919, ranked third in the year.1
Mao moved to Beijing and, paid a low wage, lived in a cramped room with seven other Hunanese students. He believed that Beijing's beauty offered "vivid and living compensation."3 His time in Beijing ended in the spring of 1919, when he traveled to Shanghai with friends departing for France, before returning to Shaoshan, where his mother was terminally ill; she died in October 1919, with her husband dying in January 1920.3
Early revolutionary activity
Mao adopted a Chinese nationalist and anti-imperialist outlook in early life, particularly influenced by the events of the Xinhai Revolution of 1911 and May Fourth Movement of 1919. He converted to Marxism-Leninism while working at Peking University and became a founding member of the Communist Party of China (CPC).
The Xinhai RevolutionMao in 1913.
The Xinhai Revolution of 1911 overthrew China's last imperial dynasty (the Qing dynasty), and established the Republic of China (ROC). In Changsha there was widespread animosity towards Emperor Puyi's absolute monarchy, with many advocating republicanism. The republicans' figurehead was Sun Yat-sen, an American-educated Christian who led the Tongmenghui society.5 Mao was influenced by Sun's newspaper, The People's Independence (Minli bao), and called for Sun to become president in a school essay.1 As a symbol of rebellion against the Manchu monarch, Mao and a friend cut off their queue pigtails, a sign of subservience to the emperor.2
Mao joined the rebel army as a private soldier, but was not involved in fighting. When the revolution was over in 1912, he resigned from the army after six months of being a soldier.3 Around this time, Mao discovered socialism from a newspaper article; proceeding to read pamphlets by Jiang Kanghu, the student founder of the Chinese Socialist Party, Mao remained interested yet unconvinced by the idea.1