Mao Zedong: Revolutionary Genius in the Fight for People’s Democracy
Friday, July 30, 6:00pm – 9:00pm
Church of the Advocate Sanctuary
1801 W Diamond St, Philadelphia, PA 19121
Symposium and Discussion
In this symposium, we will introduce Mao as a world historic revolutionary fighter for the Chinese people’ freedom and democracy. His genius was expressed in his faith in the Chinese peasantry and ability to successfully lead the Red Army on the heroic people’s Long March towards a New China that was rid of feudalism, colonialism, and backwardness.
Introduction by Jahanzaib Choudhry
Reading of Declaration by Michelle Lyu
Paul Robeson singing, introduced by Kathie Jiang
Panel Presentations (7:15pm)
Mao: Tomorrow is Today, Dr. Anthony Monteiro
Cultural Revolution and the CPC’s Assessment of Mao, Emily Dong
Discussion & Closing (8pm)
Excerpt on Mao’s intellectual journey from “The Long March” by Harrison Salisbury, Chapter 7
Mao went to school at the age of seven. He had already been working in the fields like all peasant children since the age of four. It was a village school, but in five years he learned such classics as the Analects of Confucius, Mencius and Zuozhuan, the commentary by Zuo Qiu- ming on the Spring and Autumn Annals.
Many years later Mao deprecated his study of the Chinese classics. He told Robert Payne: “I hated Confucius from the age of eight,” but the truth was he absorbed the Five Classics into his system and illuminated his writings with quotations from Confucius and Mencius. In his last decade he was invariably photographed receiving distinguished visitors in his study, stacked floor to ceiling with ancient Chinese texts. Chinese classical thought became embedded in his mind and in the complex personal philosophy he was to evolve. He was, as he said, “making the past serve the present.”
Study of Mao’s classroom notes at Changsha Normal School No. 1, one of China’s finest teaching institutions, reveals the manner in which he integrated Confucian and Mencian thought into his own philosophy. Confucius and Mencius advocated changing reality instead of trying to escape from it, and this was to hold a central place in Mao’s thinking.
In his notebook Mao copied out Mencius’ observation: “If it isHeaven’s will to establish peace and order throughout the land today, who is there but me to achieve it?”
Mao attached to that quotation another, from the statesman Fan Zhangyan of the Song dynasty (989-1050), who declared: “Ponder this problem before everything.”
These principles would underlie Mao’s political life.
Mao plunged into the reading of China’s remarkable picaresque novels—The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Outlaws of the Marshes (sometimes called Water Margin), and Travels in the West, also known as Monkey.
Mao committed to memory the tales of Three Kingdoms and Outlaws and to his Enal days read and reread these collections of slightly fictionalized episodes from China’s history. He commented on them repeatedly and used them as textbooks for guerrilla warfare. When his enemies accused him of fighting in Jinggangshan or on the Long March in accordance with what he had learned from Outlaws, they were right and were paying him a practical compliment.
Mao read Sun Wu Zi’s The Art of War; written 2,400 years ago, the classic of Chinese military strategy, and the commentaries of Zeng Guofan and Hu Linyi of the late Qing dynasty. These men worked so closely together they were known as Zeng-Hu, just as Mao Zedong and Zhu De were called Zhu-Mao.
Upon this solid Chinese foundation Mao based his broader exploration of the world. He discovered the late-nineteenth-century reformers and critics of the decaying Qing empire, notably Zheng Guanying
Alarmist Talks in a Prosperous Age. Zheng called upon China to move toward capitalism and a modern Western system. Mao was enormously impressed. His studies went forward in an atmosphere of tension. His father wanted him to concentrate on math and bookkeeping; he had no use for philosophical inquiries…
It was Mao’s mother who was the strong influence of his early years. He worshiped her and again and again uttered words of devotion. She was a hard-working, kind, thoughtful woman ready to help others in need. She sometimes gave rice to starving peasants—but never when her flinty husband was around. She was a devout Buddhist and through her Mao became a believer. When his mother was ill he prayed to Buddha for her recovery, and at fifteen made a pilgrimage to the great temple at Hengshan Mountain, more than one hundred miles from Shaoshan, one of ancient China’s five sacred mountains. Like all Buddhist pilgrims, he prostrated himself repeatedly on the way to the temple.
On his mother’s death in 1919 Mao wrote in his farewell ode:
In reasoning and judgment her mind was clear and accurate Everything she did was done with planning and with care..
When we were sick she held our hands, her heart full of sorrow Yet she admonished us saying: “You should strive to be good.”
Mao soon threw off his belief in Buddha, but Buddhism left powerful traces in his thought. Li Rui, a scholar and a man who served Mao as private secretary until Mao sent him to exile and prison for twenty years, believes that Buddhism gave Mao his conviction that social change calls first for destruction and then for rebuilding.
“The extermination of the world,” Mao wrote in his normal school notebook, “is by no means the final extermination. Doom will surely be followed by success. This is beyond doubt. We are eagerly looking forward to the doom of the old world. Its destruction will eventually lead to the establishment of a new one.”16
Mao did not take his next step up the educational ladder without a row with his father, who wanted him to work for a grain dealer in nearby Xiangtan in preparation for becoming a partner in the growing Mao family business. By this time the Mao household was an imposing one, separate rooms for Mao and his two brothers and adopted sister, a chamber for the parents, a summer and a winter kitchen, an ample living room. The house had a second wing, probably owned by Mao, which was occupied by relatives named Zou. It was, as any visitor today can see, no poverty-stricken peasant hut. There was a fine pond for carp and geese and ducks, ample storehouses for grain, no finer house in the vicinity.
Mao won his argument and early in 1910 entered the Dongshan higher primary school, where he studied science and English and the Chinese classics. He would never master a foreign language, but almost to the end of his days he slogged away at English, trying to ram into his head its harsh syllables. Mao displayed great talent for writing and speaking and made two good friends, the Xiao brothers, Xiao San (sometimes known as Emi Xiao) and Xiao Yu.
Mao’s world again burst its boundaries. Xiao San lent him a book called Biographies of the World’s Heroes.
Here for the first time Mao read about George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon, Jean- Jacques Rousseau, Peter the Great, Montesquieu. He was fascinated by Washington. Years later he told Edgar Snow: “I first heard of America in an article which told of the American Revolution and contained a sentence like ‘After eight years of difficult war Washington won a victory and built up a nation.’ ” At the time, Mao told Xiao: “China should have such great men as Washington.” It is not too much to believe that in those years he began to think of following in Washington’s footsteps.
It was now that Mao was introduced to two leaders of the China
reform movement that gathered momentum after the defeat by Japan in 1894 and the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. The reformers were Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao, both on the wane of influence before Mao discovered them. There was a lag in penetration of ideas to rural Hunan. News of the death of the Dowager Empress and the puppet Emperor did not reach Mao for two years.
But Mao’s pace was quickening. After a period of reading and reflection he arrived in Changsha almost coincident with China’s 1911 revolution, the one backed by Dr. Sun Yat-sen. Mao cut off his pigtail, the symbolic act of revolt against the old, and flung himself into the turmoil, writing an essay that revealed the confused mixture brewing within his mind. He called for a new government, headed by Dr. Sun Yat-sen as president, with Kang Youwei as premier and Liang Qichao as foreign minister—a little like a government headed by Ronald Reagan with Walter Mondale as premier and George McGovern as foreign minister. Then he borrowed a pair of rubber boots, intending to rush off to Wuchang, where he heard it was very rainy, and there join the revolution. Before he could put on his boots the revolution came to Changsha and he signed up in the New Revolutionary—but not very revolutionary—Army.
After six months, in the belief the revolution was over, he quit the army, shopped around for a school (he considered a police school, a law school, a commercial school, and even one that taught soap-making), and then decided to study on his own in the provincial library. There he devoured Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, Darwin’s Origin of Species, John Stuart Mill, Rousseau, Spencer’s Logic, Montesquieu’s De TEsprit des lois, works on history and geography of the United States and Europe. He read Chinese poetry and Greek classics in Chinese translation, gobbling up books like bowls of noodles, steadily moving from the Chinese tradition through eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European philosophers toward contemporary social criticism. Many of the European works were translated by Yan Fu, a Chinese reformer. Mao read every work that Yan Fu translated.
Bulwarked by this rich confection of Chinese and Western thought, Mao entered Changsha Normal School No. 1. The year was 1913.
Li Rui, after examining Mao’s notebooks of the period, found it difficult to distinguish between Mao’s own ideas and those of Professor Yang. The two seemed to meld into one. Mao was beginning to blend the diverse ideas to which he had been exposed into a more or less coherent doctrine. This was clearly evidenced in some twelve thousand Chinese characters of notes which he inked into his copy of Friedrich Paulsen’s System of Ethics.
Mao wrote: “There are people in the world and material objects in the world simply because I exist. If I close my eyes they exist no longer.” Later he formalized this as the principle: “Knowledge is obtained by experience.”
Over the outer gate of Changsha Normal School, cut into the stone, was the legend: “Seek Truth from Facts.” It was put there by the “Venerable Xu.” Mao was to make this aphorism the base of his political philosophy.
Mao soaked up knowledge like a sponge. He had never read a newspaper before. In fact, he had never seen a newspaper before. Now he read every printed page he could lay his hands on.
Paulsen was a follower of Kant, and Mao began to discover the Germans. In June of 1918 Mao graduated from Changsha No. 1, the third student in his class. His fellow students voted him first in character, first in courage, and first in intellect.19 Some professors thought he was too independent, too challenging, too apt to break the rules.
“How,” he declared one night at the house of Cai Hesen, his classmate and future fellow founder of the Communist Party, “can China come to have a great philosopher and ethical revolutionary like Russia’s Tolstoy who will develop new thoughts by washing away all old?”
Mao was twenty-five years old when he graduated. He knew Confucius, Mencius, and China’s great literature. He knew Buddhism and Western philosophy. He had educated himself in the political geography of the United States and Europe. He had absorbed China’s military wisdom and the reformist ideals of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. He had become an eloquent speaker, a poet, a patriot, a young but rapidly maturing philosopher. He knew China’s heritage and he had lived close enough to China’S soil to know her people, her peasants, her problems, her idiosyncratic heritage, her political diseases. He knew that China must change and he was preparing himself to lead that change.
Mao had made himself aware of the outer world. He had followed the progress of World War I. He knew the names of Von Hindenburg, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Woodrow Wilson, Clemenceau, and Foch. He had read about the Russian Revolution and he had found a personal role model in George Washington.
But so far as any evidence exists, he had not in June 1918 read a line of Marx or Lenin. He knew that Lenin and Trotsky played a role in Russia’s 1917 revolutions, but the word “Communist” had not appeared in any notebook he had kept, nor were any of his friends, teachers, or acquaintances ever afterward able to recollect that he knew or had heard at that time of the Communist Manifesto or Das Kapital
As he would later say: “Three books especially deeply carved my mind and built up in me a faith in Marxism.” These three works were the Manifesto, a work by Karl Kautsky (Lenin’s great opponent, the founder of Social Democracy in Germany), the name of which he could no longer remember, and a potboiler by a man named Thomas Kirkup, called A History of Socialism. Mao did not know much about Marxism, but he knew it was what he believed in. He was not unlike some young radical Americans of the 1960s who proclaimed themselves “Maoists” without having read a line Mao had written.
Mao’s intellectual power, the synthesis he had compounded of Marxism, Chinese philosophy, common sense, and the exceptionalism of China’s backward peasant state proved almost irresistible when concentrated, whether his target was a twenty-six-year-old Bolshevik, a fortyish general like Zhu De, or an ambitious youth like Lin Biao.”