Mao Zedong led the people of China through a revolution, transforming the old China into the new, Communist China, however, can it really be said that he was a revolutionary hero? A revolutionary hero must possess certain skills and qualities; they must lead their people through violence, have their own ideology, and be able to inspire others. Mao met each of these requirements.
Mao demonstrated the use of violence many times throughout his rule, however the most important were the Long March, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution. The Long March lasted from the 18th of October 1934, until the 29th of October 1935; it was a six thousand mile retreat from Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalist forces.12. Prior to the Long March, the Communists had been losing to Chiang very badly in the province of Jiangxi, they were severely outnumbered and had were lacking proper equipment for everyone, Mao and the other leaders of the Communist Party decided that a retreat would be best to save the party from total ruin.3 At the beginning of the Long March there were approximately one hundred thousand people, including women and children, however by the time they finished only twenty thousand were left, the others had died along the way of cold, sunstroke, hunger, disease, and exhaustion.4
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Despite the huge loss of life along the way, the Long March was deemed to be a success, particularly for Mao Zedong. It was through the Long March that he was able to gain leadership of the Communist Party of China, one of his rivals died in battle, and another was in favour of organized battle and Mao had already proven that guerrilla warfare was much more fitting to their army.5 Mao even had his own basic principles of guerrilla warfare, something that he got his Red Army soldiers to memorize and recite, “The enemy advances: we retreat. The enemy halts; we harass. The enemy tires: we attack. The enemy retreats: we pursue.” 6. The Long March well demonstrated Mao’s successful use of violence during the Chinese Revolution.
The Great Leap Forward was an idea of Mao’s to quickly speed up production rates so that China could be equal to Great Britain. During this program a large emphasis was placed on steel production, in every village in China a small backyard furnace was produced, these were to be manned by the peasants, who were also supposed to donate whatever they could to the furnaces.7 Unfortunately it later turned out that the majority of this steel was useless, but they didn’t know that at the time.8 The farming population was reorganized, all private landownership was abolished and the peasants, including the peasant women, were sent out to work in communes, where they were assigned dormitories and work teams.9
Unfortunately, grain production did decrease, as the peasants were so consumed with creating more steel that they abandoned their work on the farms to add more and more to the furnaces, while those that stayed on the land were less productive than before, as they knew that more work would not be in their self-interests.1011 Due to the lack of production, food shortages started to be prominent across the country, this was the start of famine, the first to be experienced under Communist rule.12 Unfortunately bad weather then fell upon China, combined with the underproduction combined to create the worst famine in Chinese recorded history, more than thirty million people died throughout the duration of this famine.1314 This idea of Mao’s while extremely unsuccessful, is a further demonstration of Mao using violence to elevate himself.
The Cultural Revolution in China was Mao’s way of regaining the power that he lost in the aftermath of the Great Leap Forward. He got it started in 1966 by launching a cleansing of the Chinese Communist Party, with the aims of ridding of anyone who was anti-Communist.15 Mao’s target audience this time were the students, most of whom became Red Guards, he told them that they needed to help get rid of Capitalist Roaders because they were corrupting China with their rightist views.16 Many of the people who were accused of being rightists were teachers, party officials, principals, or others who had authority, these people were publicly denounced, beaten, tortured, murdered, or sent to prison, all at the hands of the Red Guards, who were serving Mao only.17
This was exactly what Mao had wanted, he didn’t want anyone in power who was going to question him and his authority, he personally wanted Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping out of power, as they had previously spoken out about Mao’s greatest mistake, the Great Leap Forward18. Besides targeting his opponents and rightists he also targeted traditional Chinese culture, such as art, literature, and music, as well as any foreign influences, he put his wife, Jiang Qing, in charge of this section.1920 The Cultural Revolution had once again destroyed the economy, as well as wrecking schools, and factories.
At the end of it, the Red guards were the only ones still engaged and Mao had, to call upon the army to disband them.21 The Red Guards were responsible for millions of deaths across the country, the Red Guard was comprised of teenage students who had been born and raised during Mao’s time in power, since they knew no other leader they earnestly followed him, without paying attention to whether it was actually the right thing to do. They formed an angry mob and attacked many authority figures, even old Communist officials, who had been members of the Communist party since the Long March. During this period of time, China lost much of its cultural heritage, through the purges of the Red Guard, with the encouragement of Mao and his wife, Jiang Qing. Mao was able to use all this violence and chaos to his advantage, his public image as a great leader was further and further enforced throughout the whole event, proving that Mao was a revolutionary hero.
Each of these violent events clearly demonstrates Mao’s successful and unsuccessful uses of violence to gain and keep his power, through all of this violence one can see that Mao must be a revolutionary hero.
Another important piece of criteria a revolutionary hero must have is a set of their own, unique, ideology. Mao certainly had this, as demonstrated through the Little Red Book. The Little Red Book was a small book filled with Mao’s thoughts and writings, they were distributed all around the country and much of the population looked at them as a Bible.22 This book strongly encouraged the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution to take action and organize attacks on Mao’s enemies, for those who had not had the chance to go to Beijing and see him; this book gave a feeling of Mao speaking right to them.23 Presently, this book sits as the second most published book in the world, only behind the Bible, this shows that even though it has been many years since Mao’s death his ideology still lives on.24
A revolutionary hero must also be inspiring, they must be able to inspire others in order to gain followers and become successful. Mao did this very well, as demonstrated through the Red Guards. The Red Guards were Mao’s target audience during the Cultural Revolution; they were teenage students, who had only ever had Mao as their leader and therefore, were very devoted to him. The Red Guards started by criticizing their teachers and other institution workers, then they were told to start criticizing their local governments.25 This was all under the orders of Mao, who said that the authority figures were wrecking things with their rightist views.
The Red Guards never questioned any of Mao’s orders, so they never questioned shaming, torturing, and murdering parents, teachers, doctors, writers and Communist officials.26 They eventually got out of control; when they were found to be violent towards each other, by this point the Cultural Revolution was coming to an end so, Mao sent out the army to separate them. The Red Guards had also been given the task of re-educating peasants and workers who cared more about their work and living conditions than Chairman Mao.27 They were to do this through the teachings of Mao’s Little Red Book; unfortunately many of the workers did not want to be re-educated and instead took to fighting the Red Guards. Through the complete willingness of the Red Guards to do whatever Mao asked of them, it’s demonstrated that Mao was very inspiring, making him a revolutionary hero.
After careful consideration, it’s very clear that Mao was a revolutionary hero. He met all of the requirements, he led his people through violence, he had his own ideology, and he was inspirational.
1 Kennett, John. The Rise of Communist China. Great Britain: Robert Cunningham & Sons Ltd., 1970.
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