Comments on a Research Paper

by Dr. David Nordmann

History of Modern China

Mao More Than Ever [1]

Shaoshan is a small village found in a valley of the Hunan province, where, a little over a century ago, Mao Zedong was born. The first thing heard in Shaoshan is the music, and the music is inescapable. Suspended from posts towering over Mao's childhood home are loudspeakers from which the same tune is emitted over and over, a hit of the Cultural Revolution titled "We Love You Mao." [2]

The Chinese people were faced with an incredibly difficult situation in 1976 following the death of Mao Zedong. What was China to do now that the man whom millions accepted as the leader of their country's rebirth to greatness has passed away? China was in mourning within moments of the announcement. Although Mao rarely had been seen in public during the five years preceding his death, he was nevertheless, the only leader that China had known since the Communist armies swept triumphantly into Peking and proclaimed the People's Republic twenty-seven years earlier. He was not only the originator of China's socialist revolution but its guide, its teacher, and its prophet.

Common sense foretold of the impossibility of erasing Communism and replacing Chairman Mao. He departed the world with his succession and China's future uncertain. With his death, historians and reporters around the world offered predictions of what was to become of China. They saw an instant end to Maoist theory. Through careful examination of Chinese life both under and after Mao, it is clear that the critics of 1976 were naïve in their prophecies and that Mao Zedong still remains the central, dominant figure in Chinese political culture today. [3]

The Communists rode into China under the guise that they were the idealistic patriotic "good guys" [4] here to protect the poor Chinese from the brutality of the corrupt Nationalists. Prior to 1949, China was a devastated country in need of transformation. Inflation was so high that prices rose on a daily basis, only a very small minority could read, and in winter children often froze from lack of proper clothing. [5] The Communists took this wreck of a nation and began the reconstruction brick by brick. With the arrival of Mao and the new government, China was stable for the first time in years. Inflation was halted, status of women raised, and an end was put to prostitution, foot-binding, the use of concubines, child marriages, and opium addiction. The Communists united China, redistributed land and wealth, and destroyed the special interests that were asphyxiating economic growth. The Communists brought hope to an otherwise hopeless nation. For many of the poor peasants, the 1949 revolution really was liberation.

Yet bliss turned to agony within the first five years following the Revolution when Mao called for mass arrests, executions, forced labor, liquidation of anti-Communists, and inter-party purges. He soon initiated a series of "Five-year Plans" in an effort to turn China into an industrial power. In 1958 a second, more radical plan known as the "Great Leap Forward" began. This plan was designed to increase industrial and agricultural expansion simultaneously. However, the Communists set unrealistic goals and when they were not met, chaos ensued. Industrial production declined and agricultural output dropped by 25%. There was an unending grain shortage as China's population increased, and famine became widespread claiming the lives of nearly 40 million Chinese by 1960. Newspapers failed to report this information and the government, in an attempt to prevent news of the famine from spreading, forbade any peasant from leaving their village commune even to beg for food. Every day the Chinese were forced to work an unrealistic amount of hours, without breaks, just to try and keep up with Mao's Great Leap Forward. The Chinese were exhausted, depressed, and hopeless. They lived each day in the fear that it would be their last. Living took courage. It was their way of fighting back. [6]

The Cultural Revolution began in 1966 with Mao's disgust of the older generation's lack of revolutionary zeal. It was a nightmare decade with large-scale cannibalism in which worker turned against worker, neighbor against neighbor and children against their own parents. In an effort to discourage class distinction, Mao authorized student rebellions against authority. He used the students to crush opponents, potential opponents and to eliminate the highest ranking government officials and party leaders whose communism was seen as not "pure" enough. By the end of the two years, more than 400,000 died, two-thirds of the Party was replaced, and three million were [7] arrested and sent to labor camps. The Cultural Revolution not only left millions dead, it also crushed humanitarian values and defiled the sanctity of the human spirit, without which there remains very little to separate men and beasts. [8] An unimaginable number of Chinese were left with the painful images of what had happened.

Mao fed off the chaos he created-it was considered justifiable and a necessary component of his rule which lasted even after his death. During his years as Chairman, Mao encouraged procreation. He believed that more people would lead to a bigger army which would eventually make China stronger. Mao did not see overpopulation as a problem, but rather as a strength. Nonetheless, it is unquestionably because of Mao that the party has had to issue a restrictive family planning policy. The Chinese are allowed one child and many "rural couples feel that they have not accomplished life's mission until they have produced a baby complete with a penis." A woman who breaks the rules by having an extra child faces huge fines, the prospect of her home being knocked down, and the likelihood of being forced to undergo Sterilization. Sadly perhaps the most distinctive feature of China today is the social controls that it [9] employs. The Communist Party relies upon an ingenious "iron triangle:" the residence permit, which limits where you live; the secret personnel file, which records your sins and political reliability; and the work unit, which supervises every aspect of your life. The triangle controls your life. The Chinese government is about oppression and death; it is a society in chains.

On September 20, 1976, Time Magazine reporter Sven Simon wrote that, "for the immediate future, China's new leaders will certainly mouth his slogans. [10] But without the presence of the Great Helmsman to back them up, they may have grave difficulties making his lifelong dream a reality." Although thoughts of Mao and of the ideological purity he represented may appear as Simon believed, far [11] from consciousness, there have been a number of recent instances that suggest otherwise. For example, in December 1996 there was an auction in Beijing of artwork and porcelain that had been created for Mao during the Cultural Revolution. To general astonishment, works considered worthless a few years earlier reached prices in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. What does this mean? To many, nothing. But, for a number of years China has been in a craze for Mao artifacts-Mao pens, buttons and ceramic busts-that seem motivated as much by a passion for tastelessness as for Mao himself.

Veteran China reporter Orville Schnell believes that this Mao phenomenon is a sign that China has reached its penultimate stage in the de-Maoification [12] process. In the December 1992 issue of Atlantic Monthly, Schnell wrote that the commercialization of Mao meant that he was "slowly being stripped of his imperial quality, of his ability to evoke either awe or fear." Nevertheless, the Mao craze is more than just nostalgia. It does signify something, but not what China experts think. Assuredly, people are not spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on Mao artifacts just to throw them away; they are being kept because China wants to remember Mao. This Mao craze suggests that as the communist party modernizes China, it is not rejecting the Great Helmsman but rather integrating him into the broader sweep of Chinese history. [13] Mao is no longer merely a communist ideologue; now he is an emperor. China critics like Schnell believe that China is a nation "ready to burst out of its totalitarian larval stage into a lovely democracy." However, indispensable to this belief is the idea that China has de-Maoed itself-has buried Mao as Germany buried Hitler and Russia buried Stalin, when in fact, the opposite is true. Mao Zedong ultimately remains the prevailing figure in Chinese political culture. He is still an imperial presence; he is still respected; he is, even, still cool. [14] The evidence is everywhere in China.

In the countryside, new and massive temples have been built to Mao in the provinces on Fujian, Guangdong, and most recently, Gushuicun. These temples are frequently visited by party officials and peasants who believe Mao can do everything from cure illnesses to guarantee a good crop. [15] Convinced they would join Mao in the afterlife, several workers at a Sichuan factory committed suicide in 1993, the one-hundredth anniversary of Mao's birth. Artists are still incorporating Mao into their works, taxicab drivers in Beijing and Shanghai dangle Mao's portrait from their rearview mirrors, and a gigantic portrait of Mao still hangs over Tiananmen Square. Most importantly, however, is that in the party and in the universities, the fashionable political philosophy is not democracy; it is the new Maoism. [16]

Mao has not suddenly made a comeback. He never left. Unlike Germany or Russia, China has never made a significant attempt to confront its past; it never successfully completed de-Maoification. Yes there have been books like The Catastrophes of Chinese Leftism, and films such as "To Live" and "The Last Emperor" that have delved enthusiastically into the Communist Party's "dirty laundry" thus illustrating the loosened grip China has on rewriting history, but the point is being missed. [17] It is not the responsibility of the authors and the filmmakers to reveal the truth, but rather the government's. In 1981, party scholars did officially acknowledge that the Cultural Revolution was wrong and Mao had made mistakes. Yet there was no apology, and admiration of Mao was ultimately preserved as they actually commended his record as being "seventy percent positive." The Chinese people are afraid to blacken Mao as they will indirectly be blackening their party and their country as well. Even more important, however, is that Mao cannot be shamed because he was not a Marxist of the Western variety. He successfully integrated Marxism and peasant nationalism to forge a potent anti-Western weapon. Mao Zedong was a leader who lived and behaved like a classic Chinese emperor. He led a nationalist peasant movement to "create a single nation- state that was rooted in the patrimonial traditions of the Chinese empire." In sum, Mao, his revolution, and his ideologies did not represent a break with the past but rather an extension of it: one last Chinese struggle against the West.

In a poll taken in 1994, forty percent of Chinese respondents picked Mao as their favorite leader, compared to less than ten percent for Deng Xiaoping. "Today Chinese youths don't know or take seriously Mao's mistakes," [18] Yan Jiaqi, a former member or the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences told Asiaweek. "They think he was a great leader. They only know Deng's mistakes." This is just one example of how in China, "ignorance is bliss."

Despite the denouncement of the Cultural Revolution, the cult of Mao endured. The Party continued to absorb itself intellectually with Maoism as two main groups emerged: Maoist fundamentalists and nostalgists. They yearned for the golden age of dignity and honor present during the 1950s. [19] The party Maoists kept the faith alive but had to conceal it as the barbarity of the Cultural Revolution had not yet disappeared from the minds of its victims. For the philosophy of Mao to once again take flight, there needed to be an event that would awaken among the people the resting fear that China might fall prey to the West and therefore be stripped of its greatness. [20] One such event occurred on June 4, 1989, as Chinese troops plowed down student protesters at Tiananmen Square. An estimated 600-800 people were killed and several thousand injured. After the events at Tiananmen, the idea of China descending into chaos and collapse prompted the party to revive the idea of class struggle. Deng Xiaopong declared inter-party "anti-rightist" purges and carried out Maoist-style education campaign "thought reforms" in the countryside. The post-Tiananmen age was about oppression and death. China was a society in chains.

It was individual determination and indomitable will that made Mao Zedong the most influential revolutionary of his generation and, for better or worse, one of the greatest figures of the 20th Century. Mao's death was an end that had long been anticipated, but for some reason it came as a shock nonetheless for both China and the world. During the 1960s he seemed to have been elevated to the heights of the gods, and after he died he was indeed more a creature of myth than a real person. Mao left this world with his succession and China's future uncertain. He left with his party in a state of panic and confusion as they unsuccessfully tried to fit the pieces back together. He left knowing that he could not be forgotten.

There is no way to measure the effect Mao has had on the generation that endured his dehumanization of China and lived to remember it. So, what does the future hold in store for China? China today faces the turmoil that rapid modernization always brings: changes in job patterns, rids of individuality, urbanization, replacement of the extended family with the nuclear family, and the unraveling of traditional morality. Or as Mao would say…revisionism. The victims have been left to find their own peace, or try to forget or to continue on in pain. The danger, however, in letting the past half century fade away is that all those who forget run the risk of repeating that failure. One can only hope that China will soon be able to accept its past, learn from its mistakes and move on. Only then can it be assured that the events of the past fifty years never again resurface. Additionally, it cannot be until the Chinese are allowed to thoroughly examine the details of their history and once and for all bury Mao that they will finally receive the liberation that was promised them in 1949. Until that time, the strains of "We Love You Mao" will follow us out of Shaoshan.

*Footnotes and Works Cited not included

1. Good title




2. Strong intro











3. Clear thesis. Good. The mistake most students make is not clearly stating their thesis. Plus you always want it on your first page. Also, the reader should always be able to disagree with your thesis.

4. It is good that you put "good guys" in quotes because it lets me know that you know that it is not a professional term. You may wish to restate this sentence.


5. Sentences should only have two thoughts. You can be detailed and still concise.



















6. This is vague. How are they fighting back?






7. Always use "had been" in place of was/were.


8. Again, separate thoughts.











9. Good. Students often use "they" following a country.





10. Too big of a jump. Connect.



11. Don't split appear and far.








12. Define de-Maoification







13. Careful of being too wordy





14. Prove this!




15. Do they? Are you sure?





16. What is the new Maoism?





17. Bringing in the other side… good













18. Why is this the case?






19. What is it that they like about it that they forgive the Cultural Revolution?



20. Who is afraid? Expand.




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