Early life in China
Born in the village of Shaoshan in Hunan province, Mao Zedong was the son of affluent farmer and grain dealer. After graduating from the First provincial Normal School of Hunan in 1918 he traveled to Beijing during May Fourth Movement in 1919 with his professor Yang Changji. He registered as a part time student at Beijing University and engaged himself as much as possible in reading. During his stay in Beijing, his idea of communism evolved and matured. He married Yang kaihui, professor Changji’s daughter and a fellow student.
On July 1921, Mao attended the first session of the National Congress of the Communist Party of China, in Shanghai. Two years later, he was elected as one of the five commissars of the Central committee of the Party during the third Congress session. In 1924, he was elected an Alternate Executive of the central Committee and in the same year he became an Executive of the Shanghai branch of the Kuomintang and Secretary of the Organization Department. In October 1925, Mao became acting propaganda Director of the Kuomintang.
Mao Zedong was from a peasant family, and he believed that problems of China could be studied and resolved only within China. Mao was first introduced to communism while working at Peking University and in 1921; he co-founded the Communist Party of China (CPC). He sought to sabotage the alliance of imperialism and feudalism in China. Throughout the 1920’s he led several laborer struggles with limited success. After initial failures, he planed to embark on violent revolutions, realizing the fact that unarmed labor struggles could not resolve the problems of imperial and feudal suppression. In 1927, Mao conducted the famous Autumn Harvest Uprising in Changsha, Hunan, as commander-in-chief. After the defeat of his ‘Revolutionary Army of Workers and Peasants’ he created Workers’ and peasants Red Army of China (Red Army) in Jinggang, Jiangxi.
From 1931 to 1934, Mao helped establish the Soviet Republic of China and was elected Chairman of the republic in Jiangxi. Here he married to He Zizhen, after his previous wife was arrested and executed by KMT in 1930. Mao faced opposition for his land policies and army leadership from the founder of the CPC’s and Red Army branch in Jiangxi that led to a violent series of systematic suppression of them. Around 1930, there was a struggle for power within the communist leadership, following which Mao Zedong was removed from his important positions, and replaced by individuals who were believed to be more loyal. On 21 January 1949, The KMT suffered massive losses against Mao’s Red Army and Red Army took over the power in Chengdu, the last city occupied by KMT. While in Yan’an, Mao divorced He Zizhen and married an actress Lang Ping.
Leadership of China
The People’s Republic of China was established on 1 October 1949 ending the almost two decade’s long civil and International war. Mao became chairman of the PRC in 1954 remained till 1959. During this period The Communist Party took over the control of all media to promote the image of Mao and the party. The communist party aimed at the total involvement of the Chinese people in building and strengthening their nation. There were campaigns of mass repression and public executions during 1949-1953, in which millions of KMT officials, businessmen, landowners and former employees of western companies were killed whose loyalty was suspect. Mao’s personal role in ordering executions was undeniable who explained these executions as necessary for the ‘securing the power.’
Mao launched the first Five-Years Plan in 1953 that aimed to end the Chinese dependence on agriculture to become a world power. New industrial plants were built and agricultural industries began to produce enough capital that China no longer needed any outside support. The success of first Five-Year Plan encouraged Mao to initiate the Second Five-year Plan, ‘The Great Leap Forward’ in 1958. During the Second Five-Year plan, efforts were made to increase the rate of literacy and to control price. For equal distribution of land and power, land were taken from rich land owners and given to poor farmers. Apart from these campaigns, large scale industrialization projects were also taken.
Programs pursued during his leadership include ‘Hundred flowers campaign’ in which Mao invited suggestions and opinions from party members about how China should be governed. Given the freedom of expression intellectual and liberal Chinese started questioning its leadership and opposing Communist party. After few months of toleration Mao reversed its policy and prosecuted those who criticized the government. It was said that Mao used this policy as a method of identifying and subsequently prosecuting his enemies.
"The Great Leap forward"
The Second Five-Year Plan, also known as ‘The Great Leap Forward’ focusing on heavy industries for economic growth was launched next. Under this plan relatively small agricultural collectives were merged into far larger people’s communes. Peasants were ordered to work on massive infrastructure projects and all private food production was banned.
Mao and other party leaders ordered implementation of unproven and unscientific new agricultural techniques. This led to a 16% drop in the total grain production with no recovery till 1961. This, combined by the flood or drought situation in some areas left peasants nothing to eat resulting into the largest Famine in the human history.
After the failure of the ‘Great Leap Forward’, fearing the prospect of loosing his place at the political stage, as he had lost esteem among top party leaders, Mao launched Cultural Revolution in 1966. The idea was to continue the armed struggle through young people and teenagers and give power directly to the Red Group. Mao closed the schools in China and people were forced to manufacture weapons for the Red Army. This led to the destruction of Chinese heritage and prosecution of millions. When Mao was informed of the severity of the situation he showed extreme hostility towards the issue, whereas according to some scholars, he was never aware of the violent situation in China.
In 1969, Mao declared the Cultural Revolution to be over. In his last days Mao was faced with declining health and lung ailment due to smoking and heart trouble. In the afternoon of 2 September 1976, he suffered a serious heart attack and took his last breath on 9 September 1976 in his sleep. He had been in a poor health for many years prior to his death. His body lay in the state at the Great hall of the People. A memorial service was held in Tiananmen Square on 18 September 1976. His body was later placed into Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.