Chapter 1: Buddhism and Beatings
Buddhism and Beatings
What would you do if you knew that the child you were raising would become the most prolific murderer of all time? If you were Mao Zedong’s father, Mao Yichang, I’m guessing you’d kill him. But if you were his mother, Wen Qimei, you might try harder to turn him into a good person.
I don’t know if Mao’s father actually tried to kill him, but at times it may have seemed like it. Mao Yichang was a cruel man, and a strict disciplinarian, and he often beat his son severely. Wen, on the other hand, was a practicing Buddhist. She tried her best to protect her son from the cruel hand of his father.
Wen used the teachings of Buddhism to try to convince the elder Mao to temper his rage and go easy on their son. Sadly, she was largely unsuccessful. She also used Buddha’s teachings to convert Mao to Buddhism. This may have been her best hope, but eventually it too fell flat, because when Mao was a teenager he left the religion.
He was born on December 26, 1893, into a life of privilege and hardship. His family was rich, and from that came the privilege. But his father was mean, and from that came the hardship. They lived the peasant farmer life in a rural area of Hunan Province, in China.
Mao became an avid reader, between beatings and work on the farm. And from his reading he cultivated a political consciousness. He found a good cause to fight for. Perhaps the Buddhism he learned from his mother inclined him toward finding a good cause. But if so, then maybe his father’s beatings inclined him toward fighting for his cause using the most sadistic means possible.
Revolution was in the air, in Mao’s young life. In fact, revolution would hang in the air throughout his life. In his young days, the Qing dynasty held power over China. But it was tenuous power, corrupted and weakened by foreign influence, and left vulnerable to attack by those who sought political change.
And many did.
Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 2: The Boxer Rebellion.