Series (History): The Cultural Revolution

Chapter 4: A Good Cause

This is the next installment of my book, The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao.
To read the previous installment, click this link.
To start at the beginning, click this link.


Chapter 4:
A Good Cause

With Consequentialism firmly ensconced in his psyche, all Mao now needed was another good cause. A cause he could fight for, that would justify the infliction of pain. He already had nationalism, and that was becoming an issue again, due to the rise of warlord kingdoms in China. But it wasn’t enough for someone who wants an excuse to fight and hurt others. He needed more.

He became a student/teacher at the First Normal School of Changsha, which was regarded as the best school in his home province of Hunan. And there he found a cause to fight for. He organized protests against school rules.

But then one day he discovered another cause. He joined a society that studied and debated the ideas of Chen Duxiu. Chen was very liberal, and later became one of the first Communists of China. This led to Mao traveling north to Beijing, at age 24, where he took on a job assisting the librarian at Peking University. This librarian’s name was Li Dazhao. Li would also become an early Communist.

Students burning Japanese goods during the May Fourth Movement.

Communism traces its beginnings in China to the May Fourth Movement, which began on May 4, 1919. This was a series of protests and strikes against the Treaty of Versailles, a treaty which ended World War I. This treaty proposed to award territory in the Shandong province of China to Japan. Japan had taken Shandong from the Germans in 1914, near the start of World War I.

The Chinese were outraged by this proposal. Shandong is an important and strategic coastal province that juts out into the Yellow Sea. It’s the birthplace of Confucius, and holds special historical and cultural meaning to the Chinese.

Due to popular pressure from the May Fourth Movement, the Chinese ambassador to France refused to sign the Treaty of Versailles, and this necessitated a separate peace treaty with Germany. It was settled in 1922, with the Nine-Power Treaty. This treaty returned Shandong to China, but allowed Japan to maintain its economic dominance of the province, and of its railway.

This was mostly a symbolic victory for China, as the Nine-Power Treaty was virtually impossible to enforce. But the May Fourth Movement, itself, marked a major shift in Chinese intellectual thought. Intellectuals became disillusioned with the Western democratic model, which they believed had let them down, and many shifted radically to the left.

Intellectuals who were already leftists, such as Mao’s friends, Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao, began to seriously study Marxism. In 1921, they both co-founded the Communist Party of China. These two Marxists greatly influenced and radicalized Mao, so that he too began to take Marxism seriously.

Mao soon moved back to his home province of Hunan, where he began writing articles for a liberal magazine. But the governor of Hunan, Zhang Jingyao, was no liberal, and was not amused. He tried to suppress his writings, and this gave Mao a new cause to fight for. Revolution. Mao locked horns with the governor, and agitated for his overthrow. He organized a general strike, which was successful, and from that he managed to secure some concessions from Governor Zhang.

But Mao was a wily man and he realized that victory is not always a safe thing. He became fearful of reprisal from Zhang, and worried he wouldn’t be able to win anymore fights against him. So he fled back north to Beijing.

To his surprise, he discovered that he’d become something of a hero to local revolutionaries in Beijing, who’d been reading his writings. This gave Mao an idea. He realized he could use his hero status to make his fight against Zhang more winnable. So he began soliciting assistance from his admirers, for overthrowing Zhang.

Around this time, the famous revolutionary, Sun Yat-Sen, had established the Kuomintang (KMT). This was an armed political party that sought to establish a united, nationalist government in China. The Chinese government had devolved into rulership by warlords, that had divided China into something that resembled a loosely organized network of small kingdoms. Sun Yat-Sen founded the KMT in 1919, to resist this kind of rule, and unify the country.

Mao was introduced to General Tan Yankai, of the KMT, and learned he was plotting to overthrow Zhang. This dovetailed nicely with Mao’s own cause, so he assisted Tan by organizing students. And together, with Tan’s troops and Mao’s students, Zhang was forced to flee, in June 1920.

This was Mao’s first big success at revolution.

Now Mao had cachet. He was rewarded for his efforts with an appointment to a lucrative job as headmaster of a school. He got married, but unlike most people in such a cushy situation, he decided not to settle down. No, he just wasn’t satisfied. Pain is never-ending, and so Mao looked for more causes to fight for, where he could enjoy letting off steam and making others feel his pain.


Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 5: Mao and Chiang.

51 replies »

  1. Sorry for the sideline… I was fascinated by Mao’s wives after studying a little about Mao in college. They were all rather tragic characters. Apparently, his first “wife”, Luo Yixiu, was from a marriage arranged by his father in 1920. She was eighteen, and Mao was fourteen at the time. And while Mao attended the wedding, he refused to stay with her. Disgraced by the rejection, she couldn’t return home and had to live with Mao’s family until she died two years later, supposedly from dysentery.

    His second wife (who you mention here), Yang Kaihui, was the daughter of one of his teachers. Nineteen-years old at the time, she apparently really loved Mao who was then in his late twenties, and they had three children together. But Mao didn’t hang around much. After she was captured by a KMT warlord, He Jian, he had her executed in front of her oldest son, Mao Anying. She was only twenty-nine years old, and Anying died later in the Korean War. Her youngest son then died as an orphan at four-years old, while her second son, Mao Anqing, developed severe psychiatric problems. Mao ignored Anqing for the rest of his life, and Anqing died in 2007. I believe that he had a son who is my age and who is now a high-ranking officer in the PLA.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Those are some interesting tidbits. I have a chapter dedicated to Mao’s wives, later on in this series. Their children sure had tragic lives, except the one.

      I understand that Yang was given the chance to renounce Mao, and if she had the KMT would have spared her life. But she refused, and thus lost her head.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I was wondering… I’ll leave anything more about his wives for you.

        I suspect the stories about Yang Kaihui were fabricated by her eldest son, and perhaps others. She was tortured continuously during the month that she was kept imprisoned, probably for information as well as for “confessions”. Supposedly someone later found poems written by her jammed into a crack in the wall of her cell, lamenting how much she missed her husband. How much was made up after the fact is hard to know.

        He Jian was a notoriously brutal KMT warlord who seemed reluctant to fight the Maoists directly and intentionally went after the wives and children of communist leaders. He also captured, tortured and executed Wu Ruolan, who was the wife of Zhu De, another powerful warlord who joined the Red Army and eventually became one of the original Marshals of the PLA.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I like all the information you throw in. It gives my readers an extra bonus. And please don’t be afraid to contradict me where you disagree. I’m not perfect at my research.

          No doubt there’s a lot of propaganda and hype surrounding Yang’s death. I have to make judgment calls on the accuracy of the facts I uncover, and I’ve likely made a few errors in judgment. And of course, I’m inserting my own judgments on Mao’s motivations and psychology, which may not be entirely accurate.

          There seems to have been a lot of cruelty, all the way around, in China’s internal conflicts. It wasn’t just the Communists who committed atrocities. It seems human rights were not highly appreciated in those days, by just about everyone. Thus it was a sad and tragic time for many people.

          Liked by 1 person

          • As with much history, it’s always a little difficult to distinguish reality from the victors’ versions.

            I’m rather a lover of Taiwan and its amazing culture and people… entirely different from the mainland. But it’s also only been a democracy for less than three decades. And while Chiang Kai-shek remains a national hero, the KMT was utterly intolerant of any form of dissent during its decades of marshal law.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. I am enjoying this series. At some point do you plan to offer some brief explanations of exactly what the ideological foundations of Marxism and Communism are. I’d be curious to see how different their beliefs are versus socialism and democratic socialism. Or do you expect me to have to figure that out on my own? 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Its sad how he keeps causing pain to try to alleviate his pain. I highly doubt that he was ever truly happy. Sounds to me like he remained a miserable man full of pain up to his death.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I imagine so. Although I am only speculating about his mental state of mind. But I don’t know why people treat others cruelly, except as a way of alleviating their own pain, so I think it’s a fair speculation.

      Liked by 1 person

        • I doubt they have no feelings. Only robots have no feelings. Feelings are what motivate us, so I doubt Mao would have accomplished anything if he was a numb robot, devoid of conscious.

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          • But when you think of how utterly cruel some people are it would appear that they have no feelings, to be able to hurt another human being like they do! But yes, in order to accomplish things one can’t be a numb robot.

            Liked by 1 person

            • I think a part of them feels horrified by what they’re doing. But they’ve gotten very good at suppressing their feelings, and hardening their hearts. Human beings are very adaptable. If you abuse one long enough, they’ll learn how to develop a hard, protective shell around their hearts. This is probably necessary for survival. Unfortunately, it leads to a loss of empathy, where they grow out of touch with the feelings of others, and can more easily engage in cruelty.

              Liked by 1 person

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