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.

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