Chapter 5: Mao and Chiang
Mao and Chiang
When Mao was 27, Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao established the Communist Party of China (CPC). Mao must have decided this was a good cause that could result in a lot of great fights. He soon set up a branch in Hunan, and on July 23, 1921, attended the first session of the National Congress of the CPC. There were only 12 other attendees, so Mao was in on this good cause early on.
And it really was a good cause at the time. Peasants and workers had endured centuries of repression and frequent famine in China. Large landholders and a few other wealthy plutocrats controlled almost all the means of production. The middle class was small. As a general rule you were either very poor or very rich, in an economy that was stacked against ordinary citizens.
The one percent were highly resented by the 99%. Mao sensed this, and smelled blood. He knew when a fight was brewing.
He got busy. He founded the Self-Study University, that made revolutionary literature available to readers. He joined a campaign to fight illiteracy, while ensuring that literacy students read his radical sentiments. But most importantly, he helped labor unions organize strikes.
He led a famous and successful coal miners strike, with the help of Liu Shaoqi and Li Lisan. But they may have come to regret helping him, later in life. That’s because Liu would later become President of the People’s Republic of China, and die as a result of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Li Lisan would also fall victim, being tortured by Red Guards, and officially dying of “suicide” in 1967. No one was immune to Mao’s sadism, not even his long-time friends and allies.
At that time, the Kuomintang (KMT) accepted all political persuasions into its ranks, whether left or right. The goal of the KMT, under the leadership of Sun Yat-Sen, was simply to unite China, while allowing political differences to be resolved through debate and democracy. And so Communists were welcome.
The CPC aligned itself with Sun Yat-Sen’s KMT, and Mao managed to be elected to the KMT’s Central Executive Committee. Mao was an enthusiastic supporter of this organization, and both the left and right factions managed to work together in harmony. Mao and others must have sensed that a united front offered the best chance for defeating the warlords that kept their country divided.
But in 1925, Sun Yat-Sen died of liver cancer at the age of 58. Unfortunately, Sun’s policy of unity died along with him. General Chiang Kai-shek, who had helped Sun establish the KMT, took over.
Chiang was quite a bit like Mao. He was a man in a lot of pain, who employed cruelty to deal with it. And perhaps less like Mao, he had a bad temper and was known for flying into rages to let off steam.
But one big thing set him apart from Mao. He did not like communism. So as soon as he came to power, he moved to marginalize the KMT’s left-wing faction.
Disunity and fighting was Chiang’s way of going about things. But if he was looking for a fight, he didn’t get one. At least, not this time. Mao and the CPC were not aware of Chiang’s anti-communist sentiments, and so they still supported him. They mistakenly assumed he was pro-communist, because he was anti-capitalist. So they did not tangle.
But soon Mao and the CPC would regret their support.
Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 6: Civil War.