Chapter 17: The Little Red Book
The Little Red Book
During the time of the Socialist Education Movement, Mao worked on another facet of his Machiavellian plot to regain power. He used his influence as Chairman of the Communist Party to have a book published, entitled, Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung. It contained quotations from his speeches and writings, given over his lifetime. It was bound in a red vinyl wrapper over cardboard cover, was pocket-sized, and became known as the Little Red Book.
It was first printed in January of 1964, and contained 25 topics and 267 quotations, and was distributed to troops in the People’s Liberation Army. It was the brainchild of Lin Biao, a sycophant of Mao who would later be elevated to the top leadership of China during the Cultural Revolution. Lin had recently replaced General Peng Dehuai as Defense Minister. Peng, as you may recall, had been purged for criticizing Mao’s Great Leap Forward.
“Study Chairman Mao’s writings, follow his teachings, and act according to his instructions,” Lin Biao admonished in a prefaced endorsement leaf. This page would later be removed after Lin allegedly attempted to assassinate Mao in 1971.
The Little Red Book expanded several times over the next year, with the final version containing 33 topics and 427 quotations from Mao. Top priority was given to its publication, shoving aside all other works-in-progress, including publication of The Complete Works of Marx and Engels.
The goal was to print and distribute enough copies so that 99% of the population could own and read this book of Mao’s quotes. Over a billion copies were printed between 1966 and 1969. It was exported also, and by May 1967, it could be found in bookstores in 117 countries, with 20 translations in 35 versions.
As of today, some estimate that over 6.5 billion copies have been distributed throughout China and worldwide. This is likely an exaggeration, but if accurate the Little Red Book could be the Most Read Book in history, pushing the Bible into second place.
The Little Red Book became very popular. This was not just because of all the press and promotion it received. It was mainly because every Chinese citizen was expected to own a copy, study it, and carry it on their person at all times. This was never an official requirement, but those who did not do this ran the risk of being labeled a capitalist-roader, or counterrevolutionary, or a revisionist, or something else that could get them into deep trouble.
The Little Red Book was part of Mao’s plan to establish a Cult of Personality, where he would be worshiped like a living god. With Mao elevated to god-like heights in the minds of the people, anything he said would be believed without question, and everything he wanted would be granted. And that’s because his adoring masses would make sure it was granted.
Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 18: Madame Mao, Jiang Qing.