Category Archives: History

Chapter 12: First, the Landlords

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 12
First, the Landlords

Communism is established in countries as a dictatorship of the proletariat, when following pure Marxist doctrine. Dictatorships can only survive by suppressing their opposition. So there’s a measure of instability that comes with communism.

Mao Zedong was now the leader of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). But in order to maintain his leadership he would have to keep fighting for the “good cause.” And again, the end always justified the means, as far as this bloodthirsty tyrant was concerned.

The founding of the PRC in 1949 gave Mao the perfect excuse to unleash his cruelty upon the masses. He claimed he needed to secure the dictatorship of the proletariat.

At first he focused on landlords.

Even before the communists won, rich landlords found themselves under increasing threat, as evidenced by this photo of a farmer confronting a landowner in 1946.

Landlords had long been criticized and condemned by Chinese Communists as a major cause of poverty for peasants. So now that the PRC had been established, they were in some deep shit kind of trouble. Mao claimed that during the civil war, landowners had their chance to see the error of their ways, and that those who had not yet corrected their “excesses” would have to be dealt with.

But Mao felt reluctant to arrest landowners, and imprison or execute them at the hands of the state. He preferred landless peasants to do at least some of this dirty work. He wanted them to actively take part in the purging process, rather than be passive observers. He reasoned that in this way, ordinary folks would tie themselves to the revolution, wet their hands with blood, and thus become co-conspirators with him.

He made it clear to the people that landlords had no protection from the law, and that the state would not step in to interfere with any retribution anyone wanted to exact upon those who owned land. And that’s all the peasants needed to hear.

What followed was a bloodbath at the hands of mobs all over China. Landlords were hunted down, condemned by vigilantes, and executed in a variety of cruel ways. Some were buried alive, others were dismembered or strangled. The lucky ones were shot.

Struggle sessions became popular at this time. In these events, a landlord was put on display before a mob, while a speaker humiliated him or her by accusing the victim of many despicable crimes against the people, whether real or imagined. Then the victim would be thrown to the mob to be beaten, often to death.

Scholars estimate that up to five million people were executed by mobs in China, between 1949 and 1953. Millions more were sent to labor camps, where many perished. Mao’s pain was manifesting on a mass scale, and many millions were coming to understand him, under the cruelest circumstances possible.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 13: Killing Campaigns.

Chapter 11: Victory

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 11

Chiang Kai-shek may have been a cruel man, but he did have a sense of honor. So he kept to his word and united the Kuomintang (KMT) with the Communist Party of China (CPC), in a joint effort to oust their invaders. This was very popular with the Chinese people. They were incensed at the brutality of the Japanese, and were eager to join in the fight. As a result, Mao’s Red Army swelled from 50,000 to a massive 500,000.

A meeting between Mao Zedong (left) and Chiang Kai-shek (right), as collaborators against the Japanese.

During the fighting that ensued, Mao sat at his base and wrote books for his many troops. These books taught them guerrilla warfare tactics, introduced them to Marxist theory, and outlined a vision for a glorious Communist future in China. Mao never missed an opportunity to propagandize his “good cause.”

In August 1940, the United Front of the KMT and CPC slammed the Japanese, killing 20,000 enemy troops, disrupting rail lines, and retaking a coal mine. But after this encouraging joint success, the two sides began to clash. They skirmished against each other in one incident after another. Officially, they remained allies, but in reality they were competitors, jockeying for position, seeking the most advantageous situation for the inevitable resumption of civil war.

Soon after the Japanese surrender to Allied forces, an effort was made to reconcile the differences between Mao and Chiang. They talked and talked and yakked and yakked. And after 43 days of negotiations, they finally signed the Double Tenth Agreement on 10/10/45. In this agreement, the CPC acknowledged the KMT as the legitimate government, while the KMT in return recognized the CPC as a legitimate opposition party.

You’d think the two sides had finally figured out how to get along. But all the heartwarming Kumbaya and group hugs didn’t last long. The two sides soon began to clash in small military campaigns and shootouts that gradually intensified. Finally, in the summer of 1946, Chiang launched an all-out attack on the Communists, and the Chinese Civil War was back on.

The Red Army had been renamed the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA. American diplomats who had been to China knew that the CPC was less corrupt, stronger, and more popular than the KMT. But their advice fell on deaf ears in Washington, and the U.S. government backed Chiang Kai-shek with military assistance in his fight against the Communists.

But Chiang was such an enigma, he found it hard to gain support within his own country. Nobody could figure out his political vision. By this time, everyone knew he was against communism. But he also seemed to be against capitalism. He would crush Communists with one hand, while attacking and confiscating the wealth of capitalists with the other. But he pushed for government control of industry, so perhaps it’s best to describe him as an odd form of Socialist.

His main support came from gangsters, who he used as muscle for extorting money from capitalists, in order to fund his military expeditions. For this reason, corruption ran rampant throughout the KMT, and he had weak popular support.

But Mao was different. His political vision was clear to everyone, because everyone knew he was a Communist through and through. And he and the PLA enjoyed wide popular support from the underclass, the downtrodden, the peasants of China. In their eyes, Mao was going to level the playing field, destroy the overclass, and equalize wealth among all classes. And they were all for it.

In August 1945, shortly before the Japanese surrender, the Soviet Army had invaded and occupied Manchuria. After the war ended, the Soviets delayed their departure until Mao’s PLA could sneak in after them and take over the territory. This enabled the PLA to confiscate a large supply of arms left behind by the Japanese.

This gave Mao a huge boon. And Mao meant business. He was damned determined to use those arms to kill lots of people while winning this civil war.

In fact, Mao is famously quoted as saying, “A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.” At least he said this honestly. For him, the end justified the means, and this quote was fair warning to anyone expecting anything other than ruthless violence.

In May 1948, Mao ordered the siege of the city of Changchun, in Manchuria. His forces encircled the city and prevented food from entering. Civilians began to starve, and desperately attempted to leave this besieged metropolis, but the PLA prevented their escape. Mao wanted them to stay in place so they would consume any remaining food that KMT forces would otherwise eat.

They did eat the food, rending their cupboards bare. But they still were not allowed to leave. And after five hungry months of siege, at least 160,000 civilians had starved to death.

A regiment of the KMT defected to the Communist side, and attacked another regiment of the KMT that had been receiving favorable treatment in the distribution of food. This resulted in the capitulation and surrender of KMT forces in Changchun. Thus, the end worked out well for the PLA, but the means were ghastly.

Soon after the fall of Changchun, the remaining Manchurian cities fell like dominoes to the PLA.

Mao and the PLA pushed on relentlessly, mercilessly laying siege to more cities throughout China. Finally, in December 1949, Chiang Kai-shek was forced to flee mainland China to Taiwan. The civil war was over. Mao and his “good cause” of communism had won.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 12: First, the Landlords.

Chapter 10: The Crazy, Wacky Xi’an Incident

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 10
The Crazy, Wacky Xi’an Incident

In 1936, the Chinese civil war took a strange twist. Joseph Stalin came up with the cockamamied idea of the Communist Party of China (CPC) uniting with the Kuomintang (KMT) to take on their common enemy, the Japanese. Mao was cool to this idea, but he depended a lot on Stalin for help, and so on May 5, 1936, he humored Stalin by telegramming this proposition to Chiang Kai-shek. But Chiang predictably ignored the telegram. Those two hated each other.

Their refusal to set aside their differences to take on their common enemy led to the crazy, wacky Xi’an Incident.

General Zhang Xueliang (also known as Chang Hsueh-liang) was the main protagonist in this Incident. He had been the commander of KMT forces in Manchuria when the Japanese invaded in 1931. He knew his army was no match against the imperial forces, so he had retreated without a fight, practically handing over Manchuria to Japan.

But Zhang wanted Manchuria back, and he resented the fact that Chiang had decided to leave the Japanese alone, and instead focus on making war with Mao and his Communists. He zealously wanted the civil war to end, so that the Japanese could be driven out of Manchuria. He’d been criticized for his retreat from Manchuria, and he had his honor to regain.

The CPC knew this, and so they approached Zhang and made a secret deal with him, in June 1936. This agreement involved Zhang overthrowing Chiang, then uniting the KMT with the CPC, against Japan.

On December 12, 1936, Zhang and another KMT general named Yang Hucheng managed to pull off the impossible. Chiang had flown into Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi Province, to coordinate a major assault on the Red Army. He headquartered in a cabin, where his security was not very strong.

Zhang Xueliang (left) and Chiang Kai-shek (right) in 1930, when they were still friends.

Zhang and Yang seized upon the opportunity this presented, and they had their bodyguards abduct Chiang, in what became one of the craziest kidnappings in history. They held Chiang against his will, but they did not demand money for his ransom, as one would expect from most kidnappers. Instead, they demanded that the KMT end their civil war against the CPC.

Chiang held out for a few weeks, refusing to meet the ransom demand. But when he realized his life was at stake, he finally struck a deal with Zhou Enlai of the CPC. He would go ahead and unite his forces with the CPC, and stop fighting them. In return, Chiang would be allowed to live, and could return back to the nation’s capital of Nanjing.

Zhang’s supporters urged him to execute Chiang, but he refused. A deal was a deal, and he had his honor to protect. So instead, this kidnapper did the honorable thing and returned Chiang safely to Nanjing.

But as soon as Chiang arrived back in Nanjing, he had Zhang and Yang arrested. Zhang spent the next 50 years under a loose form of house arrest, first in mainland China and then in Taiwan. Yang was imprisoned, and then executed in 1949.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 11: Victory.

Chapter 9: The Long March

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.

Route of the Long March. There were actually three Long Marches, that all converged on Shaanxi, in the north. The dark red dashed line was the main march, and the route taken by Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, with their forces. The pink areas marked with X’s are Communist enclaves overrun by the KMT during the Fourth Encirclement Campaign. Notice that dashed lines run from two of these X’d out enclaves to new enclaves formed to the west. The pink, shaded areas that are not X’d out are Communist enclaves that were evacuated during the Fifth Encirclement Campaign. Map by Rowanwindwhistler. CC BY-SA 3.0.

Chapter 9
The Long March

85,000 Communist soldiers and 15,000 Communist cadres broke through the Kuomintang (KMT) line on October 14, 1934, and headed to southern Hunan Province. This began what would famously become known as the “Long March.” And it was indeed, very long.

It was a grueling and deadly ordeal of thousands of miles, which would later be mythologized and exaggerated to seem even more grueling, deadly, and long than it actually was. But even without exaggeration, the Long March was a heroic effort that galvanized the Communist Party.

By December 1st, 50,000 had already been lost through military casualty or desertion. They encountered heavy fighting, crossed rivers, and pushed tenaciously onward, finally arriving in Guizhou Province in January, 1935. There they were able to rest for a little while, catch their breath, and hold an important bureaucratic meeting to discuss their shitty situation.

This meeting is known as the Zunyi Conference. In this conference, Mao got involved in another fight. It was a power struggle over how they’d gotten into this mess, between some hand-picked leaders chosen by Stalin, and Mao and Zhou Enlai.

Zhou took responsibility for having made poor decisions, and criticized himself in front of the other leaders. But Stalin’s men did not take any responsibility. Mao, himself, had no responsibility, since he had been stripped of most leadership positions two years earlier. So he was in a position to criticize. And he went after Stalin’s men, and managed to have them demoted.

Zhou put his support behind Mao, and the two managed to emerge victorious. Mao emerged as the undisputed leader of the Communist Party. He was elected to Chairman of the Politburo, and leader of both the CPC and the Red Army. Zhou emerged as the number two leader.

They would both retain these #1 and #2 positions for the rest of their lives. Well, except for Mao, during the five years or so leading up to the Cultural Revolution. Stalin felt dismayed by all of this, but he grudgingly decided to support Mao.

Now Mao and Zhou were running the show. They knew the Red Army couldn’t stay where they were for very long, because Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT Army were after them. So the question put to Mao was, which way to go? North? East? South? West?

Mao decided on north by west. They would head west first, to evade the KMT. Then they would head north, until they reached Shaanxi Province in northern China. Shaanxi was near Japanese occupied territory. Mao reasoned that by fighting the imperialist Japanese forces, the Communists would win over the trust of the people, and could turn them against the KMT, who had abandoned their fight against the Japanese.

But China is a big country, and Shaanxi was a long, long way off from Guizhou Province, especially by foot. Mao led his troops through mountain passes. They fought their way over bridges. And when Chiang flew in KMT troops to meet him, he managed to outmaneuver the KMT and continue northward.

At one point, his forces encountered 50,000 CPC troops, led by General Zhang Guotao. Zhang urged Mao to head west to avoid capture, but Mao was stubborn in his direction north. The two forces parted ways. And onward Mao’s troops forged, through quagmires where they were attacked by Manchu tribesmen, and where famine and disease took the lives of many Red Army soldiers.

Communist leader addressing Long March survivors.

Finally they straggled into Shaanxi, 370 days and 5,600 miles later. Or so the propaganda claims. Some historians say they only traveled about three to four thousand miles, and the rest is exaggeration. But even so, it was a long, arduous, and costly journey. Only 7,000 to 8,000 of the original 100,000 managed to survive this march.

The Long March came at a tremendous cost to the Red Army and the Communist Party. But it was a moral victory for Mao. He became a celebrated hero, and this further secured his position as undisputed leader of the Party.

By the spring of 1936, Mao’s forces had increased to 15,000 strong. He began a recruitment and training operation, and by January, 1937, he was able to send guerrilla fighters into Japanese occupied territory to attack and harass imperial troops.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 10: The Crazy, Wacky Xi’an Incident.

Chapter 8: The Encirclements

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 8
The Encirclements

Zhou Enlai in the 1940s.

Mao’s “delicate” handling of the Futian Incident did not impress the Communist Party of China (CPC). Mao was stripped of his leadership of the Red Army, and General Zhou Enlai took over. But although this might seem like a setback, it turned out very well for the murderous Mao. General Zhou became Mao’s most loyal follower, and a formidable partner in the civil war and Communist revolution.

Zhou would later serve as Premier of China, from 1949 to 1976. He was politically astute enough to survive the Cultural Revolution, but a son and daughter were not so lucky. Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, had them arrested, tortured, and killed in 1968. So even Mao’s most loyal follower would eventually feel the sting of Mao’s pain.

Mao still retained some power, and was named Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars. Meanwhile, the CPC moved its headquarters to Jiangxi, as they considered it to be a secure location. Soon, the CPC declared Southwestern Jiangxi an independent Communist state, calling it the Soviet Republic of China.

But Chiang Kai-shek wasn’t having it. He sent Kuomintang (KMT) troops to Jiangxi and encircled the region, with the object of annihilating the Red Army. The Red Army was vastly outnumbered by the KMT, so Mao wanted to resort to guerrilla tactics. But Zhou Enlai was the new leader, and he preferred conventional warfare. He got his way, and surprisingly, Zhou was very successful.

Zhou defeated two encirclement campaigns, much to Chiang’s dismay and wroth. Finally, Chiang decided to personally lead the KMT in more encirclement campaigns. But Zhou defeated Chiang also, and sent him and the KMT packing.

In September 1931, the Empire of Japan invaded Manchuria, in northeast China, in what some historians refer to as the beginning of World War II. This saved the Soviet Republic of China from future attacks, as Chiang now had to focus on resisting the Japanese.

He left the Red Army alone, and this gave it a chance to expand the size of the Soviet Republic of China, until it included three million people. Peace prevailed, and for the next few years, Mao was able to implement a land reform program.

Then in 1934, Chiang decided that the Communists posed a greater threat than the Japanese, and he returned his focus on defeating the CPC of Jiangxi. He launched his Fifth Encirclement Campaign, and things were about to get very hairy.

The KMT laid siege on Jiangxi, cutting it off from the outside world, using concrete and barbed wire barriers. This was a blockhouse strategy, recommended by German military advisers, and it was highly effective. The Red Army found it impossible to breach these barriers.

The KMT also beefed up its troop numbers to a half million, vastly outnumbering the Red Army. Then they bombed the hell out of the Red Army, using military aircraft. It was overwhelming, and Zhou found he could not defend against the onslaught, regardless of the conventional warfare tactics that he tried.

The Jiangxi Soviet shrank further and further in size, against the slowly advancing Nationalist Army. Red Army casualties piled up and troop strength weakened. Supplies of food and medicine ran low. The situation for the Communists grew desperate. Finally, in October 1934, after 13 months of futile resistance, the CPC decided to evacuate.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 9: The Long March.

Chapter 7: The Futian Incident

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 7:
The Futian Incident

Mao turned out to be a scrappy military leader, but he was not very experienced. It was a tough struggle. Over the next few years his forces usually lost to the Kuomintang (KMT), but during this time of conflict in the Jinggang mountains he learned many lessons on warfare. Especially guerrilla warfare. He often learned the hard way, through defeat, but at least he learned.

One of Mao’s famous quotes about guerrilla warfare is, “When the enemy advances, we retreat. When the enemy halts and encamps, we harass him. When the enemy seeks to avoid battle, we attack. Whenever the enemy retreats, we pursue.” Mao eventually won respect as a genius at guerilla warfare, and his relentless tactics have been emulated by Marxist forces throughout the world, including the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War.

While Mao fought in the Jinggang mountains, Chiang Kai-shek pressed on with his military campaign against the warlords ruling China. He was highly successful, and by December, 1928, he forced Manchuria to capitulate, and became ruler of a unified China.

Well, mostly unified. He still had Mao Zedong to deal with. Mao and his troops struggled through one defeat after another, with few victories. They endured food shortages and other privations. By 1929, his numbers had increased to 2,800 fighters. This was too many people to keep alive, so in January of that year he realized he had to move to an area where he could feed his troops better. He evacuated the Jinggang mountains and headed to the southwestern region of Jiangxi province.

Li Lisan, the leader of the CPC, began quarreling with Mao. Li thought Mao and his unsophisticated peasant army could not succeed, and ordered him to disband his forces. Mao refused. Then Moscow decided to replace Li with 28 Soviet-educated Chinese Communists, to head the CPC. But the ever-rebellious Mao would not accept their authority, either.

Mao in 1930, at age 36.

The renegade Mao created a provisional Communist government in Southwestern Jiangxi, in 1930. Soon after, a tragedy befell him. Karma, perhaps, for all the fighting he had instigated. In November of that year, his wife and sister were captured by the KMT and beheaded.

Mao was a bigamist, having married another woman six months earlier. Still, this death of the mother of his children must have left him in a particularly nasty mood, and it was no time to trifle with him. He was very likely in the mood for a fight. And a fight is exactly what he got.

In December, just one month after Mao’s wife and sister lost their heads, troops known as the Futian battalion mutinied, accusing Mao of being a counterrevolutionary, and of plotting to surrender to the KMT army. They occupied the town of Yongyang, raised banners proclaiming, “Down with Mao Zedong!” and they appealed to the CPC for help.

This was fucking bullshit as far as Mao was concerned. But it was a delicate situation, requiring delicate strategy to deal with this internal rebellion. In June 1931, Mao came up with a “delicate” idea for handling the dissenters. It was actually quite a cruel idea, which of course he particularly liked. And so it became a strategy he would implement in one form or another, periodically throughout the rest of his life.

He invited the rebels to a meeting, where they could discuss their differences and try to come to a resolution. 200 troops accepted the invitation and showed up. But as soon as they sat down, troops loyal to Mao disarmed them and executed them. After this, dissenters all over Jianxi were rounded up, tortured and executed. This became known as the Futian Incident, and by the time the bloodbath was over, two to three thousand dissenters had been slaughtered by Mao’s loyalists.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 8: The Encirclements.

Chapter 6: Civil War

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 6
Civil War

In 1926, Chiang Kai-shek set off for North China to make revolution. This would become his famous Northern Expedition, and it turned into one hell of a fight. Chiang attacked and defeated warlords, and fought hard and successfully, taking province after province while uniting much of China.

But there was one unexpected result of Chiang’s successes that left the right-wing leaders of his Kuomintang (KMT) feeling unsettled. Peasants were feeling encouraged by Chiang’s victories, and began rising up, attacking and killing wealthy landowners. Senior right-wing members of the KMT didn’t like this because they, too, were wealthy landowners. But left-wing members were quite satisfied and encouraged by this development, as communists don’t care much for landowners. They thought it was just dandy. This led to friction between the left and right wings of the KMT.

KMT troops rounding up Shanghai Communists, for execution.

In March 1927, while Chiang was still out fighting warlords, left-wingers of the KMT, from Shanghai, tried to strip Chiang of his power and install a left-winger in his place. It seemed Chiang had a new fight on his hands. An internal power struggle against Communists. So in April 1927, he returned from his Northern Expedition and marched on Shanghai. There he viciously turned on the left-wing and arranged for criminal gang members to slaughter 12,000 Communists in what became known as the Shanghai Massacre.

Chiang then began a cruel campaign of purging Communists and Communist sympathizers all over China, in what was called the White Terror. His forces loyal to him were merciless. Over the next year more than 300,000 people were murdered across China, in anti-Communist suppression campaigns. Some historians actually put the number of dead in the millions.

Chiang was quoted to have said that he would rather mistakenly kill 1,000 innocent people, rather than allow one Communist to escape.

Obviously, Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union, and the leaders of the Communist Party of China (CPC), had greatly misjudged Chiang. They had previously assumed he was sympathetic to communism, and Chiang’s picture had even been hung on walls in public places throughout the Soviet Union. Of course, those pictures came down quickly, and Stalin stopped supporting the KMT.

Chiang Kai-shek was a hard man to read, concerning his political philosophies. Maybe he was a little crazy. He was against big business and capitalism, but he was also against communism. He wasn’t really a fascist, because he never preached the superiority of the Chinese race. But he often behaved like a dictator, even while in theory, trying to establish democracy.

The confusion concerning Chiang’s vision worked against the communists, initially, because it took them by surprise. But it would eventually lead to his downfall and defeat by Mao, and force him to retreat to Taiwan.

The KMT’s murders and massacres during the White Terror had decimated the CPC, reducing its members from 25,000 to 10,000. This marked the split of the left and right within the KMT, and the beginning of a bloody, bitter, and painful civil war in China that would endure for more than 20 years.

The Communists that remained were expelled from the KMT. They were demoralized, and on the ropes. But Mao had an idea. He’d taken notice of the peasant uprisings that followed Chiang’s Northern Expedition, and he realized that peasants had a lot of potential as a fighting force.

Soon the CPC organized an army of peasants, which they called the Red Army, to battle Chiang, and Mao was appointed commander-in-chief. At last an opportunity arrived for Mao to get some blood on his hands.

In August 1927, Mao sent a battalion to attack Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi Province. They were initially successful, but after about five days, KMT forces drove the Communists out.

Then on September 7, 1927, Mao led four regiments to attack Changsha in his home province of Hunan, where the school he had taught at was located. But one of his regiments deserted to the KMT and attacked his own army. Mao fled in defeat to the Jinggang mountains in Jiangxi Province, taking with him about a thousand survivors.

But he’d tasted his first blood. And it might have been his last, because the CPC didn’t like Mao’s inclination for fighting. They criticized what they called his “military opportunism,” and they expelled him from the Party.

But fighters like Mao can’t be rid of that easily. Rather than pack his bags and go home, Mao simply chose to ignore his Communist comrades.

He moved his troops to Jinggangshan City and set up a base of operations. There he won the support of nearby villages and set up a self-governing state. He garnered the support of peasants and began confiscating land from rich landlords. The landlords were executed, giving Mao more of a taste of blood.

He built his forces to 1,800 strong, and established strict disciplinary rules for his recruits. The CPC saw all this and realized Mao wasn’t going anywhere soon. They grudgingly readmitted him to the Party, and put him to work fighting the KMT.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 7: The Futian Incident.

Chapter 5: Mao and Chiang

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 5
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.

Chiang Kai-shek in 1920.

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.

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.

Chapter 3: Consequentialism

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 3:

Puyi, the last emperor of China.

Revolutionaries knew they couldn’t count on the Qing dynasty to keep foreigners out, so they plotted and planned to overthrow it. And they debated among themselves what to do with China if they succeeded at revolution.

The prevailing argument was to keep China whole, combining all its many ethnicities into a united Chinese nation. This argument was known as Chinese nationalism. And as Mao became aware of Chinese nationalism, he decided to support this view. He thought it was a good cause.

That good cause would soon see battle. In 1911, the Xinhai Revolution broke out against the Qing dynasty, and Mao took up arms to fight for it. But he never saw any action. The last emperor of China was overthrown on February 12, 1912, and the Republic of China was created. And so, after six months of quiet revolutionary service, it was back to civilian life for young Mao, without ever having fired a shot.

Now what the hell could he do? He was out of good causes. So at eighteen years old, he decided to pursue his education. But this didn’t work out so well. Turns out, Mao wasn’t so good in school. He dropped out of a police academy, a soap production school, a law school, an economics school, and a middle school.

Apparently, Mao was too damned independent for classroom learning. He discovered that he’d have to go it alone, and pursue a self-education.

So he spent a lot of time in libraries, studying books on classical liberalism. This is how he discovered the philosophy of Consequentialism. Consequentialism is the ethical theory that the consequence’s of one’s conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness or wrongness of the conduct. In other words, the end justifies the means.

This was right up his alley, and with no teacher to dissuade him by pointing out the drawbacks, Mao embraced Consequentialism whole-heartedly. Consequentialism gave him the excuse to do whatever he wanted, just as long as he could justify that it was for the greater good.

He liked the idea of doing whatever he wanted. He had a cruel streak, which he acquired from his father. He was a young man in a lot of pain, as many young men are. In fact we all suffer, whether young or old, male or female. But how we deal with our pain and suffering differs from person to person.

Had Mao stuck with his mother’s Buddhism, he might have learned how to deal with his pain without being cruel to others. Buddhism teaches that suffering is caused by craving, and that by letting go of craving, one frees oneself from suffering. Buddhism prescribes an Eight-fold path for letting go of craving, that involves following precepts and disciplining the mind through meditation.

Apparently, Mao didn’t care much for the Eight-fold path, and so he chose a different path. And it seems it was the path of his father. And this path was the path of causing pain to relieve pain.

Mao’s father relieved his pain by beating him. In this manner, he let off pent-up steam that had been building up inside, and found relief. This is not an uncommon way to handle pain. Many people have learned that letting off steam by being abusive to others, helps them to feel better.

But letting off steam can lead to more problems. People who are abused sometimes rebel and retaliate. At the very least, they become distant, leading to a sense of loneliness in the abuser’s relationships. And property can be destroyed when one flies into a rage, so it can be expensive.

Another problem is that letting off steam can become addictive. It feels pleasurable, which can lead to letting off steam more and more often. Also, causing small amounts of pain can get old, with a loss in the pleasurable effect. And so one must progress to crueler and more sadistic methods to achieve the same enjoyment.

But letting off steam seems to have been the path for dealing with pain that Mao chose. It was the path laid out by his father, and when Mao killed millions, he was merely following in his father’s footsteps. His father would likely have done the same if he’d had the opportunity. But Mao did find the opportunity. And he found it through pursuing a good cause, and by using Consequentialism to justify the means with the end.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 4: A Good Cause.

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