Leaders in History: Chairman Mao

May 1, 2014 by

     Chairman Mao rose to power during the Communist Revolution in China.  Having chased the nationalist government to Taiwan, the new communist government was established with Mao at its head.  Mao’s real power, however, came not from his position as head of the government, which he resigned from midway through his political career, but from his position as head of the communist party.  Here, he was in charge of all cadres, party members.  Since the government was made up of cadres, he reigned supreme.

     Mao sought to bring about a new communist China, free from all the remnants and reminders of the old, nationalist government.  His method for accomplishing this was known as ‘The Great Leap Forward’.  The Great Leap Forward was intended to both communize and modernize China.  The first part was a communist reorganization of the agricultural system.  Second, in order to modernize China, Mao invested a large amount of China’s resources towards the construction of ‘Backyard Steel Mills’.

     However, Mao’s failure to understand or consult experts on agricultural and steel production produced problems for the new system.  Many of the new strategies and organizations for producing food resulted not in an increase, but a decline in food production, leading to a large famine.  Meanwhile, most of the ‘Backyard Steel Mills’ lacked the necessary materials and capabilities to produce any usable steel.  As a result, little food and tons of useless steel was produced, making the Great Leap Forward a massive failure.

     The Cadres in charge of administering these programs to the local provinces responded in two ways.  Some adapted the policies so that they could actually produce food.  Most, however, followed the policies to exactness, and lied about the output their provinces were making.  When Mao finally comes to terms with the failure of the Great Leap Forward, he does so by rewarding loyalty and punishing disloyalty.  Mao admits that there are problems with the Great Leap Forward, he places blame, however, not on the policy but the administrators of the policy. He then encourages a new campaign called the “100 Flowers” campaign, after the saying “Let 100 flowers bloom and 100 schools of thought contend”.  Mao encouraged people to offer criticism of the Great Leap Forward, that it might be bettered.  When the criticism is offered, it is by many cadres who had adapted the policies, and it is not against the administrators, but against the policy itself.

     With this, Mao concludes the ’100 flowers’ campaign, declaring rightists and nationalists exist in the party and are trying to undermine communism and the party.  With this begins the ‘anti-rightist’ campaign.  Mao began having investigations conducted, which accused people falsely with trumped up charges.  Mao used these charges to either save those who were loyal to them, appearing as a hero whom they would be even more loyal towards, or purge them.  When purged, a person never executed, but stripped of their position and sent away to hard labor camps for reform.

     Once the ‘anti-rightist’ campaign was complete, Mao turned his attention towards the cadres whom tactfully opposed him.  To accomplish this, he unleashed his wife, Jiang Qing. Jiang was an unpleasant woman.  Her life with Mao consisted of complaints, criticisms, demands, and excuses towards everyone around her.  However, Mao knew she was absolutely loyal to him.  She was dependent on him for her life and power.  Without him, she was nothing.  Thus, when the Cultural Revolution began, Mao chose Jiang to lead it.

     The reason for the Cultural Revolution was that many cadres held beliefs which differed from Mao’s, and closer to one’s held by the old nationalists.  These people manifested these feelings in the form of mementos, plays, art, and culture in general.  It was Mao’s goal to eliminate and destroy these symbols and to reprimand and purge any who held them.  Through his administrators, chiefly Jiang, Mao accomplished his goal.

     Jiang took her post with exceptional zeal.  Many people and high level cadres cam to hater her excess of accusations and punishments.  A faction even formed against her in the government.  Mao dealt with her through insults and reprimands, but he never removed her.  In fact, he preferred the factional fighting.  It both made him look like a mediator and above politics when he settled disputes and it prevented the cadres from uniting against him.

     A few years after the Cultural Revolution ended, Mao died of natural causes, Jiang was arrested, and a new leader came into power who reformed the government away from Mao, into a functional system which allowed China to prosper and grow rapidly.  In the end, Mao can be summed up by saying that he wants to be the thing around which all things revolve.  He saw himself as infallible, anyone who disagreed needed reform.  And, if allowed to stay in power indefinitely, he would have created an impoverished China centered around a cult of Mao.

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