'The Myth of Mao Zedong Still Haunts China'

A commentary by Bao Tong
A visitor at an art exhibition commemorating the 120th anniversary of the birth of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong in Wuhan city, central China's Hubei province, Dec. 8, 2013.

The 20th century saw three great political myths. The myths of Hitler and Stalin have been annihilated, but the myth of Mao Zedong still haunts China today.

It won't be hard to give a comprehensive evaluation of Mao Zedong, so we can get a clear picture of what he actually achieved.

The history textbooks tell us that the Chinese people achieved a democratic revolution under the leadership of Mao Zedong. That's not true. The so-called "New Democracy" was a hoax invented by Mao Zedong in order to compete with [former president Chiang Kai-shek] for political power.

It went like this: land to the peasants; freedom to the intellectuals; industrial development under the leadership to the workers; and Lincoln's government for, by, and of the people, along with Roosevelt's four fundamental freedoms, for the entire Chinese people.

Even as late as September 1949, Mao Zedong was still working hard with the democratic parties and factions to finalize the "common program."

But as soon as he took power, Mao refused to cash any checks at all.

Mao 'moved fast'

He moved so fast that not even his allies Liu Shaoqi and Zhou Enlai could keep up with him.

Under the illusion that was land reform, the fate of all of China's tillers was to lose their land for good.

All the intellectuals got was to "be reformed," while the workers were forbidden to strike and forbidden to set up any independent labor unions.

Property owners "voluntarily" donated all their assets, while the entire Chinese people got a "republic" in which they weren't allowed to vote.

Such was the so-called mighty victory of the democratic revolution, the basis of the myth of Mao Zedong.

While Stalin was alive, Mao Zedong didn't dare to say too much, but his long-awaited opportunity to take over as the head of the socialist camp came with Stalin's death.

Mao took his chance and dropped the "New Democracy" in favor of the socialist dream, which he insisted that all Chinese people dream along with him.

His strategy was to engage in continual political struggles in which those who followed him lived, and those who opposed him died.

A new socialism?

Previously, all Mao had known of socialism came from "A short course on the history of the Soviet Communist Party." Now, he would have to invent it himself.

The entire population would work, and struggle, and study the "57 Communes," part of Mao Zedong Thought, a newly invented method of organization.

His initial program was to catch up with Britain and America through the Great Leap Forward [1958-1960], and his overall plan was supreme leadership over generations of revolutionaries the world over.

Private property rights were abolished in China under Mao, and only restored in 2007 with the Property Law. Mao's contribution to socialism could be represented as "zero," if it is possible to dismiss tens of millions of deaths and the disasters heaped upon hundreds of millions with a single stroke of the pen.

[But] the failure of the "mass line" of 1958, the Great Leap Forward, and the People's Communes were a loss of face for the socialism of Mao Zedong.

At the [mass political meeting] called by the Communist Party Central Committee in 1962, there was a great deal of suspicion of Mao's [policies].

It seemed that even Liu Shaoqi, who had pleaded Mao's case for years, was being sucked into this dangerous mood.

This prompted Mao to launch the "unending revolution" in the face of enormous odds. Mao, the world's greatest gambler, wagered his own body and soul, actually forcing the entire nation to become his sacrificial victims.


People have got used to talking about the Cultural Revolution decade [1966-1976], but in fact the bloodletting began immediately after Mao's [mass meeting].

The sole theme of this 14-year massacre, which he planned and orchestrated, was "whoever opposes Chairman Mao will be brought down."

And in the process of bringing down all his opponents, Mao also brought about his own downfall.

Some people credit Mao with "founding" China, as if China wasn't a country, or didn't exist before that, as if the people should be grateful for having a country at all, regardless of what that country achieves. However, I won't dedicate much space to that debate here.

There are others who credit Mao's great and mighty policies with getting "the Chinese people to stand up." Perhaps they mean that it's a matter of wonder that the Chinese people were able to stand up at all in the mess that he got the country into!

I won't waste words on this, except to make four points:

1. The victory over fascism in 1945, and China's accession to a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council in 1946, should tell us that the Chinese people had already stood up.

Conversely, when Mao Zedong proclaimed that he was siding with the Soviet Union and "opposing America and helping Korea" (this should more correctly be called "bolstering up Kim Il Sung and helping Korea") under Stalin's orders, didn't that tell us that they had lain down again?

2. When Mao Zedong formulated his supremacist diplomatic strategy, he wasn't acting as a force for peace or stability in the world, so there is nothing for Chinese people to be proud of there.

3. How many tens of millions of our countrymen had to starve to death at a time of massive grain exports to pay for the vanity of his precious [atomic] bombs, which weren't worth all that singing and dancing by ordinary people?

4. If even Liu and Zhou had knelt before him, who else was there left in all of China who could still stand up?

Relying on the myth

So now that we have got it straight exactly what Mao did for ordinary people, it shouldn't be too hard to expose his myth.

The only thing that complicates the matter is the fact that Mao's successors are unwilling to give up the spoils of his military victory.

These powerful successors are only too happy to perpetuate the myth of Mao for all eternity, infusing the myth of the "savior" into the blood of generation upon generation of Chinese people from the cradle onwards.

Mao's legacy, at the very least, includes the silencing of public opinion, an unelected regime, "harmonious" collusion between the three powers, and the mass manufacture of miscarriages of justice.

Most important among these is undoubtedly the absolute power of the leadership, because whoever holds this, holds in their hand the power of hundreds of millions of workers.

Power is truth and legitimacy; it is an invincible magic and the legendary money tree and the ultimate Midas touch all rolled into one.

That's why people must come to see this for themselves; they can't be "unified" into believing it.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Bao Tong, political aide to the late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing.


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