Last modified 20 January 2013.
First published 24 September 2002
AKA Chairman Mao, AKA 'The Great Helmsman'. (Tse-Tung can also be spelt Zedong. In translation the name means 'To Shine on the East'.)
Kill tally: As many as 45 million deaths from starvation during the 'Great Leap Forward'. Tens of thousands killed and millions of lives ruined during the 'Cultural Revolution'.
Background: The Chinese begin to emerge as a distinct civilisation around 2500 BCE. China develops as an imperial power in 221 BCE when rival states are unified under the First Emperor. The following 2,000 years will see a succession of dynasties, although strict cultural traditions will gradually suffocate innovation and development. The increased influence of Western powers during the 19th Century and expansionary incursions by the Russians and Japanese further weakens the imperial system, which is also faced with growing internal dissent.
The republican revolution begins among discontented army units in Wuchang in Hubei Province on 10 October 1911 and quickly spreads. By late November 15 of country's the 24 provinces have declared their independence. On 12 February 1912 the last Manchu emperor, the child Puyi, abdicates. On 10 March Yuan Shikai, the commander-in-chief of the Imperial Army, is sworn in as provisional president of the Republic of China at a ceremony held in Beijing. More background.
Mini biography: Born on 26 December 1893 in the village of Shaoshan in Hunan Province, in China's south. His family are prosperous peasant farmers. He has two younger brothers and one sister.
Mao lives with his mother's family in a neighbouring village until he is eight. He then returns to Shaoshan to begin his education. When he is 10 he runs away from school. Following his expulsion from at least three other schools, his father refuses to continue to pay for his education.
When he is 14 Mao enters an arranged marriage with a 18-year-old cousin called Luo, although he never lives with her and she dies in 1910. Mao is allowed to resume his schooling. At age 16, and against his father's wishes, he leaves Shaoshan and enrols in a nearby higher primary school. It is during this period that his political consciousness begins to develop.
1911 - Mao enters a junior high school at Changsha, the provincial capital. He is briefly active in the republican revolution, joining a local army unit.
1912 - The Guomindang (Kuomintang or KMT - the National People's Party, or Nationalist Party) is formed in August. The party wins the majority of seats in elections held in February 1913 for the new, two-house parliament, but is forced to install the now dictatorial Yuan Shikai as president. To achieve international recognition, the new regime agrees to grant autonomy to Outer Mongolia and Tibet, which has now come under British influence.
In November Yuan Shikai makes a grab for absolute power, dissolving the Guomindang, removing its members from parliament and rewriting the constitution to make him president for life. By the time Yuan dies in 1916 China has become a theatre of conflict among "warlords" (provincial military leaders). Japan, recognising an opportunity to expand on territory annexed during the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, seizes the Shandong Province (across the Yellow Sea from Korea).
1913 - Mao enrols in the provincial normal school in Changsha, where he receives his last five years of formal education, graduating in 1918. While a student, Mao and his friends found a night school for workers.
1919 - On 4 May about 3,000 student gather in Tiananmen Square in Beijing to demonstrate against the Yuan Shikai government's acceptance of a clause in the 'Treaty of Versailles' settlement of the First World War that transfers Germany's rights in the Shandong Province to Japan.
The protests develop into the so-called 'May Fourth Movement'. Chinese nationalism is revitalised as intellectuals call for the modernisation and democratisation of society.
Mao is working as a library assistant at Beijing University when the movement begins. The period will mark his emergence as a Marxist-Leninist, although counter to Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy he will come to believe that the greatest potential for revolution in China lies with the peasantry rather than the urban proletariat. He returns to Changsha to promote the movement there but is forced to flee following a crackdown by a local warlord.
Also inspired by the movement, the Guomindang is reestablished in October and, with the aid of local warlords, quickly takes control of the south of China.
1920 - Mao returns to Changsha as head of a primary school and attempts to organise education for the masses. When his efforts are suppressed he turns to politics, forming a small communist group in Changsha.
1921 - The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) holds its First National Congress in Shanghai in July. The party is backed by the Soviet Union. It has only 57 members, 13 of who attend the congress. Mao participates in the meeting, acting as the recording secretary, and is appointed as the party's general secretary for Hunan Province, where on his return he begins to organise labour unions and strikes.
Meanwhile, Mao marries Yang Kaihui, the daughter of one of his teachers at the provincial normal school in Changsha and an active communist. The couple will have three sons, one of who dies as an infant. Around 1927 Mao will abandon his family to pursue his revolutionary goals.
1922 - When its alliance with the warlords collapses, the Guomindang turns to the newly established Soviet Union for help. The Soviets pledge to support both the Guomindang and the emerging CCP with their struggle for national unification. The dual support results in a Guomindang-CCP alliance, although the Guomindang vastly outnumbers the CCP, which now has only 123 members. Mao, who enthusiastically supports the alliance, works in the combined executive committees of the CCP and the Guomindang from his new base in Shanghai.
1923 - Chiang Kai-shek, a rising member of the Guomindang, is sent to Moscow for military and political training. Mao, meanwhile, becomes a full-time worker for the CCP, organising peasant and industrial unions. At the CCP's Third National Congress held at Guangzhou in June 1923 Mao is elected to the party Central Committee. By October 1925 he has become the acting head of the Guomindang's propaganda department.
1925 - Chiang, who has assumed the leadership of the Guomindang following the death of the movement's founder, launches a campaign against the northern warlords that captures half of China within nine months. However, the alliance with the CCP is beginning to crumble.
1927 - The split comes in July when Chiang turns violently on the CCP, executing many of its leaders and up to 3,500 party sympathisers. The Soviets shift their allegiance to the communists, who initiate a series of unsuccessful insurrection attempts, the 'Autumn Harvest Uprisings', including one led by Mao in Hunan Province.
Unperturbed, Mao begins to act on his belief that a successful revolution in China will have to spring from the peasantry, establishing peasant "soviets" (communist-run local governments) in the mountainous region along the border between Hunan and Jiangxi provinces. He also organises peasant and worker guerrilla forces that, by the end of the year, number about 10,000 troops, forming the nucleus of the Red Army. Mao's activities attract the attention the local Guomindang militia. He is captured and taken to be shot but manages to escape, only narrowly avoiding death.
Meanwhile, the CCP, which now has over 10,000 members on its party rolls, elects its first Political Bureau (Politburo) at its Fifth National Party Congress held in Wuhan in April and May.
1928 - Chiang and the Guomindang now control all of China. Nanking (now Nanjing) is made their capital, and will remain so for the next decade. The CCP now numbers 40,000.
Japan, meanwhile, sends troops to China to obstruct attempts by the Guomindang to unify the country. In June officers in the Kwantung (Guandong) Army, the Japanese Army unit stationed in Manchuria, begin an unauthorised campaign to precipitate a war with China. Both the Japanese high command and the Chinese refuse to take the bait.
1930 - Mao's sister and his second wife, Yang Kaihui, are executed by the nationalist governor of Hunan Province. Later the same year he marries again, to He Zichen, a schoolteacher and communist with whom he had been living since 1928. The couple will have five children. Also late in the year Mao puts down a revolt by soldiers in the small town of Futian in the Jiangxi province. It is reported that 2,000-3,000 officers and men are executed on Mao's orders.
1931 - In September conspirators in Japan's Kwantung Army stage the 'Manchurian Incident', blowing up a section of track on the South Manchuria Railway then blaming Chinese saboteurs.
With the Japanese Government powerless to intervene, the Kwantung Army mobilises, taking nearby Mukden (now Shenyang) then, in January 1932, attacking Shanghai, south of their territory in Shandong Province. A truce is called in March 1932. The Japanese then establish the puppet state of Manchukuo, centred on Manchuria and headed by the last Chinese emperor, Puyi.
Rather than concentrating its efforts against the Japanese, the Guomindang embarks on a series of "encirclement campaigns" against the communists. Mao responds with guerrilla tactics, instructing his forces to use a four-phased strategy: "The enemy advances; we retreat. The enemy camps; we harass. The enemy tires; we attack. The enemy retreats; we pursue."
Meanwhile, Mao's communists proclaim the Chinese Soviet Republic in Ruijin, Jiangxi Province. Mao is elected chairman of the republic. Land reforms introduced to the republic prove popular with the peasants and help to spread the communist's influence, although Mao is ruthless in enforcing party discipline. However, Mao's initial reign as chairman is shortlived.
After the CCP Central Committee relocates from Shanghai to Ruijin during the year Mao is stripped of his posts. The decision will have disastrous consequences for the communists, who abandon Mao's "hit and run" military tactics for head-on confrontation with the Guomindang, even though they are outnumbered seven to one.
1934 - When the Guomindang's fifth attempt at encircling the communist bases threatens to succeed, the Red Army and CCP are forced into retreat. The 'Long March' begins in Jiangxi Province on 15 October when the communists break through a gap in the Guomindang lines and begin a circuitous and initially unplanned trek of about 7,000 km through 11 provinces, 18 mountain ranges, and 24 rivers to Shaanxi Province to the northwest.
Throughout the march Guomindang forces and hostile warlords herd and harry the communists. Among those who die is one of Mao's younger brothers. Of the original 80,000 who set off only about 8,000 will reach the final destination when the march ends 12 months later in October 1935, although the communist's numbers are boosted by about 22,000 who have joined the march along the way.
Mao, whose tactical skills have contributed to the success of the march, has emerged as a hero and now has unchallenged command of the CCP, having been given the leadership of the party at a conference held at Zunyi in Guizhou Province in January 1935.
Based in Yan'an, the movement is destined to rapidly expand, with Mao coming to act as the intellectual as well as military authority of the party.
1936 - In December Guomindang troops forcibly detain Chiang Kai-shek for several days until he agrees to cease hostilities against the communists and cooperate with them to oppose the Japanese.
Meanwhile, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin invites Mao to send the surviving two sons from his second marriage to Moscow. The two boys remain in the Soviet Union until the 1940s.
1937 - The Second Sino-Japanese War breaks out on 7 July following a skirmish between Chinese and Japanese troops outside Beijing. Chinese forces evacuated Beijing on 28 July. The Japanese overrun Tianjin (100 km southeast of Beijing) on 30 July then attack Shanghai on 13 August. After a three-month siege, Shanghai falls and the Guomindang forces withdraw to the northwest towards their capital Nanking. The Japanese pursue.
The assault on Nanking begins on 10 December after the Chinese refuse to withdraw. When Nanking finally falls on 13 December, just hours after the Chinese forces have fled, the Japanese begin a bloodthirsty massacre that will last for six weeks.
At the urging of the Soviet Union, the CCP joins the Guomindang in a second united front against the Japanese, although their uneasy alliance begins to break down late in 1938. Mao sees the alliance as an excellent opportunity for the development of the party. "Our determined policy is 70% self-development, 20% compromise, and 10% fight the Japanese," he states.
Mao, meanwhile, divorces his third wife. In 1939 he marries the film actress Lan Ping, later known as Jiang Qing.
1940 - Conflict between the Guomindang and CCP starts to intensify in the areas of China not under Japanese control. Mao begins laying plans for the complete communist takeover China. His teachings become the central tenets of the CCP doctrine known as 'Mao Tse-Tung Thought'. Party membership rapidly expands, from 100,000 in 1937 to 1.2 million by 1945. The growing popularity of the communists also sees the size of the Red Army and the peasant militias increase dramatically.
1942 - Mao launches the first "rectification" campaign. To ensure their ideological purity, new party recruits are ordered to study 'Mao Tse-Tung Thought'. The campaign will come to be seen as the genesis of the Mao Tse-Tung personality cult that will sweep China in subsequent years.
1943 - Mao is formally acknowledged as head of the CCP when he is elected chairman of the CCP Central Committee and the Politburo. He will remain party leader until his death.
During the year Mao suffers another personal lose when his second younger brother is executed by the nationalists.
1945 - 'Mao Tse-Tung Thought' is formally adopted by the CCP at the Seventh Plenum of the Sixth National Party Congress held in Yan'an in April.
The US drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945 respectively, killing about 120,000 people outright and fatally injuring over 100,000 more.
Japanese Emperor Hirohito surrenders unconditionally on 15 August 1945, ending both the Second World War and the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Over 11 million Chinese have died during the Second World War. The Second Sino-Japanese War has claimed at least 20 million Chinese.
Following the defeat of the Japanese, hostilities between the Guomindang and CCP resume. The communists now have an advantage, having occupied vast areas formerly held by the Japanese and seized large quantities of surrendered Japanese arms. The communist army, which now numbers about one million troops, also receives supplies from the Soviet Union.
Although still numerically superior, the position of the Guomindang is weakened by the rampant corruption of its government and the accompanying political and economic chaos. The Guomindang does, however, receive aid from the United States, which also attempts to broker a settlement between the two warring parties.
However, talks between Mao and Chiang Kai-shek prove fruitless and full-scale civil war breaks our early in 1946. The Guomindang's numerical advantage is steadily eroded until by mid-1948 the two sides are almost even. Chiang's generals then begin to surrender en masse.
1949 - Mao's communists take Beijing without a fight in January and control the entire country by the end of the year. Chiang and several thousand of his troops flee to the island of Taiwan and proclaim Taipei as the temporary capital of China. Before fleeing Chiang has stripped the national treasury of about US$300 million.
On 1 October, at a ceremony held in Beijing, Mao formally proclaims the People's Republic of China. The CCP now claims a membership of 4.5 million, 90% of who are peasants. Mao is the party chairman and is exalted as the premier hero of the revolution. The government is headed by his right-hand-man, Zhou Enlai.
The CCP begins a program of moderated reform and receives widespread popular support internally and growing international recognition as China's legitimate government. China's high inflation is curbed, the economy is restored, and many war-damaged industrial plants and infrastructure facilities are rebuilt.
Starting from a small base, industrial output soars; the rail network is doubled; irrigation is expanded; the level of illiteracy is lowered; near universal health care is established; life expectancy rises; and women are given the same rights as men.
At the end of the year Mao takes his first journey abroad - to Moscow in the Soviet Union. He meets with Stalin and negotiates for military support and economic aid.
1950 - In May Mao agrees to a plan by the leader of North Korea, Kim Il Sung, to force a reunification with South Korea through a preemptive invasion. The Korean War begins on 25 June. It will last for three years and cost about three million lives but ends with no definitive outcome.
International support for the CCP government begins to falter in October when China becomes directly involved in the Korean War in response to a North Korean request for aid. At the same time, Tibet is invaded, bringing to an end almost 40 years of Tibetan self-rule.
Up to 440,000 Chinese "volunteer" troops will die during the Korean War, including Mao's eldest son from his second marriage. The war also ushers a sharp and prolonged deterioration in relations between China and the US.
1951 - The United Nations (UN) declares China to be an aggressor in Korea and sanctions a global embargo on the shipment of arms and war material to the China. The possibility that the People's Republic might replace Chiang Kai-shek's nationalists at the UN now seems remote.
Inside China the policies of moderation are replaced by a campaign against "enemies of the state" that will affect millions. Foreigners and Christian missionaries are branded as spies. Landlords and wealthy peasants are stripped of their land. Intellectuals, scientists, professionals, artists and writers are forced into "self-criticism" and public confessions of their failings in relation to communist ideals.
Incompetent and politically unreliable public officials are purged. Corrupt businessmen and industrialists are removed from the system. The bourgeoisie are held in suspicion. Reports suggest that from one to three million are executed during the campaign.
1953 - China's "transition to socialism" officially begins with the introduction of the first five-year plan. Emphasis is placed on the development of heavy industry, centralised planning, and the build-up of defence capability, following the model pioneered by the Soviet Union, which provides technical assistance and aid. At the same time, the pace of the collectivisation of the agricultural sector is hastened and banking, industry and trade are nationalised.
Between 1953 and 1957 the national income of China grows at an average rate of 8.9% a year.
1954 - The First National People's Congress, equivalent to the Chinese parliament, adopts a new constitution and formally elects Mao as chairman (president) of the People's Republic. The CCP now introduces measures to recruit intellectuals into the party apparatus. By 1956 intellectuals constitute nearly 12% of the party's 10.8 million members, while peasant membership has fallen to 69%.
1956 - As part of the ongoing effort to encourage intellectuals to participate in the regime, a new climate of political openness is fostered. Led by Mao, the movement takes the slogan "Let a hundred flowers bloom, let the hundred schools of thought contend." However, when the movement threatens to go out of control, the party pulls back, labelling its most outspoken critics as "bourgeois rightists" and launching the 'Anti-rightist Campaign'.
1957 - In November Mao makes his second trip to Moscow. He returns disillusioned with the Soviet system of development and determined to set China on an independent course. The trip is also distinguished by Mao's controversial declaration that there is no need to fear nuclear war.
Explaining his view he says, "If the worse came to the worst and half of mankind died, the other half would remain, while imperialism would be razed to the ground, and the whole world would become socialist: in a number of years there would be 2.7 billion people again and definitely more."
1958 - Mao launches the 'Great Leap Forward' to accelerate the development of all sectors of the economy at once. Breaking with the development theories practiced in the Soviet Union and applied to China during the first five year plan, the Great Leap Forward seeks to simultaneously develop industry and agriculture by employing surplus rural labour on either vast infrastructure projects or for small-scale, farm-based industries - the so-called "backyard furnaces."
The Great Leap Forward also aims to further entrench communist principles into the structure and functioning of social systems, a goal that is characterised by the development of people's communes in the countryside and selected urban areas. Between April and September 98% of the farm population is organised into communes.
Everyone, including CCP members, intellectuals, professionals, technical workers and the bourgeoisie is required to work in the communes, in factories and mines, and on public works projects in order to gain firsthand experience of manual labour and the conditions faced by the proletariat and peasantry.
It soon becomes apparent that the Great Leap Forward is an ill-considered failure. Rather than boosting production, the Great Leap Forward brings shortages of food and raw materials and the demoralisation and exhaustion of the workforce. The situation is exacerbated by poor harvests caused by bad weather and by Mao's refusal to hear of failures.
In 1959 and 1960 the gross value of agricultural output falls by 14% and 13% respectively. In 1961 output drops a further 2% to reach the lowest point since 1952. Widespread famine results, especially in rural areas.
It is estimated that from 1958 to 1961, 14 to 20 million more people die of starvation than in similar years of poor harvests. The number of reported births is about 23 million less than under normal circumstances.
Other estimates place the number who die because of the famine at between 23 and 45 million.
Mao refuses to recognise or deal with the reality of the situation, saying "When there is not enough to eat, people starve to death. It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill."
Even as the population starves harvests are commandeered for export to communist countries in Eastern Europe. In exchange China receives arms and political support. In 1958-1959 seven million tonnes of grain are exported.
At the same time, while industrial output does leap by 55% in 1958, subsequent years see large falls - 38% in 1961 and a further 16% in 1962.
Meanwhile, China hardens its foreign policies, bombing nationalist-held offshore islands, announcing that Taiwan will be liberated, and launching a propaganda assault on the US. Relations with the Soviet Union also begin to cool. Mao considers the post-Stalin leaders of the Soviet Union to be "revisionists". By the July 1960, the Soviets have recalled all of their technicians and advisers from China and reduced or cancelled economic and technical aid to the country.
1959 - In April the fallout of the Great Leap Forward sees Mao resign as chairman of the People's Republic, although he remains chairman of the CCP. Mao tells the party Central Committee, "The chaos was on a grand scale, and I take responsibility. I am a complete outsider when it comes to economic construction, and I understand nothing about industrial planning."
"Moderates", including State President Liu Shaoqi and Party General Secretary Deng Xiaoping, subsequently take over direction of the republic and begin to restore the economy.
1962 - Mao returns from the "second line" of decision-making and begins a campaign to purify the party of "capitalists" and "counter-revolutionaries", using his enormous status to hold sway. His 'Socialist Education Movement' seeks to restore ideological purity and intensify the class struggle, calling on the population to "to learn from the People's Liberation Army", which in turn is asked to promote 'Mao Tse-Tung Thought' as the guiding principle for a renewal of the revolution.
The school system is reorganised to accommodate the work schedule of communes and factories. Intellectuals and scholars are "reeducated" to accept that their participation in manual labour is needed to remove "bourgeois" influences. The education movement will become increasingly militant.
1965 - Mao, who has by now regained some control of the CCP, begins a purge of the party that will develop into the 'Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution' of 1966-76. Mao believes that the integrity of the CCP and its gains need to be defended against the emergence of a new elite of bureaucrats by a process of continuous revolution. Among those to be stripped of their party posts is Deng Xiaoping.
1966 - Millions of school and university students are organised into the 'Red Guards' to publicly criticise those in the party who are considered by Mao and his supporters to be "'Left' in form but 'Right' in essence." The Red Guards receive Mao's backing on 5 August when he publishes his article, 'Bombard the Headquarters', endorsing their revolutionary posters and slogans, then presides over their first mass demonstration, held in Tiananmen Square.
In October the Quotations from Chairman Mao (The Little Red Book) is published. Instilled with revolutionary fervour and guided by 'The Little Red Book', the Red Guards create havoc within the party and widespread social chaos. Under the general leadership of Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, their aim is to root out old customs, habits, and ways of thought.
Schools, colleges and universities are closed. Virtually all engineers, managers, scientists, technicians, and other professionals are "criticised," demoted or "sent down" to the countryside to "participate in labour." Many are jailed. Management of factories is placed in the hands of ill-equipped revolutionary committees. As a result, the country experiences a 14% decline in industrial production in 1967.
China's traditional respect for learning and the experience of age is turned on its head. Many cultural artefacts are damaged or destroyed. Cultural expression is severely curtailed. Religious practices are suppressed.
The CCP and government crumbles under the weight of "self-criticism", denunciations and forced confessions. Opposing political factions create their own Red Guards. Thousands die when the factions enter into open armed conflict.
The PLA becomes the only brake on a full-scale descent into anarchy.
1968 - The militant phase of the Cultural Revolution comes to an end towards the middle of the year when Mao reassesses the usefulness of revolutionary violence. The normalisation is also considered necessary because of a further deterioration in China's relations with the Soviet Union.
Many of the leaders of the Red Guards are arrested, universities are reopened, skilled workers are returned to the positions from which they were previously removed, and foreign companies are allowed to invest in selected projects.
1969 - The Cultural Revolution is further curtailed in April at the First Plenum of the CCP's Ninth National Party Congress, where Mao is confirmed as the supreme leader and his supporters are appointed to the senior party posts. The Mao acolyte and leader of the PLA, Lin Biao, becomes vice chairman of the CCP and is named as Mao's successor.
However, while the rebuilding of the CCP begins, the ramifications of the militant phase of the Cultural Revolution continue to be felt, with the party splitting into two main factions, the "radicals" led by Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, and the moderates led by Premier Zhou Enlai. The ageing Mao takes the role as elder statesman and intermediary between the two forces.
The Red Guards, meanwhile, are withdrawn from the political equation, with millions being forced to resettle in remote parts of the country, where they will remain until the 1980s.
In foreign affairs, relations with the Soviet Union reach rock bottom during the winter months of 1969 when Chinese and Soviet forces exchange fire across the border at the Ussuri River in China's northeast. The Soviets will subsequently station about a quarter of their combined armed forces along the Chinese frontier.
1971 - The tension between the radical and moderate factions comes to a head in September when Lin Biao stages an abortive coup d'état against Mao. His subsequent death in a plane crash as he attempts to flee the country marks the beginning of the end for the radicals and the ascension of the moderates.
Meanwhile, the CCP government receives international recognition when it takes the China seat at the UN, replacing the government in Taiwan.
1972 - The influence of the moderates and Mao's suspicion of the Soviets is reflected in a shift in China's foreign policies. Rapprochement with the US is confirmed when President Richard M. Nixon visits China in February. In September diplomatic relations are established with Japan.
1973 - The moderates' policies of modernisation are formally adopted by the CCP at the First Plenum of the 10th National Party Congress held in August, a meeting during which Mao makes his last official appearance.
The year is also marked by the rehabilitation of Deng Xiaoping, who is reinstated as a vice premier. Deng's position is further solidified in January 1975 when he is appointed as a vice chairman of the CCP and as a member of the Political Bureau and its Standing Committee, the apex of power in China.
1975 - Conflict between the radicals and moderates reemerges when Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, and her three principal radical associates (the so-called 'Gang of Four') launch a media campaign against Deng.
1976 - The final showdown between the radicals and moderates occurs following the death of Zhou Enlai in January. On 5 April, at a spontaneous mass demonstration held in Tiananmen Square in Beijing to memorialise Zhou, Mao's closest associates are openly criticised. The authorities forcibly suppress the demonstration, which is considered to be vote of support for Deng.
When Mao responds by blaming Deng for the demonstration and ordering that he be dismissed from all his public posts, the radicals appear to be on the ascendancy. However, in June the government announces that the increasingly ailing Mao will no longer receive foreign visitors. The radicals' days are now numbered. Mao dies of a heart attack in Beijing on 9 September. In October the Gang of Four are arrested.
The official announcement of Mao's death released by Hsinhua, the Chinese news agency, on 9 September states that, "All the victories of the Chinese people were achieved under the leadership of Chairman Mao; they are all great victories for Mao Tse-Tung thought. The radiance of Mao Tse-Tung thought will forever illuminate the road of advance of the Chinese people." Full copy of the announcement.
In its obituary published on 10 September the New York Times states that Mao was "one of the most remarkable personalities of the 20th Century."
"Mao was an infinitely complex man," the obituary says, "by turns shrewd and realistic, then impatient and a romantic dreamer, an individualist but also a strict disciplinarian. His motives seemed a mixture of the humanitarian and the totalitarian. He himself once commented that he was 'part monkey, part tiger', and perhaps after all he was riven with the same contradictions he was fond of analysing in the world around him." Full copy of the obituary.
1977 - At the First Plenum of the 11th National Party Congress held in August the Cultural Revolution is formally brought to an end and blame for its excesses are attributed entirely to the Gang of Four. Deng is exonerated from responsibility for the events at Tiananmen Square of the previous year and reappointed to all his posts. By 1978 Mao himself is beginning to be attacked.
1978 - The official reappraisal of Mao's legacy begins when the CCP repudiates the "two whatevers" policy - "support whatever policy decisions Chairman Mao made and follow whatever instructions Chairman Mao gave."
In the closing months of the year, political activists begin to place posters airing their thoughts on the injustices of the Cultural Revolution on a section of wall near Tiananmen Square, the so-called Democracy Wall.
1979 - Mao's standing is further eroded when the CCP admits that its leadership had made serious political errors affecting the people. The Cultural Revolution is described as "an appalling catastrophe" and "the most severe setback to (the) socialist cause since (1949)." The party is subsequently purged of members who came to prominence during the Cultural Revolution.
1980 - The trials of the Gang of Four begin in November. Charges against them include the usurpation of state power and party leadership, and the persecution of some 750,000 people, including 34,375 who died during the Cultural Revolution. The trials end in January 1981, when all four are found guilty. Mao's wife is sentenced to death, although this is later commuted to life imprisonment.
1981 - In June the CCP formally adopts a resolution reviewing the 60 years since its founding that condemns the Cultural Revolution and assesses Mao role in it. "Chief responsibility for the grave 'Left' error of the 'cultural revolution', an error comprehensive in magnitude and protracted in duration, does indeed lie with Comrade Mao Tse-Tung," the resolution says. "Far from making a correct analysis of many problems, he confused right and wrong and the people with the enemy ... Herein lies his tragedy."
Several days later the new party chairman Hu Yaobang says that "although Comrade Mao Tse-Tung made grave mistakes in his later years, it is clear that if we consider his life work, his contributions to the Chinese revolution far outweigh his errors ... His immense contributions are immortal."
2005 - During the year the author Jung Chang releases a biography of Mao that claims that 70 million Chinese died as a result of his policies.
Asked in an interview "who was the real Mao Tse-Tung?", Chang replies: "The real Mao was completely amoral. He rejected morality as an adult decision when he was 24-years-old and he said the world exists only for me. And from then on he pursued what he wanted with basically increasing power, first to become supreme party leader and then the supreme leader of China, and then to dominate the world. He single-mindedly pursued these goals throughout his life.
"After he took power he said many times things like, 'we must conquer the Earth', 'we must set up an Earth control committee and make a uniform plan for the Earth', or , 'the Pacific Ocean isn't going to be peaceful unless we take it over'. So he was pursuing his own power until he died. ...
"He didn't achieve his superpower dream, because Mao basically was economically hopeless, and he actually left China in a shambles. ...
"Mao died full of self-pity that he didn't make it. ... But he never spared a thought for the 70 million deaths that his pursuit had cost the Chinese people."
Present day - In China, the personality cult surrounding Mao persists as strongly as ever before. Mao's embalmed body lies in a mausoleum on Tiananmen Square. A huge poster of Mao hangs at the square's main gate. His portrait is on every Chinese bank note. A statue of Mao can be found in every town and city. Each year millions of Chinese visit 'Red Tourism' sites such as Zunyi, where Mao took the leadership of the CCP, and Shaoshan, where he spent his childhood.
Comment: Poet, intellectual, soldier, leader, statesman, tyrant, hero, killer - Mao Tse-Tung must be rated as one of the most remarkable, influential and contradictory personalities of the 20th Century. Attempting to categorise Mao within the superficially black and white structure of this website was a difficult and presumptuous undertaking. It was numbers alone that tipped the balance to the side of the killers. A different interpretation could have put him on the side of the heroes.
Though the number of deaths that occurred in China as a result of Mao's reign places him in the same league as Stalin or Hitler, Mao was of a completely different calibre to those two genocidal murderers. In less than a lifetime he raised China from being a broken, feudalistic anachronism to a united world force. His legacy is as terrible as it is impressive, from the logical conclusion to his theory of continuous revolution as played out on Pol Pot's Killing Fields, to China's current global position as the country most likely to become the world's next superpower.
www.moreorless.net.au · 2000-2014