10 Facts You Should Know About Chairman Mao’s Genocidal Rule
Soldier, activist and a crucial player in the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong had and has quite the reputation in China, as well as around the world. However, in the past 25 years, this reputation has been undermined due to the extreme number of deaths he is thought to be responsible for. During his life, Mao Zedong was widely respected for the way his policies improved the well-being and welfare of the Chinese people. In fact, he was instrumental in slashing the level of hunger and poverty in China, increasing peasant’s average lifespan, and he even developed a plan for free health care and education.
The majority of attempts made to undermine the reputation Mao had earned center around the time of the Great Leap Forward, which began in 1958. During this period, Mao is blamed for a great famine that killed thousands. According to official Chinese records, it is estimated that 16.5 million people (or more) died during the period of the Great Leap Forward. This fact alone has led many to believe that the policies and practices of Mao were doomed from the beginning.
The impact of the changes made by Mao were not what he expected in many ways. Here you can learn about Mao’s history, bizarre facts about the time he spent as the dictator, the impact he had, and other bits of fascinating information that may better explain the mass fatalities that occurred during his time as the dictator of China.
10Mao Comes from Humble Beginnings
Mao was the son of a peasant farmer, born on December 26, 1893, in the Shaoshan, Hunan Province in China. Wen Qimei was his kind and loving Buddhist mother, while Mao Yichang, his father, was a hardworking and strict Confucian. Yichang worked diligently to break free of his father’s debt and make a life for himself and his family to truly become a self-made man. This was done by purchasing land from impoverished peasants and by lending money to others. Eventually, the Maos were one of the wealthiest families in the entire village, where they lived in luxury compared to their nearby neighbors who were fearful of starving to death due to conditions of ardent poverty.
A situation that was unusual for most peasant families was that Mao’s family was able to afford the cost of sending their son to Zedong to school. During his time in school, Mao learned to read, along with several other useful skills. Most peasants from the Shaoshan village could not even afford a magazine; however, Mao had the opportunity to learn much from the school. A story that seemed to stick with Mao long into his adult life was that of the emperor who passed away and was then succeeded by Puvi, his two-year-old relative. For many in China, this is a classic “rags to riches” story that many people were extremely proud of and that Mao could relate to later in life.
9Mao was an Accomplished Poet and Writer
It’s hard to imagine a leader such as Mao having any artistic side. While he did many great things for China during his time, many are still unaware of his personal history, as well as the impact he had on literature. However, during his life, Mao earned a reputation for being a poet and was well remembered for his writing skills in general in China, as well as all around the world. Some western scholars have admitted that Mao created such moving and impressive poetry pieces that they rivaled much of what was being produced in the western world. While Mao preferred classical iteration, he primarily wrote poetry based on traditional styles, with his first book of poetry being published in 1957. Eventually, his poetry became so famous that it was read, taught, and memorized by students in schools all around the world.
In addition to writing poetry, Mao also wrote a book. In fact, his book, “The Little Red Book” was the second most published book in the entire world. The only book coming in before it was the Bible. Quotations from the book by Chairman Mao Tse-Tung were so influential, even beyond China, that it eventually was printed and distributed in over 100 countries. It was also translated into many different languages in 1966. Revolutionaries, Maoists, and western intellectuals all adored and coveted the book. Virtually everyone could appreciate the craze that accompanied the written word of Mao.
8Reforms from Mao were Liberal in the Beginning
During the Hundred Flowers Campaign, which was started by Mao, he encouraged writers and intellectuals to criticize the government, but to provide ideas and solutions rather than just criticism of what was going on. However, Mao also saw this as an opportunity to promote the idea of socialism. He thought that after much discussion, it would be clear that the socialist ideology dominated over capitalism. He believed this would be true even for non-communist Chinese. The goal was to then use this new found realization to encourage the development and the spread of socialism goals.
The Hundred Flowers Movement started with a speech called “On the Correct Handling of the Contradictions Among the People.” During this speech, Mao put his full support in play to push the socialism campaign. This speech was originally published on the 27th of February in 1957, but has been sourced and referred to countless times in modern history. Within the speech, Mao encouraged the people to let their criticisms be known, as long as they were constructive, instead of destructive and hateful.
The Hundred Flowers Campaign created a lasting impact on the ideological perception of Mao. Historically, he is known more as theoretical and ideological, and less practical and pragmatic. With this movement, he solidified the socialist’s ideals he would pursue in his future campaign. However, this movement didn’t do exactly what was intended. It is believed that the Anti-Rightist Movement that followed the Hundred Flowers Campaign was actually a reaction to these socialists’ ideas. This resulted in a loss of individual rights, especially for intellectuals in China who were educated in Western schools.
7Mao’s Family Life was Wrought with Tragedy
Mao married four different times and had a total of 10 children. During the Korean civil war, he made the decision to send troops to help North Korea, a fellow communist country. He did this even with the reluctance of the Chinese communist government. Unfortunately, China’s army was not well-equipped. As a result, the forces that were sent suffered severe causalities that affected thousands of families in the country. Mao’ family was not left out of the tragedies affected by this war. Anying, Mao’s 28-year-old son, was among the victims. The majority of the party leaders were worried about the decision Mao made to allow his son to go; however, he was stubborn and failed to listen to their warnings. This resulted in his family paying the ultimate price.
Mao’s son was killed during a bombing raid by American troops after just a month of being in the country. This became a difficult time for Chairman Mao, and he experienced a period of severe grief where he found himself unable to sleep, eat or participate in ruling the country. In fact, all he did during this time was sit and smoke.
As Mao aged, he also suffered from a myriad of health problems, including Parkinson’s disease. He was eventually deemed to no longer be an effective leader for China and replaced after decades of trying to improve life for those in China.
6Mao’s Private Physician Recorded his Sexual Discrepancies
Dr. Li Zhisui was Mao’s personal physician for almost 22 years. During his time with Mao, Dr. Li slept in a small room next to the ballroom-size bedroom of Mao. They traveled everywhere together and shared many late night conversations. During this time, Dr. Li documented what went on in Mao’s private life, including the many sexual discrepancies that occurred.
During the period when Mao was married to Jiang Qing, who was one of the Gang of Four, his consumption of younger (often teenage) women was excessive. In fact, he became notorious for these behaviors. For many years, Dr. Li listened and documented the conversations he had with Mao regarding his sexual prowess and practices. During this time the doctor also provided treatment for the Great Helmsman for an array of venereal diseases. However, even against Dr. Li’s advice, Mao continued to sleep with various, young partners with some being described as his nurses.
While at least one of these young partners became pregnant, it was not Mao’s child because he was infertile (at this point in time); however, this was never revealed to anyone while he was alive.
Dr. Li was born into a family of physicians. Two of these family members had served the emperor of China in the past. Li received training from a medical school in China that was financed with American funds. He also worked in Australia as a ship’s surgeon for 12 months. His time serving Mao began when he was 35 years old.
5He Started the “Rounding Up Enemies” Practices
Five years after The Great Leap Forward, which is thought to have caused the death of millions of Chinese, Mao proclaimed a Cultural Revolution. During this period, gangs of Red Guards that consisted of young women and men between the ages of 14 and 21 roamed the streets. They targeted revisionists, and other people deemed as “enemies of the state,” especially teachers.
When they found the so-called enemies, they would either kill or humiliate them. For example, professors were dressed in dunce caps and grotesque clothes and had ink smeared on their faces. In some cases, they were forced to get on all fours and act like dogs. Some were eaten, others were beaten to death – all this was done to help encourage the spread of Maoism.
Eventually, Mao reluctantly called the Red Army to eliminate the Red Guards when they started to attack members of the Communist Party; however, this was not done until more than one million Chinese people died. During this time, Mao continued to expand the laogai. These were a system of more than 1,000 forced labor camps in China. Experts have made the estimation that over 50 million Chinese people passed through these camps and more than 20 million died because of the 14-hour work days and primitive living conditions that were present. Even with these significant number of deaths, Mao is still thought of as one of the most influential figures and an honored person in the Chinese Communist Party.
4Mangoes were Idolized Because of Mao
When the Foreign Minister of Pakistan visited China in 1968, he presented Mao with a diplomatic gift, which is a tradition among nation leaders. However, his gift was somewhat unusual. It was a case of mangoes. The Chairman was not very fond of this type of fruit, so he sent them on to Beijing to be given to worker-peasant teams to recognize their efforts.
However, instead of being eaten by those who received them, the mangoes gained sacred status. This is because the people associated them with Mao. At this time, the cult following associated with Mao was extremely high. Those who received the mangoes believed that eating this type of prestigious gift was completely unthinkable. As a result, workers tried to find various ways to preserve the gifted fruit. Mangos were placed in jars of formaldehyde, while others were sealed with wax and put on alters for workers to pass in reverence. Some mangoes were placed in large vats of water and boiled. The resulting liquid was drunk by workers to receive the “spirit” of Chairman Mao.
The craze associated with mangoes resulted in commemorative items being created and sold throughout the country. This included posters, plates, mugs, and on the black market, you could purchase counterfeit Mao mangoes. These were believed to all be expressions of a desire to have a connection with the nation’s leader and perhaps a look at the “brainwashing” effect he had over the people.
3The Innovation of the Typewriter
Democratization was an essential principle of Mao’s transformation of the economy and science. He believed that innovation should be put into the hands of the common people who had a natural ingenuity and were not afraid of hard work. With these factors, Mao believed there was untold and untapped potential.
This resulted in common workers being encouraged to experiment with new ways to do things. They were rewarded when their efforts went well. With this environment in place, Zhang Jiying, a brilliant typesetter made typewriter innovations. He rearranged the typewriter keys so rather than appearing in dictionary order, characters that were commonly combined were put next to each other. By using this principle, Jiying also created several frequent phrases from the current political campaigns, such as “Resist America.” The result of this innovation was an extremely early form of predictive text (which is now commonplace on computers and smartphones). This change also resulted in new typing records of almost 80 characters per minute.
The innovations during Mao’s reign were impressive; however, they are often forgotten or undermined due to the significant number of deaths that occurred during this period. There are far too many who can’t look past these mass deaths to see what came from the encouragement of common people to create new ways of doing things.
During the communist regime in China, public hygiene was a huge concern. In many areas, disease was prevalent, and the crops were plagued by an array of pests. This did not represent a healthy population that may be able to increase food production and resists efforts of foreign imperialism.
In the 1950s Mao ordered the creation of mass mobilization campaigns to help and eradicate these conditions. In these campaigns, the peasants and public in China was encouraged to wash their hands, clean up the street, and make efforts to eliminate the “four pests,” which included rats, sparrows, mosquitoes, and flies.
To prove that these efforts were being made, families in Shanghai had to provide proof. The proof that was required was to present a single rat tail per week to the local authorities. In Guangdong, a higher quota was imposed. In fact, in 1952 this province had to meet the quota of 50,000 rat tails per province. This new political pressure on the people of China led to a thriving black market. It also resulted in a reduction of production of crops. This is because workers were now devoting all of their time to hunt rats to collect. Some desperate people even bred rats to then kill and present the tails to meet the imposed quota.
In addition to eliminating the public’s ability to work, the exposure to the rats led to many illnesses that killed, even more, people in China. This just added to the unthinkable death toll that Mao accumulated during his period as dictator of China.
1The Real Atom Bomb and Tunic Suits
With the intensification of the Cold War in the 1960s, the threat of a nuclear attack was prevalent for China. However, Mao dismissed the atomic weapons owned by the U.S. as being “paper tigers.” He believed that the material strength they represented could not compete with the “spiritual” force of his philosophy, Mao Zedong Thought. This thought process stated that China was so filled with the revolutionary zeal that their self-sacrifice and courage could outlast any level of military opposition. This is one of the many ideas collected in Mao’s “Little Red Book.”
Another unusual practice that occurred during Mao’s time in power was related to fashion in the 1950s. Due to the excessive state control on businesses in China, the clothing produced and sold had a certain uniformity. Starting in 1949, entrepreneurs had to apply for and receive licenses from the state to produce goods and sell them to the public. This is because production and raw materials were government controlled. The state put a priority on uniforms for soldiers fighting in the Korean War and for workers. It was reluctant to provide permission to tailors to product the luxury garments that they once produced.
This resulted in the creation of the zhifu, which was a standard trouser and jacket combination that came to be known as “boiler suits” in the West. The look was made famous by Communist leaders, including Mao. While workers had the right to choose what they wore each day, the options were limited, leaving most in the same style and color of clothing.
From the period of 1949, until his death in 1976, Mao took steps to transform China. During his time in power (and even before) he dreamed of creating a modern socialist economy that was infused with folk culture to lead the Communist revolution in China and across the globe.
However, today, historians are increasing their study on the impact these rather large changes had on the day to day life of Chinese people. As you can see from the information here, Mao and his life included things that are little known and often bizarre. From gangs targeting professors to sacred mangoes, his time in power is unique and unlike other dictators from the past.
While Mao Zedong is still thought of as a controversial leader, there are many accomplishments he helped to orchestrate during his time in power. For example, he made improvements that helped to increase the lifespan of Chinese people, worked to modernize China, and provided the people with efficient housing options, as well as affordable (and free) health care.
Even though Mao has been gone for decades, his impact on the country and people is lasting. Many of the efforts he made benefited the people of China then and today; however, many of his other efforts resulted in millions of deaths of Chinese people. In fact, among all the dictators in the world and throughout time, Mao is at the top of the list regarding mass deaths and genocide.