Monday, October 1, 2007

Mao: Learning Revolution at Home


“Mao Zedong was born (1893) in Shaoshan, Hunan Province, where for years his world was the rice paddy, the village school, and his father's cane. Old Mao was a farmer, prosperous enough to hire a labourer. Unlike many another farm lad who later followed him, and died for the rice and the faith he offered, young Mao never knew hunger. Nor did he know abundance. Once every month, old Mao would give his farmhand eggs with his rice, but no meat. Recalls Mao: ‘To me, he gave neither eggs nor meat’."

"As a boy, Mao Zedong learned about tyranny. Old Mao was the Ruling Power in the family. Young Mao, his brother, mother and the hired hand were the masses. Says Mao: ‘My mother, a kind and-generous woman, criticized my attempts at open rebellion against the Ruling Power. She said it was not the Chinese way’. Mao soon discarded his mother's simple gradualism. When his father bawled him out, he quoted a passage from Confucius, to the effect that the old should be kind and affectionate. Says Mao with sly humour: ‘The dialectical struggle in our family was constantly developing’."

Mao’s family home built with mud, timber and grey roof tiles. From

“One evening, when Mao was 13, his father, in front of a group of guests, denounced him as lay and useless. This meant a terrible loss of face for young Mao; He ran-out of the house, his father in hot pursuit. Young Mao reached the edge of a pond and threatened to jump in if his father came any nearer. ‘Demands and counter-demands were presented for cessation of the civil war,’ Mao recalled. ‘My father insisted that I apologize and kowtow . . . I agreed to give a one-knee kowtow if he would promise not to beat me. Thus the war ended, and from it I learned that when I defended my rights by open rebellion, my father relented, but when I remained meek and submissive, he only cursed and beat me the more’."


“Mao began to develop a social conscience. Once there was a famine in the Shaoshan district and the poor, asking help from the rich farmers, started a movement called ‘Eat Rice Without Charge’. This seemed reasonable to Mao; but not to his father who, like other farmers, kept selling rice to cities despite the local famine. Young Mao read pamphlets about the Western powers -that were dismembering China. He read books that proclaimed China's need to modernize herself. He began to cut classes and teach himself from books. The principal reprimanded him and Mao said: "Though it will interfere with my own ‘study program, I will attend classes on one condition: If I ask a question a teacher cannot answer, will you fire him?’ The principal pressed Mao no further. “

“Mao's father wanted to apprentice him to a rice merchant, but Mao again rebelled. He went to study in Changsha, where he hoped to find answers to many questions.”

“Mao wanted knowledge. He read advertisements of newly opened schools. In turn he enrolled in a police school, a soap-making school, a law school, a commercial school, an economics school. He finally wound up in the Hunan Normal School where he hoped to be trained as a teacher. He read translations of Adam Smith, Darwin, Rousseau, Spencer.”

"Says Mao: ‘I was then an idealist'."

It’s not sure when exactly he lost his idealism. Although still venerated in China, nowadays Mao is not considered to be infallible all his life. He was, they say now, “70% right 30% wrong”. Between the “Great Leap Forward”, the “Cultural Revolution”, and the continuing legacy of the Communist Party’s monopoly of power, the 30% amounts to quite a lot. But as an agent for change, perhaps he can still be a model for China's youth.

Quotes from the archives of ;article dated February 7, 1949

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