Mao in History

Mao in History

Mini Teaser: During the first decades of Mao's China, a time of American self-confidence and strong sense of purpose spurred by the World War II victory, U.S. Sinology for the most part took on an "idealist" rather than a "realist" orientation: hopeful about s

by Author(s): Ross Terrill

Since at least the anti-rightist drive of 1957, Mao fought two
phantoms he would never be able to vanquish: the refusal of the
Chinese Communist Party to simply be a Mao Party; and the failure of
socialism to take on the splendor he expected of it. Mao's war
against phantoms began, like a number of the pathologies of the PRC,
in the anti-rightist campaign against loyal, uncomprehending
Communist Party functionaries. He wanted the blooming of "a hundred
flowers" to result in the rebuke and correction of colleagues who
displeased him. He did not want the blooming to question the
socialist system, much less his own towering role in it.

But the flowers turned out to be weeds. The criticism from outside
the Communist Party did not follow Mao's desires by accomplishing the
correction within the party that he sought. Moreover, vociferous
anti-socialist attacks required Mao to make a tactical peace with
senior colleagues of whom he did not approve. In this respect, the
anti-rightist campaign may be regarded as the true start of the
Cultural Revolution. In between came the rise and fall of the Great
Leap Forward and the purge of Defense Minister Peng Dehuai. Mao's
vindictive struggle against Peng in 1959 was inseparable from his
growing willfulness and his strengthening doubts about the socialist

In the tragedy of Peng, the personal and public life of Mao were
conjoined. One of Peng's criticisms of Mao was of his philandering.
The connection between the Peng-Mao crisis and Mao's growing appetite
for young female flesh was that Mao had become more self-indulgent.
This resulted in behavior that heightened his isolation from senior
colleagues, and in an obsessive quest for rejuvenation at a personal,
as well as a political, level. Death crept nearer, and with it the
possibility that people would deliver a harsh verdict on his career
after he was gone, especially because of the Leap. Physical decline
was not to be denied, but clinging to young women, as the emperors
had done and the Daoists prescribed, kept the focus away from Mao's
own crumbling body. It was on the ashes of the experiment in social
engineering that there arose the neo-emperor's rule that Dr. Li
Zhisui and other staff members observed.

"Revisionism" came to be the term Mao applied to the alleged betrayal
that produced the double disappointment of the Communist Party
refusing to be a Mao Party and socialism turning out less pleasing
than expected. But revisionism was an illusion. Mao never clearly
defined it; hence, he never found a way to eliminate it. He knocked
down revisionists, but never revisionism; nor was it possible to do
so. No surprise that Mao changed his target several times, lunging
after an enemy that, because it did not exist in a form that could be
tackled, had to be re-imagined after each failed attack. In the end,
Mao simply said the revisionists were "zombies."

Essay Types: Essay