chairman mao zedong's father -- 9/12/17

Today's selection -- from Mao Zedong and China by Rebecca E. Karl. Mao Zedong rose to become founding father of the People's Republic of China, which he governed as the chairman of the Communist Party of China from its establishment in 1949 until his death in 1976. He learned of China's corruption by observing his father:

"Mao's parents had seven children (five sons and two daughters) but only three survived, all boys. Mao Zedong was the eldest; Zemin, the middle brother, and Zetan, the youngest, soon followed. All three brothers re­mained close through childhood... He worked on his father's farm from the age of six, and even when he began to attend the village school, and later a nearby higher primary school, he continued to work in the early mornings and evenings. ...

Mao Yichang

"Mao's father, Mao Rensheng, was a relatively wealthy but poorly educated peasant. Mao remembered him as authoritarian and unpleasant, and unsympathetic to his son's desire for a good education. According to Edgar Snow, who based his biography of Mao on interviews with him in the late 1930s, Mao attributed his father's disposition to his stint in the Qing dynasty's army. After leaving the army, he became highly preoccupied with accumulating wealth. Through dint of luck, labor, and parsimony, by 1893 he had become one of the richest of the 300 families of Mao's natal village, Shaoshan. He owned about 2.5 acres of land -- later acquiring an­other acre or so -- which produced around 133 pounds of rice, of which about two-thirds was consumed by the family, leaving one-third as surplus for the market. With two hired laborers to assist on the farm, Mao's father soon began a grain transport and selling business, and set himself up as a middleman for urban markets. The middleman merchant was a feature of the rural areas, and would later be defined by the Marxist Mao as 'para­sitic,' and thus a target for revolutionary overthrow. ...

"Mao's early education at the local school was presided over by an old­-style scholar, whose interest in world and dynastic affairs was apparently minimal and whose mode of teaching relied on the age-old method of rote memorization of the Confucian classics. ... As the eldest son and only literate one in the family, Mao was soon put to work at bookkeeping for his father's business, a task that required writ­ing ability as well as facility with an abacus. By this point, the business included not only farming activities and grain transport, but also the mort­gages that Mao's father had bought on other people's land, part of the usurious rural credit and petty landlord system that Mao later learned to despise. It is during this period the disciplinarian side of his father flour­ished, and confrontations over Mao's continued education became en­demic. Mao recalls that for these several years he was often beaten as well as deprived of meat and eggs in his diet. In subsequent years -- after learn­ing the Marxist analytical method -- Mao often referred to his father as 'the Ruling Power' that he, his mother, and assorted laborers always tried to overthrow in an ever-shifting dialectic of family relations.

"Meanwhile, at school, Mao had become acquainted with the Confucian texts, which he found dry and boring. He nevertheless learned to cite them from memory, sometimes hurling Confucian sayings at his father during their arguments. He soon became attracted to the old novels of China, including the popular stories of rebellion, knights-errant, mythology, and romance. His lifelong love of books, and in particular of classical tales and legends, clearly stemmed from his voracious reading as a youngster. In his subsequent theoretical, philosophical, and historical writings, Mao never ceased to illustrate his political and social lessons with the folksy and earthy color derived from these popular yarns.

Mao in 1913

"It was only after leaving the stifling atmosphere of the traditional-style school that Mao seems to have discovered the roiling debates over dynastic and republican politics then animating the urban scene all over China. ... Right before the fall of the Qing dynasty in late 1911, the social and political situations became even more chaotic. Famines were endemic, in part stemming from poor weather but also in part because merchants like Mao's father shipped rice from rural areas into the cities for enormous profit. Peasants rebelled in frustration and were ruthlessly suppressed by local forces of order. These local rebellions, in Mao's later recounting, were of great significance to the development of his political consciousness: he particularly remembered having to pass the severed heads of executed rebels stuck on top of stakes in public places that served as a warning to would-be troublemakers. And yet, he was not a wholehearted sympathizer of the peasants: while he condemned people like his father for their rapa­ciousness, he did not support violent seizures of other people's property.

"In 1909, at the age of sixteen, Mao convinced his father to pay for him to go to the district city of Xiangtan, a busy trading center on the Xiang River around twenty-five miles away from Shaoshan. There he enrolled in a new­-style school, whose curriculum was not defined by the Confucian clas­sics, but rather included natural sciences and what was called at the time "Western learning." ... He was also exposed to a worldly milieu, in which China was conceived as part of the larger global historical mo­ment, which included the contemporary situations of Japan and Russia after Japan's surprise victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5; the colonizations of neighboring countries such as Vietnam (French), Korea (Japanese), Burma (British), and the Philippines (American): as well as knowledge of the American and French Revolutions. ...

"On the eve of the establishment of the Republic in 1912, nothing in Mao's thought or action indicated the revolutionary he was to become. His politics -- vague, at best -- were mostly informed by his personal opposition to his father rather than by any intellectual analysis of China's ills."



Rebecca E. Karl


Mao Zedong and China in the Twentieth-Century World: A Concise History


Duke University Press Books


Copyright 2010 Duke University


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