Mao Zedong - Biography

Mao Zedong - Biography

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Mao Zedong (or Mao Tse-tung) was the founder and principal leader of the People's Republic of China from 1949 to 1976. As Lenin had done for Russia, Mao Zedong adapted Marxist theory to the specificities of China. Against the opinion of the majority of the Chinese Communist Party, founded in 1921, and against the dogmas of "classical" Marxism which places the working masses at the forefront of the Revolution, Mao defended the idea of ​​a revolution. relying on the peasantry, which represents the bulk of the Chinese population. Mao's great initiatives, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, will be bitter failures and will kill millions in China.

Mao, from political engagement to guerrilla warfare

Mao Zedong was born in 1893 in Hunan Province, China. Although coming from a modest background, he received a sufficient level of education to enter a teacher training college and obtain a post at the library of Peking University, then became a primary school principal. Around the age of 25, he discovered the pro-people theory developed by Karl Marx and therefore adhered to communist thought. In 1921, he participated in the creation of the Chinese Communist Party.

It was in his home province of southern China that Mao worked out his path to communism: his strategy of "red bases" involved the organization of peasant militias, the sharing of land and the mobilization of the population around the revolutionary cause. Mao's successes force party leaders to recognize the validity of his directions. But it is with the "Long March" (1934-1935), which he undertakes to circumvent the offensive of the Guomindang (the national party of the people of Tchang Kai-Shek), that Mao definitively takes the head of the communist party.

During this period, he enacted the principles of People's War (Strategic Problems of the Revolutionary War in China; From the Prolonged War; Strategic Problems of the Partisan War against Japan) and launched a campaign of "ideological rectification", advocating the alliance of peasants, workers, middle classes and capitalists.

The failure of the Great Leap Forward

After the Communists' final victory over the Guomindang (1949), Mao Zedong becomes President of the Chinese People's Republic. The party controls all of the country's political, economic and social life, and imposes a revolutionary dictatorship. Agrarian reform leads to the collectivization of land (1953). Finally, the country has a Constitution, based on the single party and the alliance of peasants and workers (1954).

The foundations thus laid, Mao Zedong wishes to skip the stages of economic and social development to quickly make China a great power. In 1958, Mao implemented the Great Leap Forward, an attempt to replace the bureaucratic state with a system of autonomous local municipalities (in reference to the Paris Commune of 1871). Life in common is generalized, and the difference between towns and countryside, united by the same ideology, is destined to disappear. This program ended in serious disappointments. Most major infrastructure projects fail, and famine reappears. The break with the USSR in 1960 further accentuated the country's isolation. The "Great Leap Forward", fruit of Maoist voluntarism, is a bitter failure and Mao will be removed from power.

Mao's Cultural Revolution

Returning to responsibilities in 1966, Mao Zedong undertakes to reduce the resistance of Chinese society to communism: this is the meaning of the "cultural revolution" launched in 1966. It targets the moderate wing of the party and, within the population, all the relics of traditional Chinese culture. The idea, basically, is to create a new man, built ex nihilo: the Chinese Communist. Once again, Mao's ambitious policy clashes with Chinese realities; its realization was accompanied by massive violence and met with strong resistance.

Mao is forced to call on the army to restore order and allow the Communist Party to rebuild itself. We must return to a more realistic policy and Mao's ideas are gradually losing their preeminence. he abandoned the current administration, entrusted to Zhou Enlai from 1972, and did not take part in the struggle between the radicals of the Gang of Four and the moderates. Suffering from Parkinson's disease, he retired from political life entirely in 1974 and died in Beijing on September 9, 1976.

Presented as the "Great Helmsman" of the Chinese Revolution as part of his cult of personality, Mao Zedong embodied the development of an original form of communism in Asia. The impact of his doctrine and his legend on the European generation of 1968 was decisive. And, if China today seems to be moving in a direction other than that set by Mao, the latter's Mausoleum is still standing in Beijing ...


- Mao Zedong, biography of Jonathan Spence. Fides, 2002.

- Mao Tse-Toung, biography of Philip Short. Fayard, 2005.

- Mao: The Unknown Story, by Jung Chang. History Folio, 2011.

Video: Mao Zedong - Part 1: Long March to Power. Those Who Shaped the 20th Century, Ep. 8