During the last years of his life Mao's physical condition deteriorated so much that he could not see fingers in front of his face and he was unable to control his tongue or close his mouth. In his last meeting with Henry Kissinger his aides wrote down the sounds he uttered and showed them to him before translating. He spent much of his time watching Kung fu films and movies imported from the United States and Japan. [Source: "The Private Life of Chairman Mao" by Dr. Li Zhisui, excerpts reprinted U.S. News and World Report, October 10, 1994]Mao died on September 9, 1976 at the age of 82. By that time he suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease and emphysema, and had three heart attacks in the previous four months. Li and a team of 16 of China's best doctors and 24 first-rate nurses were at Mao's side when he died at 12:10am.

Describing Mao's last moments, Li wrote: "His pulse was weak and difficult to find, roundness of his cheeks, so familiar to the Chinese people, was gone, and his skin was ashen. His eyes stared vacantly. 'It's all right, Chairman,' I said. 'We will be able to help you.' For an instant Mao's eyes seemed content. Slowly, pinkish patches began to appear on his cheeks. He exhaled deeply. His eyes closed. His right hand dropped lifeless from mine. The line on the electrocardiograph turned flat."

Even though Mao had wanted his body to be cremated it was decided that his corpse would be embalmed and put on display in a glass case like the bodies of Lenin, Stalin and Ho Chi Minh. Not knowing exactly how to preserve a body Li sent a researcher to a medical library. He wrote, "She had found a preservation procedure: a large dose of formaldehyde. We duly injected 22 liters, 6 more than the formula called for, just to be sure. When we finished at 10:00am, Mao's face was a round as a ball and his neck was the width of his head. His ears stuck out at right angles. Formaldehyde oozed from his pores."

"For another five hours," Li wrote, "the team worked with towels and cotton balls to force the liquid down into Mao's body. At last his face looked normal. But his chest was still swollen. So we slit his jacket and trousers in the back to cover his new bulk. The body was then draped with the red Communist party flag and placed in a vacuum sealed crystal casket."

Every night at Mao's mausoleum, Mao's body inside its crystal coffin is delivered to a earthquake-proof bunker by elevator, and every morning it is brought back up again. [Source: BBC]

20080317-tanshan1976 32.jpg
Damage from the
Tangshan Earthquake in 1976
Good Websites and Sources: Nixon’s Visit to China ; The New Yorker ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Mao’s Mausoleum Wikipedia ; News of Mao’s Death BBC . Book: Ping-pong Diplomacy: The Secret History Behind the Game That Changed the World” by Nicholas Griffin, Scribner, (Simon & Schuster), 2014. Death Under Mao: Uncounted Millions, Washington Post article ; Death Tolls ; Communist Party History Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Illustrated History of Communist Party ; Books and Posters Landsberger Communist China Posters ; People’s Republic of China: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; China Essay Series ; Everyday Life in Maoist; Mao Zedong Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Mao Internet Library ; Paul Noll Mao site ; Mao Quotations; ; New York Times;

Tangshan Earthquake and the Death of Mao

Mao died only months after the Tangshan earthquake, which killed about 250,000 people and in turn was seen by some as a “mandate from heaven.”

July 28, 1976, when the mining city of Tangshan in northern China was hit by an earthquake that measured 7.8 on the Richter scale and killed some 250,000 people. At the time, many Chinese regarded the disaster as a portent of great change. Already that year two major Chinese leaders, premier Zhou Enlai and senior marshal Zhu De , had died. And just two months later, on September 9, Mao Zedong died.

Rana Mitter wrote in the Taipei Times, “The earthquake hit Tangshan with the force of 400 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs, and its effect was felt as far afield as Beijing. Yet the help that arrived was patchy and almost all concentrated on the city, where the economically vital industrial equipment was located, rather than the rural areas. There were many heroic tales of people rescuing each other. There were also numerous cases of rape and looting. Palmer has interviewed survivors of the earthquake, some of whom had never before had a chance to tell their stories of struggling to survive in a city whose streets were lined with corpses and where help seemed very far off. One theme emerges clearly: the state was distracted by the crisis of succession and unable to deal with a more immediate and unexpected shock. [Source: Rana Mitter, Taipei Times, January 31, 2012]

Book: "The Death of Mao: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Birth of the New China" by James Palmer (Faber, 2012).

Mao’s Final Months

Mao with Australian Prime Minister Rob Muldoon in April 1976

Sergey Radchenko wrote in China File:“Mao Zedong was dying a slow, agonizing death. Diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) in July 1974, he gradually lost control of his motor functions. His gait was unsure. He slurred his speech and panted heavily. The decline was precipitous. In 1956 Mao, then 62 years old, predicted he’d live until year 2000 before going up “to see Marx in Heaven.” In 1966 the septuagenarian swam in the murky waters of the Yangtze River to demonstrate his strength and vitality. But by 1976, on the 27th and final year of his reign, the “Great Helmsman” could breathe only when lying on his side, surrounded by doctors and nurses. [Source: Sergey Radchenko, China File, Foreign Policy, September 8, 2016 ||*||]

“In his final months, Mao rarely received visitors. One of the last foreigners to see him alive was New Zealand’s Prime Minister Robert Muldoon, on April 30, 1976...Before he was allowed to see the Chairman, his Chinese hosts asked Muldoon to be gentle with his handshake. According to Muldoon’s record, Mao “was assisted, almost lifted, from his armchair to a standing position,” to shake hands with him and his party only to “slump back in it in a state of seeming collapse...What emerged from Mao’s mouth were occasional grunts and groans as he struggled to get out the necessary word. The interpreter/nurse, intelligent and gentle, would decipher these noises – sometimes seeming to peer into his larynx – and decipher them (presumably in Mandarin) to a male interpreter who put them into polished, often colloquial, English.” ||*||

“It was a sorry and shocking sight, and a poignant reminder of the horrific consequences of a man’s failure to part with political power. Just days after meeting Muldoon, Mao suffered a heart attack, then one more in June, then again in early September. He died on September 9, at the age of 82.” ||*||

Power Struggle After the Death of Mao

Deng Xiaping in 1976

In a review of James Palmer’s book "The Death of Mao: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Birth of the New China", Rana Mitter wrote in the Taipei Times, Palmer takes us inside Zhongnanhai, the party complex formerly inhabited by the emperors in the heart of Beijing, and brings to life the personalities jockeying for power as Mao lay dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease. On the left, the Cultural Revolution group radicals were led by Mao’s wife Jiang Qing. [Source: Rana Mitter, Taipei Times, January 31, 2012]

The Chinese (and Western) prejudice against powerful women has tended to give Jiang a uniquely demonic quality, and Palmer does well to remind readers of the role of figures such as the venal and overpromoted Wang Hongwen who whiled away the time during Mao’s deathwatch by riding his motorbike and watching imported Hong Kong movies (although not simultaneously). On the right, the dying Zhou, stricken with cancer, sought to promote Deng Xiaoping, whose economic reforms he thought essential to rescue China from the inward-looking xenophobia of the Cultural Revolution. Yet this was not a melodrama of evil and good, or even radicalism versus reform. Even Zhou had plenty of blood on his hands, voting for all Mao’s decisions to deepen the Cultural Revolution; in Palmer’s telling phrase, he ‘saved more monuments than people.”

The book argues that 1976 marks a moment of transition; after Mao’s death, a swift series of internal coups and arrests brought the Gang of Four low and set the stage for Deng to take power within two years of Mao’s death. We tend now to think of the era since Mao’s death as the emergence of China into a capitalist world (in which Beijing has become one of the most skilled players). But during the first decade of reform, immediately post-Mao, the aim of Deng and his faction was to create a more market-oriented socialism in a world where they would engage with the USSR as well as the US. In addition, important legal and economic reforms had already begun in the early 1970s, along with the opening to the US. The death of Mao was a moment when China sought to rethink the Cold War, rather than escape it.

Reaction of Chinese to Mao’s Death


Many Chinese were shocked by Mao’s death because they truly believed what they had been told: that Mao would live to be 158 years old. One man who was in prison when he heard the Mao died told the Washington Post, “Some people cried, for themselves maybe, because they thought the end of their prison life was coming. Some people worried about the unknown future, and they cried perplexedly, Some people cried because other people cried. I didn’t cry.”

The writer Hu Yua recalled,” he assembled with hundreds of other students in the main hall of his small-town high school, responding to orders that blared out from loudspeakers. Funeral music was played, and then we had to hear the long list of titles that preceded Mao’s name, “Chairman,” “Beloved Leader,” “Great helmsman... Everyone loved Chairman Mao, of course, so when his name was finally announced, everyone burst into tears. I started crying, too, but one person crying is a sad sight; more than a thousand people crying together, the sound echoing, turns into a funny spectacle, so I began to laugh. My body shook with my effort to control my laughter while I bent over the chair in front of me. The class leader later told me, admiringly, “Yu Hua, you were crying so fervently!” [Source: Pankaj Mishra, New York Times, January 23, 2009]

On the 30th anniversary of Mao’s death in 2006, the well-known writer Zhang Xiaobo looked back at September 9, 1976, when he was a boy of 12: “I was so shocked at the news. We had been educated to believe Mao was a god, someone no one can profane, who would never die. Adults may have been prepared, because of his old age. But we kids weren’t. We just collapsed...After Mao, we tread the road of doubt. The road of doubt is better than the road of faith, but doubting has twisted human relations. We don’t believe each other. Mao was still a measuring rod to assess where China had gone since 1976. (South China Morning Post, Magazine, 9/9/2006)]

When Mao died Ross Terrill wrote: “China does not have, and does not need, a real successor to the bold and complex Mao. Now the revolution is made, another Mao would be as unsuitable as a sculptor on an assembly line.” (Asian Wall Street Journal, 9/10/76).

Rowena Xiaoqing He wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “When Mao died in 1976, my father invited his best friend to our home, closed the door tightly, and opened the only bottle of wine we had. The next day, my parents took me to the public memorial service where we wore black armbands. Many people cried as if they were heartbroken. As a little girl, I was confused by the adults' expressions — everybody looked so sad in public, while my father was so happy the night before.” [Source: Rowena Xiaoqing He, Wall Street Journal, December 29, 2011]

Mao Remembered

Underneath's Mao's portrait in the train station in Mao's birthplace, Shaoshan, is written: "Mao Zedong was a great Marxist, a great proletarian revolutionary, great tactician and theorist. Mao's dying wish it is said was be remembered as a teacher."

Mao's rule is often compared to that of Emperor Qin, the great tyrannical ruler who unified China in 221 B.C. In the 1980s one young poet wrote:

Chairman's tomb and Emperor's palace
face each other across the square
One great leader in his wisdom
made our futures bare,
Each and every marble staircase
covers heaps of bones beneath
From the eaves of such fine buildings
fresh red blood drops everywhere.

The Mao cult has lived on after Mao’s death. Millions have visited his home in Hunan and filed past his embalmed copse at the Mao Mausoleum in Beijing. Each year Mao’s birthday is celebrated with television documentaries and photographic exhibitions. In 2003, it was honored with a CD of Mao slogans shouted out to rap music beats.

By the 1980s, Mao's popularity had plummeted. Mao portrait were a rare sight, the trains that took visitors to his birthplace were almost empty and the souvenir shops in the Mao Museum sold peanut brittle, cigarettes and key chains with Hong Kong actresses but no Mao badges, Mao pictures or Little Red Books. In 1990s, there was a resurgence of interest in Mao. In 1980 only 210,000 people visited Mao's home in Shaoshan. In 1992, more than 1 million did.

Mao’s plane, a British -made Trident jetliner, was retired in 1986 and sold to a shopping mall in the southern boomtown of Zhuhai and put on display there, In October 2008, the mall announced it wanted t sell the plane to make more room for parking.

Mao’s Impact on China

Pankaj Mishra wrote in The New Yorker, “Mao rose to supremacy within the Chinese Communist Party (C.C.P.), through several bloody purges of “revisionists” and “rightists.” After long years as a marginal peasant leader, he finally brought his revolution to all of China, forcing his great rival Chiang Kai-shek to flee to Taiwan (then called Formosa). Founding the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Mao exulted, The Chinese people, comprising one quarter of humanity, “have stood up.” He soon knocked them down, overwhelming the gradual processes of China’s modernization with the frenzy of permanent revolution.” [Source: Pankaj Mishra, The New Yorker, December 20, 2010]

“Modernizing autocrats elsewhere in Asia — Turkey’s Atatürk, Iran’s Reza Shah Pahlavi, and Taiwan’s Chiang Kai-shek — also dragooned their peoples into traumatic social and political experiments. But Mao tormented the Chinese on a far bigger scale, condemning tens of millions to early death with the Great Leap Forward, and then exposing many more to persecution and suffering during the Cultural Revolution.”

Just five years after his death, the C.C.P. officially blamed the “mistaken leadership of Mao Zedong” for the “serious disaster and turmoil” of the Cultural Revolution, and the garishly consumerist and inegalitarian China of today seems to mock Mao’s fantasies of a Communist paradise. Nevertheless, China’s leaders today continue to invoke “Mao Zedong Thought.” Taiwan, now rowdily democratic, has begun to dismantle the personality cult of Chiang Kai-shek, removing his statues and erasing his name from major monuments. But Mao still gazes across Tiananmen Square from the large portrait hanging on the Gate of Heavenly Peace. Visitors from the countryside often line up all day for a fleeting glimpse of his embalmed corpse south of the square, and in folk religions throughout China Mao is revered as a god.”

Mao's Legacy

Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian, “Mao still occupies a place of honour in modern China. His body lies in state in Tiananmen Square; his portrait hangs from its gate; and his face gazes from banknotes. Others have appropriated his heritage in unexpected ways: "There is a whole industry of Mao's thought as managerial wisdom, much as became of Sun Tzu's Art of War," said Jeremy Paltiel, a Carleton University expert on the Communist party. But the party has drawn a veil over the later years of Mao's rule since its 1981 resolution proclaimed that he was 70 percent right, 30 percent incorrect. The return to that period's terminology has confused and in some cases concerned observers. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, September 27, 2013]

The Chinese revolution in 1930s had two broad aims: to release China from foreign control and to rescue the Chinese people from poverty. Mao was successful in achieving the first goal but not the second one. At the time of his death, the Chinese economy was a mess. Mao himself confessed to Nixon, "I have not been able to change [China]. I have only been able to change a few places in the vicinity of Peking."

Even through Mao's rule was repressive and a more than a little bit weird, Mao forged China into a world power and improved the lives of China's forgotten masses somewhat. Chinese peasants that lived in mud and grass houses with their chickens and pigs moved into tile and brick houses with detached chicken coops and pigsties. He is also credited with clearing the way for China's modernization by destroying traditional China.

The Party line on Mao after he died was that he was 70 percent right and 30 percent wrong — or in other words, the blunders such as the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Foreword were outweighed by the good things he did for the Chinese people. The 7:3 ratio is even quoted in tourist guides put out by the Chinese government. Some Chinese say 60 percent right and 40 percent wrong is probably more accurate. Political scientists such as Kate Xiao Zhou, author the of book “How the Farmers Changed China: Power of the People” (1996), have argued that Mao’s policies were so disastrous that they led to today’s economic reforms allowing family farming.

Mao purportedly idealized peasants. He sent city dwellers to the countryside to learn form them. But things were not always as they were said to be. Mao said privately he loathed peasants and many of his actions to help them were motivated by politics. The best education, health care and other benefits generally went to urban people, perpetuating an inequality that continues to exist today. When Mao died, his successors said the radiance of his thought would live forever, but today Maoism is barely mentioned.Mao is still glorified in China. His writings are required reading among Chinese students, but the government has largely backed off from Mao’s policies.

The Black Panthers read Mao and Maoist guerrilla movements are active in India, Peru and elsewhere and even took over the government of Nepal. But for the most part on an international level, Maoist communism is pretty much dead as an ideology and strategy of national liberation except among the handful of guerrillas in India, Nepal and the Philippines. Of these, the Maoists in Nepal have had the most success.

Today if anything, Mao’s influence outside China seems to be growing.Pankaj Mishra wrote in The New Yorker: “The Maoists of Nepal, who overthrew the monarchy in 2006 and won nationwide elections in 2008, remain a formidable political force. The Indian Maoists, whom India’s Prime Minister describes as the country’s gravest internal-security threat, are ranged against mining corporations and security forces in a vast swath of central India. Consisting largely of forest-dwelling peoples and landless peasants, these insurgent groups mouth a Mao-inspired rhetoric against foreign imperialists and local “compradors.” But, like Che Guevara and the Vietcong, they also adopt Mao’s tactic of marshalling rural populations against the cities, establishing, in addition to a cohesive party and militia, their own administrative structures and organizations....Unlike India and Nepal, China contains very few active Maoists today, but strains of Mao’s anti-imperialist rhetoric grow more potent every year.” [Source: Pankaj Mishra, The New Yorker, December 20, 2010]

Qin Shihuangdi, Mao and the Search for Spirituality and Meaning in Modern in China

Emperor Qin Shi Huang

Robert N. Bellah, one of the world’s foremost sociologists of religion and author of “Religion in Human Evolution,” notes the parallels between Mao and Qin Shihuangdi, a follower of the Legalist philosophy, which taught that only harsh punishments could keep people in line and provide effective government. The Qin emperor silenced criticism, burned books and buried scholars alive, while Mao, who admired the emperor, once boasted that he had caused the death of more scholars than Qin Shihuangdi. [Source: Didi Kirsten Tatlow, New York Times December 28, 2011]

Qin Shihuangdi’s short-lived reign proved that tyranny doesn’t work, Mr. Bellah writes in “Religion in Human Evolution.” ‘somehow a moral basis of rule was necessary after all,” he wrote. What, then, might China’s “moral basis” look like, as the country looks to the future as an increasingly important member of the world community” Mr. Bellah offered the traditional Chinese concepts of tian, or heaven; li, manners or rituals; and yi, justice, as some building blocks of morality.

Didi Kirsten Tatlow wrote in the New York Times, “As people search for happiness and freedom, spiritual traditions are flourishing, including Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism and folk religions, as well as Christianity and even Bahai. But according to Bellah to establish true freedom through a society wide, ethical framework that is connected to Chinese traditions, the country first must break the tyrannical spell cast by Mao Zedong, who led the Communists to victory in the civil war in 1949 and ruled with an iron fist until his death in 1976.

Bellah, 84 in 2011, published “Religion in Human Evolution” in 2011. The book traces the roots of belief and ethics in human society and examines four cultures — Israel, Greece, China and India —from 800 B.C. to 200 B.C., when major world philosophies were formed. “Turning away from Legalism and Mao is going to be a challenge, because they haven’t worked their way through the Mao period,” said Mr. Bellah, a sociology professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. “His picture is still there, and they want to separate the good from the bad part of Mao Thought. Well, sorry, you can’t. You’ve got to break the spell,” said Mr. Bellah.

Mr. Bellah said he was deeply impressed by the forward-looking optimism and — relatively — free debate he saw in China among intellectuals and students. Yet people also seem to be morally adrift, with the “eviscerated” Marxism of the Communist Party failing to provide the framework for a functioning set of beliefs, Mr. Bellah said.

Chinese leaders, who are officially atheist, assume that they have a moral system in place already, he said. “The fact that Marx is taught at every level, from kindergarten to university, shows that they think they have a civil religion. The fact that to many Chinese it’s a joke and they don’t take it seriously shows they have a problem on their hands.”I think China has to face the fact that Mao was a monster, one of the worst people in human history,” said Mr. Bellah.

He compared China’s situation today to that of Germany and Japan after World War II. “In a curious way, it’s like the war guilt of Germany or Japan. I think in Germany they’ve come to terms with it, whereas in Japan there’s almost a dramatic lack of any sense of responsibility,” said Mr. Bellah, who is also a Japan scholar. “There is so much self-pity in China about the Western powers and the 150 years of imperialism, and about the Japanese aggression” of World War II, said Mr. Bellah. “And it’s justified in a way.” “But God knows what Mao did can’t be blamed on the Westerners or the Japanese,” he said. “The Chinese have their own guilt, and it requires a complex symbolic, ideological and psychological change, and that’s hard.”

Why do morals matter? Because tyranny does not work. Qin Shihuangdi’s short-lived reign proved that, Mr. Bellah writes in “Religion in Human Evolution.” ‘somehow a moral basis of rule was necessary after all,” he wrote. What, then, might China’s “moral basis” look like, as the country looks to the future as an increasingly important member of the world community? Mr. Bellah offered the traditional Chinese concepts of tian, or heaven; li, manners or rituals; and yi, justice, as some building blocks of morality.

The emphasis in his book on Chinese tradition as a contemporary guide was warmly welcomed in a recent essay in the state-run newspaper China Daily, in which the writer, Zhang Zhouxiang, argued, perhaps pointedly, that li justifies the ruler’s right to rule but that the ruler also has an obligation to treat his subjects well. “The ruled are asked to maintain order, but they also have the right to choose another ruler if the covenant is broken,” Mr. Zhang wrote.

Importantly, the Confucian tradition of individual self-improvement also provides “a moral resource, no question,” said Mr. Bellah. “In this way, China is deeply egalitarian. I think there are great moral resources in China for moving ahead in good directions, but you can’t predict these things,” he said, noting that the Communist Party relies on people’s fear of social chaos to justify its controls. “But there’s a certain point at which that argument isn’t enough,” he said. “You need something more substantial than that.” True ethical standards — in fact, a new civil religion — must develop “if China is to fulfill its ability to be one of the great powers of the 21st century,” Mr. Bellah said.

Changing Assessment of Mao in China After His Death

Mao Mausoleum
Ross Terrill wrote in China Beat: "In 1981, after five years of deafening silence about Mao, the CCP reassessed him in its Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party. Each major nation that experienced dictatorship in the 20th century emerged in its own way from the trauma. Japan, Germany, Italy, even Russia departed sharply from systems that brought war and/or repression. By contrast, China was ambiguous about Mao. Although Mao’s portrait and tomb still dominate Tiananmen Square, Mao himself has floated fairly smoothly into an a-political zone. One must give some credit to the 1981 Resolution for this delicate, if incomplete, evolution. [Source: Ross Terrill, The China Beat, February 26, 2010 ^^]

"But, surprisingly, there occurred a revival in China of Mao studies. Its intellectual kernel was fresh research on Mao undertaken during the 1980s. As a result of a loosened ideological straitjacket, some formerly banned aspects of Mao could be investigated. It turned out that the 1981 Resolution gave a green light to work on Mao’s life... Memoirs by military figures and Mao staff members, biographical studies of senior figures, and selective issue of Party documents added to the knowledge of Mao’s actions and words.” ^^

"By 1988, some candid reappraisal of Mao’s faults appeared in the press. The Communist Party marked the 95th anniversary of his birth in December of that year with an article in People’s Daily that for the first time in official print contained admissions by Mao himself of his serious errors. Guangming Ribao ran an article detailing Mao’s grave health problems — including a respiratory ailment due to his smoking — from the spring of 1971 until his death. The fresh attention to Mao was low-key and factual. It stressed his human side, both charms and foibles. ^^

"The powerful Mao re (Mao fever) of the early1990s produced a cultural, good-humored remembrance of the former leader.Sometimes the use of Mao was commercial, as if money had replaced memory.Sometimes it was superstitious, satiric, or nostalgic. Seldom was it politically earnest. This Mao re, in fact, signified that Mao’s strictly political leftism was no longer on the table. Karaoke clubs saw young people enjoying songs in praise of Mao. One pop music cassette called The Red Sun, whose lyrics made use of Mao’s slogans, sold six million copies during 1991-92. For many people the music suited their mood of detachment from public life; they could let Maoist lyrics flow over them while simply enjoying the beat of the music.” ^^

"To sing Mao’s words to pop music, or do business under a portrait of Mao, was a way of regaining one’s spirit after years of amnesia. The Mao fever was like a long-delayed funeral ceremony, remembering one whose enormous connection with daily life had gone, but whose image could never leave the consciousness of anyone who had lived in the Mao era.” ^^

"Writing about Mao remained a sensitive matter in Beijing. False Biographies are Now Forbidden was the title of a Xinhua release in 1993. Only accurate, serious, and healthy works would henceforth be permitted. During 1992, the State Press and Publications Office complained that thirty-seven unworthy books had been published without authorization (Geremie Barmé, Shades of Mao, p. 30). Unsettled ambiguity about Mao remained and it increased under Jiang Zemin’s influence. “ ^^

"Was Mao a thoroughly bad man as a recent biography, Mao: The Unknown Story, asserts. No, but he had many wrong ideas, which I tried in my book to hold in balance with his achievements. He was correct to see the war against Japan as a crucible for social change within China. He was wrong to view Chinese farmers as poor and blank, which brought arrogant misjudgments in 1958-59. He was correct to see a good society as more than gadgets and cars. He was wrong to label anyone who opposed him as a class enemy, as he did from the late 1950s. And so on. ^^

"Professor Xiao Yanzhong correctly pointed out in Nanfang zhou mo that differences exist between Chinese and foreign writing on Mao. For the foreign world, Mao is the first Chinese to have been taken seriously in two respects: He influenced our times globally, and his thought also percolated globally. These points were not both true of Sun Yat-sen, Confucius, Qin Shihuang, or other Chinese names fairly well known to foreigners. The foreign biographer of Mao works within this global consciousness and the impact of Mao and his actions and thinking. Sometimes, too, the foreign author can be bolder on sensitive political issues. ^^

"Some have said Mao fever began in 2003. This was the year of the 110th anniversary of Mao’s birth, the publication of a solid official party history biography of Mao, of many films, performances and other events marking the anniversary. On this occasion, Hu Jintao said Mao still offered China precious spiritual wealth. In forty-eight days, the special website devoted to the 110th Mao anniversary received half a million hits. That certainly indicated popular response to the government’s observance of the date. Meanwhile, new leaders Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao stressed the interests of the hinterland as well as those of the coast, which seemed a gesture to Mao’s priorities." ^^

Ross Terrill’s last book, The New Chinese Empire (Basic Books) won the 2004 Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

Views on Mao Today

Pankaj Mishra wrote in The New Yorker: “ Though better informed about Mao’s calamitous blunders, Chinese intellectuals today are far from united in their assessment of him. Attacked for his despotism by liberal-minded scholars, Mao is admired by New Left intellectuals for his assault on Communist bureaucracies and advocacy of “extensive democracy” during the Cultural Revolution.” Summing up the diverse and contested meanings of Mao in China, Xiao Yanzhong, a professor at People’s University in Beijing, describes Mao scholarship as “a bellwether that can indicate changes in China’s politics, economy, and society, as well as the states of mind of the Chinese people.” [Source: Pankaj Mishra, The New Yorker, December 20, 2010]

Timothy Cheek, a historian at the University of British Columbia, said, “Most people in China appear to accept the assumptions in this story about China’s national identity, about the role of imperialism in China’s history and present, and about the value of maintaining and improving this thing called China. Increasingly, moreover, China’s middle classes accept the additional story in Maoism?the story of rising China: China was great, China was put down, China is rising again.”

the Chinese Communist Party, wrote Misha “which remains as opposed to free elections as ever, has no choice but to derive its legitimacy from Mao Zedong even as it drifts further away from his ideals.” Shortly after the sixtieth anniversary of the People’s Republic last year, the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, visited the tomb of Mao Anying, Mao’s favorite son, who died in the Korean War. Laying a wreath, Wen abruptly addressed a stone statue of the dead soldier. “Comrade Anying,” he said, “I have come to see you on behalf of the people of the motherland. Our country is strong now and its people enjoy good fortune. You may rest in peace.”

Misha wrote: “Absent Mao’s exploits, the Chinese people would have started to enjoy their present good fortune three decades earlier. But would China have found a strong political basis for its prosperity without Mao? This is the harder counterfactual question.Asked for his views on the French Revolution, Zhou Enlai replied that it was too early to say; and he must have hoped for a similarly delayed verdict on the Chinese Revolution, the human costs of which truly did make the Reign of Terror look like a dinner party. Zhou, in pleading for the long view, was not being entirely shifty (nor is George W. Bush, who, after unleashing violent revolution in Iraq, has also entrusted his score sheet to future historians).

“We have surely made up our minds about Mao. But the Chinese judgment on Mao’s revolution has been complicated and deferred by the longevity of the Communist regime and the country’s extraordinary economic successes. Another revolution, such as the one that has occurred in Taiwan, could bring, along with political freedoms, a new self-image to China, which would likely disown Mao. But it is also possible that the Chinese nation will continue in the decades ahead to acknowledge Mao as its father —disgraced, discredited, and irreplaceable.”

line at Mao Mausoleum

Feelings of Ordinary Chinese Toward Mao

While the official verdict is that Mao was “70 percent right and 30 percent wrong”, the great helmsman’s portrait still hangs in Tiananmen Square and he features on the country’s banknotes. Many revere him despite the devastating famine that followed his Great Leap Forward and the persecution of millions in the Cultural Revolution.

"When Mao died, I knew I had to cry," one Chinese man told Theroux. "We had been required to love him. I was just a little kid at school. I didn't feel anything, but the teachers were watching. I had to force myself to cry." [Source: "Riding the Iron Rooster" by Paul Theroux]

Many older Chinese continue to revere Mao. "Mao saved me," a 59-year-old man with 54,000 Mao buttons told the Washington Post, "He gave me food. I have deep feelings for the chairman...Mao saved us poor people." During Mao's time there was much less corruption than there is today and arguably more Communists were concerned about the welfare of the people.

"At least with fat, crazy Mao," a woman from Canton told Theroux, "they had a kind of faith — even idealism — and a sense of working together...There was a unity in that, but it's totally lacking now. They're not nice, they're not polite. I think they're lost and it will all end horribly for them."

The people in the countryside and workers who have failed to profit from the economic reforms are perhaps the ones today who look back on the Mao years with the most nostalgia. They see it as a time when jobs were secure; everyone was poor together; and Mao was a godlike leader. Dissident Liu Binyan wrote in Newsweek, "they feel that though life was hard in those years, it was more or less egalitarian, and people had the right to, moreover, to stop the wrongdoing of bureaucrats."

One man told AP in the early 2000s, “We Chinese have made a legend out of Mao. People like Chairman Mao now even better than when he was alive. He represents a China that stood up for itself, a China that became strong."

In September, 2016: Sergey Radchenko wrote in China File that rumors were circulating in China that the top leadership body the Politburo Standing Committee had discussed moving Mao out of the mausoleum in Tiananmen Square, back to his home village of Shaoshan. If true, these would represent an effort to part with Mao’s haunting physical legacy. His spiritual legacy is more difficult to purge. Doing so would require exposing the unspeakable brutalities of Mao’s rule, the dark history of paranoia, blind worship, and reckless pursuit of utopian projects no matter what the human cost. But this legacy supports the unwieldy edifice of the Party, whose leaders, born and raised in the Mao era, are yet unwilling to part with his ghost forty years after the dictator’s death.” [Source: Sergey Radchenko, China File, Foreign Policy, September 8, 2016 ||*||]

TV Personality Insults Mao at Private Dinner

Public criticism of Mao remains taboo.In April 2015, top Chinese TV presenter Bi Fujian was filmed insulting Mao at private dinner. The clip in which he calls Mao a ‘son of a bitch’ went viral in China and elsewhere. Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian: “China’s state broadcaster has vowed to investigate after one of its top TV presenters was caught mocking Mao Zedong at a private dinner, calling him a “son of a bitch”. The clip of Bi Fujian – who co-hosts CCTV’s biggest show, the annual new year gala – shows him regaling the table with a song from a Cultural Revolution-era opera, breaking off to curse the former leader. [Source: Tania Branigan The Guardian, April 8, 2015 /*]

In a statement, CCTV said Bi’s remarks had “caused serious social impact”, promising: “We will conscientiously probe the matter and handle it seriously, in accordance with relevant rules and regulations.” A commentary on China Youth Net – set up by the Communist party’s youth league – said Bi owed the people of China an apology. “Mao Zedong was a great man … and the founding father of the People’s Republic … [Without Mao and the party], would Bi Fujian be able to enjoy his big dinner while criticising the people who have fought for his happiness?” it asked. “Not everyone and everything can be joked about and mocked without consideration, even if it’s at a private gathering or in the private domain.” /*\

“An article in the Global Times said that in general, private comments should not be used to identify someone’s true political orientation but that Bi had to take responsibility for “improper remarks”, while a piece in the Legal Daily said Bi had not broken the law but should be held morally responsible for his comments. The West China Metropolis Daily reported that all programmes hosted by Bi would be suspended from 8-12 April, but did not indicate whether the shows would air again after this. /*\

Qiao Mu, a journalism professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said suspending Bi was over the top because his remarks were made privately. “Mao is a public figure. If people can comment on Chiang Kai-shek or Sun Yat-sen, why shouldn’t they be allowed to comment on Mao?” Qiao asked. “Without Mao it wouldn’t hurt, but without Bi, middle-aged women would find their weekends quite idle.” Bi grew up during the Cultural Revolution and the song he sang was from Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, one of the model works allowed in an era when cynics joked that “800 million people watch eight operas”. /*\

Mao's Family and Grandchildren

After Mao's death, his family members fell out of favor. His wife and nephew were imprisoned and his daughter retired to obscurity.

Kong Dongmei, Mao’s granddaughter by the only surviving child of Mao’s second wife He Zizhen looks sort of like Mao and has a mole on her chin like Mao. An artist and culture promoter who runs a studio in Beijing’s 798 art district, she graduated with a degree in English literature from Beihang University in Beijing and holds a masters degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Growing up was not easy for her or her family. She told the China Daily, “We lived solely in my mother’s salary from the Commission on Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense.” She has written four bestsellers about Mao: “Opening My Family Album: My Grandfather Mao Zedong” , “Grandmother’s Story: Mao Zedong and He Zizhen”, “Those Days Changed the World: Conversations with Wang Hairong about Mao Zedong’s Diplomacy” and “Quotations of Chairman Mao”.

In November 2010, the grandchildren of Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek met in Taiwan. Kong Dongmei, believed to be the first Mao relative to visit Taiwan, was part of cultural delegation visiting the island. Chiang’s grandson, lawmaker John Chaung said, “It’s just a coincide we met. I didn’t think too much about it.”

Mao's Grandson

Mao Xinyu is Mao’s only grandson. The only offspring of Mao's only surviving son, and thus the chairman's sole legitimate heir, was born on January 17, 1970 after a difficult birth. A politician and researcher at the Academy of Military Sciences as well as a major general in the People’s Liberation Army, he is chubby and goofy-looking and well versed in his grandfather's sayings and maxims. Out of fear he might have an accident his mother never let him ride a bicycle and insited that his wife must not only be beautiful she must "fervently love Chairman Mao." In regards to his future, the young Mao said: "I don't have the brains for [business]. I want to go into politics." In 1995, he recorded a cassette of "songs cherishing the memory of his grandfather.”

In August 2010, Mao Xinyu, then a 40-year-old politician and researcher at the Academy of Military Sciences of the PLA, was promoted to the rank of major general in the PLA. The son of Mao Anqing, Chairman Mao’s only surviving son. Mao Xinyu looks a bit like his grandfather. He graduated from the People’s University in Beijing and got a Ph.D. at the Academy of Military Science. He runs a blog, has written several books about Mao, including “My Grandfather Mao Zedong” and is married with two children.

Mao Xinyu has spent most of career as an academic researching the life of his grandfather. For the most part he is ridiculed by the public as an overweight underachiever who has gotten where he is by riding on the coattails of his grandfather. His promotion to major general was largely greeted with sarcasm and vituperation. The human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang said, “To have such a unqualified person become a general in China’s military is an insult. Those promoted in the future as generals should feel humiliated by this.”

Malcolm Moore wrote in The Telegraph, “The chubby Mr Mao has been roundly poked fun at on the Chinese internet for his physique, however. One joke widely reposted on Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter, was posted under a photograph of Mr Mao walking to the CPPCC in his uniform. "My mum told me since I was little that a military uniform looks good on everyone. When she saw this picture, she finally admitted defeat," the joke went. "Everyone has great hopes for me and a desire for me to be an even better official," Mr Mao said, in response to all the ribbing. [Source: Malcolm Moore, The Telegraph, March 7, 2013]

In 2013 Mao was a lecturer of Maoist studies at Guangzhou University. "Huge changes have taken place in the 37 years since grandpa passed away, but his thought is not outdated," he said then. "Some party and govt leaders today sing slogans like 'serve the people' everyday but the democratic supervision is simply non-existent.""Many people have been put on an altar, including my grandfather," said Major General Mao Xinyu, 43, at an annual political meeting in Beijing. "But now, only by transforming them back into real people can they be understood and accepted by the public, who will then want to learn from them," he added.

Mao's Granddaughter Worth $815 Million

In May 2013, AFP reported: “The appearance of a grand-daughter of Mao Zedong, founding father of Communist China, on a list of the country’s richest citizens prompted online accusations of hypocrisy. Kong Dongmei, now in her early 40s, and husband Chen Dongsheng ranked 242th with personal wealth estimated at five billion yuan ($815 million) on a rich list released this month by New Fortune, a Chinese financial magazine. [Source: AFP, May 9, 2013]

Kong is the grand-daughter of Mao and his third wife He Zizhen. In 2001 she founded a book store in Beijing selling publications about Mao and promoting “Red Culture” after studying at the University of Pennsylvania in the U.S. In 2011, Kong married Chen, who controls an insurance company, an auction house and a courier firm, after they had maintained an extramarital relationship for 15 years, according to the magazine, which cited other Chinese media reports. The couple have two daughters and a son, said New Fortune — likely to be a violation of China’s one-child policy.

Kong’s inclusion on the rich list triggered hot debate on China’s Twitter-like weibos, with some accusing her of betraying her grandfather’s status as the “great teacher of proletariat revolution”. “The offspring of Chairman Mao, who led us to eradicate private ownership, married a capitalist and violated the family planning policy to give birth to three illegal children,” wrote Luo Chongmin, a government advisor in southwest China. “Did Kong Dongmei… pay any fines after being a mistress for more than 10 years and giving birth to three kids?” asked another user with the online handle Virtual Liangshao. But others argued that the millions were actually her husband’s, who made his fortune before they were married. “Kong just married a wealthy husband. You can’t attribute it to Mao,” said weibo user Wang Nanfang in a posting.

Image Sources: Morning Sun, Wikipedia, Glitterbug, Beijing blog

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated August 2021

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