Mao: on seeking a purpose in life

When he was still a teenager and had finished his time in the Hunan army, a youthful Mao began looking about for a purpose in life. While in Changsha:

I began to read advertisements in the papers. Many schools were then being opened and used this medium to attract new students. I had no special standard for judging schools; I did not know exactly what I wanted to do. An advertisement for a police school caught my eye and I registered for entrance to it. Before I was examined, however, I read an advertisement for a soap-making ‘school’. No tuition was required, board was furnished and a small salary was promised. It was an attractive and inspiring advertisement. It told of the great social benefits of soap making, how it would enrich the country and enrich the people. I changed my mind about the police school and decided to become a soap maker. I paid my dollar registration fee here also.

Meanwhile a friend of mine had become a law student and he urged me to enter his school. I also read an alluring advertisement of this law school, which promised many wonderful things … Fate intervened again in the form of an advertisement for a commercial school. Another friend counselled me that the country was in economic war, and that what was most needed were economists who could build up the nation’s economy. His argument prevailed and I spent another dollar to register in this commercial school … Meanwhile, however, I continued to read advertisements, and one day I read one describing the charms of a higher commercial school. It was operated by the government, it offered a wide curriculum, and I heard that its instructors were very able men … The trouble with my new school, I discovered, was that most of the courses were taught in English, and, in common with other students, I knew little English … Disgusted with this situation, I withdrew from the institution at the end of the month and continued my perusal of advertisements.

My next scholastic adventure was in the First Provincial Middle School … I did not like this school. Its curriculum was limited and its regulations were objectionable … I had come to the conclusion that it would be better for me to read and study alone … I managed to resist the appeals of all future advertising.

Edgar Snow, Red Star Over China, pp. 143-45.


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