Mao on love

A youthful Mao Zedong had quite a bit to say on love, marriage and sexual desire. Let us begin with desire:

Whatever is natural is both true and real. Can something that is true and real fail to contribute to improving my life? Besides, my life and development ultimately depend on just such things. The desire to eat contributes to my life, sexual desire is good for my development, and both of these come from natural instincts … The conscience certainly always sees our appetite for food and sex for what they are. It is only at a particular time and place that the conscience will suggest restraining the impulses, as when the desire for food or sex becomes excessive. And then the conscience acts only to restrain or moderate the excess, certainly not to oppose or deny these desires …

The truly great person develops the original nature with which Nature endowed him, and expands upon the best, the greatest of the capacities of his original nature. Everything that comes from outside his original nature, such as restraints and restrictions, is cast aside by the great motive power that is contained within his original nature. It is this motive power that is the strongest and truest reality, that is the spring that fulfils his character … The great actions of the hero are his own, are the expressions of his motive power, lofty and cleansing, relying on no precedent. His force is like that of a powerful wind arising from a deep gorge, like the irresistible sexual desire for one’s lover, a force that will not stop, that cannot be stopped (Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949, vol. 1, pp. 255-57, 263-64).

Some of his reflections, especially in 1919, were prompted by the suicide of a Miss Zhao, who killed herself in the marriage sedan that was taking her to a wedding she did not want. One of these articles can be found here, but there are more than a dozen others. In ‘The Question of Love – Young People and Old People: Smash the Policy of Parental Arrangement’ (1919), Mao writes:

We have many different kinds of desires, such as the desire to eat, the desire for sex, the desire to play, the desire for fame, and the desire for power and influence (also called the desire to dominate), and so on. Of these, the desires for sex and food are fundamental, the former to maintain the ‘present’ and the latter to open up the ‘future’. Of these two desires, there is no absolute difference in the desire for food according to age. Sexual desire does, however, differ with age.

The expression of sexual desire, generally speaking, is love. Young people see the question of love as being very important, while old men don’t think it’s worth worrying about … Only in China is this question put to one side. When I was young, I saw many people getting married. I asked them what they were up to. They all replied that a person takes a wife to have someone to make tea, cook, raise pigs, chase away the dogs, spin, and weave. At this time I asked, wouldn’t it be a lot easier to hire a servant? It wasn’t until later that I heard that people got married ‘to carry on the family line.’ This left me still perplexed. … Society does not regard love as being important, and thus, except for the slave’s work of making tea, cooking, and so on, marriage is nothing but that base life of fleshly desire. (What we call sexual desire, or love, involves not only the physiological satisfaction of fleshly desire, but the satisfaction of a higher order of desires – spiritual desires and the desire for social intercourse.) … In short, capitalism and love are in conflict with one another. Old men are in conflict with love. Thus there is a tight bond between old men and capitalism, and the only good friends of love are young people (Revolutionary Writings, 1912-1949, vol. 1, pp. 439-40).

More directly in relation to the suicide of Miss Zhao, he write in ‘Smash the Matchmaker System’ (1919):

Speaking of this thing called a matchmaker, this is another cheap trick of Chinese society. Chinese society contains a great many cheap tricks. Things like those literary essays, imperial examinations, local bandits, and bureaucrats are all nothing but a bunch of cheap tricks. The same is true of things like exorcizing devils, sacrifices to appease the gods, dragon lanterns, lion dances, and even doctors treating patients, teachers teaching classes, and men and women getting married. A society like that of China should really be called a society of cheap tricks. The trick called marriage is connected with the problem of men and women, and also gives birth to a bunch of smaller games, such as “crawling in the dust,” “robbing the sister-in-law,” “raising the hero,” “fighting the wind,” “wearing a green bandana,” “making the genie jump,” and so on. But as regards marriage, standing above all these little tricks, so that it may in all conscience be called the “ultimate cheap trick,” is that three-headed six-armed ubiquitous demon, the “matchmaker.”

The Chinese matchmaker has the following strange features: the basic philosophy is “successfully dragging them together”; each marriage is at least 80 per cent lies; the “gods” and the “eight talismans” are their protecting characters.

In China it is said that the major power over marriage is in the hands of the parents. In actuality, although the parents are nominally the ones in control, they do not really make the decision. It is in fact the matchmaker who has decision-making power … For this kind of matchmaker the first thing is to have the basic philosophy of “successfully dragging them together.” Going around selling both parties on the idea that she genuinely wants the marriage to be a success, the matchmaker always says forcefully, you two families must make up your own minds. In fact, however, after all her badgering, even parents with iron ears have long since become limp rags … That matchmaker thinks that if she can’t get the couples together it is her own fault. In the event that they do come together, and the two parties go from “unmarried” to “married,” she will have a meritorious deed to her credit. At the bottom of such a philosophy of dragging people together, one thing is indispensable: “telling lies.” Since the two families of the man and woman are not close to one another, there are many things that they do not know about each other, and the girl is locked away in the inner chambers, making it even more difficult to find out about her. So the matchmaker rambles on, making up all kinds of stories, so that on hearing them, both sets of parents will be happy. A marriage contract is written up on a sheet of paper, and thus the affair is concluded. As a result, it is frequently the case that after the marriage, the two turn out to be completely incompatible … Some even go so far as the substitute another bridegroom, or switch the bride. This constitutes a “match between unmatchables,” and not just “a few little lies.” Totally incompatible marriages in which the matchmaker has simply dragged the couple together and then lets out a futile fart to the heavens (country people call a lie a “futile fart”) practically fill Chinese society.

And why is it that one never hears of the man or the woman picking a quarrel with the matchmaker, or that of all the lawsuits in the courts, one rarely hears one against “the old man of the moon”? On the contrary, such people get off scot-free, with money in their pockets from the fee for their services. Why is this? Thanks to the blessings of the “gods” and the “eight characters,” the responsibility is placed on the supernatural.

Since matchmakers are as bad as all this, when in the future we think about marriage reform, it is imperative that we immediately do away with the matchmaker system. Vocabulary such as “matchmaker” and “the old man of the moon” must be expunged from dictionaries of the Chinese language. With the establishment of a new marriage system, provided only that the man and woman both know in their hearts that they have a deep and mutual affection for each other they should be fully able to mate freely … The thing called the matchmaker should be hurled beyond the highest heavens and forever forgotten (Revolutionary Writings, 1912-1949, pp. 442-44).

Finally, a love poem, which was written after an argument with his first wife, Yang Kaihui.

A wave of the hand, and the moment of parting has come.

Harder to bear is facing each other dolefully,

Bitter feelings voiced once more.

Wrath looks out of your eyes and brows,

On the verge of tears, you hold them back.

We know our misunderstanding sprang from that last letter.

Let it roll away like clouds and mist,

For who in this world is as close as you and I?

Can Heaven fathom our human maladies?

I wonder.

This morning frost lies heavy on the road to East Gate,

The waning moon lights up the pond’ and half the sky

How cold, how desolate!

One wail of the steam whistle has shattered my heart,

Now I shall roam alone to the uttermost ends of the earth.

Let us strive to sever those threads of grief and anger,

Let it be as though the sheer cliffs of Mount Kunlun collapsed,

And as though a typhoon swept through the whole universe.

Let us be once again two birds flying side by side,

Soaring high as the clouds

(Revolutionary Writings, 1912-1949, Volume 2, pp. 195-96).


A Respectful Notice from the Cultural Book Society to the Gentleman Who Has Bought This Book (Mao Zedong)

In 1920, Mao and his friends established the Cultural Book Society in Hunan. This was to be – through spreading new modes of thought – one part of a larger effort to establish an independent state of Hunan. In each of the books sold, the following notice was placed.

A Respectful Notice from the Cultural Book Society to the Gentleman Who Has Bought This Book

The fact that you, sir, have purchased this book will undoubtedly have a great influence on the progress of your thought, and on that we wish to congratulate you. If, after you have read this book, your unslakeable thirst for knowledge inclines you to buy a few more books to peruse, we invite you, sir, either to come once more to our society to purchase them, or to do so by correspondence. We are prepared to welcome you!

The items which our society has for sale have undergone a rigorous process of selection. They consist exclusively of comparatively valuable new publications (We want nothing to do with stale and outdated thought.) … Our goal is that the thought of everyone in Hunan should progress as yours has done, so as to bring about the emergence of a new culture …

We are profoundly mortified that our abilities are too meagre to shoulder the great responsibility of propagating culture, and we hope that superior men of goodwill from all walks of life will grant us their assistance. If you, sir, can help us by taking the trouble to introduce us by word of mouth, we shall be extremely grateful …

We wish you, sir, continued good health.

Colleagues of the Cultural Book Society

56 Chaozong Streetm Changsha

The cure for Marx’s carbuncles: stout, port and claret

Marx’s first carbuncle appeared in 1863, growing from a boil on his back to the size of a fist. Eventually the doctor was called. He cut widely and deeply into Karl’s back, letting loose an immense amount of blood and pus. For convalescence, the doctor prescribed the following:

– one and half quarts of stout (1.7 litres)
– three to four glasses of port
– half a bottle of claret daily

This was daily. One assumes he didn’t feel as much pain this way.

Built on Islets of Sand: Mao on China’s Problem (1920)

One of the features I have begun to notice about Chinese intellectual life is that it is inherently engaged with social and political problems. Often, a scholar will identify what is regarded as the core problem of China as a whole and then seek a solution (of all 1.3 billion people). The identification of the problem and indeed the solution may change, but the form of scholarship remains. I am told this is deeply Confucian. Mao is no exception, as in this lyrical piece from 1920 when he was engaged in the project to reconstruct his home province of Hunan as a separate state.

Buildings constructed on islets of sand will collapse even before they are completed. The twenty-four dynasties of China may be regarded as twenty-four buildings built on islets of sand, every one of which collapsed precisely because not one of them had a foundation. The four-thousand-year-old China is merely an empty frame. All the activities of its many politicians and all the scholarship of its many scholars have been just sketches painted on this empty frame … Thus, our ancient and civilized country with its four thousand years of history has never really been a country at all. The country is merely an empty frame with absolutely nothing inside. It might be said that there were people, but the people were scattered. It is a pity that ‘a sheet of loose sand’ does indeed describe them!

Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949, p. 579.

Marx the strong-loined paterfamilias

Early in 1851, Marx wrote to Engels one of his many letters, this one concerning ground rent. Early in the letter, he informs Engels:

An inverse relationship of the fertility of the soil to human fertility must needs deeply affect a strong-loined paterfamilias like myself, the more so since mon mariage est plus productif que mon industries (MECW 38: 274).

Jenny was pregnant with their fifth child. To add a slight complication, Lenchen (Helene Demuth), the real head of the household, was also pregnant, although probably not by the same paterfamilias.

Mao on evil

The last text before Mao begins turning to communism is a fascinating series of comments on Friedrich Paulsen’s A System of Ethics. On the question of evil. Mao disagrees with Paulsen and writes:

We should emphasise only whether or not the reality at the time was good or evil. If the actual activity is good then it is good, if evil then it is evil. We should not think about being good in order to leave behind a good historical reputation or about evil leaving behind a bad reputation historically. When we judge history and say that someone was good or that someone was bad, we are referring to the good and bad actions of that person. There is no goodness or evil apart from real actions. Thus it is stupid to think of leaving behind a reputation for all time, and it is also stupid to envy the reputation that others may leave behind them.

If disease inspires the medical arts and teaches a sense of patience and benevolence, if suffering is able to move the heart and instil patience, if falsehood is conquered by truth, if evil thoughts submit to one’s conscience, is this not precisely because they are evil? … The reason we cannot do without evil is that it is capable of assisting our resistance and struggle, and thus every kind of evil is always under attack and being suppressed; it is not just that it is inevitable.

We want to do away with evil because it is enemy to the fulfilment of life. Thus we eliminate evil in the process of fulfilling life, not just to eliminate evil. In wishing to live a full life, how am I to know whether the evils are many or few or whether I shall eliminate them or not.
(Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949, vol. 1, pp. 241-43).

Was ik maar weer in Bommel: I wish I was back in Bommel (Marx)

Karl Marx ‘was half Dutch [half Nederlands was]’, wrote his daughter Eleanor in 1893. Why? The first hint begins with her recipient, who was none other than Franc van der Goes, a family member. But the full story is that Marx’s mother was Henriette Pressburg, and her sister Sophie was married to Lion Philips. The Philips family – which provided the basis of Philips electronics – lived in Zaltbommel. Even more, Marx’s father, Heinrich (Herschel) was connected with a number of Dutch Jewish families.

So the genealogical link was close, but so was the personal. More than fifty letters survive of the correspondence between Marx and his Dutch relatives, letters that are very open in discussing politics, philosophy, culture, personal matters and so on. Lion’s brother, Auguste, also assisted Marx with the publication of the French translation of Capital. With all these connections, it is not surprising that Marx visited the family in Holland on a regular basis, and that Lion helped him out with money when he was short (a frequent occurrence for a man who was hopeless in personal finances). Indeed, Lion’s son Eduard, remembered that Marx wrote part of Capital while he was there. He would walk back and forth furiously, smoking away, until an idea came to him. Then he would leap on the chair and write away. Of course, there is also the intriguing ‘closeness’ with his cousin, Nanette Philips, leading come to speculate on a possible affair. Probably not, but they did enjoy each other’s company.

All this and more can be found in J. Gielkens (red.), ‘Was ik maar weer in Bommel’, Karl Marx en zijn Nederlandse verwanten, Een familiegeschiedenis, bezorgd en ingeleid door Jan Gielkens, uitg. Stichting beheer IISG, Amsterdam 1997. You can also find a summary by Jasper Schaaf.

Marx’s courting advice

When Paul Lafargue was living with the Marxes in 1866, he made his intentions regarding Laura quite plain so that the whole family knew. Marx was not so impressed, so he wrote:

If you wish to continue your relations with my daughter, you will have to give up your present manner of ‘courting.’ You know full well that no engagement has been entered into, that as yet everything is undecided. And even if she were formally betrothed to you, you should not forget that this is a matter of long duration. The practice of excessive intimacy is especially inappropriate since the two lovers will be living at the same place for a necessarily prolonged period of severe testing and purgatory. I have observed with alarm how your conduct has altered from one day to the next within the geological period of one single week. To my mind, true love expresses itself in reticence, modesty and even the shyness of the lover towards the object of his veneration, and certainly not in giving free rein to one’s passion and in premature demonstrations of familiarity. If you should urge your Creole temperament in your defence, it is my duty to interpose my sound reason between your temperament and my daughter. If in her presence you are incapable of loving in a manner in keeping with the London latitude, you will have to resign yourself to loving her from a distance. I am sure you will take the hint (MECW 42: 307-8).