Mao: how not to write and how to write

Mao certainly had his criticisms of useless writing and scholarship. After mentioning Lenin and Stalin as positive examples (in ‘On Practice’), he notes their opposite:

The saying, ‘without stepping outside his gate the scholar knows all the wide world’s affairs,’ was mere empty talk in past times when technology was undeveloped (Selected Readings, p. 70).

Adorno made a similar point concerning the philosopher who sits in his cottage with pencil and paper and is able to produce a system that explains the whole universe. But then (in ‘Reform our Study’) Mao notes the type of intellectual that annoys him:

When making speeches, they indulge in a long string of headings, A, B, C, D, 1, 2, 3, 4, and when writing articles, they turn out a lot of verbiage. They have no intention of seeking truth from facts, but only a desire to curry favour by claptrap. They are flashy without substance, brittle without solidity. They are always right, they are the Number One authority under Heaven, “imperial envoys” who rush everywhere (Selected Writings, p. 203).

But he also has some suggestions as to how one might write:

Articles should store up forces within. Emerging from Longmen, the Yellow River rushes all the way down to Tongguan. As it turns eastwards, it again rushes to Tongwa. Again it turns northeastwards and rushes to the sea. Once it comes out of hiding and changes its course, it goes for a thousand li without stopping. This is called a big turn. So it is with composition. (The Writings of Mao Zedong, vol. 1, p. 18)

To compose (zuo wen) well, we need to be skilfull, hence the use of the word ‘do’ (zuo); to write (xie), we need to wield the brush furiously, hence the use of the word ‘sketch’ (xie). (p. 19)


Ten Rules of Red Army warfare

In the long struggle towards 1949, the Red Army in China had learnt a few tricks, both from the communists in Russia during the ‘civil’ war and from their own experiences. With fewer fighters, inferior equipment and fewer resources against Chang Kai-Shek’s superior forces (supplied and trained by the Germans, Italians, Americans and English), they had developed a number of rules of engagement.

1. Do not fight any losing battles. Unless there are strong indications of success, refuse engagement.

2. Surprise is the main offensive tactic of the well-led partisan group. Static war must be avoided. The partisan brigade has no auxiliary force, no rear, no line of supplies and communications except that of the enemy.

3. A careful and detailed plan of attack, and especially of retreat, must be worked out before any engagement is offered or accepted. Superior manoeuvring ability is a great advantage of the partisans, and errors in its manipulation mean extinction.

4. The greatest attention must be paid to the mintuan (the landlord militia), the first, last, and most determined line of resistance of the landlords. The mintuan must be destroyed militarily, but must, if at all possible, be won over politically to the side of the masses.

5. In a regular engagement with enemy troops the partisans must exceed the enemy in numbers. But if the enemy’s regular troops are moving, resting, or poorly guarded, a swift, determined, surprise flank attack on an organically vital spot of the enemy’s line can be made by a much smaller group. Many a Red ‘short attack’ was carried with only a few hundred against an enemy of thousands. Surprise, speed, courage, unwavering decision, flawlessly planned manoeuvre, and selection of the most vulnerable and vital spot in the enemy’s ‘anatomy’ are absolutely essential.

6. In actual combat the partisan line must have the greatest elasticity. Once it becomes obvious that their calculation of enemy strength or preparedness or fighting power is in error, the partisans should be able to disengage with the same speed as they began the attack.

7. The tactics of distraction, decoy, diversion, ambush, feint and irritation must be mastered. In Chinese these tactics are called ‘the principle of pretending to attack the east while attacking the west’.

8. Avoid engagements with the main force of the enemy, concentrating on the weakest link, or the most vital part.

9. Every precaution must be taken to prevent the enemy from locating the partisans’ main forces. For this reason, partisans should avoid concentrating in one place when the enemy is advancing, and should change their position frequently – two or three times in one day or night just before attack.

10. Besides superior mobility, the partisans, being inseparable from the local masses, have the advantage of superior intelligence; the greatest use must be made of this. Ideally, every peasant should be on the partisans’ intelligence staff.

From Edgar Snow, Red Star Over China, pp. 275-76.

Eleven rules of the Red Army

Before the revolution, the Red Army in China had the following eleven rules, divided into two groups, one of three, the other of eight.

The three preliminary rules:

1. Prompt obedience to orders

2. No confiscations whatever from the poor peasantry

3. Prompt delivery directly to the government (Red soviets), for its disposal, of all goods confiscated from the landlords

The eight key rules, with a focus on dealings with peasants:

1. Replace all doors when you leave a house (!)

2. Return and roll up the straw matting on which you slept

3. Be courteous and polite to the people and help them when you can

4. Return all borrowed articles

5. Replace all damaged article

6. Be honest in all transactions with the peasants

7. Pay for all articles purchased

8. Be sanitary, and, especially, establish latrines a safe distance from people’s houses

Apparently, these eight form a song, sung on the march or while working.