Mao didn’t restrict the famous and much-debated ‘Five-Year Plans’ to the realm of economics. He also had a personal one, expressed in 1957:
I, too, have a five-year plan. I’d like to live for five more years. If I can live for another 15 years, I’d be completely content and satisfied. … However, there are unexpected storms in the skies, and people are likely to experience sudden reversals of fortune. This, too, is a matter of natural dialectics. If Confucius were still alive today – if someone who had lived more than two thousand years ago is still not dead – that would be awful, wouldn’t it? (The Writings of Mao Zedong 1949-1976, vol. 2, p. 777).
Of course, he died in 1976, so he lived 19 more years. He must have died more than completely content and satisfied …
Never one to shy away from turning a statement on its head, or rather, feet, Mao points out that the brain-washing is actually a very good thing. In a speech to Chinese university students going to Moscow, he said:
Some foreigners say that our ideological reform is brainwashing. As I see it, they are correct in what they say. It is washing brains, that’s what it is! This brain of mine was washed to become what it is. After I joined the revolution, [my brain] slowly washed, washed for several decades. What I received before was all bourgeois education, and even some feudal education. I read quite a lot of Confucius’s writings. At that time we simply didn’t know anything about Marx or Engels, only about Washington and Napoleon. You are better. You are very fortunate. You are just big kids, and yet you already know Marx, Engels, Lenin. … At that time, none of us knew anything about how the Chinese revolution was to be promoted! (The Writings of Mao Zedong 1949-1976, vol. 2, p. 775)
The good chairman certainly has some great lines on intellectuals. For instance:
I’ve always said that intellectuals are the most lacking in intellect. The intellectuals cock their tails in the air and strut around, and they think, ‘If I don’t rank number one in the world, then I’m at least number two’ … Right now there are some intellectuals who are floating around in the air. They are like fifteen buckets being used to get water from the well – with seven going up and eight going down. They can’t get up to the heavens and they can’t get down to the ground. They all just float around in the air. (The Writings of Mao Zedong, 1949-1976, vol. 2, pp. 611-12)
Mao the monk? It may well have been the path he chose in life. Zhang Kundi, a young friend of Mao, tells of a 1917 hike in the mountains in Hunan, with regular swims in the Xiang River due to the heat. On the top of Zhaoshan (Zhao Mountain) was a monastery with two or three monks. The young friends were offered a bed for the night – one bed for all of them. But they stayed up and talked long into the night. At one point, Zhang Kundi relates:
Moved by the clear night, Mr. Peng told us about his long-cherished desire to be a monk and also said that, some years later, he would invite all of us to come and study on some famous mountain. Mr. Mao and I also have such a desire, but Mao’s desire is much stronger than mine. I, too, was moved at that time, and the lines came to me:
Wind blowing in the trees, music of the heavens
Desires and rewards cannot be perceived, and shed their forms
But I did not reveal them to my friends. It was deep night before we slept.
(Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949, vol 1. pp. 138-39)
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.
Some more from the fascinating notes made by a youngish Mao on Friedrich Paulsen’s A System of Ethics. Here he reflects on death and life.
To accept it and die, what is there to regret?
That the living must die is the law of all natural things, that what comes into being must perish … Our death is not death, but simply a dissolution [jeisan]. All natural things are not destroyed; neither are we human beings destroyed. Not only is death not death, life too is not life, but simply a uniting. Since a human being is formed of the uniting of spirit and matter, what is there to dread when the decline of old age leads to their dispersal? Moreover, dispersal is not a single dispersal that is never united again. This dispersal is followed by that uniting. If the world contained only dispersal without reuniting, how could we see then every day with our own eyes phenomena that represent unitings (I do not mean reincarnation)?
The universe does not contain only the world of human life. There are many other kinds of worlds in addition to that of human life. When we have already had all kinds of experience in this world of human life, we should leave this world to experience other kinds of worlds …
Would we then think that dying was painful? Certainly not. Never having experienced death, what makes us think it is painful? Furthermore, pursuing it logically, it would seem that the event of death is not necessarily painful. Life and death are two great worlds, and the passage between these worlds, from life to death, is naturally very gradual, and the distance is by nature barely perceptible. Elderly people peacefully come to the end of their years and enter a natural state, an event that is necessary and proper…
Human beings are born with a sense of curiosity. How can it be different in this case? Are we not delighted with all kinds of rare things that we seldom encounter? Death too is a rare thing that I have never experienced in my entire life. Why should it alone not delight me? … Some may fear the great change, but I think it is profoundly valuable. When can such a marvellous great change be found in the the world of human life? Will it not be truly valuable to encounter in death what cannot be encountered in the world of human life?
When a storm rolls over the ocean, with waves criss-crossing in all directions, those aboard ship are drawn to marvel at its significance. Why should the great waves of life and death alone not evoke a sense of their magnificence!
(Mao’s Road to Power: Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949, pp. 245-47)
Deng Xiaoping’s well-known slogan from 1982, ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’, was really a condensation of Mao’s earlier and more elaborate reflections on Western influence:
To nourish her own culture China needs to assimilate a good deal of foreign progressive culture, not enough of which was done in the past. We should assimilate whatever is useful to us today not only from the present-day socialist and new-democratic cultures but also from the earlier cultures of other nations, for example, from the culture of the various capitalist countries in the Age of Enlightenment. However, we should not gulp any of this foreign material down uncritically, but must treat it as we do our food – first chewing it, then submitting it to the working of the stomach and intestines with their juices and secretions, and separating it into nutriment to be absorbed and waste matter to be discarded–before it can nourish us. To advocate “wholesale westernization” is wrong. China has suffered a great deal from the mechanical absorption of foreign material. Similarly, in applying Marxism to China, Chinese communists must fully and properly integrate the universal truth of Marxism with the concrete practice of the Chinese revolution, or in other words, the universal truth of Marxism must be combined with specific national characteristics and acquire a definite national form if it is to be useful, and in no circumstances can it be applied subjectively as a mere formula (On New Democracy, Selected Works, vol. 2, p. 380).
They may have differed on its interpretation, but the sentiment is largely the same. However, what is really telling is that Mao also stipulated the same approach to Chinese traditions:
A splendid old culture was created during the long period of Chinese feudal society. To study the development of this old culture, to reject its feudal dross and assimilate its democratic essence is a necessary condition for developing our new national culture and increasing our national self-confidence, but we should never swallow anything and everything uncritically. It is imperative to separate the fine old culture of the people which had a more or less democratic and revolutionary character from all the decadence of the old feudal ruling class. China’s present new politics and new economy have developed out of her old politics and old economy, and her present new culture, too, has developed out of her old culture; therefore, we must respect our own history and must not lop it off. However, respect for history means giving it its proper place as a science, respecting its dialectical development, and not eulogizing the past at the expense of the present or praising every drop of feudal poison (op. cit. p. 381).