Mao’s personal five-year plan

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 …

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Mao on intellectuals

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

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)

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).

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).

Mao on death and life

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, vol. 1, pp. 245-47)

Mao on Stalin

One of the most frequent works Mao cites is Stalin’s Short Course, but he also has some rather nice things to say about Iosef.

In a piece from 1939 called ‘Stalin, Friend of the Chinese People’, Mao wrote:

On the Twenty-first of December, Comrade Stalin will be sixty years old. We can be sure that his birthday will evoke warm and affectionate congratulations from the hearts of all revolutionary people throughout the world who know of the occasion.

Congratulating Stalin is not a formality. Congratulating Stalin means supporting him and his cause, supporting the victory of socialism, and the way forward for mankind which he points out, it means supporting a dear friend. For the great majority of mankind today are suffering, and mankind can free itself from suffering only by the road pointed out by Stalin and with his help.

Living in a period of the bitterest suffering in our history, we Chinese people most urgently need help from others. The Book of Odes says, “A bird sings out to draw a friend’s response.” This aptly describes our present situation.

But who are our friends?

There are so-called friends, self-styled friends of the Chinese people, whom even some Chinese unthinkingly accept as friends. But such friends can only be classed with Li Lin-fu, the prime minister in the Tang Dynasty who was notorious as a man with ‘honey on his lips and murder in his heart’. They are indeed ‘friends’ with ‘honey on their lips and murder in their hearts’. Who are these people? They are the imperialists who profess sympathy with China.

However, there are friends of another kind, friends who have real sympathy with us and regard us as brothers. Who are they? They are the Soviet people and Stalin.

No other country has renounced its privileges in China; the Soviet Union alone has done so.

All the imperialists opposed us during our First Great Revolution; the Soviet Union alone helped us.

No government of any imperialist country has given us real help since the outbreak of the War of Resistance Against Japan; the Soviet Union alone has helped China with its aviation and supplies.

Is not the point clear enough?

Only the land of socialism, its leaders and people, and socialist thinkers, statesmen and workers can give real help to the cause of liberation of the Chinese nation and the Chinese people, and without their help our cause cannot win final victory.

Stalin is the true friend of the cause of liberation of the Chinese people. No attempt to sow dissension, no lies and calumnies, can affect the Chinese people’s whole-hearted love and respect for Stalin and our genuine friendship for the Soviet Union.

On Stalin’s 70th birthday, Mao sent this telegram:

Chairman Stalin,

The Council of Ministers,

The Government of the Soviet Union

Your Excellency:

On this happy occasion of Your Excellency’s seventieth birthday, I sincerely extend to you my respect and my best wishes for the daily strengthening of the fortress for world peace and democracy under Your Excellency’s leadership.

In Beijing, they even had a birthday celebration for Stalin, where Mao said:

Dear comrades and friends:

I am genuinely pleased to have the chance to join this distinguished gathering in celebration of the seventieth birthday of Comrade Stalin.

Comrade Stalin is a teacher and friend of the people of the world as well as a teacher and friend of the Chinese people. He has further developed the revolutionary theory of Marxism-Leninism and has made extremely outstanding and extensive contributions to the cause of world Communist movement. In the arduous struggle to resist their oppressors, the Chinese people have become deeply appreciative of the importance of Comrade Stalin’s friendship.

At this distinguished gathering, on behalf of the Chinese people and the Communist Party of China, I congratulate Comrade Stalin on his seventieth birthday and wish him health and longevity. We wish well- being, strength, and prosperity to our great friend, the Soviet Union under the leadership of Comrade Stalin. We hail the great unprecedented solidarity of the working class in the world under the leadership of Comrade Stalin.

Long live the great Stalin, leader of the world’s working class and of the international Communist movement!

Long live the Soviet Union, the stronghold of world peace and democracy!

Mao on the Soviet Union

Alongside his preference for self-sufficiency and the importance of Chinese traditions, Mao was also quite aware of the importance of international conditions for the success of the Chinese Revolution. The Soviet Union was pivotal. To begin with:

The Soviet Union is a defender of world peace and a powerful factor preventing the domination of the world by the U.S. reactionaries (Selected Readings, p. 348).

More specifically:

In the epoch in which imperialism exists, it is impossible for a genuine people’s revolution to win victory in any country without various forms of help from the international revolutionary forces, and even if victory were won, it could not be consolidated. This was the case with the victory and consolidation of the great October Revolution, as Lenin and Stalin told us long ago. This was also the case with the overthrow of the three imperialist powers in World War II and the establishment of the People’s Democracies. And this is also the case with the present and the future of People’s China. Just imagine! If the Soviet Union had not existed, if there had been no victory in the anti-fascist Second World War, if Japanese imperialism had not been defeated, if the People’s Democracies had not come into being, if the oppressed nations of the East were not rising in struggle and if there were no struggle of the masses of the people against their reactionary rulers in the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and other capitalist countries — if not for all these in combination, the international reactionary forces bearing down upon us would certainly be many times greater than now. In such circumstances, could we have won victory? Obviously not. And even with victory, there could be no consolidation (Selected Readings, pp. 377-78).

As for the end of the Second World War and the surrender of Japan, Mao already saw what recent historians have rediscovered: Japan surrendered because Soviet troops pushed the Japanese out of China and threatened to invade Japan:

The decisive factor for Japan’s surrender is the entry of the Soviet Union into the war. A million Red Army troops are entering China’s Northeast; this force is irresistible. Japanese imperialism can no longer continue the fight … The Soviet Union has sent its troops, the Red Army has come to help the Chinese people drive out the aggressor; such an event has never happened before in Chinese history. Its influence is immeasurable. The propaganda organs of the United States and Chiang Kai-shek hoped to sweep away the Red Army’s political influence with two atom bombs. But it can’t be swept away; that isn’t so easy. Can atom bombs decide wars? No, they can’t. Atom bombs could not make Japan surrender. Without the struggles waged by the people, atom bombs by themselves would be of no avail. If atom bombs could decide the war, then why was it necessary to ask the Soviet Union to send its troops? Why didn’t Japan surrender when the two atom bombs were dropped on her and why did she surrender as soon as the Soviet Union sent troops? (Selected Readings, pp. 324, 337)

Mao’s gymnastic exercises

One of the more fascinating pieces by the young Mao is ‘A Study of Physical Education’ (1917). After his theoretical considerations, he comes to the nub of the matter: what is one to do? He does nothing less than propose his own gym routine. To begin with:

The best way is to exercise twice a day – on getting up and before going to bed – in the nude … Too much clothing impedes movement … Exercise should be savage and rude.

Once in this condition, undertake the following (a selection):

a) Arm exercises. Squatting position.

Extend the fingers, bend the elbow, and make a piercing movement forward. Left and right successively, three times.

b. Leg exercises. Squatting position.

Make fists, and hold the arms straight out in front of you. Extend one leg to the side and bend the other forward. The extended leg can be moved around, while you stand on the toes of the bent leg, with the heel touching the buttocks. Left and right successively, three times.

Make fists, and let the left and right arms hang at the sides. Supporting yourself with one leg, kick forward with the other. Left and right successively, three times.

Make fists, and let the left and right arms hang at the sides. Bend one leg forward and extend the other to the rear. The bent leg remains in its original position, while the extended leg moves so that both are more or less in a straight line. Left and right successively, three times.

d. Head exercises, sitting position.

Keeping the head in more or less the same position, concentrate on moving the skin and lower jaw. Five times.

e. Striking exercises. No fixed position. (Striking exercises consist in using the fists to hit the body all over. Thus the circulation of the blood is speeded up. The main object of this exercise is to strengthen the muscles and the flesh.)

Arm exercise. The right hand is used to strike the left arm, and the left hand the right arm.

[Do the same with:] The shoulders. The chest. The sides. The back. The abdomen. The buttocks. The legs. Upper leg, lower leg.

f. Harmonizing movements. No fixed position.

Deep breathing. Three times.

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)