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The Two Faces of Mao Tse Tung: Both Nationalist and Butcher

Updated on October 12, 2015

Mao The "Peoples" Leader

In 1949, the Communist party in China led by Mao emerged victorious over the Nationalist Party led by General Chiang Kai Shek, who was backed by the Americans. It was the end of a civil war that had been going on intermittently for over 2 decades. It had also continued when the Japanese had occupied Manchuria, though as a face saving ploy, the two rivals did join in a few battles against the Imperial army.

The conflict was both bitter and savage and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Chinese on both sides. Mao won and Chiang Kai Shek fled to the island of Formosa. Though Chiang was supported by the Americans, he was not a paragon of honour and glory and was in a way similar to Mao, both cruel and without pity. Mao and Chiang Kai Shek were two sides of the same coin.

Mao ushered in the Peoples Republic of China in 1949 and the Chinese heaved a sigh of relief, hoping that the killings, mayhem and internecine conflict would end. The conflict did end, but Mao imposed his own brand of rule, that only paid lip service to the ideals of Marx and Lenin. He felt he was greater than these two and laid down his own policies that led to widespread death and desolation in China. In particular Mao's concept of “Class Struggle", the favourite plank of Marxism was implemented in a devious manner resulting in deaths of over 25-30 million Chinese. One wonders whether at any stage Mao felt remorse for his actions.

The answer is probably a big No as Mao replaced one scheme with another and the cycle of death and destruction continued.

Mao during the civil war
Mao during the civil war

Mao the Nationalist

In 1949, Mao became the ruler of China as the Nationalists fled the mainland. Mao decided that the time had come to redress historical "wrongs" and with the West and India still coming to grips with post war years; Mao decided the time had come to strike at Tibet. He caught Nehru the Indian leader napping and the PLA attacked Tibet in 1950.

The poorly armed Tibetans were soundly beaten, by an army that had done nothing but fight during the last almost 3 decades and signed on the dotted line. Mao in one stroke extended the Chinese hegemony over a part of Central Asia which for long was a protectorate of the British when they ruled India. The Dalai Lama could do nothing as the world sat askance. The Americans still licking chops at the defeat of their protégé Chiang were unable to stop this invasion. In one stroke Mao made the Chinese the dominant power In Asia.

He also ordered the Chinese army into Korea to bolster the North Koreans who were hard pressed by the US troops under General MacArthur. The Chinese intervention changed the rules of the Korean War and MacArthur had to be sacked. Over all it established China as a power to reckon with as Mao fuelled his dream of a China going back to being the Middle Kingdom as it was in early centuries.

Mao also threatened to attack Formosa and capture the island, but lack of a nuclear deterrent prevented him as by then Stalin had become wary of Mao, who thought of him as a greater leader in the Communist movement than Lenin or Stalin.

Does the good done by Mao outweigh the millions of Chinese who died under his rule"

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The Dark Side

Mao was a nationalist who believed in the destiny of China, but he had scant regard for human life and was in many ways more cruel than Hitler or Stalin. The Chinese people had to pay a terrible price for the folly of Mao in power. Firstly, once in power, Mao followed the old dictum that either you are with me or against me. Dissent had no place and thousands of his political opponents were just arrested and carted away to concentration camps, where the conditions were so abysmal that thousands died.

Mao also launched two hair brained schemes. First was the Great Leap forward and second was let a hundred flowers bloom. The great leap forward was Mao's plan to help China develop to an industrial power. He encouraged even peasants to smelt iron in their homes. Banished private owned farms and land, arrested the so called ' rich" and let loose a reign of terror. This led to a famine and upward of 15 million died of starvation. Despite these deaths Mao was unfazed and continued on his reckless path.

Mao now wished to unmask his opponents and for this he started a devious ploy to unearth them. He invited thoughts and ideas from all people under the words" let a hundred flowers bloom '“. Many people genuinely reported their thoughts and ideas. In one stroke Mao could pinpoint the persons who he felt were enemies of c his ideas. He had them arrested and taken for "correction" to labour camps. Thousands were also executed as reactionaries and enemies of the state.

These two campaigns had a disastrous effect and some in the central presidium wanted to side line Mao.

The real picture
The real picture

The Cultural Revolution

The Central Committee kept Mao quiet for some time, but he looked for a way to assert himself and this he did in 1966, by launching the Cultural Revolution. The entire edifice of this Cultural Revolution was to consolidate Mao's hold over the country and purge his critics. He hit on a devious plan of “perpetual revolution" and a civilization in strife.

The essence of this plan of Mao was to unmask his opponents and either purge or execute them. Gangs of youth roamed the cities and countryside identifying so called counter revolutionaries, who were then arrested and taken away to concentration camps. The Cultural Revolution lasted d 3 years and millions were purged. Suffice that even a small tea shop owner was arrested as a counter revolutionary and carted off to a prison camp.

Those were trying days for Chin and they ended only after Mao was side-lined.

Last word

Mao was a man who had 2 personalities. He was a nationalist, but also a man whose policies caused the death of at least 25-30 million Chinese. In addition he got executed thousands of his opponents as "counter revolutionaries". The Chinese are at loss where to place him and understandably there is no rhetoric about Mao these days, but his body stays embalmed in Beijing and that is an anachronism. China will only be exorcise the deaths of millions of Chinese more that Hitler and Stalin combined, once he is taken out and cremated.

A balance will show that the bad that Mao did, far outweighed any good he done by him.


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      Howard Schneider 2 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      I agree with you , Emge. He was a sinister megalomaniac who did not care about other lives. Only his own goals and ideology.

    • emge profile image

      Madan 2 years ago from Abu Dhabi

      HSchneider, yes Mao was a Meglomaniac, but that alone does not explain how he allowed 30 million Chinese to die during his reign. Perhap he was something more sinster

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 2 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Excellent Hub, Madan. Mao was a political and economic zealot who had no regard as to who he hurt. Extremists of all stripes suffer from this problem but most do not get to inflict widespread genocide on their own people. Yes, his initial goal of opening up the nation's wealth to all was admirable but it quickly fell victim to his own megalomania.