Week 8 Blog Post

I found the first-hand account of Mao Tse-tung to be fascinating, mostly because everything I have learned about him, and indeed, most of the information to be found on him in the West is of a cold and heartless despot that butchered millions of people. This is likely a result of both Western anti-Chinese and anti-Communist sentiment, as leaders like Josef Stalin are portrayed in much the same way. While I would say one should be careful when humanizing dictators, as it can lead to undeserved sympathy, I think it is important to study where these people come from, and to understand that very few start out with the aim of becoming a tyrant.

In fact, Mao, as Edgar Snow’s account relates, seemed (at least at first) to be nothing like the tyrant he is remembered as, nor indeed like any dictator. It could be said that he “practiced what he preached,” living simply and humbly with along with the rest of the Red Army, the only luxury in his quarters a mosquito net. Although Snow describes him as a keen intellect with great knowledge of history and philosophy both Chinese and Western, he remarks that he does not think Mao would ever be accepted by the Chinese elite due to the fact that his manners are much like a peasant, and he could be described as “uncouth.”

While this simpler, peasant demeanor would surely have inspired great loyalty among his troops, as they could relate to him, it does seem strange to think of a world leader being so unpolished as to take his pants off in the middle of a meeting (although LBJ held conferences from the toilet, so I suppose it is not too surprising).

I also found the account of Luding Bridge to be interesting, especially because of the language that was used when bringing up Chinese history. It refers to the “Taiping Revolution” rather than the “Taiping Rebellion,” which is interesting considering the Western influence of the Taiping leaders. However, considering the Taiping were fighting against the Qing, a foreign, capitalist, and autocratic dynasty, this martyrizing perhaps makes sense. It seemed to me that the battle of the Luding Bridge could be the subject of a great war movie, both because of the insurmountable odds, and the heroic actions of the Red Army soldiers. Although the account was likely embellished, it makes for an excellent story, which would have functioned very well as propaganda for the Communists.

A headshot of a young man, black and white. he wears a simple dark shirt, and a short haircut. He is clean-shaven.
Young Mao, c. 1925. Image: Wikipedia

Works Consulted:

“The Tale of the Luding Bridge.” In The Search for Modern China: A Documentary Collection, Third ed. Edited by Janet Chen et. al., W. W. Norton & Company, 2014.

Snow, Edgar. Red Star Over China. 1st rev. and enl. ed. New York: Grove Press, 1968, First published 1938 by Random House.

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