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Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong is undeniably the most influential person in China in the twentieth century. Whether Mao's effect on China was good or bad does not have a simple answer.

The Good that Mao did for China can be summed up as follows in your research:

  • Mao helped to bring China into the modern world by breaking its ties with its colonial past and helping to unify China's large population spread over a large area of Asia.
  • Mao played a leading role in defeating the Japanese when they occupied China in World War II.
  • Mao also took the lead in making China a major diplomatic and military power with relations with major powers such as the United States and the Soviet Union around the world.


The negative that Mao brought into China was the following:

  • To reach important goals, Mao engineered large-scale economic programs such as the Five Year Plan and cultural movements such as the Cultural Revolution which were disastrous for large numbers of the population of China. No one knows how many Chinese died in famines caused by Mao's ill-conceived economic programs. These programs not only failed to make China a major industrial power, but they destroyed the local economies in many areas.
  • Mao's plans for agricultural cooperatives to replace the small farms of China's innumerable peasants only drove most of the peasants deeper into poverty; and many died from famine when the forced agricultural cooperatives failed to provide food.
  • In Mao's Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and the 1970s, many Chinese, particularly local party officials and intellectuals, lost their positions. Some were killed by zealots leading the Revolution, and many more were imprisoned.

In assessing whether Mao's overall impact on China was good or bad, light is cast on the question by asking, "What would have been the alternative?" While any answer is speculative, one can deduce that the problems China faced, the goals it sought, and the traumas it suffered would not have been all that much different than those under Mao's leadership. Mao came to power in a China that was largely impoverished. Besides this, China was engaged in an internal conflict between the Kuomintang led by Chiang Kai-shek on the one side and Communists, socialists, Marxists, and other revolutionary factions on the other. While these two sides formed an alliance during World War II to try to drive the Japanese occupiers out of China, before and after the War they were often in armed conflict with each other.

Mao's life can be divided into three stages. The first is his younger years and early schooling, his time at Peking University, and his involvement with the Kuomintang until the late 1920s. The second period covers his split with the Kuomintang, his creation and leadership of the Red Army, his wartime alliance with the Kuomintang and battle against the Japanese, and his defeat of Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang after the War. The third stage of Mao's life is his leadership of the Chinese Communist party and the Chinese government after Chiang Kai-shek was defeated and his efforts at widespread and in some respects radical reform of China in this position. Each of these stages has to be considered separately for an assessment of Mao's impact on China. During Mao's lifetime, China was not only involved in tumultuous internal struggles among various factions, but also in broader world affairs, notably World War II and the rise of Communism. Mao formed his political ideas and goals, came to power, and acted in this context of change and conflict. It was a complex time when many internal and external currents were affecting China. Although each of the three stages of Mao's life and activities, aims, ambitions, and achievements relating to it can be judged separately and differently, overall Mao's life shows that he was a successful revolutionary leader responsible for China's break with its feudal, colonial past. This break was crucial for giving China the opportunity to become an independent, modern nation in control of its own affairs and to take part in affairs among the nations of the world. But when it comes to pursing these opportunities he had been a major force in creating for China, Mao is seen in a different light. He is not seen as a skillful leader of a peacetime government. Mao is judged differently during this last stage of his life when was the head of China not only from the way he pursued his programs for reform and modernization of China. He pursued these in a way that was unnecessarily harmful to China. But more importantly, the programs themselves, not just the way Mao pursued them, were wrong-headed, mainly because they were impractical and undesirable. Mao was an exemplary and in some respects idealistic, revolutionary leader, but a mostly blind and despotic political leader. As Lenin before him and Castro after him, Mao was one other Communist whose legacy displays "the enormous gap between socialistic promises and socialist performances, between revolutionary visions and the actual sociopolitical results of revolution."

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