Mao Zedong: Biography, Cultural Revolution, Major Facts, & Death

Mao Zedong – biography and policies

Best known for being the founding father of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Mao Zedong was a devout Communist and Marxist soldier and statesman who led the Communist Party to victory against the Nationalist Party to become the leader of his nation in 1949.

A huge proponent of industrialization, Chairman Mao spent close to three decades ruling with absolutism and autocracy. It will be an understatement to say that the former farmer of peasant background ruled with an iron fist. As head of the Communist Party, he crushed every manner of opposition in his country. He is infamous for establishing labor camps, where millions of Chinese were worked to death.

His massive agrarian policies – under the Great Leap Forward program – exacerbated the effects of the famine that struck the country in the 1950s. It’s been estimated that at least 15 million of his country folks died of starvation during that period. The situation was made even worse following his introduction of the Great Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

Towards his final few years, his power was greatly curtailed by the Communist Party, although he still served as the Chairman of the party until his death in 1976. He left behind such a complex legacy that makes historians and economic scholars proclaim him as either as a national hero or a bloodthirsty tyrant.

The article below dissects the major events that took place in the life and political career of Mao Zedong, as well as his various policies that in all sense and purpose caused unimaginable suffering and deaths of millions of people.

Mao Zedong: Fast Facts

Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong

Name: Mao Tse-tung

Date of birth: December 26, 1893

Place of birth: Shaoshan, Hunan, China

Died: September 9, 1976

Cause of death: Parkinson’s disease

Place of death: Beijing, China

Aged: 82

Parents: Mao Yichang, Wen Qimei

Siblings: Mao Zemin (1895-1943), Mao Zetan (1905-1935), and Mao Zejian (1905-1929)

Spouse: Luo Yixiu (1907-1910), Yang Kaihui (1920-1930), He Zizhen (1928-1937), Jiang Qing (married in 1938)

Children: 10, including, Mao Anying, Mao Anqing, Yang Yuehua, Li Min, Li Na, Mao Anlong

Education: Hunan First Normal University

Most famous for: Founding the People’s Republic of China

Theories: Marxism, Maoism

Political parties: Nationalist Party (1925-1926), Chinese Communist Party (1921-1976)

Positions: Head of State of the People’s Republic of China (1949-1959); Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (1931-1976)

Birth and early years

At the age of 16 Mao left the farm and his family in order not to go ahead with an arranged marriage. Image: Mao Zedong in 1913

Born Mao Tse-tung on December 26, 1893, Mao Zedong grew up on a farm in Shaoshan, Hunan Province, China. His father was said to have made a considerable amount of wealth as a grain dealer in the village.

At the age of eight he was enrolled at a local primary school, where he studied many subjects, including Wujing (Confucian Classics). His family is said to have placed value on education simply because of the benefits it offered when it came to records keeping of farm activities.

Beginning around his early teens, he left school to work on his family’s farm. However, that was to last for only a few years, as he left home because he did not consent to an arranged marriage. He enrolled at a secondary school in Changsha, where he first got introduced to the works of Chinese politicians and social reformers like Liang Qichao and Sun Yat-sen.

Mao’s participation in the 1911 Revolution

When the 1911 Revolution broke out, Mao joined the revolutionary army in Hunan and fought to bring down the Qing Dynasty, the last imperial dynasty of China. For about half a year or so, he was given military training, allowing him to fight fiercely during the war.

Mao was of the firm belief that no political power could ever come forth without the use of violence. He’s noted to have cited great leaders like Emperor Napoleon I of France and First U.S. President George Washington as his role models.

Read More: Puyi, the Last Emperor of China

The May 4th Movement of 1919 and Mao’s interaction with Li Dazhao and Chen Duxiu

With the Qing Dynasty toppled and a nationalist government established, Mao Zedong took on a number of jobs. He also briefly attended a number of schools, including a police school and a business school.

After graduating from the First Provincial Normal School in Changsha in 1918, he proceeded to work as a librarian at a university in Beijing, where he refined his political ideas, reading on Western liberal democracy and Marxism.

A good number of the early members of the Communist Party were members of the student organizations (including the New People’s Study Society) that Mao formed while at the First Provincial Normal School in Changsha.

While working as a librarian in Beijing, he got acquainted with major political figures like Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao. Those two political theorists were key founding members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It was also around this same period that China was undergoing a kind of sociocultural and intellectual revolution that demanded greater national independence and individual rights.

Mao offered support to Duxiu, who was at the center of the New Culture Movement, rallying many students and youth (Xinqinqnian) in Beijing to the side of liberalism, nationalism and Western ideas. From that movement came forth the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) and the Chinese Communist Party.

Mao Zedong

In 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the birth of the People’s Republic of China

The Chinese Communist Party

Steadily, Mao began to drift to the side of Chinese radicals that held the view that the solution to China’s problems following the end of World War One lied in Leninism and Marxism.

He and his followers, mainly the energized youth, wholeheartedly believed that the destiny of the country had to be one that should be sculpted by the people themselves.

Founded by Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao in Shanghai in 1921, the Chinese Communist Party was able to attract many of energized youth across the country, including in places like Wuhan, Guangzhou, Jinan, and Beijing.

Being one of the prominent members, Mao went on to set up a local branch in Changsha, the capital of Hunan sheng province. He was able to attract not just students but traders and the working class to his vision for China. His organizations, which he sometimes referred to as the “army of the red flag”, protested vehemently against Japan’s and other foreign powers’ influence on China.

In July 1921, he was one of the 13 delegates that took part in the first meeting of the National Congress of the CCP. At the time, the CCP towed the line of orthodox Marxism, believing that urban proletariat was key in securing the social revolution that they desired.

As the leader of the CCP in Hunan, he set up many organizations, including the Self-Study University which promoted the reading of Marxist literature. It must be noted that Mao worked very hard in his province to bring down the illiteracy rate.

Mao Zedong and the Kuomintang (KMT)

Third Plenum of the KMT Central Executive Committee in March 1927. Mao is third from the right in the second row.

At the time Mao and many members of the CCP were willing to work with bourgeois democrats to see their goals for the nation realized. At the Second Congress of the CCP in 1922, delegates agreed to step up collaboration with the Kuomintang (KMT), a Chinese nationalist party. Like many of the delegates, Mao believed that the KMT had enough zeal and base to help them resist Japan’s imperialism.

At the Third Congress of the Communist Party in 1923, Mao was elected to the Party Committee. He was also made member of the Central Executive Committee of the KMT.

Mao Zedong’s rise to power

Having religiously read the works of Karl Marx, Mao Zedong is said to have decided around 1921 to base China’s cultural and intellectual transformation on Marxist ideologies. However, he took cognizance of the fact that he had to adapt those ideas to suit the cultural needs of Chinese. Therefore, he sought to draw support from the peasant folks instead of the urban workers and proletariat.

From May to September 1926, he served at the KMT’s Peasant Movement Training Institute. Mao prepared peasants in Guangzhou in a number of militant activities as well as tutoring on the basic ideas of Marxism and other left-wing ideas.

A leading member of the KMT left-wing, he was appointed the Central Land Committee that fought to appropriate lands of wealthy landowners to landless peasants. This action of his incurred the wrath of new KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek. Mao dissuaded peasants from paying rent to landowners, describing those wealthy people as “bullies and bad gentry” whose actions were anything but counter-revolutionary.

Mao’s Communist Party versus the Nationalist Party in the Chinese Civil War (1927-1949)

Mindful of the threat the Communist Party posed to his government, KMT leader Chiang began taking on the radical left members of the Communist Party, including Mao Zedong. Several thousands of Communist members were killed in the ensuing conflict. It was estimated that the CCP lost close to 20,000 members. Chiang’s goal was to bring an end to the left-leaning Wuhan KMT government.

Following the expulsion of all Communists from the KMT on July 15, 1927, Mao supported the CCP in establishing the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army of China (also known as the Red Army). Leading the CCP in battle was General Zhu De (1886-1976). The CCP’s initial success in the city of Nanchang in August 1927 quickly turned sour as they were pushed back and forced to retreat into the wilderness of Fujian.

As commander-in-chief of the Red Army, Mao failed to take Changsha from the KMT in the Autumn Harvest Uprising. He and his men were forced to retreat to the Jinggang Mountains of Jiangxi. He was subsequently expelled by the CCP Central Committee after it was discovered that he tried to personally gain from the failed Autumn Harvest Uprising.

While at his base in Jinggangshan City, Mao continued his policy of stripping wealthy landowners off their lands. In addition to increasing the size of his army, he was able to instill strong discipline in them.

Disregarding the Central Committee of the CCP orders to disband his guerrilla group of peasants, Mao soldiered on and intensified his revolutionary cause. He set up the Southwest Jiangxi Provincial soviet Government in February 1930. In November that same year, the Central Committee settled in Jiangxi and they proclaimed the Soviet Republic of China. Mao served as the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars.

Mao Zedong’s and the CCP’s Long March (1934-1935)

With KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek occupied with dealing with Japanese incursions into China, the CCP Red Army, under the leadership of Mao and Zhou Enlai, were able to make huge territorial gains. However, those gains were short-lived as Chiang re-prioritized attacking the Communist Party. The KMT leader encircled Mao and his Red Army in Jiangxi, resulting in severe food shortages. On top of that the Red Army came under immense bombardment from the KMT.

It was decided in October 1934 that the Red Army flee Jiangxi, leaving a few guerrilla fighters behind to protect the women, children and the ill.

All in all, about 100,000 Communists and Red Army soldiers fled Jiangxi to Zunyi and then Shaanxi in Northern China. That same year, Mao was elected leader of both the CCP and the Red Army. From their base in Shaanxi, he turned his attention to fighting against the Japanese, as he hoped that his anti-imperialist stance would draw more Chinese to his cause.

As the chairman of the Military Commission, Mao brought under his command soldiers from General Zhu De, Zhang Guotao and He Long. Starting around January 1937, the Red Army deployed guerrilla attacks against Japanese-held areas.

The CCP-KMT alliance

Determined to defeat the Japanese, Mao (left) agreed to collaborate with Chiang of the KMT (right).

Realizing that neither the Communists nor the KMT stood a chance in thwarting Japan’s imperialist ambitions in China, Mao Zedong proposed an alliance with the KMT and other bourgeois nationalists in late summer of 1937.

On December 25, 1937, all three sides agreed to the proposal and formed a United Front – a national defense army – that could halt Japan in its track.

Japan’s aggression and atrocities in China, particularly the Nanking Massacre, caused many Chinese to enlist in the national defense army. The Red Army benefited tremendously as its size shot up from about 55,000 to about half a million troops.

The CCP-KMT alliance proved to be a huge success, as it was able to drastically reduce the number of Japanese incursions into China.

Mao Zedong led the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to victory over the Kuomintang

With the United States backing (diplomatically and militarily) Chiang Kai-shek and his KMT government, the People’s Liberation Army, under the leadership of Mao Zedong, resumed hostilities against the KMT.

Talks of a coalition government between the CCP and the KMT quickly faded away as the Chinese Civil War resumed in full force. The Communists received ample support, in terms of weapons and finances, from the Soviet Union, while the KMT got some bit of support from Western nations.

All that Soviet Union support paid off as Mao was able to lead the PLA to victory over the Kuomintang forces in 1948. After a series of successful and painful sieges, the PLA was able to force Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT to flee mainland China to Taiwan (formerly Formosa).

The proclamation of the People’s Republic of China

During his revolutionary days, Mao and many members of the CCP believed that the Chinese revolution would turn into a global affair that would result in the death of capitalism and global imperialism. Image: Mao Zedong declares the founding of the modern People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949 in Beijing

Standing in front of the Gate of the Heavenly Peace, Mao Zedong, flanked by a number of high-ranking Communist Party members, proclaimed the birth of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on October 1, 1949. In the months that followed, he directed his attention to rebuilding China by soliciting support from Stalin of the Soviet Union.

In the mind of Mao, the political and economic revolution in China was far from over, as he entreated the CCP to intensify its campaigns across the country.

Read More: How Joseph Stalin rose to power

Mao and the Korean War (1950-1953)

In October 1950, Mao dispatched several thousands of troops of the People’s Volunteer Army to fight in the Korean War. The troops were in Korea to support communist forces of the North Korean army (the Korean People’s Army). This action of his resulted in the United States slapping China with several trade embargoes, which would last until President Richard Nixon’s administration. The Korean War (1950-1953) claimed the lives of close to 200,000 Chinese forces.

Atrocities committed during the reign of Mao Zedong

In terms of the sheer number of people killed and the kind of terror created, Mao Zedong is often compared to the likes of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Benito Mussolini.

Mao was infamous for doing everything humanly possible to consolidate his hold on the newly formed People’s Republic of China. Some of the atrocities that took place during his era include the following:

  • In an effort to attain economic equality across China, Chairman Mao sanctioned the forceful seizure of lands from wealthy landlords and rich peasants. Those lands were then given to poorer peasants. In many cases, the landlords were beaten to death before those lands were taken from them. It was estimated that close to a million people were killed as a result of Mao Zedong’s land reforms.
  • Mao considered bureaucrats and wealthy merchants from the previous Kuomintang regime as number one enemy of the people. He feared that those people could start a counter-revolution; hence his decision to execute many of them en masse. Almost one million people were killed between 1950 and 1952.
  • The lucky ones that did not die at the hands of Mao’s land reforms were sent to labor camps. Between 5 to 6 million people found themselves in what Mao called “reform camps” or “re-educational camps”. Majority of those people often perished in those camps.
  • His rule created a system so dangerous that encouraged workers to turn on their bosses. No one was safe in Mao’s China; parents could turn on their children and vice versa.
  • On many occasions, he publicly encouraged the execution of persons accused of corruption or counter-revolutionary practices.

Mao’s First Five-Year Plan (1953-1958)

Once he was certain that all kinds of dissent and counter-revolutionary activities were eliminated, Mao Zedong proceeded to implement his First Five-Year Plan (1953-1958).

Although the motive behind that plan was aimed at quickly making China an industrial powerhouse, it was the implementation that of that plan that left more to be desired.

In the plan, China would quickly scale up its investment in areas such heavy engineering, building and construction, iron and steel, electric power generation, coal production, and chemicals manufacturing. All of that was to be largely supported by loan facilities and technical expertise from the Soviet Union.

Basically, Mao’s Five-Year Plan proposed a collectivized way of organizing agriculture and trade. By the late 1950s, Mao appeared well on track to realizing China’s goal of rapid industrialization.

Mao’s Hundred Flowers Campaign

Uncharacteristic of a dictator, Mao started the Hundred Flowers Campaign to solicit ideas from the people on how the country and its economy should be managed.

He, however, made a U-turn just a few months into the campaign as he could not handle the tremendous amount of criticisms that came from the liberal and intellectual community.

Many of his critics, about half a million people, were executed subsequently. The campaign was sly tactic by the Communist leader to root out dissenters that his earlier reign of terror could not find. It was nothing but a giant ruse orchestrated to perfection.

The Second Five-Year Plan

Following the immense industrial success of the First Five-Year Plan, Mao rolled out the Second Five-Year Plan in 1958. The goal of the CCP was to improve upon the economic gains accrued from the first plan.

Also known as the Great Leap Forward, the Second Five-Year Plan was aimed at transforming China’s largely agrarian economy into an industrial economy. The plan included merging the various collectivized agricultural and trade organizations into a bigger commune.

The Communist government set up huge infrastructure projects across the country to cater for those mergers. Collective ownership became the norm of the day under the Great Leap Forward program.

Disastrous consequences of the Great Leap Forward program

Mao’s Great Leap Forward program ended up being a monumental failure that claimed the lives of several millions. This was primarily due to the abysmal way the entire program was implemented, coupled with the fact that China suffered was rocked by a severe famine. How did it all begin?

Mao and top CCP officials gave thumbs up to pseudo-scientific agricultural techniques to be used across the various large communes.

Additionally, a great deal of labor was moved from many sectors of the economy into steel production, resulting in the agricultural sector having relatively few labors.

On paper, China appeared to have increased its annual agricultural outputs, with official figures quoting as high as 15% increase in grain production for the 1959 year. However, all that was completely fabricated. It was later revealed that supervisors of those farming communes inflated the produce so as not to incur the wrath of their managers.

Believing that China had produced enough grains, party officials began demanding more than the usual amount of grains that they allocated to the urban areas. In some cases, clearance was given for those grains to be exported. By the time party officials realized that the grain yield report was falsified, it was too late for the millions of people living in the rural areas who had little food. The famine that year also exacerbated the crisis.

There were some that claimed that Mao was unaware of the severity of the crisis as his senior officials didn’t want to reveal much detail for fear of incurring the displeasure of the communist dictator.

However, many historians beg to differ on those claims, stating that the Communist leader was well aware of the crisis from start to finish.

Liu Shaoqi

In April 1959, Mao stepped down as the head of state of China. He was succeeded to the position by Liu Shaoqi.

Mao was also accused of purposely disproportionately allocating less grains and food to sections of the population he considered the ‘black element’. This was his way of eliminating people he tagged as enemies of the state.

As internal pressure from top members of the CCP mounted on Chairman Mao, the leader decided to end the Great Leap Forward program in 1962. By taking this decision, Mao lost a bit of political power to senior party officials like Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997) and Liu Shaoqi (1898-1969). The latter went on to succeed Mao as the president of China in April 1959. Shaoqi and Xiaoping worked very hard to dismantle the GLF, removing the people’s communes and allowing some form of private control of farms. They also imported a lot of grain from overseas to shore up China’s dwindling stock.

It was estimated later that from 1958 to 1962 between 15 and 30 million perished as a result of Mao’s Great Leap Forward program. The official source puts the figure at around 20 million deaths.

Beginning around the 1950s, Mao’s China started to drift away from the Soviet Union. China was trying to create its own alliance of Communist countries around the world. As a result, the Soviets began withdrawing both political and economic support for China. Termed as the Sino-Soviet split, the fall out between China and Moscow ended up pushing China a little bit closer to the West. Image: Mao at Joseph Stalin’s 70th birthday celebration in Moscow, December 1949

Mao’s disastrous Cultural Revolution

Worried that events of the 1940s and 1950s had made the ruling class in China estranged from the masses, Mao Zedong began the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution. The goal of the communist leader was to have revolution of culture that placed China in a never-ending state of revolution. He believed that were that achieved, the ruling class would be able to better serve the interests of the majority.

Mao’s Cultural Revolution, which started in 1966, was in response to the threat from State Chairman Liu Shaoqi and general secretary of the CCP Deng Xiaoping. The two men wanted dislodge Mao from power, preferring to maintain him as a figure head of China.

The Great Cultural Revolution demanded that all schools and institutions of higher learning be closed. The students were then sent to stay in the countryside, where they were “re-educated” by the peasant folks. They youth were also required to work on farms in the villages. The Cultural Revolution was Mao’s way of silencing critics within and outside the CCP. Hundreds of thousands of people were imprisoned, and the lives of several millions were upended by the Cultural Revolution. Some of the high profile officials that died during the Great Cultural Revolution included State Chairman Liu Shaoqi.

The common verdict is that the Cultural Revolution by Mao was a huge failure as it set China back by many years. The violence perpetrated by groups such as the Red Guards caused a lot of deaths. It’s been estimated that Cultural Revolution claimed the lives of about half a million people. Some accounts put the death toll as high as 3 million people.

CCP member Lin Biao was chosen as Mao’s successor. However, rumors soon emerged that Lin planned to assassinate Mao or embark on a coup to topple Mao’s regime. Mao and Lin Biao had grown very apart before those rumors surfaced. Fearing for his life, Lin fled China just before he could be taken into custody. He passed away on September 13, 1971 in a plane crash. Lin was posthumously expelled from the CCP.

Throughout his time as the leader of the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong traveled outside China twice. Both travels were to the Soviet Union, with the first visit coming in December 1949 for the 70th birthday celebration of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. The second came in November 1957 when he was hosted by Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev to a two-week state visit. Mao instead allowed State President Liu Shaoqi and Premier Zhou Enlai make the foreign trips.

Mao Zedong

The number of people that died during his 27-year reign measured in the tens of millions. Historians have noted that no other leader in the 20th century caused as many deaths as the ones caused by Mao Zedong.

How did Mao Zedong die?

A long-time chain smoker, Mao Zedong suffered a number of health problems in his later years, including cardiac problems and other lung infections. It’s been claimed that he had Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease. He suffered two heart attacks in March and July 1976. A third massive heart attack on September 5 caused him to become invalid. The Communist leader died four days later, on September 9, 1976. He was 82. His death was announced about 15 hours after his death by the state radio.

Wrapped with the flag of CCP, Mao’s body was laid in state at the Great Hall of the People. About one million came to pay their final respect to the Communist leader who ruled China from 1949 to until his death in 1976.

After his death, the CCP urged the entire nation to soldier on and “carry on the cause left by Chairman Mao”.

Going against his wishes for his body to be cremated, the CCP permanently put on display his body in the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong in Beijing, China.

Memorial Hall of Chairman Mao

On September 9, 1976, Mao Zedong died from Parkinson’s disease at the age of 82. Image: Final resting place of Mao – Memorial Hall of Chairman Mao

What happened after Mao Zedong’s death?

After Mao’s death in 1976, his successors, particularly Deng Xiaoping, and the Communist Party started taking measures to align the Chinese economy towards free trade and decollectivized means of agriculture. Although there are still some snippets of authoritarian policies in the country – censoring of media, imprisonment without trial, state-controlled media, one-party system, and suppression of dissent – Maoism is largely not practiced in China today.

Regarding his legacy, the Communist Party often describe his policies as commendable until the mid 1950s; however, they don’t defend the ones, i.e. the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward, after that period.

Mao Zedong

To Mao, the end justified the means. He was completely inured to the suffering and deaths of millions of people, so long as those sacrifices served the greater good of the nation.


In spite of the many atrocities that took place under his reign, Mao is often considered one of the most influential and controversial figures of the 20th century.

Historians in China praise him for his works as a political theorist, military strategist, poet and revolutionist. Domestically, he is particularly praised for pushing ending imperialism in China and then uniting the entire country under the CCP. Officials of the Communist Party have over the years acknowledged that Mao did indeed make some terrible mistakes, however, they also note that his accomplishments far outweigh those mistakes.

The number of people that died during his 27-year reign measured in the tens of millions. Historians have noted that no other leader in the 20th century caused as many deaths as the ones caused by Mao Zedong.

During his rule, China’s population ballooned from around 500 million to about 900 million. Due to the overpopulation, his successors had to take drastic action and impose the one-child policy to curb the population growth.

Although the Communist Party of China today does not remotely practice any of Mao’s economic policies, the Party still maintains some bit of the vestiges from Mao’s rule. The police, army, and judiciary remain firmly under the Party. To this  day no multi-party elections are held in China, neither on the local or national level. He is certainly held in lofty regard by the Chinese Communist Party.

Why Chairman Mao failed to conquer Taiwan

Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) did not successfully conquer Taiwan for several reasons:

Conquering Taiwan, which was under the control of the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang), led by Chiang Kai-shek, would have required a large-scale military operation. The Nationalist forces on Taiwan were well-equipped and had the support of the United States and other nuclear-armed Western nations. The CCP, despite its victory in the Chinese Civil War (1927-1949) on the mainland, did not possess the naval and air power necessary to launch a successful invasion of Taiwan.

Furthermore, Taiwan had international recognition as the legitimate representative of China in the United Nations until 1971. The United States, in particular, provided significant military and financial support to Taiwan as part of its Cold War strategy against communist expansion. This support acted as a deterrent to any potential military action by the CCP.

After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, Mao Zedong and the CCP faced numerous challenges in consolidating their power and rebuilding the country. The priority for Chairman Mao was to stabilize the newly formed PRC, consolidate control over the mainland, and address internal issues such as land reform, economic development, and social transformation. Conquering Taiwan would have required a diversion of resources and attention from these pressing domestic priorities.

The fourth reason why Chairman Mao and the PRC could not successfully conquer Taiwan had to do with the CCP’s strategic focus at the time. Mao placed greater emphasis on domestic consolidation and ideological struggles within China rather than launching military campaigns abroad. The Chinese leader’s focus was on implementing radical political and social transformations through campaigns like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. His priorities were on transforming China’s economy, society, and political structures according to his vision of communism, rather than engaging in external military adventures.

Despite having those priorities and being preoccupied with affairs in mainland China, the PRC still harbored dreams of conquering Taiwan. However, try as Mao did, the PRC at the time simply did not have the military firepower to successfully pull off an invasion of Taiwan. Yes, the CCP’s military – the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)– was about three times the size of the opposition Kuomintang’s forces. However, the PLA at the time could not match the air power of the Kuomintang’s nationalist forces, which was mainly comprised of American-made aircrafts, bombers and jet-powered fighters.

It must also be noted that Chairman Mao and the CCP did not have standing naval force at the time. This was because many of China’s naval equipment had been taken away when the Kuomintang fled to Taiwan. Mao’s lack of proper naval force and equipment was evident as he prepared for an invasion of Taiwan. It would be a huge understatement to say that the invasion was a huge fiasco.

The presence of nuclear weapons further complicated any potential military action against Taiwan by the PRC. The United States possessed nuclear capabilities and was committed to the defense of Taiwan. The US showed its unshakable commitment to Taiwan by placing its fleet between the island of Taiwan and mainland China. The risk of a full-scale conflict escalating into a nuclear exchange acted as a deterrent for both sides.

Realizing that the invasion of Taiwan would be an uphill task that would result in a lot of suffering, Mao and the CCP decided to concentrate on more pressing issues, most importantly the Korean War (1950-1953). The three-year war saw China and the Soviet Union back North Korea, while the United States and her allies support South Korea.

To Mao and the leaders of the CCP, China had to intervene and support communist North Korea as the CCP felt threatened by the advancement of capitalist South Korea. Then-US president Harry Truman was determined to defend South Korea, Taiwan, and all non-communist nations in the region against the spread of communism.

After the Korean War, the Truman administration scaled up its military and political support to Taiwan, threatening to unleash the full power of the US military on any nation that attempted to invade the island. Truman’s commitment to Taiwan somewhat caused Mao to back down.

After the death of Mao in 1976, his successor and the top brass of the CCP opted to tow the path of peaceful reunification with Taiwan.

What Mao thought of Taiwan

It’s important to note that despite not conquering Taiwan, Mao Zedong and the CCP maintained the claim that Taiwan was a part of China, and the issue of reunification remains a significant point of contention in the geopolitical landscape to this day.

How the West perceives Mao Zedong

In the West, Mao Zedong is perceived as a brutal tyrant who murdered tens of millions of his people. His Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution policies are some of the reasons why he has garnered such a bad reputation over the years. Many Chinese on the other hand take full cognizance of those monumental failures of Mao Zedong’s policies; however, they still hold him in high regard as a nation hero. He is particularly praised for bringing unity and stability to the country.

The impact he had on China and its hundreds of millions of people has been compared to great leaders in history like Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, Alexander the Great, and Napoleon.

In Jean Louis’ book The Black Book of Communism, Mao Zedong is described as the “Red Emperor”.  Such epithets have prompted some historians to compare him to Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of a unified imperial China.

Mao Zedong taking immense pride in the comparisons made between him and Emperor Qin Shi Huang, first emperor of a unified China.

Mao’s achievements

Truth be told, Mao Zedong was instrumental in laying the foundation for China to turn into world superpower. At the time that he came to power, China was considered backward and rife with corruption, illiteracy and unnecessary interference from foreign powers. His rule ended all of that, although it came at a huge price. Historians and economists credit him with laying the pillars upon which China rose to become a global power.

In the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong is generally given the title “Founding Father of modern China”. He is highly regarded in China, as many credit him for instilling self-respect and pride among Chinese people.

His reign saw the literacy rate increase from around 20% to about 65%. Similar positive figures were seen in the life expectancy rates.

Chairman Mao’s ideologies – Maoism

In addition to being praised for given land to people who for generations were landless, Chairman Mao is revered in China for restoring China’s sovereignty, unity and stability. Some of the negatives that characterized his reign include the decades of terror and misery he inflicted on tens of millions of people in China. His reactionary policies caused the deaths of at least forty million people.

Influenced by the ideas of German philosopher and economist Karl Marx and Soviet leaders Lenin and Stalin, Chairman Mao tailored Marxism to suit the Chinese environment and culture. To Mao, the fuel of that sustained the Chinese Revolution came from the peasants, and not the urban proletariat. He believed that the peasants were extremely important to securing China’s sovereignty as the could be politically conscious. He therefore stuck with energizing the peasants before tapping into their immense energy. Such tactic was evident during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, where he allowed radical communist groups to run amok and eliminate opponents of the Communist government.

His ideology – Maoism – had a huge influence on many revolutionary leaders across the world, including the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, Nepalese revolutionary leaders from the 1990s, Cambodia’s Pol Pot.

More Mao Zedong facts

During Mao’s rule, China was able to completely eliminate the production, distribution and consumption of opium. The CCP committed more than 12 million addicts to treatment centers, while producers and dealers were executed with any form of trial. Places that once had opium plants were covered with new crops.

The “Little Red Book”, also known as Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, was published in 1966. The book, which contains writings and speeches of the Communist leader, was widely circulated during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. The leadership of the CCP required all party members to carry on them a copy of the “Little Red Book”.

In 1972, Chairman Mao extended a warm gesture by agreeing to meet up with then-U.S. President Richard Nixon. Mao’s meeting was his was way of opening up to the West. Nixon hoped to mend the ties with China in an attempt to better deal with the Soviet Union.

Mao ordered that every member of the communist party carry the “Little Red Book” on them in order to instill his philosophies and ideas (i.e. Maoism). Image: 1993 centenary reprint of the 1966 bilingual edition, published by the People’s Republic of China Printing Office

Although his policies caused the deaths of several tens of people in China, historians often credit Mao with uniting his country under the Communist Party. On the basis of that unity, China was able to enter the final few decades of the 20th century with a clear road map for its development, which in turn helped to lift several hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in the years that followed.

Mao Zedong tied the knot on four occasions. Out of those marriages he had ten children.

Mao was a modern master of the Big Brother state. He sustained this by developing a strong cult of personality. During his rule, it was not uncommon for every household and business venture to have some kind of picture of the communist leader.

Popular quotes by Chairman Mao

Mao Zedong

Wives and children

When he was around 27 he tied the knot with Yang Kaihui. The couple had no children as Kaihui was killed during the Chinese Civil War. He then married He Zizhen, who stayed by his side throughout the Long March (1935-1935). Mao divorced He Zizhen and married Jiang Qing, a famous Chinese movie actress. Image: Mao with Jiang Qing and daughter Li Na in the 1940s

He married four times. The first marriage was to Luo Yixiu of Shaoshan in 1907. That marriage ended in three years later upon Yixiu’s death in 1910. He then married three more times, to Yang Kaihui (1901-1930), He Zizhen (1910-1984), and Jiang Qing (1914-1991). From his first three marriages, he had ten children in total. Examples of those children include Mao Anying, Mao Anqing, Mao Anlong, and Li Na.

His second wife Yang Kaihui and sister were killed during the Chinese Civil War. KMT general He Jian was the one who gave the order. After his third wife He Zizen sustained a shrapnel wound to the head, Mao divorced her and married famous Chinese actress Jiang Qing.

All three of his siblings Mao Zemin (1895-1943), Mao Zetan (1905-1935), and Mao Zejian (1905-1929) – were executed. The latter two were executed by the KMT. Similarly his second wife Yang Kaihui was executed by the KMT in 1930.

In 1928, while camped at his base in Jinggangshan, he tied the knot with He Zizhen, an 18-year-old member of the revolutionary army. Together with Zizhen, Mao had six children.

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