HONG KONG, Sept. 9, 1976–Mao Tse-tung, who began as an obscure peasant, died one of history’s great revolutionary figures.
Born at a time when China was wracked by civil strife, beset with terrible poverty and encroached on by more advanced foreign powers, he lived to fulfill his boyhood dream of restoring it to its traditional place as a great nation. In Chinese terms, he ranked with Chin Shih-huang, the first Emperor, who unified China in 221 B.C., and was the man Chairman Mao most liked to compare himself to.
With incredible perseverance and consummately conceived strategy, he harnessed the forces of agrarian discontent and nationalism to turn a tiny band of peasants into an army of millions, which he led to victory throughout China in 1949 after 20 years of fighting. Along the way the army fought battles as big as Stalingrad and suffered through a heroic march as long as Alexander’s.
Then, after establishing the Chinese People’s Republic, Mao launched a series of sweeping, sometimes convulsive campaigns to transform a semifeudal, largely illiterate and predominantly agricultural country encompassing almost four million square miles and a fifth of the world’s population into a modern, industrialized socialist state. By the time of his death China had manufactured its own nuclear bombs and guided missiles and had become a major oil producer.
With China’s resurgence, Mao also charted a new course in foreign affairs, putting an end to a century of humiliation under the “unequal treaties” imposed by the West and winning new recognition and respect. Finally, in 1972, even the United States abandoned its 20 years of implacable hostility when President Richard M. Nixon journeyed to Peking, where he was received by a smiling Mao.
At the same time he brooked no opposition to his control. To consolidate his new regime in the early 50’s he launched a campaign in which hundreds of thousands were executed. In the late 50’s, despite criticism from other party leaders, he ordered the Great Leap Forward, ultimately causing widespread disruption and food shortages. Throughout his years in power he toppled one of his rivals after another in the party. In the Cultural Revolution he risked throwing the country into chaos. Read the rest of this entry »