Mao Zedong

Dressed in the drab military uniform that symbolized the
revolutionary government of Communist China, Mao Zedong\'s body
still looked powerful, like an giant rock in a gushing river. An
enormous red flag draped his coffin, like a red sail unfurled on a
Chinese junk, illustrating the dualism of traditional China and the
present Communist China that typified Mao. 1 A river of people
flowed past while he lay in state during the second week of
September 1976. Workers, peasants, soldiers and students, united in
grief; brought together by Mao, the helmsman of modern China. 2 He
had assembled a revolutionary government using traditional Chinese
ideals of filial piety, harmony, and order. Mao\'s cult of personality,
party purges, and political policies reflect Mao\'s esteem of these
traditional Chinese ideals and history.
Mao was born on December 26, 1893 in Shao Shan, a village
in Hunan Province. 3 His family lived in a rural village where for
hundreds of years the pattern of everyday life had remained largely
unbroken. 4 Mao\'s father, the son of a "poor peasant," during Mao\'s
childhood however, prospered and become a wealthy land owner
and rice dealer. 5 Yet, the structure of Mao\'s family continued to
mirror the rigidity of traditional Chinese society. His father, a strict
disciplinarian, demanded filial piety. 6 Forced to do farm labor and
study the Chinese classics, Mao was expected to be obedient. On the
other hand, Mao remembers his mother was "generous and
sympathetic." 7 Mao urged his mother to confront his father but
Mao\'s mother who believed in many traditional ideas replied that
"was not the Chinese way." 8 Mao in his interviews with historian
Edgar Snow reports how during his childhood he tried to escape this
traditional Chinese upbringing by running away from home.
The rebellion Mao claims to have manifested might have
distanced Mao physically from his family but, traditional Chinese
values were deeply ingrained, shaping his political and personal
persona. His father\'s harshness with dealing with opposition, his
cunning, his demand for reverence from subordinates, and his
ambition were to be seen in how Mao demanded harmony, order,
and reverence as a ruthless dictator. Yet, Mao, was also the kindly
father figure for the people of China, as manifested in characteristic
qualities of Mao\'s mother: kindness, benevolence, and patriarchal
indulgence.
The China that Mao was born into was fast becoming a shell of
its former past. The Ch\'ing dynasty which had ruled China for 250
years was only 14 years away from its collapse. 9 Peasant
rebellions, famines, and riots heralded its failing. For Mao, one
particular event when he was just ten years old, left a lasting
impression. It both symbolized the deterioration of order in Chinese
traditional society and was in sharp contrast to principles of
harmony. A group of local villagers rioted for food during a famine
in 1903. The leaders were captured, beheaded, and their heads
displayed on poles as a warning for future rebels. 10
Amidst the change that quaked the Chinese nation and Mao\'s
family\'s economic situation, 11 Mao sought solace in books about
Chinese history and its emperors. 12 He became known in his family
as, "the scholar." As a child "[I was] fascinated by accounts of the
rulers of ancient China: Yao, Shun, Ch\'in Shih Huang Ti, and Hu Wu
Ti, and read many books about them." 13 Indeed, the emperors
grandeur, elegance and power were a sharp contrast to the brutish
leaders that Mao was exposed to during his childhood. 14 Yao and
Shun are credited with forming the first Chinese society in the
Yellow River Valley; Ch\'in Shih Huang Ti unified the Chinese
empire and built the Great Wall of China; Han Wu Ti solidified the
foundation of the Han Empire. 15 In the turmoil that China was to
undergo, particularly after Mao became the head of the Communist
party, we will see how he was guided by traditional Chinese values
and the history of the emperors provided him with a map for the
future. 16 However, at first, he did not seem strongly focused on
history or philosophy.
During the next ten years, 1909-1918, Mao drifted. In 1909 at
the age of 16, he left home to attend school in Hsiang. 17 In 1911, he
enlisted in the Army for six months after which he moved to
Changsha the capital of Hunan Province where he stayed until 1918.
18 While in Changsha, he tried numerous schools. 19 Finally, he
enrolled at the Hunan Normal School, graduating in 1918. 20
Mao\'s mother\'s died in 1918, which seemed to be a precipitant
factor in his final break with home and