A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters
The smiling killer
Mao is one of the men who shaped history in the 20th century. His smiling face adorns many paintings and murals However one trait of his character has never been fully explained. What were the reasons that led him to thrust a nihilist doctrine on the Chinese people? It was certainly not in consonance with Marxist philosophy. The fact is Mao’s mind when he came to power in China in 1949 had been conditioned by over two decades of strife and war. Peace was a commodity unknown to him, and his entire psyche revolved around war and revolution. He had been fighting a civil war from 1928-29.
He believed the best way to go forward was by bringing about strife in society. To bring his ideas into practice he launched two movements that now are known to be total failures. He enforced Stalinist concepts in agriculture and industry and launched the ‘great leap forward’. He overrode these with a theory ‘let a hundred flowers bloom.’
Both these had a deleterious effect on China's economy and created a political turmoil.
The Twin Campaigns
The twin movements of ‘let a hundred flowers bloom’ and the ‘cultural revolution’ were movements, which have never been explained to the world or for that matter, to people in China. Mao had clear idea about these movements. These movements were only camouflaged’ for his concept of a society in ferment. His writings do not give any clue as to why he launched his ‘mass’ movements that led to the deaths of millions of Chinese citizens. His two movements the Cultural Revolution and let a hundred flowers bloom were part of his mental makeup of a society in ferment. He believed that out of anarchy there would emerge a new order.
The twin campaigns of Mao, the Cultural Revolution, and the hundred flowers bloom did churn up Chinese society, but the cost was prohibitive and at least 10 million people died. Mao has never explained why so many people must die to achieve his aim of perpetual revolution. The launching of 100 flowers was a particularly devilish movement and helped Mao to unmask his opponents and those who did not agree with him. He was thus able to purge these people by sending them to concentration camps.
The Great Leap forward
The great leap forward which was part of Mao’s grand design to make China a world power without going through the stages of industrialization. It was doomed from the start. Nature also did not support him and the monsoons failed. There were widespread famine and deaths and his schemes of industrialization caused millions of deaths.
Mao had no qualms about the deaths, conditioned as he was of a society in ferment and a perpetual revolution. The Cultural Revolution was one such prop to keep society in ferment. Nobody was to feel secure and even men of standing were hauled up for ‘correction ‘campaigns.
Despite this Mao came on the cover of Time magazine a number of times
Red Guard brigades
One of the methods Mao adopted was incorporating the youth and forming the Red Guard brigades. It was a shrewd move as the young are easily manipulated and a utopia created for them. Mao’s purpose was to churn up society and throw the older people or those not in conformity with his ideas by the wayside.
Mao started his red guard brigades who would roam the cities and the countryside and identify people who were revisionists or ‘enemies of the revolution’ These two concepts were never amplified to what they meant and the red guard brigades had their own concepts and even honest citizens and intellectuals were branded as opponents of the revolution and were carted away to prison camps and many just executed. Mao thus wiped out an entire generation and the forces he unleashed during this decade of the fifties and sixties ended in deaths of nearly 30 million Chinese. These figures are only an estimate as there is no way the exact number of deaths can be estimated, given the closed society of China.
Did Mao realize his mistake
This is the enigma as no writing is left behind by Mao that he regretted his actions. He also never acknowledged the deaths of millions of Chinese. Probably the enormity of what he had unleashed never hit him. Mao never realized his mistake or acknowledged it at any stage of his life. By all accounts, he never regretted sending millions to death.
The Chinese people during the Mao days were so brainwashed that they never knew what was happening. Perhaps it was known only to a small coterie who surrounded Mao. Even if some of them were opposed to Mao’s thought, they never opened their mind to Mao. The fear of opposing him was so great.
China after Mao
The death of Mao untied the hands of the Chinese leadership and the campaigns of Mao were set aside. Chinese began to wean away from the concepts of Mao and many realized that perhaps Mao may have been wrong. But there is no admission of guilt even yet and to top it the body of Mao is embalmed and kept in Beijing and thousands pay homage to him. It is as if the millions who died never existed. This is the biggest lie of the 20th century.