After reading Mao’s own words how ideally communistic were his political views? What role did Mao feel that the arts should play in Communistic China? Are his ideals still in effect in China at the dawn of the 21st Century?
Lin Biao has described Mao Tse-Tung as the greatest Marxist of his era apart from having developed that political philosophy much further due to his innate ‘genius’. Although these words may sound slightly over the top today there is no denying the fact that Mao was really a person of considerable historical importance and a Communist of the old school. This however contrasts with his lavish lifestyle which bordered on almost empire like boundaries.
Biao is confident when writing in the preface of the book containing Chairman Mao’s writings that imperialism and socialism were heading for complete collapse and that socialism was going to prevail on a wide scale. Biao sees Mao as an important light and his words as a guide for all the work of the country but in particular, the army and the Communist Party.
Mao’s coinage of the Little Red Book was also an important part of his massive influence on the country’s thought processes. Although the political and ideological work of Mao is sometimes denigrated he did attempt to formulate a way forward. Unfortunately for him, The Great Leap Forward was an absolute disaster in terms of achievement with several millions dying and the whole economic structure of the country on the point of collapse. Yet again Lin Biao explains that it is important that all those who are involved in the party and who hold some sort of office should follow Mao’s thoughts and ramblings since only these are pure Communism and socialism.
In 1949 the Chinese Communist Party conquered China and the People’s Republic of China was born in October. In December, Mao Tse Tung went to Russia to establish a bond and to ask Stalin for his help. In 1950 China entered the Korean War and in 1953, Stalin died. Between the autumn of 1955 and the spring of 1956, Mao decided to push for accelerated collectivisation of the countryside. He ordered more production of grain, steel, cotton and coal. Mao’s “Little Leap Forward” resulted in industrial shortages and famine.
Between 1956-1957, Mao showed his desire for a more open political climate. He started the “hundred flowers” campaign promoting scientists and intellectuals so that he could develop the economy and thus avoid social unrest. The campaign backfired and Mao and his government were severely criticised. In November 1957, Mao decided to visit Moscow where he was impressed by the Soviet sputnik. He declared to the Russian prime minister that China would overtake Britain in economic production in fifteen years.
Mao Tse Tung’s policy became: ‘going all out, aiming high and achieving more, faster and more economical results’ during the winter of 1957. He increased his targets for production in agriculture and industry. Opposition to this decision and to the party was silenced and party leaders who opposed this decision were replaced by close followers of Mao.
Also, to mark the “Great Leap Forward”, a massive water conservation campaign was launched with the consequence that many workers had to work for weeks without sufficient rest or food. In the summer of 1958, Krushchev visits China and backs Mao completely by saying any nation which was an enemy of China was considered to be an enemy of the Soviet Union. In order for the huge water projects to work, thousands of villagers were moved to large units which lead to farm collectives of up to 20,000 households. These communes were run in a military fashion where everything was collectivised. There were communal dining rooms, collectivised land, collectivised labour and a work point system was used to calculate rewards. In some communes, money was abolished and famine surfaces in many parts of the country. As Mao wanted to satisfy exports as well as home industries, the work in the countryside increased and famine spread further.
In 1959, he reached for higher and higher targets and every time he increased these targets, famine increased throughout the country. A campaign of repression was launched against party members who criticised the Great Leap Forward and tens of millions of villagers died of disease, starvation and torture.
In 1960, Kruschev withdrew his advisors from China and in October of the same year, a report on mass starvation in Xinyang, Henan, was handed over to Mao Tse Tung. In November, an emergency directive allowed villagers to keep their private land, to rest for eight hours a day and to weaken the communes. At this time, investigation teams spread over the countryside to delve into the catastrophe. Huge amounts of food were then imported from the West.
In spring of 1961, the party was blamed for this disaster while Mao was absolved of any responsibility and in January 1962, the famine was declared as a man-made disaster and support for Mao waned. The famine started dissolving but continued to claim lives in the countryside until 1962. In 1966, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution.
This Cultural Revolution was supposedly initiated to assist the masses in absorbing Mao Tse Tung’s thoughts much more effectively and without any difficulties. Mao attempted to formulate ideas which would perhaps demonstrate that the Chinese had their own culture in the offing and that they were intrinsically prepared to show it to the world.
Art in Communist China
Art does not seem to have played a singularly important part in Communist China since what was seemingly important was the advancement of the Communist Party’s ideals. Mao was completely insensitive to China’s rich and varied historical past and wanted nothing to do with the greatness of the Ming Emperors and their incredible heritage. His obsession with land reform created a scorched earth policy where millions perished and several fantastic art treasures were completely destroyed forever. In the early 1950’s in fact, Mao issued order after order berating provincial officials for being too soft in carrying out his orders of land reform with several million acres falling into the hands of the central government. Art obviously took a back seat for this industrial drive.
Mao was also preoccupied with a number of purges inside his own party to ensure that he gained complete control over all the party apparatus. This when launching the Cultural Revolution he had in mind a complete purge of his enemies from the largest to the smallest. The principal enemy here was Jiang Qing whom he described as being ‘as poisonous as a scorpion’. Although she initially began well her main task according to Mao was to rid China from the current cultural mileau since this was in favour of the Soviets and did not uphold Chairman Mao’s views in any way.
In 1963, Mao assigned Jian Qing to the Ministry of Culture as his private supervisor to get as many films and literary works as possible banned. Although she zealously attempted to enforce his views, she was met by strong opposition and then started drawing up a manifesto which would denounce every single form of culture that was not in line with the views of Chairman Mao. Thus one of the aspects of Chairman Mao, the complete purge of artistic ideals in China appeared to be nearing fruition.
It is no wonder that Lin Biao speaks so highly of Mao in his preface to the quotations also known as The Little Red Book. Biao was Mao’s chief henchman and delighted in destroying his rivals with vehement cruelty especially Luo the Tall who was arrested and condemned for high treason. Lin Biao’s wife was also important in such situations where she held an important role in the cultural aspect of the country. There were others who courageously opposed Mao such as the Mayor of Beijing, Li Peng but opposition was useless with Mao turning to his henchmen to achieve what he wanted. Culture was simply seen as a means to an end to gain absolute and total power over everyone and everything in China.
China has changed dramatically and almost totally from those times and is certainly not under the influence of Mao anymore. The country, although still a totalitarian state has changed into a large and throbbing metropolis, where culture is an accepted part of society. Mao’s ideals are certainly dead and buried now as China continues to embrace capitalism and consumerism on a large scale although not without stumbling blocks.