Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) (1893–1976)

Chinese political and military leader and founder of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1921 and the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. Born on 26 December 1893 into a prosperous peasant family in Shaoshan (Shao-shan), Hunan Province, in central China, Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) graduated from the Fourth Teacher's Training School in Changsha, Hunan, and also read extensively in both Chinese and Western literature, philosophy, politics, and economics, including Marxist theory. Like many other young Chinese intellectuals of his time, Mao embraced revolutionary thinking, and in July 1921, he attended a meeting in Shanghai in Jiangsu (Kiangsu) Province, where the CCP was founded.

Mao became a labor organizer. In the mid-1920s, following Soviet instructions, he and other Chinese Communists cooperated with the Nationalist Party—the Guomindang, or GMD (Kuomintang, or KMT)—of President Sun Yixian's (Sun Yat-sen). Mao held several posts in the Guomindang, and in 1925, he was appointed secretary of its propaganda department. After Sun's death that year, Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek)—head of the Huangpu (Whampoa) Military Academy in Guangzhou (Canton), Guangdong (Kwangtung) Province, which had been cofounded by Communists and Nationalists two years earlier—won control of the GMD.

In 1926, Jiang began to eliminate rival political groupings, purging Communists from GMD positions and launching the 1926–1927 Northern Expedition against assorted warlords. In 1927, he turned against Communists who had escaped his purge and proceeded to establish a base in Jiangxi (Kiangsi) Province, suppressing several Communist insurrections that year, including the Autumn Harvest Uprising of peasants and guerrillas led by Mao. Joined by renegade GMD army officers Zhu De (Chu Teh) and Lin Biao (Lin Piao), who took their troops to join him, Mao founded the Jiangxi Soviet Republic, a Communist redoubt in the province's southeast area; Mao became chairman of the organization in October 1931. At that time, Mao and Zhu elaborated theories of relying on peasant warfare and guerrilla tactics to win control of China, rejecting orthodox Marxist teachings that the urban proletariat had to be the driving force of revolution. By 1933, their base harbored an army numbering 200,000.

The Communists launched several uprisings in major Chinese cities, posing a threat to the authority of Jiang, who took Beijing (Peking) in Hebei (Hopeh) Province in 1928, unifying all China south of the Great Wall, and headed a new GMD government beginning in October. From 1930 onward, Jiang mounted annual campaigns against the Communist Soviet, and eradicating it apparently ranked higher in his priorities than opposing Japan's 1932 establishment of a puppet government in China's northeastern region of Manchuria.

In 1934, GMD forces encircled the Jiangxi Soviet. Mao and Zhu broke out, leading over 100,000 followers on the epic, 6,000-mile Long March to Yan'an (Yenan) in northern Shaanxi (Shensi); during this march, heavy fighting and harsh conditions reduced their numbers to 7,000, and Mao was forced to abandon two of his own children. In 1935, he was elected CCP chairman. That same year, Jiang ordered troops under Zhang Xueliang (Chang Hsüeh-liang), a prominent northern Manchurian warlord who had pledged allegiance to him, to attack the Communists—orders they rejected, urging all Chinese to join forces against the Japanese. In the December 1936 Xi'an (Sian) Incident in Shaanxi, Zhang kidnapped Jiang and forced him to form a united anti-Japanese front with the Communists.

In July 1937, the Battle of Marco Polo Bridge in Lugouqiao (Lukouch'iao) sparked full-scale war between Chinese and Japanese troops, and in 1938, GMD forces retreated to Chongqing (Chungking) in the southwestern Province of Sichuan (Szechwan). From their Yan'an base, the Communists effectively controlled northwestern China, and the GMD controlled the southwest. Mao's Red Army, rechristened the Eighth Route Army, participated in fighting against Japanese troops, and Communist guerrilla forces operated in Henan (Honan), Zhejiang (Chekiang), and Shandong (Shantung) Provinces. Mao still anticipated that the Communists would eventually gain control of China; meanwhile, he consolidated his authority within his own party, which adopted a constitution accepting his teachings as its official ideology in 1945.

By early 1941, the Communist-Nationalist front had largely broken down after Nationalist units defeated the Communist New Fourth Army near the Changjiang (Yangtze) Valley. From then until 1945, Communists concentrated their energies on establishing guerrilla bases and securing peasant support behind Japanese lines, efforts that harassed the enemy and also helped to assure them ultimate postwar control of these areas. When the war ended in August 1945, incoming Soviet troops facilitated Chinese Communist moves to take control of much of Manchuria. In early 1946, GMD and Communist forces resumed fighting each other, and U.S. attempts in late 1945 and all of 1946 to negotiate a truce foundered due to both sides' deeply rooted antagonism. Civil war continued until January 1949, and the following October, Mao proclaimed the new PRC, which the United States only recognized in January 1979.

Until his death, Mao remained China's supreme leader, dominating the country's politics. He was responsible for several controversial policies, including the November 1950 decision to attack U.S. forces during the Korean War; the economically disastrous Great Leap Forward between 1958 and 1962; and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of 1966, a socially divisive campaign designed to induce a state of permanent revolution in China. On 9 September 1976, Mao died in Beijing, an event presaged by a major earthquake the previous July in Tangshan (T'angshan), Hebei Province, which to many Chinese symbolized the passing of one of the most forceful characters in Chinese history.

Priscilla Roberts


Further Reading
Feigon, Lee. Mao: A Reinterpretation. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2002.; Short, Philip. Mao: A Life. New York: Henry Holt, 2000.; Snow, Edgar. Red Star over China. New York: Random House, 1938.; Spence, Jonathan D. Mao Zedong. New York: Viking, 1999.; Terrill, Ross. Mao: A Biography. Revised and expanded ed. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999.
 

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