Many outside China only think of Mao Zedong (1893 – 1976) as a brutal dictator. Yet, he was fifty-six when he became the ruler of China and seventy-two at the beginning of The Cultural Revolution.
In fact, while commanding the Red Army during The Long March (1934-1935), we see a man who respected China’s peasants proving he was more of a nationalist than a Communist.
Then there was the move away from Communist Russia after Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, when Mao said, “Our common old friend, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, doesn’t approve of this.”
In 1935, Mao’s poem, “The Long March”, reveals an awareness of the sacrifice and the willingness to suffer to accomplish great things.
The Red Army fears not the trials of the March,
Holding light ten thousand crags and torrents.
The Five Ridges wind like gentle ripples
And the majestic Wumeng roll by, globules of clay.
Warm the steep cliffs lapped by the waters of Golden Sand,
Cold the iron chains spanning the Tatu River.
Minshan’s thousand li of snow joyously crossed,
The three Armies march on, each face glowing.
Mao was a complex man, and it wasn’t until after the failure of the The Great Leap Forward (1958 – 1961) that the fatal attraction and power of leadership corrupted him leading to the horrors of The Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976), which Mao’s critics in the West use to define him.
Anyone who follows Mao’s life instead of relying on his last decade would understand that he cared deeply about the common people while punishing the landowners and wealthy, who abused them. On the other hand, his foe, Chiang Kai-shek, supported the landowners and wealthy while crushing the peasants and workers.
There is a post on About China.info that says, “Mao’s poetry exhibits a spirit of boldness and power, weaving together history, reality and commitment… Bold transformation of myth and literary quotations are a distinct feature of Mao’s poetry.”
At Mao Zedong Poems, Two Birds” A Dialogue (1965), reveals what Mao may have been thinking about as President Johnson increased America’s involvement in Vietnam. Was Mao also warning us of what he was about to do in 1966, when he launched The Cultural Revolution?
Two Birds: A Dialogue (1965)
The roc wings fanwise,
Soaring ninety thousand li
And rousing a raging cyclone.
The blue sky on his back, he looks down
To survey Man’s world with its towns and cities.
Gunfire licks the heavens,
Shells pit the earth.
A sparrow in his bush is scared stiff..
“This is one hell of a mess!
O I want to flit and fly away.”
“Where, may I ask?”
The sparrow replies,
“To a jewelled palace in elfland’s hills.
Don’t you know a triple pact was signed
Under the bright autumn moon two years ago?
There’ll be plenty to eat,
Potatoes piping hot,
“Stop your windy nonsense!
Look, the world is being turned upside down.”
Through Mao’s poetry, we learn more about the man—not the modern emperor.
Discover China’s Privately Passionate Poetry
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.
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