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Considering the small quantity of Mao’s writings prior to his iden­tification with the Chinese Communist Party and the relative in­significance of his precommunist political activities, the “early Mao” has received an unusual amount of attention from both Western scholars and Chinese biographers.

The three most prominent Western scholars who base their interpretations of Mao on circumstances or writings of this period differ widely in what they consider significant. Richard Solomon’s psychological interpretation stresses biographical and autobio­graphical accounts of Mao’s struggles with his father to indicate the root of a basic urge to struggle against authority.1 Mao’s revo­lution is thus the collision of this urge with a traditionally docile political culture. Frederic Wakeman’s wide-ranging study History and Will attempts to establish the significance of Mao’s thought by coordinating a presentation of the Chinese and Western think­ers who influenced Mao’s intellectual development.2 Certainly Mao has stated that he read and was influenced by these thinkers in his youth.3 But Wakeman’s intellectual historical approach and Solomon’s psychological perspective both presuppose that the continuity between Mao’s youth and his maturity is more impor­tant than any discontinuity or development. Stuart Schram, the major translator of Mao’s pre-Marxist works into Western lan­guages, has proposed the more complicated thesis that the ideas presented in Mao’s early works submerge during his Marxist peri­od (1922–1965) and surface again with the Cultural Revolution.4 The truly Maoist periods in this view are youth and old age, when his own ideas were not subservient to Marxist ideology.

Chinese interest in Mao’s early life has produced two very 2useful biographies, Xiao San’s Comrade Mao Zedong’s Boyhood and Youth and Li Rui’s Comrade Mao Zedong’s Early Revolution­ary Activities. These are supplemented by a number of historical articles and reminiscences including a 1979 essay by Li Rui enti­tled “The Ideological Trend of Mao Zedong in His Youth.”5 The period as a whole is viewed by these writers as the time when Mao’s characteristic intellectual and political habits took shape. Hence their position is more similar to Wakeman’s view than to Solomon’s reductionist interpretation or to Schram’s discontinuity thesis. Their emphasis, however, is more on Mao’s political devel­opment than on the significance of his intellectual encounters.

From Mao’s own epistemological standpoint, one would ex­pect him to consider youthful experiences important but not deter­mining, and indeed that seems to be the tone of his well-told auto­biographical account. The conditions under which consciousness arises are of primary importance to a materialist. But for Mao this primacy has significance only in action, and his practical orienta­tion is grounded in the conviction that any condition can eventual­ly be overcome through persistent effort. Thus the dialectic between subjective and objective renders abstract statements con­cerning the priority of one or the other (“determinism” or “volun­tarism”) virtually meaningless. In one of his earliest preserved remarks, Mao writes:

Although I am determined by Nature, I am also at the same time a part of Nature. Accordingly Nature can determine my strength, and I also can determine Nature’s strength. Although my strength is small, it cannot be said that it is without influence on Nature.6

Our focus in this chapter will be primarily on Mao’s pre-Marxist writings, because a careful reading of these works yields valuable information about Mao’s intellectual and political start­ing point. But we will begin with a brief look at the context of Mao’s childhood and youth, since Mao’s energetic involvement with family and school provided a striking source and corollary to his theoretical and political disposition.

The Context of Mao’s Youth

Although many other revolutionaries came from pleasant family situations, in Mao’s case life at home was analogous in 3many respects to the society he was later to revolutionize. From his father he learned power, exploitation, and hatred; from his mother he learned compassion and love. It should be noted, how­ever, that Mao’s father was a “teacher by negative example”: Mao’s frontal and energetic opposition was a mirror image of his father’s strongest trait, while the possibilities of alternatives were shown by his mother. Significant for his later activities outside the family, he learned that paternal authority could be successfully opposed. This victory in the struggle for recognition with his father was won by exploits of unusual courage which must have contributed greatly to Mao’s early development of an independent and vigorous character.7

Two other aspects of Mao’s family situation may have influ­enced his later behavior: its economic activities and its financial support for his studies. From an early age Mao imitated his moth­er’s benevolence in dealing with needy people,8 and he must have been disturbed by his father’s callousness in expanding the family fortune.9 Economic success came too late to spare Mao from a childhood of hard physical labor, but it did enable his family to provide the modicum of support which allowed him to pursue his studies. Mao’s first acts of opposition to academic masters began at the same time as his disobedience to his father. Indeed, running away from school at the age of ten is the first act of protest Mao re­calls, and it brought better treatment from both teacher and fa­ther. “The result of this act of protest impressed me very much. It was a successful ‘strike.’”10 Although he resented having to mem­orize the classics, he learned to deploy them to his advantage in arguments with his father.

Mao entered the environment of the large “modern schools” at the age of sixteen, and with a two-year interruption for army service and independent study, he continued his studies until he graduated from the Hunan First Normal School in 1918 at age twenty-four. Mao’s experiences during this period were much more than merely a confirmation of habits developed within the family. They were a socialization into the turbulence of modern China which took place as a characteristically energetic dialectic between himself and his school environments.

Mao’s most notable conflicts during his scholastic career were directly related to the structure and pedagogical assumptions of the modern schools. As Mao said in a later work introducing a new kind of school system: “The general root of the evil [of the 4modern schools] is causing the students to be passive, grinding away character and tearing down the soul. Timid ones become su­perficial followers of opinion and gifted ones hesitate to come for­ward.”11 The specific occasions for student protest were matters like the large number of required courses, the prohibition of politi­cal activities, and the lack of an adequate physical education pro­gram. Fortunately for Mao’s occasionally threatened school ca­reer, some influential professors and many students agreed with him and either defended him or joined him. Without such peer support and approbation from respected superiors, not only would his early efforts at reforming his immediate society have met with complete failure, but he would probably have found introspective pursuits more satisfying.

As Mao promoted various constructive, critical, and educa­tional movements among his classmates (occasionally reaching out to groups beyond—for instance, a night school for workers), he developed personal ties which were to assure future support for analogous activities under his leadership. This power to mobilize was enhanced beyond mere numbers by the prestige of students in general and by the reputation of the First Normal School in partic­ular, where Mao was evidently the preeminent student leader. The high opinion which influential teachers like Yang Changji had of Mao’s character and intelligence gave him a foothold in the na­tional academic world of China, although the fracturing of this academic world by its politicization after the May Fourth Movement—and the parochial character of his arena—foreclosed the type of quick national fame made by many in the Xin Qingnian (New Youth) generation.

Not the least contribution made by the modern schools to Mao’s general development and political behavior was education­al: he acquired a deep acquaintance with Chinese culture, the ability to express himself with finesse and power, and a consider­able knowledge of world affairs and history. His tutoring in moral philosophy by Yang Changji was not only of high quality but thor­oughly in harmony with Mao’s habits of independence, social con­cern, and action. Yang’s interest in ethics and his syncretic meth­od led him to emphasize the similarity of Chinese and Western moral concerns, so that Mao’s study of Western philosophy was not a disorienting confrontation with completely alien ideas. Mao’s attitude toward the Chinese classics developed past his ear­lier 5 use of them as cultural weapons against his father. Both Mao’s autobiography and his later writings indicate the breadth of an­cient and modern intellectual influences which he absorbed dur­ing his school days in Changsha.12 Yang Changji’s emphasis on the harmony rather than the disparity of East and West undoubtedly contributed to Mao’s later habit of using traditional Chinese ex­amples to illustrate Marxist principles.

The provincial, national, and international political environ­ments of Mao’s youth were most influential in determining the content of his political activity. Political literature of the times in­troduced him to China’s national plight. Personal experience of provincial affairs informed him about internal politics close at home:

At this time [in 1906, when Mao was twelve] an incident occurred in Hunan which influenced my whole life. Outside the little Chi­nese school where I was studying, we students noticed many bean merchants, coming back from Changsha. We asked them why they were all leaving. They told us about a big uprising in the city.

There had been a severe famine that year, and in Changsha thousands were without food. The starving sent a delegation to the civil governor, to beg for relief, but he replied to them haughtily, “Why haven’t you food? There is plenty in the city. I always have enough.” When the people were told the governor’s reply, they be­came very angry. They attacked the Manchu yamen, cut down the flagpole, the symbol of office, and drove out the governor. Follow­ing this, the Commissioner of Internal Affairs, a man named Chang, came out on his horse and told the people that the Govern­ment would take measures to help them. Chang evidently was sin­cere in his promise, but the Emperor disliked him and accused him of having intimate connections with “the mob.” He was removed. A new governor arrived, and at once ordered the arrest of the lead­ers of the uprising. Many of them were beheaded and their heads displayed on poles as a warning to future “rebels.”

This incident was discussed in my school for many days. It made a deep impression on me. Most of the other students sympa­thized with the “insurrectionists,” but only from an observer’s point of view. They did not understand that it had any relation to their own lives. They were merely interested in it as an exciting in­cident. I never forgot it. I felt that there with the rebels were ordi­nary people like my own family and I deeply resented the injustice of the treatment given to them.13

6The figures who won Mao’s sympathy were the rebels—common people driven to extremes who fought heroically, though in the end futilely, against the powers that were.

Upon entering school in Changsha Mao began his lifelong habit of voracious newspaper reading. He thus became intimately acquainted with the chaotic conditions of Chinese politics.14 The republic which replaced the emperor quickly lapsed into tragedy and then farce. The 1911 revolution ended imperial power by dis­solving the political center; political unity would not be complete­ly restored to China until 1949.15 The threat of actual dissolution was serious, and foreign debts grew astronomically. The sentence Mao remembered reading in 1910, “Alas, China will be subjugat­ed,” seemed just as appropriate in 1919, when the results of the Versailles Peace Conference induced the explosive growth of new antiimperialist forces in China. Mao became an eloquent and powerful voice of antiwarlord and antiimperialist sentiment in Hunan.

Because of its location, Hunan’s sufferings during this chaot­ic period were especially acute. The struggles between northern and southern powerholders crossed Hunan several times. More­over, the economic boom caused by European preoccupation with the First World War was over by 1917, and by 1919 provincial mining exports had declined to 1913 levels.16 Mao’s impassioned account of Hunan’s oppression by the rest of China and his sup­port of the Hunan self-government movement show the provincial-patriotic direction of his early political thought.17 Mao’s attitude toward Hunan was complex. He considered it backward; its poli­tics did not know of “thorough solutions based on agreement, but only of private wars.”18 But it was a province with a glorious tra­dition of revolution and of revolutionary intellectuals, particularly in recent times.

Despite his rural beginning, Mao quickly caught up with the leading currents in Chinese progressive thought. Mao “wor­shipped Kang Youwei and Liang Qiqiao” at the Tongshan Upper Primary School.19 At the Hunan First Normal School he became an avid reader and later a contributor to the influential New Cul­ture Movement periodical Xin Qinqnian (New Youth), and in the May Fourth Movement he became known for his political and in­tellectual contributions to the Hunanese student movement. To someone with this background, China seemed young in thought, antiquated in institutions, and almost hopelessly adrift in politics.7

Mao’s Early Works

Although Mao was an exceptional student and radical leader during his years in Hunan, it is safe to say that had his activities and writings ceased in 1923, when he was twenty-nine years old, the surviving works of the period would not have received wide­spread attention from Western scholars. This is not to say that they are (or were) insignificant in themselves, but that much of their national and all of their international significance depends essentially on the further career of their author. The major utility of these early works in this respect is that they help to establish Mao’s political identity before he became exclusively involved in the affairs of the Chinese Communist Party. A close analysis of Mao’s pre-Marxist or precommunist works is essential for deter­mining the effect of this change on his thought.

Unfortunately for the purposes of periodization, neither Mao’s political commitments nor his ideology were suddenly transformed. If Mao could say as his good friend Cai Hesen did, “Whatever my earlier thoughts, they are all mistaken and bad; hereafter I will fly in pursuit of [Marxism],”20 then neither the di­viding line nor its significance would be in doubt. But in Mao’s case, “pre-Marxist,” “precommunist,” and “exclusive devotion to party tasks” could all indicate different points in time. Mao’s autobiography is cautiously worded: “By the summer of 1920 I had become, in theory and to some extent in action, a Marxist, and from this time I considered myself a Marxist.” Other communist reminiscences prefer to quote this remark rather than supply their own periodization.21 Mao founded the Hunan nucleus of the Chi­nese Communist Party early in 1921, and he attended the First Party Congress in April of that year. But the ccp in its first years was heterogeneous in both ideology and organization,22 and Mao, as the founder and leader of the Hunan provincial branch, was in a position to determine for himself the practical significance of his commitments to communism. Therefore I have shaped this chap­ter according to the continuity of Mao’s political activities and viewpoint rather than by the date of his confessed allegiance to Marxism or the date of the organization of the ccp. Mao continues to be engaged in (and to write about) province-wide activities with a “populist” rather than a class appeal until the fall of 1921, when organizing labor (the main effort of the ccp at this time) becomes his preoccupation. Although Mao’s Marxist-oriented activities 8started as early as the summer of 1920, for the following year they coexist with more broadly based efforts. There are writings by Mao in a three-volume anthology he edited in the early twenties, Collected Correspondence of New Citizens Study Society Mem­bers,23 which would shed valuable light on this theoretical devel­opment, but unfortunately they are unavailable. The available writings for 1920 and 1921 all concern his public, political, and cultural activities in Hunan.

The incompleteness of the corpus of Mao’s early works is a considerable hindrance to comprehensive research on this period. The editors of Mao’s Collected Works list the titles of thirty-one works written before 1922 which are not available, including one from 1919 entitled “What Is Socialism? What Is Anarchism?” and articles on women’s rights and the labor movement. Beyond these, the large number of school essays and notebooks written by Mao during his five years at the First Normal School would be extreme­ly useful in specifying the significance of various influences on his intellectual development. Thus an analysis of what is available—some snippets from various sources, six articles or series of arti­cles, four advertisements—should not be mistaken for a complete picture of Mao’s intellectual activity. But they are important works about subjects important to Mao, and a close reading of them is not likely to be misleading. The small number of writings makes it possible to discuss the context and significance of each major group of texts separately.

The earliest available texts by Mao are citations in Li Rui’s biography from a 1914 notebook and from Mao’s extensive mar­ginal commentary on Cai Yuanpei’s translation of Friedrich Paul­sen’s System der Ethik.24 Mao’s first published work was “A Study of Physical Education” in New Youth, April 1917.25 The next available complete works are announcements for the first and sec­ond semesters of a night school for workers which Mao organized in 1917. In the aftermath of the May Fourth Movement Mao wrote many articles for journals which he started. The “Opening Statement of the Xiang River Review” (14 July 1919) is a baptis­mal piece for one of his journals,26 and “The Great Union of the Popular Masses” is a series of three articles published in the fol­lowing three issues of the journal.27 Mao’s involvement with spe­cifically Hunanese political and cultural endeavors is reflected in three items: first, four articles and one coauthored manifesto on 9the Hunan self-government movement of 1920; second, three arti­cles on the founding and early operations of the Cultural Book So­ciety; and third, an introductory statement on the Hunan Self-Education College which Mao started in August 1921.

Quotations from Early Notes

The fragments which Li Rui provides from Mao’s earliest notebooks are useless for the purpose of intensive analysis because they are short comments from unknown contexts. The quotations from Mao’s marginal notes to Paulsen’s System of Ethics are some­what more useful because they are generally enthusiastic com­ments on a known text. However, as Li remarks, these are casual notes determined by the flow of Paulsen’s text.28

Friedrich Paulsen was an influential German educator around the turn of the century who also wrote vigorous and popu­lar works in philosophy and ethics. According to him the task of philosophy is to build a “metaphysics from below” (Metaphysik von unten) by synthesizing the results of the sciences rather than meditating abstractly. The foundation and goal of all philosophy is ethics, he argued, because will is primary to intellect. This dis­tinction is not a conflict, since in Paulsen’s view the laws of nature are ethical and the laws of ethics are natural. Since will is essen­tially the purposeful behavior of the universe, there is no ultimate separation between subjective and objective. Inclination and cus­tom, individual will and the will of the totality, tend by and large in the same direction.29 This ethical scientific world view was an assimilation of Darwinism30 and various aspects of philosophy in­to a well-developed structure; it thus appealed to the progressive intellectuals in China who were faced with their own mediation between modern knowledge and a valuable ethical tradition.

Mao’s enthusiastic response to Paulsen’s System of Ethics and the parallel between Paulsen’s views and Mao’s later philoso­phy make a comparison of Paulsen and Mao tempting.31 However, the comparison would necessarily imply an intellectual connec­tion for which there is insufficient evidence. A Paulsenian essay which Mao wrote, “The Strength of the Will,” and Mao’s copy of System of Ethics from which Li Rui quotes would be essential to such a comparison. The quotations given by Li are of course se­lected to demonstrate the continuity of Mao’s thought, but it is 10noteworthy that since Li’s biography was written in 1958 some of these continuities have continued to develop. Mao’s youthful ani­mus against those who consider anything old as good and reject everything that is modern (shi gu fei jin)32 is reflected in later movements which “slight the past and emphasize the present” (bo gu hou jin) and “use the past for the present and the foreign for China” (gu wei jin yong yang wei zhong yong). His denunciation of the “four demons”—religion, capitalism, monarchy, and the three bonds (between prince and minister, father and son, hus­band and wife)—is an enduring political stance, although the evil basis of the four was later conceptualized as class oppression rath­er than oppression of the individual. The interdependence of oppo­sites is another theme which has an important role in Mao’s later thought. Stuart Schram has pointed out parallels between Mao’s 1959 dialectics and the following reflection on Paulsen:

I say: concept is reality, the limited is limitless, the sense of dura­tion is transcendence of duration, imagination is thought, form is essence, I am the universe, life is death, death is life, present is the past and the future, past and future are present, small is large, yang is yin, up is down, vile is pure, thick is thin. Speaking of essences, the many are one, change is constancy.33

This logic is directly related to Mao’s view of society in his asser­tion that strength depends on resistance and in his reflection on the interdependence of natural determinism and free will quoted at the beginning of this chapter.

“A Study of Physical Education”

Contemporaneous with the two-year ethics course in which he read Paulsen’s book, Mao became actively concerned with the state of physical education at the First Normal School and in Chi­na as a whole. At school this concern resulted in his administra­tion of an after-hours physical education program.34 His general reflections on China’s needs in this regard led to his first article, “A Study of Physical Education,” published in New Youth in the spring of 1917.35

The article challenges even the present-day reader with state­ments like this: 11

Those whose bodies are delicate and small behave flippantly. Those whose skin is flabby are soft and dull in will (Xin). This is the effect of their bodies on their minds.36

The purpose of the article is to alert readers to the general neglect and mismanagement of physical education in China and to urge them, especially students, to begin effective exercise. Although these two foci are respectively critical and hortatory, the major part of the argument is constructive. The insufficiency of contem­porary efforts by physical educators is made evident in a disquisi­tion on the fundamental importance of physical education. The exhortation to exercise is given force and content by an emphasis on the primacy of subjective consciousness in improving the situa­tion and by the provision of a program of exercise.

The study of physical education is important to the individu­al because health is important; it is important to the nation be­cause its weakness and lack of martial spirit stem from neglect of physical training. A vigorous pursuit of virtue and learning re­quires attention also to the balanced development of the body through exercise. But physical development is more than the pre­supposition of all other pursuits. The specific goal of physical edu­cation from a social point of view is martial heroism, something sorely needed in China, and thus training which develops strength of will and fierceness is especially recommended.

The article encourages the reader to proceed from under­standing to action in order to improve an urgent situation. Mao is merciless in confronting the reader with his obligation to start ex­ercising immediately. There is nothing more important, it is never too late, any method will do, exercise enhances rather than de­tracts from cerebral activities, neglect of exercise leads to a short life, a weak will, and flippant behavior. The basic theme is the pri­macy of self-awareness: “Strength (jianshi) lies in exercise and ex­ercise lies in self-awareness.”37 The consciousness emphasized here is not abstract potential or freedom of choice, but the con­crete ability (hence responsibility) to proceed from correct under­standing to successful action. Mao’s thorough rejection of physical education programs concludes not with an exhortation to change these programs but with a reminder that the main thing is the indi­vidual’s awareness of the importance of physical education and his commitment to self-improvement.

12Mao’s emphasis on subjectivity as the solution to physical de­velopment is balanced by an emphasis on practical results. A hun­dred exercise programs may be propounded, but if “one method or half a method” is sufficient, there is no need to bother about the rest. Talk about physical education is not important. What is im­portant is actually doing it. Mao underlines the practical orienta­tion of the article by concluding with a full set of exercises.

One striking characteristic of this article among Mao’s works is its nonpolitical nature. Praise and blame are assigned on the basis of people’s relationship to physical education rather than to politics. Thus the martial sports of Japan and the West are praised as well as robust figures of history: Yan Yuan, Mohammed, Theo­dore Roosevelt, Gu Yanwu, Zeng Guofan. Those berated most se­verely are the teachers and the educational system as a whole, both modern and traditional components, and, by implication, the students for allowing the system and group pressure to cause them to neglect their vital interests.

Although the single-mindedness of the article precludes a spe­cific political viewpoint, the article does have political and social implications and displays traits which underlie Mao’s later politi­cal activities. Mao’s alternative ideas for education were not pre­sented until the founding of Hunan Self-Education College in 1921, but his description of modern schools as detrimental to the physical well-being of students is a serious criticism of his immedi­ate social structure. Just as important, however, is the theme of ac­tivism itself. “A Study of Physical Education” is the first and most basic of Mao’s many efforts to stir an audience to movement. To awaken communal self-awareness and to develop communal strength and will through practical activity are enduring themes of Mao’s social and political efforts. The potential attributed to conscious, disciplined activity is infinite. No one is too old or too weak, no obstacle is too great, for “the character of the body can change, the weak can become strong, body and mind can both be complete—this is not a matter of fate but is completely within hu­man power.” The metaphysical foundation of Mao’s confidence in the metamorphosing potential of action is given with double em­phasis: “There is only movement in heaven and earth.”38 This re­jection of the immutability of the world, with its corollaries of the dialectical relativity of knowledge and the unlimited potential for action, reappears in the well-known allegory “The Foolish Old Man Who Removed the Mountains.”39 The specific character of 13this dialectical mode of exhortation can best be seen in contrast to its nondialectical counterpart, “Do your best.” In the latter for­mulation, moral justification is attained through maximum effort, but horizons of potential are accepted. Mao’s formulation concen­trates rather on the persistence of effort and its effectiveness in transforming present limits.

The Workers’ Night School

Mao’s work in physical education was only one of an aston­ishing number of projects, political, educational, and even mili­tary,40 which he engaged in before the May Fourth Movement. Originally most of Mao’s organizational talent was spent in stu­dent affairs, although he also distributed leaflets against Yuan Shi-kai and developed his political and social views. But as the final year of school approached, Mao and his activist friends began work in Changsha and founded the New Citizens Study Society, “a society which was to have a widespread influence on the affairs and destiny of China.”41 The group had three main purposes: the maintenance of selfless devotion to national salvation; self-improvement through discussion, study, and exercise; and pro­gressive community activities. Whereas Mao’s vigorous support of student interests in the First Normal School sometimes led to seri­ous confrontations with school authorities, the extracurricular ac­tivities of the New Citizens Study Society were not disruptive. In this respect their activities were considerably different from the antitraditional forays of the elitist and protected colleagues of Zhang Guotao, who recalls from his youth: “Thunderously we stormed temples, smashed images of the gods, and campaigned against medical cures dispensed by clay idols. Naturally we were in constant conflict with pious and religiously faithful people.”42

Typical and most demanding of Mao’s projects was the Night School for Workers which was started in late 1917. The reg­istration announcements for the first two semesters of the school provide short statements of its purpose and program.43 Claiming that the workers’ greatest handicap was not being able to read, write, and calculate, the students of the First Normal School of­fered free courses at a time convenient to workers. The enterprise involved considerable effort. There were over 120 students, with classes meeting for two hours five days a week, and Mao managed the school and taught history.

14Another important activity of the New Citizens Study Society was encouraging Hunanese participation in the work-study scheme for education in France organized in Peking by Wu Yu­zhang and Cai Yuanpei. It was in connection with this activity that Mao made his first trip outside of Hunan, during which he stayed for several months in Peking working in the library of Bei­jing University. Exposed to the leading edge of Chinese intellec­tual and political progressivism, Mao became more political and more radical. He returned to Changsha via Confucius’ birthplace and Shanghai a few months before the outbreak of the epochal May Fourth Movement in Peking in 1919.

Opening Statement of the Xiang River Review

The effect of the May Fourth Movement on Changsha is de­scribed in the opening paragraph of the Xiang River Review, writ­ten two months after the beginning of the movement:

Since the call of “world revolution” and the onrushing movement to “liberate mankind” antiquated outlooks must be changed. For­merly we did not raise doubts on many problems, did not quickly adopt many methods, and out of fear shrank from saying many things. Now the undoubted is doubted, the unattempted is attempt­ed, many feared things are no longer feared. No matter who the personage, he cannot escape its influence.44

Mao Zedong, recent college graduate and just returned from a stimulating trip to Peking, was a leader of one of the few activist student groups in China antedating the May Fourth Movement. He was thus in a preeminent position not only to experience but to direct the impact of the May Fourth Movement in Hunan. The sig­nificance of the May Fourth Movement cannot be reduced to the anti-Japanese movement or to the New Culture Movement. It served as a catalyst for a society which urgently needed a new form of political expression and a new map for political orienta­tion. China, whose political life had traditionally been controlled and centralized, was shattered into shifting zones of power and mortally threatened by imperialism. Its social ordering, deter­mined until the twentieth century by a centralized and open ex­amination system, now left university graduates with an uncertain future. Lastly, the indomitable, unified, and progressive West to 15which China had grown accustomed had torn itself apart in the war and was now frantically on the defensive against new, even more progressive, popular forces epitomized by the Russian Revo­lution.

The founding of a newspaper was an appropriate May Fourth activity. Not only was the awakening of large groups of people to political action exciting and newsworthy but the rapidi­ty of the movement’s development led to optimistic prognostica­tions of political transformation. Mao’s Xiang River Review, al­though it lasted only four weeks before it was shut down by Hunan’s warlord, Zhang Jingyao, was a successful and widely res­pected May Fourth publication.45

The “Opening Statement of the Xiang River Review” (14 Ju­ly 1919) is more a call to enlightenment than to action. As Mao re­marks elsewhere in the same issue:

Of China’s 400,000,000 people, approximately 390,000,000 are superstitious. They blindly believe in ghosts, they blindly worship unusual natural phenomena, they blindly believe in fate, they blindly believe in coercion (qiang quan). They don’t recognize that there are individuals, that there is a self, that there is truth.46

His message is that hunger is the world’s greatest problem and that the masses united have the greatest strength. Mao tries to ex­plain “how mankind should live.” He says that democracy is the basis for all opposition to coercion.47 The powers that be in the sphere of religion, literature, politics, society, education, econo­my, thought, and international politics must be struck down by the call for democracy. Moderate methods are preferred to violent methods, because the oppressors are also prisoners of the old soci­ety and their abuse of power is an unconscious error. Besides this compassionate motive, Mao notes that the end result of using coer­cion to strike down coercion is still coercion.

Within his general preference for moderate methods, Mao makes distinctions between different situations and the behavior appropriate to them. In the academic sphere he proposes thorough research that is not bounded by tradition or superstition. In soci­ety he advocates unity of the masses to launch a persistent move­ment to offer those in power “loyal advice” and to achieve a “rev­olution by appeals.” This strategy is contrasted to “revolution by bomb” and “bloody revolution,” which he feels merely result in 16great confusion. To resist the immediate threat of Japan, however, he suggests boycott of classes, suspension of commercial activities, strikes against factories, and boycott of Japanese products as effec­tive measures. This concern for finding the appropriate methods for diverse social and political circumstances finds its theoretical form in Mao’s later discourse on the particularity of contra­diction.

The themes of awakening, fearlessness, and confidence in im­pending social transformation which pervade the article are ex­pressions of a faith in the power of the united masses stimulated by popular ferment in China and the West. The May Fourth Move­ment served as the catalyst for fusing Mao’s progressive political sentiments and his inclination toward practical activity into en­gagement in radical politics. Political engagement gave Mao’s thinking a new starting point. From this time on, revolution is the focus of his theory and practice.

The content of Mao’s May Fourth views is as interesting as their new political engagement. The orientation is universal and thorough: the call is “worldwide” to liberate “humanity,” and the basic slogan is “achieve freedom from coercion.”48 Paradoxically, Mao’s confidence in impending, thorough social transformation accounts for the moderate tactics he suggests. He does not see the new society as a desperate undertaking, so violence is not re­quired. In fact, violence would taint the new order with the meth­ods of the old.

A link between this work and the Night School advertise­ments is Mao’s presupposition of enlightenment as a prelude to ac­tion. This attitude is best explained by an earlier comment on Paulsen:

To say that knowledge has no impact at all on men’s hearts is wrong; knowledge definitely has a great impact…. That mankind has had progress, revolution, and the spirit of correcting faults is completely due to activists (huodong zhe) who relied on the leader­ship of new thought.49

Although the dichotomies of teacher and taught, mover and moved, enlightened and ignorant are not explicit in the Xiang River Review, the overdrawn description of the backwardness of Hunan and the nature of the newspaper’s project suggest that a leading group is necessary to awaken the masses. 17

“The Great Union of the Popular Masses”

The main political essay of the remaining three issues of the Xiang River Review is the three-part article “The Great Union of the Popular Masses,” which elaborates the idea of the power of the unified masses into a general perspective on politics and the Chi­nese and international political situations. The high reputation of the Xiang River Review probably derives in large part from this article, which was reprinted in full in Xingqiri [Sunday], a Si­chuan publication, and later was reprinted in Shanghai.50

The most striking stylistic characteristic of the piece is a re­curring dialectical progression from extremely bad to extremely good, and a related emphasis on the basic identity of diverse phe­nomena. The fact that “the darkness of society has reached an ex­treme,” internationally through the world war and nationally through the North-South War, is the precondition to political transformation. “Thus there arises reform, there arises resistance, therefore there is a great alliance of the masses of the people.”51 A similar transformation is expected for China. Although she now seems completely incompetent in political and economic affairs, in the future China will be preeminent among nations.52 As Mao observes in a later work, the theme of transformation of opposites is both very Chinese and very Marxist. Marx’s philosophical rea­son for suggesting the proletariat as the ultimate revolutionary group is that they are so oppressed that they are an anticlass rather than a part of bourgeois society.53 A similar confidence in the transformation of opposites leads Mao to welcome the observation (which otherwise would be disquieting) that the principle of action he recommends, the “great union,” has been the root source of power for the nobles, the powerful, and the capitalists throughout history. The technique of union, whose power comes from num­bers, was perfected by the few against the many. From the result­ing community of weakness and misery arises the greatest union to destroy its oppressors.

The “Great Union of the Popular Masses” is a theory of soci­ety, a methodology for social transformation, and a judgment of China’s readiness for transformation. In the first installment Mao discusses the “possibility and necessity of the great union.” The argument proceeds from the observation that “no matter what the type of historical movements, there are none which do not proceed from the union of some people.”54 He points out that the power-holding 18 minorities using the advantages of education, money, and military strength have driven the masses of people to such ex­tremes that they have an intimate knowledge of the methods of op­pression and are becoming conscious of the incomparably greater power of a mass union. Only a great shout need be given, and the old society will crumble. In the second installment, Mao presents the method of building up to a great union by starting with groups of common interests. He gives examples of the common interests of various basic groups (farmers, workers, women, and the like) and suggests aggregating these groups in general unions. The third in­stallment deals with China’s readiness for such a movement. Mao presents the situation realistically, demythologizing the 1911 rev­olution but valuing the experience of provincial and county as­semblies and of course the organizations blossoming as a result of the May Fourth Movement. He reasons that China’s embarrassing performance in politics and economics is due to lack of political experience stemming from long oppression. He concludes that the very length and intensity of oppression will lead to exceptionally rapid development:

Some day the reform of the Chinese people will be more thorough than that of any other people. The society of the Chinese people will be more glorious than that of any other people. The great union of the Chinese people will be successfully completed before that of any other place or nation. Gentlemen! Gentlemen! We must exert ourselves together! We must strive forward together! Our golden world (shijie), our glorious and bright world, is right be­fore us!55

Mao’s political horizons are indistinct in this article. The first part is dominated by a universal frame of reference and a call to imitate countries, like Russia, more advanced in their great unions. Since the second part deals primarily with small unions it is locally oriented, with Changsha in mind, but the suggestions ap­ply to other localities. The last part deals with China as a whole and is nationally oriented. As Stuart Schram has pointed out, the article’s conclusion (which is quoted above) is one of the most na­tionalistic passages in Mao’s writings.56 However, it would cer­tainly be mistaken to ignore the internationalist tone of the first in­stallment and the “Introductory Statement of the Xiang River Review,” since internationalism constitutes an integral part of 19Mao’s argument. This seeming paradox of nationalism versus in­ternationalism is partly explained by a difference in timing. For the present, China’s task is to learn from countries which are more advanced in popular struggles against power. China’s future transformation, once accomplished, will be as glorious as her op­pression was severe, but this preeminence will exist in a trans­formed world order and thus will not constitute hegemony among competitive nations. Mao’s patriotism for China’s existing politi­cal order does not extend beyond faith in China’s future and defen­siveness vis-à-vis foreign encroachments. In his proposals on Hu­nanese self-government in the following year, Mao reviews the utter failure of central government in China since 1911 and con­cludes, “The best thing would be [for China] to split into twenty-seven countries (guo).”57 Even this apparent provincialism is not as far from Mao’s nationalism and internationalism as it would seem. Mao’s reasoning leads him to this proposal through the prin­ciple of self-determination, which he establishes with international examples as a universal principle. Mao propounds this self-determination of China’s subunits for the immediate good of the Chinese people and expects them in the future to be reunited in a single polity.

The deeper problem in categorizing Mao’s stance in regard to national boundaries is that China’s national experience in mod­ern times has differed fundamentally from that of the West. West­ern nationalism was at its most characteristic in the discovery of collective cultural identities and the attempts to establish corre­sponding political entities. In some cases nationalism demanded the subdivision of culturally diverse empires; in others it involved the amalgamation of culturally similar but politically diverse poli­ties. Western nations by and large defined themselves against each other, seeking to distinguish separate identity from a common her­itage. China’s national experience was instead a discovery of a world beyond herself. China found herself defined by the forceful incursion of cultures she would have preferred to ignore. In Kang Youwei’s Datong Shu [The book of great harmony], China’s re­treat from the presumed universalism of her cultural significance to being one nation among many is linked to a general dissolution of national boundaries and establishment of a world community. Mao seems to share this self-confidence of cultural subsistence within a cosmopolitan framework, a position which cannot be de­scribed simply as nationalist or internationalist.

20A further problem in interpreting this article arises from the following passage:

As for the actions to be undertaken after the union [of the masses has been achieved], there is one very radical faction which uses the method of do unto others as they do unto you, and which does its utmost to cause trouble for them [the capitalists and the aristo­crats]. The leader of this faction is a German-born person named Marx. The faction which is milder than Marx is not anxious to see quick results and begins with the understanding of the common people. All should have a morality of mutual aid and work volun­tarily. If nobles and capitalists turn their hearts toward the good and are capable of working, are capable of helping people and not harming them, then they don’t have to be killed. The ideas of this faction are more comprehensive, profound, and far-reaching. They want to unify the world and make it one country, unify humanity into one family, enjoy harmonious, happy, intimate, and good rela­tionships—not the type of intimate and close relationship suggested by Japan—and together achieve prosperity. This faction’s leader is a Russian-born person named Kropotkin.58

The question which of course arises from this passage is whether Mao was an anarchist at this time—or at any rate more of an anar­chist than a Marxist. Mao relates in his autobiography that he dis­cussed anarchism during his stay in Peking in 1918. It is evident from this quotation that the anarchism Mao has in mind is of a very mild sort. Richard Solomon’s statement that “Mao himself, in student days, had toyed with the anarchist’s glorification of vio­lence for its own sake” is completely mistaken.59 In China the con­tent of anarchism ran the whole gamut from men of goodwill with an animus toward hierarchy to violent nihilists.60 Mao’s “anar­chism” favors organization for political and social ends, but it op­poses the use of violence in attaining them. If the question of politi­cal violence is disregarded, it could be argued that rather than Mao later converting to Marxism, Chinese Marxism came to Mao, since such characteristically Chinese Communist tenets as mass line, internationalism, and benevolence to transformed reaction­aries roughly correspond to the virtues of anarchism which he enumerates in the article. Early Chinese Communists were not hostile to anarchism. They applauded its rejection of existing soci­ety and its communal ideal but considered it impractical and uto­pian as a political movement. As a 1921 article put it, “the anar­chists are our friends but not our comrades.”61

21There are, however, some significant differences between the political viewpoint expressed in “The Great Union of the Popular Masses” and Mao’s later Marxism. The most evident is his reluc­tance to consider violent means in confronting the powerholders. Instead of this means of confrontation, two methods are proposed: the immediate one of patiently building up basic groups and the ultimate one of the all-powerful “great shout together.” Mao’s pacifism is intimately related to the reliance on groups rather than classes—sociability rather than unequal relations—as the basic social unit.62 The result is a cry for liberation rather than a call for revolution. In this sense it could be said that Mao’s political views in 1919 were more utopian than anarchist, and his own descrip­tion, “a curious mixture,” is most accurate.63

The Hunan Self-Government Movement

With the political stimulation of the May Fourth Movement, Mao became involved in a variety of public causes. The most not­able of his efforts were an attempt to unseat the Hunan warlord Zhang Jingyao and a flurry of articles on the status of women prompted by the suicide of an unwilling bride in late 1919. Mao lost the first round of his battle with Zhang when a general student strike against the warlord led to the suppression of the Xiang River Review. Mao went on his second trip to Peking and Shanghai in order to enlist the aid of influential Hunanese in the capital in re­moving Zhang. Mao’s writings on the status of women helped stimulate a major discussion of this question in Changsha, but on­ly fragments of these newspaper articles are currently available.64 Mao’s basic point was that traditional Chinese society had bound women in an “iron cage” from which suicide might seem the only escape. The same general sentiment is echoed in Mao’s position of the 1950s that “genuine equality of the sexes can only be realized in the process of the socialist transformation of society as a whole.”65

Zhang Jingyao was driven out of Hunan by July 1920. Al­though this event was due more to the vagaries of warlord politics than to the vigorous efforts of Mao, the New Citizens Study Soci­ety, and many other Hunanese to oust him, the situation presented an unusual opportunity for the war-ridden province to acquire some autonomy and freedom from military rule. In these cir­cumstances a two-factioned movement for “Hunanese Self-Government” arose. The more conservative faction was composed 22of established politicians and favored a constitution written by a committee of provincial politicians and assembly members. The more radical wing favored a popularly elected constitutional as­sembly. Of the ten articles Mao wrote supporting the radical self-government faction, four (and a codrafted proposal) have been dis­covered by Angus McDonald.66

Mao’s articles have two basic concerns: the first is the pre­condition of a successful and long-lasting self-government; the sec­ond is the possibility and desirability of self-government for Hu­nan. The basic requirement for successful self-government is that it have a popular basis, since self-government organized exclusive­ly by gentry would be fundamentally misconceived. This popular basis can be achieved by real mobilization of the people. On the second point, Mao observes that the theory that only big nations are strong enough to survive is an imperialist lie disproved by rev­olutions all over the world. That autonomy would benefit Hunan is indicated by a long and impressive narration of the sufferings Hunan has undergone because she was part of China. The fifth work, “A Proposal to Convene a ‘Hunan People’s Constitutional Convention’ by the ‘Hunan Revolutionary Government’ to Enact a ‘Hunan Constitution’ for the Purpose of Constructing a ‘New Hunan,’” is just what its title implies. It was coauthored by Mao, the editor of the Changsha Da Gong Bao, and the president of the Hunan union of students, and was signed by 377 students, jour­nalists, lawyers, and others. Although it cannot be considered an article which Mao wrote, it is a document to which he con­tributed.

The content of these articles can be fruitfully related to that of the “Great Union of the Popular Masses” written the previous year. To some extent we have here a “great unionist” at work, one not discouraged by starting small, engaging in patient work at the existing level of people’s consciousness, insisting that a durable government needs a popular basis, and finding proof of the possi­bility of Hunan’s self-government in international developments and the extremity of Hunan’s suffering. Angus McDonald calls such activity “more Woodrow Wilson than Lenin,”67 and the same scornful judgment from a radical point of view is made seven months after Mao’s articles in the journal Gongchandang [Communist]: “If one day the warlords were overthrown by the gentry (shenren) class, the gentry class would immediately turn in­to the previous warlords, doing evil of the same kind and manner, 23robbing the common people.”68 Both these judgments confuse a concern for immediate activity with an acceptance of the politics of such a movement as abstractly necessary and sufficient—for that matter, they are considerably more rigid than the political tactics of Lenin or Marx. Mao had defended the “Oust Zhang Jingyao” and “Self-Government” movements to critical members of the New Citizens Study Group:

The movement to oust Zhang was just a simple opposition to the powerholder (qiang quan zhe) Zhang Jingyao. The self-government movement is just a simple aspiration that Hunan could specially produce a method which would allow Hunan to become a relative­ly good environment. Within this environment we would like to pursue concrete preparatory work.

These two movements are both only expediencies utilizing the present context … in order to achieve measures for basic reform.69

On the other hand the tone is significantly different from that of his May Fourth work. Much of the energy of the May Fourth Movement seemed to have evaporated as quickly as it arose, and, although Mao took the long view rather than despairing, the les­sons of the movement significantly affected his political outlook. The world and China had awakened, but persistent and practical movements drawing their strength from the people were replacing the political mechanism of the great shout. This recognition of the political power of organization and concrete programs is a natu­ral and direct development from Mao’s emphasis the previous year on organizing “small unions” around shared grievances. In his autobiography, Mao connects this realization to an incident in the self-government movement:

I remember an episode in 1920, when the New Citizens Study Soci­ety organized a demonstration to celebrate the third anniversary of the Russian October Revolution. It was suppressed by the police. Some of the demonstrators had attempted to raise the Red Flag at that meeting, but were prevented from doing so by the police. They then pointed out that, according to Article 12 of the [then] Con­stitution, the people had the right to assemble, organize, and speak, but the police were not impressed. They replied that they were not there to be taught the Constitution, but to carry out the orders from the governor, Zhao Hengti. From this time on I became more and more convinced that only mass political power, secured through mass action, could guarantee the realization of dynamic reforms.7024

The Cultural Book Society

The self-government movement was not the only effort Mao made at this time to prepare Hunan for basic reforms. In 1920 Mao organized a Russian affairs study group and a work-study scheme for students going to Russia, a Marxism study group, a Hunan branch of the Socialist Youth Corps (one of the most suc­cessful provincial branches), and the Cultural Book Society. He was, moreover, director of the Primary School Section of the First Normal School and chairman of its alumni club.

Of all these varied activities, it is most fortunate that materi­al has been preserved on the Cultural Book Society. Whereas the political relevance of his other activities is fairly self-evident, that Mao would operate a bookstore as a mission rather than as a means of support seems anomalous. The available documents on the society make clear the various educational functions of the en­terprise.

The Cultural Book Society was a cooperative capitalized by members’ contributions and run by an elected manager (Mao) who was obligated to make semiannual public reports. Its main purpose was “allowing all kinds of worthwhile recent publications to spread throughout the province, giving everyone the opportuni­ty to peruse them.71 This was done by operating a main bookstore and ordering service in Changsha and encouraging branches to be set up in all counties. Later plans were announced for setting up an editing and translation bureau and a printing department.72 All persons contributing one yuan or more were considered equal members; contributions did not pay interest and could not be withdrawn; no profit was made by the main bookstore on branch society purchases; and the society’s accounts were available for in­spection to everyone, member or not.

These regulations already suggest some of the secondary mo­tivations for the society, motivations which are made explicit in the report of April 1921 given just before Mao left for the First Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. The society was not just a bookstore trying to sell progressive books. It considered itself a semipublic provincial organ with a mission to make available “books of value” to everyone. Enhancing its semipublic character was its partially successful attempt to use county educational offi­cials and facilities for organizing branch book societies through­out Hunan. Moreover, it was constructed as a model organization 25for Chinese social ventures: its business was open (contrasted to the Chinese penchant for secrecy in business); its capital was not threatened by the possibility of withdrawal; it was not an under­taking for individual profit (Mao castigates the excessive individu­alism of Chinese merchants in “The Great Union of the Popular Masses”); and its accounts were orderly and efficient. This “model enterprise” reminds one of Robert Owens’ attempt to win British merchants to humane treatment of workers by demonstrating that his New Lanark factory was a financial success—except that Mao tried to do without either the primitive or the essentially capitalis­tic aspects of the entrepreneurial system.73

So far as its fate is recorded, the Cultural Book Society was a success. A coup was scored at its founding by getting Tan Yankai, durable Hunanese politician and then governor of the province, to supply his calligraphy for the signboard of the bookstore. By the time of the semiannual report, seven branches and seven school depots had been established and the society had sold 160 titles (in­cluding, according to Li Rui, An Introduction to Marx’s Capital, History of Socialism, and The Worker’s and Peasant’s Govern­ment and China), 40 different magazines, and 3 newspapers. Per­haps Mao’s success with an alternative enterprise encouraged him to attempt alternative education the following year.

The Hunan Self-Education College

Mao’s last Hunan venture which did not presuppose a class viewpoint was the founding of the Hunan Self-Education College. Despite Han Suyin’s claim that “the whole purpose of the college was actually the recruitment and training of cadres for the Com­munist Party,”74 the “Introductory Statement of the Hunan Self-Education College” persuasively argues a broader case based on a participatory concept of education which can be traced in Mao’s earliest works. The school in its original conceptualization does not seem to have been successful, however, and Mao himself had little time for it after the first few months.

The college was conceived as a quasi-public provincial in­stitution by its founder—and with ironic justification in that it was indirectly supported by provincial funds. A public stipend of four hundred yuan per month to the Quan Shan (Wang Fuzhi) So­ciety was diverted, legally, to the establishment and maintenance of the college. The college was dissolved in November 1923 for 26teaching rebellious doctrines, but in two months it reappeared as the Xiang River Middle School.

On 16 August 1921, the “Introductory Statement of the Hu­nan Self-Education College” was published in Changsha news­papers in order to explain the college and attract students. The ar­ticle is a development of the theme clearly stated in the first paragraph: “Its [the college’s] purpose lies in using the traditional academy (shuyuan) form to acquire the content of the modern schools (xuexiao).”75 Mao goes on to criticize the career orienta­tion of the traditional academies and, more interestingly, the structural and methodological faults of modern schools. After evaluating their respective good points, he describes their shared “nondemocracy” (fei pingmin zhuyi): entry is restricted by exam­inations and high fees, and an intellectual class (jieji) of academi­cians who isolate themselves from the people is established.76 Finally, Mao argues, the province of Hunan needs the college because there is no Hunan University as yet and the Hunanese peo­ple need something to satisfy their spiritual needs and develop their cultural desires:

Although in actuality it [the college] is unable to establish relations with every Hunanese, in spirit it must be made into a public aca­demic organ of the Hunanese society; although it is impossible to say for sure that it will have very good results, if we advance ener­getically for many years and months, we believe that one day we will achieve our goals.77

An interesting feature of this article is that although Mao was the leader of the Hunan Communist Party by this time, the arti­cle’s format, combining the good points of old and new educa­tional systems, is the most moderate stance that Mao had taken toward existing conditions so far. The effect of the article was more radical, however, since Mao’s trenchant critique of the mod­ern schools was a basic attack on a progressively disposed and in­fluential segment of the provincial elite.78 His critique of the modern school is basically this: there is no intimate relation be­tween teacher and student, only uniform and mechanical manage­ment; moreover, the system requires passive students and thus in­hibits individual character from developing. The second charge is directly related to Mao’s earlier criticism of the schools in “A Study of Physical Education” and “Great Union of the Popular Masses.”79

27The concept of class (jieji) makes its first strong appearance in this article,80 but the “class of common people” is the major focus and the proletarian class (wuchan jieji) enters as “the so-called proletarian class.” The most interesting use of the term is its application to academicians. They monopolize learning by mak­ing it mysterious, thereby isolating themselves from the society of common people and “developing the curious situation of a kind of intellectual class (zhishi jieji) using the class of common people as slaves.”81 The function of the term “class” here is to identify a group with its own interests vis-à-vis another group. Class is not defined by an individual attribute shared by all members but by a corporate behavior pattern in which all members take part. As used here, class is thus “class for itself” rather than “class in itself.”

Shortly after founding the Self-Education College, Mao be­came very busy in organizing the Hunan labor movement in line with party policy before the 7 February 1923 Incident involving the killing of railway workers in North China. The Hunan labor movement, spurred by the successful Anyuan Coal Mine strike in September 1922, developed rapidly. Mao’s leadership in the labor unrest made him a persona non grata with the governor, who ordered his arrest. Mao fled to Shanghai in April 1923.


Throughout all of Mao’s early activities and writings the most striking characteristic is an energetic and selfless concern for public affairs. In his innumerable efforts to do something for the common good, Mao is the prototype of the main target of future ccp recruitment—the activist (jijifenzi).

Mao’s style consistently urges the reader to do something. The moral imperatives are neither abstract nor categorical: the discussion of the topic leads to a consideration of what to do which implies who to do it. In every article Mao identifies himself as one of those who see the problem and feel compelled to act. The pronoun “we” is far more important than “I,” and its reference group is never exclusive and usually is the people.82

In the works discussed in this chapter, Mao’s activism is ex­pressed in the intimate relationship between theoretical concerns and practical activities. Every article contains a significant and plausible proposal for immediate action, and in most cases Mao already had been engaged in the endeavor he suggests. His con­cerns 28 are thus about matters with which he is familiar, and he writes when he thinks successful action is possible. The question of where to begin is never left unanswered; in fact, it is sometimes used as a critical tool against alternative viewpoints.83 As Mao re­marked to his fellow New Citizens Study Society members:

I feel that very many people talk about reform, but for them it is only an empty ideal. Where do they eventually want to get to with their reforms? What methods will they use to achieve it? At what point will they themselves or their comrades begin work?—there is very little careful research of these problems.84

Mao’s practical orientation has a basic influence on his theoretical style. Since any theory proposed is expected to be workable in practice, Mao’s chief concern is with the correctness of the theory at hand rather than an abstract comparison of alter­native hypotheses. Mao wants to penetrate to the essence of the matter, using assumptions of unanimity (“everyone knows …”) to establish his formulation of the problem and wide-ranging ex­amples from Chinese history and modern nations to support fac­tual judgments. The assumptions of unanimity are not so much self-evident propositions as assumptions necessary to the general orientation of the article. When in the “Report of the Affairs of the Cultural Book Society” Mao says, “Everybody understands that there is nothing more necessary than the propagation of culture, and the efficacy of cultural propagation should not be limited to the efficacy of a few schools,”85 he is not stating the obvious. However, the article is not directed at anyone who would have se­rious reservations about this statement. Mao’s constant use of ex­amples is another sign of his practical orientation. This is especial­ly evident in “A Study of Physical Education” and the “Hunan Self-Government” article. In the “Great Union of the Popular Masses,” the dialectic of oppression and liberation is grounded in a wealth of examples from Western history. Since the Cultural Book Society and the Self-Education College are new institutions, there is little place for argument from example. But it is interesting that a significant part of Mao’s motivation in promoting these novel institutions is the exemplary function he expects them to have. The importance of examples in his thinking adds signifi­cance to the founding of model institutions.

In these early writings the dialectical interdependence and flux of reality has an explicit centrality for Mao’s thinking which 29begins to submerge in the Hunan self-government writings. This shift does not represent the displacement of dialectics by a more categorical approach. Rather, the limited, practical tasks of his later Hunan activities required only proximate practical justifica­tions, and still later his party activities required only proximate ideological ones. It is not difficult to perceive a continuity in dialectical substructure in Mao’s later writings. When the devel­opment of his political thinking demanded a major reorientation in approach, as in 1937 and 1956–1957, Mao reasoned from his basic dialectical viewpoint. But the more philosophical works ex­pose the logical skeleton of his thinking; they are not temporary apostasies from an otherwise dogmatic Marxism. The anti-Marxist bias typical of Western scholarship on Mao has contributed more to the apparent woodenness of Mao’s writings than did Mao himself.

Ultimately, Mao’s justification for ideological commitment is utility. Mao argues for the New Citizens Study Society to be­come Marxist: “Unions of feeling (ganjing de jihe) should become unions of ideology (zhuyi de jihe)…. Ideology is like a banner. When the banner is raised, everyone then has something to hope for, something to run after.”86 The acceptance of ideology for its utility does not imply a merely tentative commitment, because the revolutionary action which it facilitates is the central task. Given a crisis of ideological leadership, however, it might be expected (particularly with hindsight) that development of the useful as­pects of ideology and revolutionary organization would take pre­cedence over submission to party dogma.

The chief characteristic of Mao’s political viewpoint in these early works is what he calls democracy (pingmin zhuyi). Although the expression is used in only two works,87 it underlies Mao’s orien­tation toward the general welfare and organizational nonex­clusiveness which permeate his writings and activities and ex­plains his procedural tenets of self-determination and openness in public and semipublic affairs. His democratic-populist orientation is based on the conviction, expressed in his May Fourth articles, that the united masses of the people are the strongest political force. A corollary developed by the first and second “Hunan Self-Government” articles is that a strong and viable government can­not be built without eliciting popular support:

How can a matter in its inception, particularly when it is extremely important, be run successfully or well if there are not many persons 30to engage in a movement to promote it, to inspect it from the side and to criticize it from behind?88

The Cultural Book Society and Hunan Self-Education College both assume a natural legitimacy from their democratic struc­ture and populist missions. Both express, moreover, a quasi-governmental urge to be available to all the people within the pro­vincial boundaries.

Mao’s apparent shift of focus between provincialism, na­tionalism, and internationalism can be explained by changes in his political expectations. In each case Mao turns to the largest feasi­ble unit. The optimistic May Fourth articles recognize no organi­zational limit to the power of the masses. By 1920 Mao did not think that mass politics could be achieved on a national scale, and his activities assumed provincial horizons. Thus his “provin­cialism” is not an enclosure of his political aspirations; it reflects a practical judgment that only a provincial movement could be at­tempted at that time. In all cases the well-being and discretion of subunits is respected, whether they are small unions, county as­semblies, or branch book societies.

The developments in Mao’s political thought during this peri­od correspond to stages in Mao’s political experience. The May Fourth Movement demonstrated to Mao that political institutions (analogous to paternal power and school authorities) were “paper tigers” when faced with a determined movement from below. The consequent politicization of his activities and attitudes was disci­plined by the subsiding of the movement. His next attempt was within the framework of a political movement, admonishing its supporters to develop a popular base for their autonomous govern­ment. Not only were Mao’s efforts unsuccessful, but the entire self-government movement soon became a political ploy of the new warlord, Zhao Hengti. Mao’s activities then became less directly political. His study groups were aimed at raising the theoretical level of fellow activists; more general endeavors like the Cultural Book Society and Hunan Self-Education College attempted to enliven social consciousness throughout the population. In the meantime Mao’s own political standpoint was becoming more thoroughly Marxist and he became more involved in his organiza­tional role in the Chinese Communist Party. From 1921 to 1923, Mao took a leading part in organizing labor throughout Hunan. The slaughter of railway workers in North China in the 7 Febru­ary 31 1923 Incident signaled a retreat in unionizing activities, and the situation of the Communist Party in Hunan worsened. After his forced exit from Hunan, Mao worked for the Party Central Committee in Shanghai and shortly afterward became involved in united front work with the Kuomintang.

The significance of Mao’s pre-Marxist thought is perhaps best epitomized by a statement in “A Study of Physical Educa­tion”: “The will (yizhi) is definitely the forerunner of a man’s career.”89 Mao’s early activities and writings reflect the establish­ment of his basic mentality and style, which become enduring components of his political identity. The continuities which are recognizable from Mao’s earliest writings are not crystallized as­pects of ideas or behavior, however; they exist in an active dialec­tic with changing political environments and developments in thought and experience. The basic continuities of Mao’s thought can be generalized as follows. First is the continuity in form or specific patterns of thinking in spite of discontinuity in content. Preeminent among these patterns are attention to the immediate despite changes in “what is concrete” at any particular moment and the use of a dialectical logic in ethics and social analysis. Sec­ond is the continuity in basic assumptions in spite of discontinuity in methods. The primary assumption that “the united masses of the people are the strongest political force” remains the same de­spite basic changes in Mao’s framework of social analysis (from group to class) and his framework of political action (from self-organized local associations to the Communist Party). Assump­tions of the necessity of struggle and the importance of practice also remain the same despite transformations of their application. Finally, there is continuity in ultimate aspiration in spite of dis­continuities in practical policies. Mao’s goal of a China trans­formed to serve the people is ultimately behind such apparently compromising or mundane affairs as running a bookstore.


1. Richard Solomon, Mao’s Revolution and the Chinese Political Culture (Berkeley: Univeristy of California Press, 1971).

2. Frederic Wakeman, Jr., History and Will (Berkeley: University of Califor­nia Press, 1973).

3. The source for these statements is Mao’s autobiographical interview with Edgar Snow in Snow’s Red Star over China (New York: Grove Press, 1961), pp. 121–188. Although the scholarly studies provide additional in­formation and perspectives, this account remains the most readable and stimulating resource for Mao’s early career.

4. Stuart Schram, “From the ‘Great Union of the Popular Masses’ to the ‘Great Alliance‚’” China Quarterly 49(January 1972):88.

5. Xiao San, Mao Zedong tongzhi di qing shao nian shidai [Comrade Mao Zedong’s boyhood and youth] (Peking: Renmin Chubanshe, 1949); Li Rui, Mao Zedong tongzhi di chu qi geming huodong [Comrade Mao Zedong’s early revolutionary activities] (Peking: Renmin Chubanshe, 1957); Li Rui, “Qingnian Mao Zedong di sixiang fangxiang” [The ideological trend of Mao Zedong in his youth], Lishi Yanjiu 1(January 1979):33–51.

6. A marginal comment on Friedrich Paulsen’s System der Ethik recorded by Li Rui, Mao, p. 43.

7. The best-known incident is related by Mao: “When I was about thirteen my father invited many guests to his home, and while they were present a dispute arose between the two of us. My father denounced me before the whole group, calling me lazy and useless. This infuriated me. I cursed him and left the house. My mother ran after me and tried to persuade me to return. My father also pursued me, cursing at the same time he demanded me to come back. I reached the edge of a pond and threatened to jump in if he came any nearer. In this situation demands and counter-demands were presented for the cessation of the ‘civil war.’ My father insisted that I apologize and kowtow as a sign of submission. I agreed to give a one-knee kowtow if he would promise not to beat me. Thus the ‘war’ ended, and from it I learned that when I defended my rights by open rebellion my father relented, but when I remained meek and submissive he only cursed and beat me the more.” See Snow, Red Star, p. 126.

8. See Xiao San, Mao, pp. 7–10. Incidentally, in this respect Mao was the op­posite of Lenin, of whom Maxim Gorky said: “I never met or knew a per­son who with such intensity and force felt hatred, aversion, and contempt for the misfortunes, grief, and sufferings of the people.” M. Gorky, “O Lenine,” Russkii Sovremennik, 1924/1, quoted in N. Valentinov [N. V. Volski], The Early Years of Lenin, trans. Rolf Theen (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1969), p. 206.

9. An instance of this is recalled by Mao in Snow, Red Star, p. 130.

10. Ibid., p. 125.

11. “Zixiu Daxue changli xuanyan” [Introductory statement of the Hunan Self-Education College], in Takeuchi Minoru et al., eds., Mao Zedong Ji [Collected works of Mao Zedong], 10 vols. (Tokyo: Hokubosha, 1971–1973), vol. 1, p. 82. (Hereafter cited as MZJ.) 208

12. I will not attempt to specify in detail the various intellectual influences on Mao because little improvement could be made on Wakeman’s treatment of this subject in History and Will.

13. Snow, Red Star, pp. 129–130.

14. Jerome Chen makes a valiant attempt at narrating the political history of China at the time of Mao’s youth in Mao and the Chinese Revolution (London: Oxford University Press, 1965).

15. With the exception of Taiwan.

16. Hunan jinbainian dashi jixu [A record of major events in Hunan for the past 100 years] (Changsha: Hunan Renmin Chubanshe, 1959), p. 311.

17. In 1920 Mao became involved in a movement for Hunan provincial self-government and wrote some articles on its behalf which are discussed in detail later in this chapter. The Chinese texts of Mao’s Hunan self-government articles were published by Angus McDonald in Hogaku Kenkyu [Legal research] 2(February 1972):90–107. McDonald later pub­lished English translations of these articles in “Mao Tse-tung and the Hunan Self-Government Movement, 1920: An Introduction and Five Translations,” China Quarterly 68(December 1976):751–777.

18.Xiang Jiang Pinglun quangan xuanyan” [Introductory statement of the Xiang River Review] (14 July 1919), MZJ 1:55.

19. Snow, Red Star, p. 133.

20. From a letter quoted in Wu-Si shiqi qigan jieshao [Introduction to periodi­cals of the May Fourth period] (Peking: Renmin Chubanshe, 1958), vol. 1, p. 154.

21. Snow, Red Star, pp. 155–156; Li Weihan, “Huiyi Xinmin Xuehui” [Remi­niscence of the New Citizens Study Society], Lishi Yanjiu 3(March 1979):3–24.

22. Consider the case of the Sichuan (Szechuan) communists who established a provincial party branch in 1924 not knowing that a Central Committee had existed for three years. See “Wu Yüchiang,” in Anne B. Clark and Donald Klein, Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Communism (Cam­bridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), vol. 2, p. 961.

23. There is a tantalizing eleven-page description of this work in Periodicals of the May Fourth Period, vol. 1, pp. 151–161.

24. My reference edition of this work is the two-volume third edition (Berlin: Wilhelm Hertz, 1894). Some chapters were retitled in the third edition, and Cai’s translation of the titles indicates that he used the later ones. From Li’s manner of citation and the pagination given, I suspect that Cai’s translation does not include much more than “Book Two: Basic Concepts and Questions of Principle” (vol. 1, pp. 145–429). However, I have not seen the Chinese translation. An overview of Paulsen’s philosophy is avail­able in Wakeman’s History and Will, pp. 195–206, and in Paul Fritsch, Friedrich Paulsens philosophischer Standpunkt, vol. 17 of Abhandlungen zur Philosophie und ihrer Geschichte, ed. R. Falckenberg (Leipzig: Quelle und Meyer, 1911).

25. Most of the work is available in Stuart Schram’s Political Thought of Mao Tse-tung (New York: Praeger, 1969). There is a complete, deluxe French 209translation by Schram: Mao Zedong, Une Étude de l’Éducation Physique: Article traduit et presenté par Stuart R. Schram (Paris: Mouton, 1962).

26. MZJ 1:5355. The Xiang River Review published only four regular issues. The fifth was suppressed by Zhang Jingyao, the Hunan warlord.

27. “Minzhong di da lianhe,” MZJ 1:5769. Translation by Stuart Schram in China Quarterly 49(January 1972):7687.

28. Li, Mao, pp. 3844; Li, “The Ideological Trend of Mao,” p. 45.

29. Paulsen, Ethik, vol. 1.

30. A point by Fritsch, Paulsen, pp. 14, 30.

31. Mao’s marginal comments run to 12,100 words (the book is 100,000 words), and underlining abounds. Mao said in 1950, “At that time we were all a bunch of idealists. Happening upon the idealist theories of books like this, I felt a very deep interest and received a revelation which really caused my mind to incline toward it despite its impurities and idealistic dualism.” See Zhou Shizhao, “Di yi shifan shidai di Mao zhuxi” [Chair­man Mao at the First Normal School], Xin Guancha 2(2) (25 January 1951):12. It might be remembered that Marx indicates a similar respect for idealism in the first “Thesis on Feuerbach.”

32. Li, Mao, p. 42.

33. Ibid., p. 43.

34. Mao’s efforts at physical education were gratified in an appropriate man­ner: the First Normal won more than sixty medals in the 1917 provincial competitions.

35. The text is reprinted in MZJ 1:35–47. A photostat of the original is printed with Stuart Schram’s French translation. This photostat is more useful than the MZJ version because it preserves Mao’s profuse emphases. Pro­fessor Schram’s English and French translations were of great help in rendering the quotations from this work, and his introduction to the French translation contains much relevant background information.

36. MZJ 1:41; Schram, Political Thought, p. 158.

37. MZJ 1:35.

38. MZJ 1:40, 39.

39. SW 3:271–274.

40. These activities are described by Xiao San and Li Rui.

41. From Mao’s autobiography; Snow, Red Star, p. 145.

42. Chang Kuo-t’ao [Zhang Guotao], The Rise of the Chinese Communist Par­ty, 1921–1927, vol. 1 of Autobiography of Chang Kuo-t’ao (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1971), p. 17.

43. MZJ 1:49–51.

44. MZJ 1:53.

45. According to Periodicals of the May Fourth Period (vol. 1), the review had a tremendous impact on the Hunan revolutionary movement and a signifi­cant effect on the whole country. Two thousand copies were printed of the first issue, and it was sold out the same day. Five thousand copies were printed of subsequent issues. Zhang Guotao, never a great admirer of Mao, writes, “This paper, which advocated the precepts of the New Culture Movement, ranked high in prestige among the various little provincial 210publications.” See Chang [Zhang], Autobiography, vol. 1, p. 129. Because Chen Duxiu was impressed with the Review he contacted Mao about orga­nizing a Communist Party branch in Hunan; see Autobiography, vol. 1, p. 105.

46. Quoted in Periodicals of the May Fourth Period, vol. 1, pp. 146–147.

47. The term which is translated “democracy” throughout this chapter is pingmin zhuyi, which is more commonly translated as “populism.” But Mao’s parenthetical equivalences of this term in its first usage are demo­ kelasi (a transliteration of “democracy”) and yi zuo min ben zhuyi, min zhu zhuyi, shu min zhuyi (government of the people, by the people, and for the people). Thus I prefer Mao’s translation to the standard one.

48. MZJ 1:54.

49. Li, Mao, p. 42.

50. Periodicals from the May Fourth Period, vol. 1, p. 150.

51. MZJ 1:58, 65; Schram, “The Great Union of the Popular Masses,” China Quarterly 49(January 1972):77, 84.

52. MZJ 1:68–69; Schram, “Great Union,” pp. 86–87.

53. “Zur Kritik der hegelschen Rechtsphilosophie: Einleitung,” in Marx-Engels Werke (Berlin: Dietz, 1972), vol. 1, pp. 390–391. Marx reasons from the peculiar misery and backwardness of German society to its poten­tial for radical revolution (p. 387) and concludes that “the emancipation of Germany is the emancipation of mankind” (p. 391).

54. MZJ 1:57; Schram, “Great Union,” p. 76.

55. MZJ 1:69; Schram, “Great Union,” p. 87.

56. Schram, “From the ‘Great Union’ to the ‘Great Alliance‚’” p. 94.

57. McDonald, “Chinese Texts,” p. 100; “Translations,” p. 769.

58. MZJ 1:59–60; Schram, “Great Union,” pp. 78–79.

59. Solomon, Mao’s Revolution, p. 184.

60. See Zhang Guotao’s almost humorous story of the difficulty of founding the Peking Communist Party nucleus with a majority of anarchists in Autobiography, vol. 1, pp. 110–113; see also Wolfgang Bauer, China und die Hoffnung auf Glück (Munich: Carl Hanser, 1971), p. 489.

61. Jiang Qun, “Wuzhengfu zhuyi zhi jiepo” [An analysis of anarchism], Com­munist 4(7 May 1923): 14. Keio reel 1.

62. Mao mentions “rich and poor classes” and “powerful and weak classes” (p. 59), but they are not regarded as the basic units of the union of the masses.

63. Snow, Red Star, p. 147. I do not mean this to be taken pejoratively—the mixture is coherent and not superficial.

64. Roxanne Witke translates many of these fragments in her article “Mao, Women and Suicide in the May Fourth Era,” China Quarterly 31(July-September 1967):128–147.

65. “Notes from Socialist Upsurge in China’s Countryside‚” SW 5:263.

66. McDonald, “Chinese Texts,” pp. 90–107; “Translations,” pp. 751–777.

67. McDonald, “Chinese Texts,” English summary, p. 105.

68. “Zizhi yundong yu shehui geming” [The self-government movement and the social revolution], Communist 3(7 April 1921):8. Keio reel 1. 211

69. Quoted in Periodicals of the May Fourth Period, vol. 1, p. 156, from Col­lected Correspondence of New Citizens Study Society Members, vol. 2.

70. Snow, Red Star, pp. 154–155.

71. “Wenhua shushe zuzhi dagang” [Outline of the organization of the Cultur­al Book Society], MZJ 1:71.

72. “Wenhua shushe shewu baogao, di er qi” [Report of the affairs of the Cul­tural Book Society, second period], MZJ 1:77. The first-period report con­cerned the founding of the society. The printing department published the three-volume Collected Correspondence of the New Citizens Study Society Members which Mao edited.

73. Robert Owen, A New View of Society (London: Everyman, 1963), pp. 7–10.

74. Han Suyin, The Morning Deluge (Boston: Little, Brown, 1972), p. 101.

75. MZJ 1:81.

76. MZJ 1:82–83.

77. MZJ 1:84.

78. A counterattack is indicated in Li, Mao, p. 154.

79. MZJ 1:37, 41, 61–62.

80. The term is also used in “Great Union” (MZJ 1:58–59), but only generally.

81. MZJ 1:83. The same notion of class an an excluding and oppressing group is echoed in Mao’s 1964 reference to a “class of bureaucratic officials.” This flexible and noneconomic notion of class became central to the politi­cal analysis of the Gang of Four. See Tang Tsou, “Mao Tse-tung Thought, the Last Struggle for Succession, and the Post Mao Era,” China Quarterly 71(September 1977):498–527, especially pp. 506–510.

82. By “exclusive” I mean defining itself as opposed to a larger group. The closest Mao comes to an exclusive reference group is in the Workers’ Night School advertisements. There he explains the motives of “us students” to potential enrollees. However, Mao does his best to identify the project with the workers’ idea of their own interests by using a question-answer format. Moreover, the night school was directed at eliminating the main barrier between workers and students—that of literacy.

83. “Physical Education,” MZJ 1:35; McDonald, “Chinese Texts,” p. 99.

84. Quoted in Periodicals of the May Fourth Period, vol. 1, p. 152.

85. MZJ 1:76. There are similar occurrences in McDonald, “Chinese Texts,” pp. 99–100, and “Self-Education College,” MZJ 1:84.

86. Quoted in Periodicals of the May Fourth Period, vol. 1, p. 152.

87. “Introductory Statement of the Xiang River Review,” MZJ 1:54; “Intro­ductory Statement of the Hunan Self-Education College,” MZJ 1:82–83.

88. McDonald, “Chinese Texts,” p. 100; “Translations,” p. 772.

89. MZJ 1:41; Schram, Political Thought, p. 158. Emphasized in the original.

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