Peggy Keener: Mao, the ruler
As a young teen, Mao enjoyed nothing more that joining in discussions with his friends. On one occasion, after spending a night in a monastery, his companion revealed that he was becoming a monk. Scornfully, Mao burst out, “The nature of the Chinese is inertia. They worship hypocrisy and are content to be narrow-minded slaves. This is exactly the reason China has been so easily defeated by foreign powers and is trailing so far behind the modern world.”
At age 15, Mao graduated from teachers college. Not wanting to do any physical labor, he found getting a job difficult. Whereas most of the other students had developed foreign language skills, Mao was so poor at languages that throughout his life he spoke only his own local dialect, not even learning the official national tongue.
He moved to Peking with seven friends who all lived in three tiny rooms. Four of them squeezed into the kang (the traditional heated brick bed), under a single quilt. When one turned over, the others did, too. Between the eight men, there were only two coats, thus they had to take turns venturing into the frigid outdoors.
The only job Mao could find was that of a junior librarian. There he recorded the names of the leading intellectuals who came in to read newspapers. They paid Mao no heed. Highly distraught, he felt they did not treat him like a human being.
Destitute, he finally returned to his home province where he took the lowly job of part-time, primary school history teacher. He was anything but a model instructor. Unkempt, he seldom changed clothes. His students reported on the holes in his socks and that his home-made cotton shoes were ready to fall apart. Two years later while teaching in another school, students complained that Mao was naked from the waist up. Mao’s retort was, “Consider yourselves lucky that I’m not completely naked.”
In the winter of 1917, at the age of 24, Mao’s views on morals really cemented. This thinking would remain for the next six decades of his life, defining his rule. Morality consisted of one core—the self. Himself!
“I above everything else. I do not believe that one’s actions should benefit others. People like me want to satisfy our own hearts to the full. Of course there are other people and objects in the world, but they exist only for me.”
“People like me only have a duty to ourselves; we have no duty to other people. I am responsible solely for the reality that I know and nothing else. As for the past and the future, they have nothing to do with the reality of my own self. Some say one has a responsibility for history. I don’t believe it as I am only concerned about developing myself. I am responsible to no one.”
“In addition,” Mao continued, “I believe all collections of prose and poetry written after the Tang and Sung dynasties should be burned.” In other words, he desired the destruction of Chinese culture.
The other central element in his character which he loved expounding upon was the joy he took in upheaval and destruction. He believed that society’s wish for harmony and equality was a mistake. Mao relished the idea of death. To go from life to death he felt was to experience the most magnificent of all upheavals. Peace for him was unendurable. Human beings needed tidal waves of disturbance. Any suffering did, however, not include him.
To Mao it did not matter if people died. After all, he at all costs did not have to join in their suffering. Later, when hordes of Chinese starved to death under his rule, Mao commented to his inner circle that it did not matter that they died. This attitude, of course, applied only to other people, never to himself.
Mao believed in nothing unless it benefited him. Conscience could go to hell if it was in conflict with his impulses. Not caring one whit about what he left behind, he did not envision himself building achievements to leave for future generations.
In his Great Leap Forward in 1958-1962, he herded villagers into giant farming communes. Everything was taken from them. Food was distributed by the spoonful according to merit. A catastrophe of gargantuan proportions ensured that millions starved to death. Many also died from committing the slightest of infractions. One father was forced to bury his son alive when the boy stole a handful of grain. The father died three days later of grief.
Another example was Wang Ziyou, whose ears were chopped off, whose legs were tied with iron wire, a ten kilogram stone was dropped on his back, and then he was branded with a sizzling tool. His crime: he dug up a potato.
Mao’s atrocities were greater than those of Hitler and Stalin. Tragically, there was little outcry from the outside world as the victims were Chinese peasants; people culturally and socially distant from our Western society. We did not empathize with victims a world away and who were so dissimilar to ourselves.
It is unthinkable that one man could have had such power. Such twisted power. He ruled over the lives of one-quarter of the world’s population and simply did not care what his actions wrought. Ultimately what he, Mao-Tse-Tung, left behind—not during war, but rather during peacetime—were the deaths of over 70 million (some estimates being more, some less) of his fellow countrymen.