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Why Did Mao Rise to Power in China?

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“Communism is not love. Communism is a hammer which we use to crush the enemy. “Mao Zedong clearly referring to the Kuomintang. After a bitter civil war (1946-1949), which faced the major Chinese parties Kuomintang and CCP, Kuomintang’s defeat, evidenced with Chiang’s and 200.000 people´s fled to Formosa, Mao Zedong (1893-1976), born in Shoshan, Hunan, proclaimed the new People´s Republic of China with himself as both Chairman of the CCP and President of the republic in October 1949. How did the under numbered and weak CCP, founded by the same person in 1921 manage to survive several extermination campaigns and re-organize the party to win the civil war, crushing opposition and establish the Chinese Republic in 1949? There are diverse factors which explain his unexpected rise to power: Regionalism in China, Foreign intervention in China, lack of opposition due to the failure of the KMT and its leader and Mao´s leadership. One of the reasons for Mao’s rise to power was the fact that due to long-term regionalism in China, it was a divided country, whereas he benefited from political instability to grow and defeat the warlords, boosting his popularity.

Starting with Regionalism in China, following the 1911 Revolution, where the child Emperor Pu Yi was crushed down and replaced with Yuan Shih-kai, who ruled until 1915 based on military support, which was lost, as he proclaimed himself Emperor. This emptiness of power let to huge political instability, where different areas proclaimed themselves independent from Beijing, creating hundreds of states of varying sizes, each controlled by a warlord and his private army. Therefore, to support increasing army forces, which fought against each other, peasants, which numbered 95% of Chinese population, were charged huge taxes, living on terrible conditions. The fact that until 1928, China was a divided country offered huge opportunity to the CCP, founded in 1921, to attract peasant discontent and boost their popularity by defeating the warlords.

The fact that there was no strong leader and united army, enabled the CCP to grow into a considerable size with about 10,000,000 members in 1927, as there was no powerful army to face them, making them the second largest party in the country with the Kuomintang. In addition, they used the already weak position of the remaining warlords to co-operate with the Kuomintang, aided heavily by Soviet Russia to drive them away, improving their image. In addition, in conquered areas they offered land reform, taking away from landlords and given to peasants, quickly improving their devastated situation and their own influence on them. All in all, Mao benefited from political instability to boost patriotism and nationalism, as they played an important role in crushing the warlords and converting them into Communism offering better living standards based on the land reform. The main advantage of that was that with few casualties he could “free” huge areas from ruthless and oppressing warlords control and convert them into Communist, having a source of new soldiers, labor and food for the growth of the CCP.

Another important point is China’s long history of foreign interventions, boosted sense of nationalism and weakened the Kuomintang, as they were blamed for the doubtful exemplar management, benefitting Mao’s CCP, as they specifically targeted that audience. Starting with the Opium Wars (1839-1842) against Britain and countries such as Germany followed, China was forced to hand over crucial cities such as Hong-Kong, 80 ports and other towns, weakening their financial position and slowing down industrialization. Furthermore, Japan used the instability to gain territory in the war against Japan (1894-1895), the Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905) and the occupation of Manchuria in 1931, followed by World War 2 (until 1945). Interventions until 1905 were one of the main reasons for the Revolution in 1911, as the state proved to be incompetent in dealing with these injustices. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the Revolution was crucial in order to overthrow a lasting and autocratic Emperor, giving instability to the country, which as explained in the previous paragraph suited Mao.

Later Japanese intervention of Manchuria saved the Communist Party, forcing the Kuomintang to decide their priorities: Declare war to Japan or put all effort in defeating the CCP. As they prioritized crushing the Communist Party, they were seen as unpatriotic and traitors, enabling Japanese forces to penetrate deep into the country, summiting locals to torture and humiliation, creating hate towards the Chinese government as they were blamed for their miserable living standards. Furthermore, the Nationalists located in Northern areas had to face war on two fronts, weakening final attack on CCP. Being able to survive several extermination campaigns starting in 1928 by the Nationalists, they used the excellent opportunity such as with the warlords to boost their popularity and nationalism by defeating and reconquering Japanese areas by using cautious guerrilla tactics and finally the Hundred Regiments Battle campaign in 1940, saving local peasants, who would get land due to the ambitious Land Reform from Japanese influence and Kuomintang´s incompetence.

Without foreign intervention, it would have been more complex to get in power, as the country would have lacked of instability with the warlord era and the Kuomintang would possibly have had defeated the CCP, saving them from a two-front war and people´s discontent of their incompetence with dealing with Japanese invasion. Furthermore, they did not have any strong opposition outside the party, a part from Chiang, who was an incompetent leader, which allowed him to win the support of the masses disagreeing with the Kuomintang. First of all, his military skills lacked of efficiency, planning and rational reasoning. After the Japanese 1931 attack of the northern province of Manchuria, he did little to stop the Japanese army, focusing on five extermination campaigns to the CCP and the red army. Another important point is that he ignored the lessons of Sun Yet-sen, who created the People’s National Party in 1913 with the principles of nationalism, democracy and socialism.

To start with, his nationalistic ideology , it was distrusted when he refused to co-operate with the CCP as he did to crush the warlords, using Soviet aid, to defeat foreign intervention, but was however, hostile towards the CCP since the Shanghai massacre in 1927. This switch of ideology, apart from weakening the Kuomintang itself, as they lost a potential ally to get rid of foreign intervention, converting it into another enemy to face, diluting their military forces, clearly benefited Mao, as he was seen as the true nationalist, who prioritized Chinese interest rather than Communist ones (“In the cities he became the support of workers not due to communist ideology, but because of nationalism”. Moreover, he established a dictatorship calling himself “Generalissimo”, showing sympathy to Franco’s regime and had blue-shirts as personal army, which caused hostilities with both inside and outside the party… Furthermore, he lost his trust as the “true socialist”, as did nothing to improve factory conditions and peasant poverty, as designed laws to abolish abuses and child labor were not applied and high taxes were still charged to peasants, but benefited landowners, foreign factory owners interest and the wealthy bourgeoisie.

However, Mao offered prosperous and fair land distribution in conquered areas, quickly winning the support of poor peasants and small landowners. In addition, there is huge debate, whether he should be blamed for causing hyperinflation, due to the war effort, as according to Historian Chang, hyperinflation was much worse in Communist areas, caused by Mao´s insisting in trading with Opium and introducing a new currency. It is important to mention, that taking into account, that the ideology of Mao was very similar to Sun’s and that communism did not suit to China, it would have been very unlikely to rise to power if a leader such as Sun had guided the Kuomintang. Mao made used the Golden opportunity to copy Nationalistic policies and apply them into an honest and true full way, attacking Kuomintang’s support, benefitting from weak external opposition.

In addition, another important factor was Mao’s leadership of the party, which helped to attract support, as he was admired by ordinary people. For instance, the Long March was a turning point in Communist Chinese History, as due to his bravery he saved the remaining 87.000 Red Army soldiers, who fled from the nearly defeated Kiangsi area in a battle with the Kuomintang to the communist base at Yenan in Northern Shensi. Having crossed the Luding Bridge in an epic fight, the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain range and the vast grassland, where the remaining 23.000 soldiers were seen as National heroes, including its military leader Mao as a divinity. Apart from the geographic aspect of a heroic march, they resisted several Kuomintang attacks, showing resistance against them. In addition, the most important point is that they “colonized” central peasant’s areas, attracted by their honesty and ideology. Before the arrival of the Red army, they lived in miserable conditions, were oppressed by first warlords and then landlords, but with the introduction of the Red army, they were freed from their oppressors with the successful land reform.

Their behavior was exemplar and modal, using an internal moral code based on the eight rules of the Red Army, which included that even in case of starvation of the Red Army they would never accept or take any food from poor peasants, only from huge landowners: They preferred to starve themselves than letting the peasants starve. These boosted their popularity: Many peasants joined the Red Army, offered themselves to guide them through the mountains, rearmed them, etc and they were seen as messiahs. The effects of this are incalculable, clear is that it was a turning point in Mao rise to power, as he first of all, risked his popularity to flee with a weak and reduced army 6300000 miles, putting the future of the CCP into huge risk, but succeeded, with over 100.000 casualties, to reconstruct the remaining Red Army in the isolated, but safe province of Yenan, free from Japanese or Nationalist attacks, targeting and securing peasant support, which would be vital in the future.

There has been huge debate with the fact that the Red Army increased hugely during and shortly after the Long March, as yet there is no clear evidence about whether it was due of being attracted by its ideology such as the recent Historian Grey argued or whether it was because they wanted to leave their wives, suggested by Historian Hollingworth. He was a great military leader with his ruthless personality, presented in the initial quotation, enabling strong leadership, as he used guerrilla tactics effectively, taking gold of his outnumbered army. His strategy, suggested by Historians Gray and Hollingworth as well, can be summarized in the following quotation: “When the enemy advances, withdraw; when he stops, harass; when he tires, strike; when he retreats, pursue.”However, Historian Chang argues that he was a military leader, but used the situation to introduce secret spies in Chiangs army, but that afterwards even the spies would surrender.

In my opinion, it is clear that if with a limited army you manage to survive several extermination attacks and win an army facing you with a ratio of 2.5:1 in 1947 it can be seen as a major personal success to win the civil war and therefore, although it can be argued that he had similarities to Hitler in terms of being structuralist and that he did not have full power over the Red army and party decision taking, he can be seen as an excellent military leader as he not just defeated all armies which faced them, but used his military successes for colonialisation, growth and sympathy towards Communism. Furthermore, he linked his political ability and influence to boost motivation and commitment inside the army, explained in the quotation “Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed. “Without Mao´s bravery and intelligence in choosing the right routes to avoid facing the Nationalists and the brilliant leadership of the Red Army, there would possibly never have been a Chinese Revolution, as the Kiangsi area, already with the defeated Kiangsi soviet and several layers of trenches around them, including an unnumbered army, would have been completely defeated, including Mao´s assassination.

Conclusion: It is clear that Mao was an opportunist as he used the situations to take advantage for himself and the CCP. If he had to risk everything to safe his party such as the Long March or adapt Communist ideology to peasant China he would do that. It is clear that factors such as political instability due to long-term Regionalism in China, Foreign intervention China, and the lack of opposition due to the failure of the KMT, supported with Mao’s strong heroic leadership, personality and military evidence, made China a potential Communist and mono-party state, enabled Mao’s rise to power. While the Kuomintang party suffered from the political wear of being over twenty years of power having to face socio-economic problems such as a collapsed weak economy due to foreign intervention, a rural and back warded population, and several Japanese invasions causing a war on two fronts, weakened Nationalist power and overall control, evidenced that although having military superiority they could never defeat the CCP.

Mao used this situation to offer an ambitious land reform, directly targeting over 85% of the population, adapting Communist ideology which did not suit China, as workers support was closely connected to the Kuomintang and was a superb military leader, being able to survive several extermination campaigns until and during the Long March, taking advantage of guerilla tactics. He was as well clever enough to use the Long March as direct advertisement, increasing sympathy for the Red Army and Communist ideology due to exemplar behavior. In conclusion, it is true that without a long period of regionalism, political instability, foreign intervention and Chiang’s miserable leadership, it would have been very unlikely for Mao to establish a dictatorship. However, he took advantage of all those factors and united them to his personal ability, sympathy, military strength and leadership, making China suitable for Communist control.


[ 1 ]. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/m/mao_tsetung.html [ 2 ]. Norman Lowe, Modern World History Fourth Edition p.409 [ 3 ]. Historian Chang, Mao the unknown story (2005)
[ 4 ]. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMDW9vopRAw Documentary about the Long March [ 5 ]. Historian Gray, Rebellions and Revolutions (2002)
[ 6 ]. Historan Hollingworth, Mao (1985)
[ 7 ]. “
[ 8 ]. Quotation of http://thinkexist.com/quotes/mao_tse-tung/ [ 9 ]. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/m/mao_zedong.html

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