Reading Mao Zedong


In the tumultuous social struggles of twentieth century China, Mao Zedong strides the battlegrounds through defeat and victories. When you read the writings of Mao Zedong, you are confronted with his revolutionary theories on politics, history and economics, his tactical choices for securing the development of the party and revolutionary movement, and his strategic vision of a new social and economic order for China. Today, access to the writings, in many different language editions, by Mao Zedong is facilitated by internet access. Listed are links provided from

Mao Zedong, previously transliterated as Mao Tsetung, was a Communist revolutionary, leading guerrilla warfare strategist, and political philosopher. Chairman Mao was active in the Chinese Revolution, leading the anti-imperialist struggle against Japanese occupation and in the following civil war. He was part architect and founding father of the People’s Republic of China from its establishment in 1949, and the building of socialism, initiating the Cultural Revolution in the mid-1960s, providing guidance and direction until his death in 1976.selected works

Reading Mao can be complicated by his status as “the Great Helmsman”, one-time charismatic font of all wisdom and having “Mao Zedong Thought” designation as “the crystallization of the collective wisdom” of the Communist Party of China (On the Question of Party History 1981).  

Take one volume that serves as part of the body of what represents “Mao Zedong Thought” – Maoism is a term not used by the Chinese, but rather reflects the view of those outside China, that sees Mao’s theoretical and practical contribution as both universal in significance and application and should be recognised as a third stage in the development of communist thought.

Selected Readings from the Works of Mao Tse Tung appeared in its Chinese edition in 1964 before the launch of the Cultural Revolution.

In June 1964 two versions of Selected Readings from the Works of Mao Tse-Tung were published: edition A, intended for cadre party study and a smaller edition B, an abridged edition meant for the general public. Most of the texts were drawn from the existing four-volume Selected Works. Selected Readings did include Mao’s 1957 speech “On Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People”, some material from the Socialist education campaign and ended with “Where Do Correct ideas Come From” of May 1963. Edition A was the basis for an official English translation in 1967; although in 1971 another English-edition was referred to as the ‘first edition’ (incorporated the new established correct spelling for the name ‘Mao Tsetung’).

“Most of the pieces published in Selected Readings from the Works of Mao Tse-tung have been changed considerably since they were originally written or spoken. However, it is extremely important for us to know their present form, the form in which they are helping to shape China today. Although the selection was completed before the beginning of the new movement, the writings contained in it are those most studied in the Cultural Revolution. It includes “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions among the People” and several other important pieces produced since 1948 which have not been in any previous Chinese collection….. The “Readings,” although abbreviated, convey some idea of the intelligence and breadth of probably the greatest man in the Twentieth Century.”

Martin Bernal , author of the Black Athena trilogy, The New York Review of Books January 16, 1969.

When reading the writings of Mao Zedong the obvious reality is that all official texts are selected texts, chosen with a purpose outside of historical record (or accuracy), so there is a difference between the original Mao speech or writings and their later published version. The revision in the editing was openly acknowledged in the publication of Selected Works, the extent of the rewriting was not. The political function of Mao’s writings underpinning the People’s Republic of China, propagating particular policies, campaigns and study focus meant that the published word (with its official stamp of approval) acted as “the ideological coinage of the State”. (Martin, 1982)

Political editing provided conformity to Mao’s writings as the stylistic refinements, not least omitting Mao’s lively, earthy and colourful expression in speech, meant the published text took on a more official tone and character. These are translated texts without the idiom of the original language however there was an also evident political consideration: the linguistic pruning of the term “comrade” and who and when it was applied was a symbolic device as persons who were in political disfavour were cast in more negative terms. Larger issues were at stake: dependent on the current state of relations with the Soviet Union, the singularities of the Chinese revolutionary experience were down play in the interest of Sino-Soviet friendship, or a greater emphasis in the direction of the Soviet role. For instance, in Volume Five, texts dealing with Mao’s visit to the Soviet Union, as well as his 1953 obituary for Stalin were not included. In earlier volumes, references to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and Stalin were added partly to reinforce a political correctness in communist relations.

Selected Works obviously means omissions as well as inclusion. The delay and dispute in the publication of Volume Five, when a first draft had been available since late 1967, was because it was the focus of factional struggle as what interpretation would prevail over its content legitimizing the politics of that contentious period in modern Chinese history; would the judgements of the Cultural Revolution remain? What adjustments would have to be accommodated? Like elsewhere (in any politicians’ memoirs), political editing, not guided by historical and academic criteria, shapes the editorial process. So with Volume Five, earlier versions, with their radical commentaries, annotations and their text selection, compiled by Chen Boda and later under Yao Wenyuan, were rejected. The published Volume Five, even with an almost total lack of commentaries and footnote interpretation, still served to endorse the (then contemporary) ‘Four Modernizations’ economic focus. However it was withdrawn from circulation, regarded as tainted by Chairman Hua Guofeng’s ideological stress on Mao’s notion of “Continuing the revolution….” Interestingly a key text in Volume Five was a speech given by Mao in April 1956, “On Ten Great Relationships” in which criticism of the Soviet model had been retained unlike in earlier published versions.

Yet, while many of Mao Zedong’s important writings were from a period and conditions that no longer apply, they are the source of constant study, revisited and on reading lists the world over. Mao’s theoretical contribution to a theoretical synthesis of China’s unique experience in protracted revolutionary struggle with the tenants of Marxism-Leninism illustrated that complicated problems facing those making revolution cannot be solved by reciting the general principles of Marxism-Leninism or by copying foreign (or even China’s) experience in every detail. Mao’s admirers aboard failed too often to hear that lesson. The judgement in “On the Question of Party History” (1981) was still to read Mao:

“This is not only because one cannot cut the past off from the present and failure to understand the past will hamper our understanding of present day problems, but also because many of our basic theories, principles and scientific approaches set forth in these works are of universal significance and provides us with invaluable guidance now and will continue to do so in the future. Therefore , we must continue to uphold Mao Zedong Thought, study it in earnest and apply its stand, viewpoint and method in studying the new situation and solving the new problems arising in the course of practice.”

  1. Mao Tse-tung Library – From Marx to Mao

Published in foreign language version by Foreign Languages Press, Peking, the Selected Works of Mao Zedong were compiled and translated by the official Beijing committee. As noted previously, these are the heavily edited, authoritative word of Mao and the doctrine of the Communist Party of China.

Between 1951 and 1953, the first three volumes of Selected Works, covering Mao’s participation and leadership of the Chinese Communist movement up to 1945 and the defeat of Japanese imperialism, were published. All selections from volumes I, II and III of the Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung are English translations based on the second Chinese edition of these volumes.

Volume Four was published in 1960 concluding with the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

The publication of Volume Five, which covered the mass campaigns of the 1950s and beginning of the anti-revisionist struggle, appeared in April 1977 after Mao’s death. It is worth noting that volume V was published after the death of Mao, and subsequently the English-language edition was removed from circulation.

Selections from volumes IV and V are translations from the first Chinese edition.

Selected Military Writings of Mao Tsetung

cddf18a911ed4ea46aa02db4860d7e04Quotation from Chairman Mao TseTung 

Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse–Tung more popularly known as “The Little Red Book” appeared in the Cultural Revolution period having first been produced for the People’s Liberation Army educational programme in the early 1960s. The iconic collection of quotes, devoid of their original historical and political context, reduced the complexities and richness of Mao Tsetung thought to a Chinese classical format of quotable wisdom.

Or in HTML format to individual sections at

 Mao Zedong on Diplomacy 

Besides Volume V of Selected Works, an English-language collection of Mao’s writing on diplomacy was produced by Foreign Language Press in 1998. This was a translation of the 1994 Chinese language edition compiled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Party Literature Research Centre.  Running to 498 pages, the speeches, talks and articles are drawn from 1938-1974. A selection was made available online.

Other Internet Archives

Welcome to the Mao Tse-tung (Zedong) Internet Library ~ Established May 1, 1997

Marxists Internet Archive

Contains the official Selected Works of Mao Tsetung: Volume I – V and the Wansi-inspired volumes published in India by Kranti Publications, Hyderabad.

Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung: Volume VI – IX

The Reference Writers section provides full text access to wide-ranging writers and thinkers including selections from Chinese political leaders Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Liu Shaoqi, Lin Biao, Peng Zhen and Deng Xiaoping. It includes the documents compiled, edited and published in 1978 under the title “Collected Works of Mao TseTung (1917-1949) by the US governments’ Joint Publication Research Service (JPRS).

In contrast to the dearth of translated material, the publication of Chinese language editions of Mao’s writings has gone on unabated. The Party Literature Research Centre of the Central Committee published the multi-volume ‘Mao Zedong Works’. The first volume appeared in 1993 on the Centenary of Mao’s birth, and Xinhua News Agency announced publication of the 8th volume in July 1999. The multi-volume work contains over 800 pieces not previously published in the Chinese edition of “Selected Works of Mao Zedong”, although only key items from 1966 onwards are included because the Cultural Revolution “launched by Chairman Mao, was a mistake of overall importance”.[1]


US Government publishes Mao Zedong

A translation of ‘Wansui’ material was provided by the American government in Miscellany of Mao Tse-Tung Thought (1949-1968) Arlington, Virginia: Joint Publications Research Service, 20 February 1974. It was translated from a Chinese language collection brought out by Red Guards under the title Mao Tse-tung ssu-hsiang wan-sui [‘Long Live the Thought of Mao TseTung’]. There were two editions of materials, entitled Mao Tse-tung ssu-hsiang wan-sui the first in 1967 and then republished in an enlarged form in 1969. For an analysis of the differences between the two Wansui editions and a study of the writings themselves, see Richard Levy, “New Light on Mao,” The China Quarterly 61 (1975). It contained mostly unofficial transcripts of Mao’s speeches and interviews from 1960 onwards that are not represented in the official ‘Selected Works’.

In 1978, a collection of Mao’s pre-1949 writings was produced by the JPRS under the title, Collected Works of Mao Tsetung (1917-1949). These documents were compiled, edited and published by the U.S. Government’s Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) in 1978. According to JPRS, these documents are “selected speeches, articles, essays, reports, letters, interviews, declarations, decrees, telegrams, poems, (and) inscriptions of Mao Tse-tung covering a multitude of subjects.” In introductory notes, JPRS notes that “All articles signed by Mao Tse-tung, whether individually or jointly with others, are included.” Further, “all unsigned articles which have been verified as his work are also available.” Finally, JPRS indicates that “all works which have already appeared in the (Foreign Language Press) edition of Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung or Selected Readings of Mao Tse-tung’s Works are not included.”

Other Writings

Chairman mao is the greatest liberator of the world's revolutionary peopelThe main contemporary source for new English language material has been repackaged in Western scholarship rather than disseminated in English by Chinese publishers.  Since John Bryan Starr and Nancy Anne Dyer compiled a bibliography and index, entitled Post-Liberation works of Mao Zedong (1976)[2], two volumes of post-liberation writings by Mao have appeared translated from Chinese sources, under the title, The Writings of Mao Zedong: 1949-1976 edited by Michael Y.M.Kau and John K Leung[3]  covering the years 1949-1957.

An earlier published volume from Oxford University Press in 1970 was a more compact introduction that drew upon 1940s editions of Mao’s Selected Works as well as Wansui material was the Mao Papers: anthology and bibliography edited by Jerome Ch’en.

Some of Mao’s earlier work has also appeared with a study of Mao’s philosophical concerns in an English language version in Nick Knight (ed) (1990) Mao Zedong on Dialectical Materialism: Writings on Philosophy [4]  and Mao Zedong, Report from Xunwu (1930) [5].  Re-published in China in 1982, Mao’s 1930 investigative report of the rural county of Xunwu in southern China reflects detailed empirical social research undertaken by Mao, and a study from the 1940s was produced by Andrew Watson (1980) Mao Zedong and the political economy of the border region[6]

Mao’s speeches during the early period of the Great Leap Forward have been translated in Roderick MacFarquhar, Timothy Cheek, Eugene Wu (eds) The Secret Speeches of Chairman Mao: from the Hundred Flowers to the Great Leap Forward (1989)[7].

A collection of Mao’s critical reading comments on Soviet political economy textbooks was translated by Moss Roberts, annotated by Richard Levy and with an Introduction by James Peck and published as A Critique of Soviet Economics (1977)[8]. Drawn from unauthorized material that circulated in China during the Cultural Revolution, Mao’s talk on Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR was probably given at the Chengchou Conference in November 1958, while his written critique was done in 1959.

Prominent among English-language treatment of Mao’s career is the work of Professor Stuart Schram. He has consistently explored Mao writings through his studies presenting the development of Mao’s political thinking in relation to the situation in China and the changing conditions in the course of the struggles in which Mao was engaged. Mao Zedong Thought, not as an immutable truth, has been presented to an English reading audience in Stuart Schram’s various publications.

UK publishers Penguin published The Political Thought of Mao Tse-Tung, first published in 1963 by Frederick A.Praeger, in paperback in an enlarged revised edition in 1969. A political biography, Mao Tse-Tung, was published by Penguin in 1966, and is still in print.  Mao Tse-tung Unrehearsed: talks and letters, 1956-1971 (Penguin 1974) drew upon material unofficially compiled and collected in the Wansi collections made available through Red Guard sources during the Cultural Revolution.

 Professor Schram initially led a project to publish the collected works of Mao Zedong. Under the series title, Mao’s Road To Power, Revolutionary writings 1912-1949 (New York: M.E.Sharpe) (so far seven volumes published). The analyses of Schram which stressed Mao’s early immersion in Chinese classical literature, drawing upon Mao’s numerous allusions to these in his talks and writings, developed the notion that Mao’s political philosophy, steeped in Chinese tradition, and his political practice, not least leading a successful peasant-based revolution, was substantially different from orthodox Marxism as sanctioned in the Soviet Union.

In Mao studies a group of radical academics (Richard Pfeffer, Andrew Walder and Mark Selden) engaged in scholarly dispute with the non-Marxist Sinologists Stuart Schram and Benjamin Schwartz in the journal of Modern China 1976/1977 to challenge this evaluation as being based on a rigid understanding of what constituted Maoist canon.

Paul Healy and Nick Knight offer an alternative, Marxist-orientated perspective in studying Mao’s career compared to the atheoretical textual attention of Professor Schram in the volume edited with Arif Dirlik (1997) Critical perspectives on Mao Zedong’s Thought[9]

The radical argument drew upon Mao’s clearly self-professed allegiance to Marxism, drawing upon the anti-authoritarianism of the Cultural Revolution period as well as the earlier Yenan writings of Mao that resonated with the Marx of  ‘German Ideology’ and the (then) newly emerging body of writings by the early Marx, in particular ‘Grundrisse’. Maoist-inclined intellectuals e.g. David Fernbach and Martin Nicolas provided many of the translations of these works. Mao’s criticism of ’Soviet revisionism’ and articulation of a generative class thesis under socialist state structures drew support from those attracted to an alternative vision from that provided by a Soviet Union that seemed little different from its Cold War adversaries.



  • Cheek, Timothy (2010) A Critical Introduction to Mao. Cambridge University Press
  • Cook, Alexander C. (2014) Mao’s Little Red Book: A Global History Cambridge University Press
  • Communist Party of India (Maoist), Marxism-Leninism-Maoism~ Basic Course

  • Dirlik, Arif; Healy, Paul; Knight, Nick (1997) Critical Perspectives on Mao Zedong’s Thought. New Jersey: Humanities Press
  • Hua Guofeng (1977) Continue the Revolution Under the Dictatorship of the Proletariat to the End –A study of Volume V of the “Selected Works of Mao Tsetung”. Peking Review19, May 10th 1977

  • Knight, Nick (2007) Rethinking Mao: explorations in Mao Zedong’s Thought. Lexington Books
  • On the Question of Party History – Adopted by the Sixth Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on June 27, 1981. Beijing Review, No. 27 July 6, 1981

  • Martin, Helmut (1982) Cult & Canon: the origins and development of State Maoism. New York: M.E.Sharpe
  • Prakash, Shashi (2008) Why Maoism? Lucknow:Rahul Foundation

  • Sison, Jose Maria & Engel, Stefan (1995) Mao Zedong Thought Lives Volume 1: Essays in Commemoration of Mao’s Centennial. Essen: Neuer Weg Verlag & Centre for Social Studies (Utrecht)
  • Visions of Fire1 Winter 2013 : Maoism

[1] “All volumes of ‘Mao Zedong Works’ published.” Xinhua News Agency July 1st 1999.

[2]   Berkeley. Center for Chinese Studies, University of California

[3]    Vol 1 September 1949-December 1955 (1986) New York: M.E.Sharpe :   Vol 2  January 1956    December 1957  (1992) New York: M.E.Sharpe

[4] Nick Knight (ed) (1990) Mao Zedong on Dialectical Materialism: Writings on Philosophy 1937. New York: M.E.Sharpe.

[5] Translated, and with an introduction and notes by Roger R. Thompson (1990) Stanford, Calif: Standard University Press

[6] Andrew Watson (1980) Mao Zedong and the political economy of the border region: a translation of Mao’s economic and financial problems, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[7] Roderick MacFarquhar, Timothy Cheek, Eugene Wu (eds) The Secret Speeches of Chairman Mao: from the Hundred Flowers to the Great Leap Forward (1989)[7] Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

[8] A Critique of Soviet Economics (1977) London: Monthly Review Press.

[9] Dirlik (1997) New Jersey: Humanities Press. See: ‘Mao Zedong’s Thought and Critical Scholarship’ pp3-20

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