150. Problems in Reading Mao

I Volume IX

Planning to release the 2nd edition of the Selected Works of Mao Zedong, Volume IX, the Paris-based publishing house Foreign Language Press “discovered some surprises in our endeavour to put out the best text we could.” [i]

They encountered issues of scholarship that are tackled in any intellectual production from the simplest blog to the authority in the field: can the reader trust the text? There are always caveats in any approach to reading that question its reliability, accuracy, value and purpose. Some of the concerns raised in an earlier posting Reading Mao but dealt with in a more focus and informative manner by the FLP editors.

II Authenticity

Despite his charismatic authority and creative Marxism, Mao frequently acknowledged he was no superman and worked with and through others as the collective development of ideas, the collective editing and bureaucratic, as well as personal, approval before publication under Mao’s name illustrated. Many academics drawn to textual analysis and comparison, often preoccupied with the differences between the ‘speaking notes’ and the official version, have commented on this collective production in the evaluation of the work of Mao Zedong. Such collaboration, commonplace if hidden and seldom advertised, produces an intellectual co-operation that lies behind influential work[ii]  as in the critique of Soviet economics attributed to Mao that emerged in 1967. As Timothy Cheek noted these “are Hu Sheng’s notes from Mao’s 1960 study group – Hu Sheng rearranged Mao’s comments and added sub-headings; Mao never reviewed them.” [iii]

Scott Harrison makes available the translated, and Chinese edition of the text. He notes the “standard” Monthly Review English language version many of Mao’s comments to comrades about Soviet economics are not included along with the notes he made while reading the Soviet textbook. This explains why this English language book are so much shorter than even the “Short” Chinese language edition.

Deng Liqun, who prepared the original “Short” Chinese edition, included all of Mao’s comments, but much shorter extracts from the full Soviet texts that Mao was criticizing. Like the attribution to Hu Sheng, Deng Liquin’s text was edited based on his extensive conversations with Mao. 

As with anything published under Mao’s name, Harrison says questions have also been raised about the accuracy of the translations of Mao’s comments in some places. Part of the process of how these texts were produced, basically somebody’s edited notes or minutes of recorded talk and conversations involving Mao, rather than by his hand, serves to illustrate why so much attention was given in the production of officially released work of Mao Zedong.

When Mao spoke publically, he spoke for the party .The gonzo culture of western political reporting with its proliferation of politician’s arbitrary comments, political leaks and ill-thought out boasts was alien to the Chinese political process. The emergence of unauthorised raw texts, uncensored and not necessarily prepared by Mao himself excited sinologists and raised the issue of authenticity and ownership. There is the argument that the only authorised work of Mao Zedong is that released during his lifetime – the first four volumes of Selected Works, the Selected Readings and military essays released by Mao. His best-selling Quotations – The little Red Book of popular culture – was published under the direction and guidance of Lin Biao and like any other text somebody’s political interpretation by selection of the compilations of texts presented.

 Authorised English language edition

Selected Readings           (1971) 1926 -1965

Volume 1                              (1975) 1926-1937

Volume 2                             (1967) 1937- 1941

Volume 3                              (1975) 1941 -1945

Volume 4                             (1969) 1945 – 1949

Volume 5                             (1977) 1949 -1957

On Diplomacy                   (1998) 1938 – 1974

 Some would advise readers to use some appropriate caution with the last two volume, considering that those who produced it were leading China back to capitalism by this time. Those who thought that the Chinese revisionists would not be publishing more of Chairman Mao’s Selected Works (or that they couldn’t be trusted if they did) had attempts to try to determine what might have been produced from the material that had emerged unofficially during the Cultural Revolution. In the publication of four  further (unofficial) volumes of Selected Works, these Indian compilations, partially utilising the work of Stuart Scram, pioneered the popularisation of Mao before what was, mainly consumed by academics, the steady authorised release of material from the post-Mao regime.

                   Unauthorised additions to the published series

Subsequent volumes of Selected Works published in India in the 1990s by Kranti Publications,
Secunderabad, and Sramikavarga Prachuranalu, Hyderabad. Second editions by Foreign Language Press, Paris. 2020/21

Volume 6                             1917 -1946          

Volume 7                              1947 – 1957

Volume 8                             1958 – 1962

Volume 9                             1963 – 1970

Kranti Publications/ Foreign Language Press (Paris) drew upon variety unauthorised sources to continue the series Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung. Other compilations of work attributed to Mao were published by western publishers, notable Mao Tsetung Unrehearsed (1974) 1956 – 1971 compiled and translated by Stuart Schram that utilised the sixiang wansui editions.

Volume 6 of Selected Works of Mao Tse-Tung, produced by the Indian publishing house, Kranti Publications in 1990, contained a compendium of work dating from 1917-1946 that had not appeared in the Chinese authorised edition. Unfortunately scantly bibliographical source, it nevertheless was stimulating in its selection of material that had been omitted or new material seeped out from China.

This was followed by other volumes: Volume 7 covers the period from the founding of the People’s Republic (October 1949) until the Great Leap Forward (1958) and contains 478 doc­uments, mainly composed of his letters and telegrams , that are not included in the “Official” Volume 5 of the Selected Works that covered this period.

Volume 8  gathers texts documenting a critical and dynamic period in the People’s Republic: 1958-1962 and includes the main documents from the Lushan Meeting in 1959, where the two-lines first emerged in open struggle in party meetings.

Volume 9, originally released in December 1994, covers the next stage in the developments that led to the initiation of the Socialist Education Movement and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution taking the narrative up to 1970.

The editors at Kranti Publications noted

“During the great proletariat cultural revolution a nationwide programme of studying the works of chairman Mao were launched and it was in hightide. Then Mao himself observed: “The Selected Works of Mao, how much of it is mine! It is a work of blood. The struggle in the soviets was very acute. Because of the errors of the Wang Ming line we had to embark on the 25,000 li Long March. These things in Selected Works of Mao were taught to us by the masses and paid for with blood sacrifices”.”[iv]

Long out of print, in 2020/21 these volumes were made available in corrected reprints by the overtly MLM publishing house, Foreign Language Press. When announcing the release of the Selected Works of Mao Zedong Vol. IX, FLP’s editorial team observed the challenge of scholarship in the service of revolutionary advance when it explained the difficulties with sourcing material for those pioneering editors at Kranti Publications.

III Source material

Since his death, any official evaluation of Mao has been framed by the document on party history adopted by the Sixth Plenary Session of the CPC on June 27, 1981. It has more nuances argument than its critics credit but still the bottom line was to draw a line in the mid-1950s and state that anything after that period associated with Mao was ultra-leftist and disastrous for Chinese society.

Basically everything the modern Maoist appreciates in Mao, the politics of the mass line and supervisory mass campaigns , the anti-revisionist stance, radical encourage for anti-imperialists, the Cultural Revolution’s emphasis on ‘continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat’ has been condemned by the Chinese leadership since his death.

However as it turned out, the 1981 Resolution would not end work on Mao’s life. Memoirs by military figures and Mao staff members, biographical studies of senior figures, and selective issue of Party documents added to the knowledge of Mao’s actions and words. Besides Chinese authored memoirs, (amongst them two translated for English-speaking market) Quan Yanchi (1992) and Zhong Wenxian (ed) (1986),[v] work by oversea authors became available: Ross Terrill’s and Philip Short’s biography of Mao were published by Chinese publishing houses.

The fresh attention to Mao was low-key and factual. It stressed his human side, Guangming Ribao ran an article detailing Mao’s grave health problems — including a respiratory ailment due to his smoking — from the spring of 1971 until his death. What was not permitted was any positive evaluation or reference to what had been condemned as Mao’s political leftism.

A powerful “Mao re” (Mao fever) of the early 1990s produced a cultural, good-humoured remembrance of the former leader. Sometimes the use of Mao was commercial, his image on lighters and wristwatches along with the posters, busts and tourist-targeted reproduction copies of Quotations. Such trivial uses will go on being made of Mao image. Sometimes it was superstitious, satiric, or nostalgic. Seldom was it politically.

Another Mao fever that began in 2003. This was the year of the 110th anniversary of Mao’s birth, the publication of a solid official party history biography of Mao, of many films, performances and other events marking the anniversary. On this occasion, Hu Jintao paying lip service said Mao still offered China “precious spiritual wealth.” In forty-eight days, the special website devoted to the 110th Mao anniversary received half a million hits. The thought of Mao remained strong in the mass culture of China, manifest in popular nostalgia if absent from its political and economic policies. It is Mao who still resonates in the spiritually sterile and morally corrupt capitalist society of post-Mao China. How far Maoist nostalgia is reflective and not restorative is another question.

Obviously the source for material by Mao comes from China. All foreign language editions and collections draw upon official and unofficial compilations of texts. There is still no complete Chinese edition of Mao’s works –  Professor Takeuchi Minoru[vi] spent decades producing a Japanese language collection of Mao’s pre-1949 writings in 20 volumes, and Stuart Scram (continued by Timothy Creek) English language series Mao’s Road to Power: Revolutionary Writings, 1912-49 runs to eight published volumes.[vii]

Many western publications – especially those including texts not found in the first four volumes of Selected Works – draw upon the explosion of material collected and produced during the Cultural Revolution when large unofficial collections of Mao’s papers, popularly title “Long Live Mao Zedong Thought” – the various sixiang wansui editions – contained instructions, letters, talks and quotations seldom checked for authenticity or accuracy without bibliographical conventions. These sixiang wansui volumes from 1967 and 1969 emerged from the Institute of International Relations in Taipei. They were compiled from neibu (restricted circulation)[viii] material captured when Red Guards occupied ministries or other government offices, and raids on homes of leading officials. Many of these texts appear to be lecture notes taken down by anonymous hands.

These raw texts contribute to the party’s historiography and Mao’s role in it but they are very much the product of daily politics. These were treated as largely trustworthy not least when translated and popularised in Chairman Mao Talks to the People by Stuart Schram (in UK published as Mao Tse-Tung Unrehearsed. Talks and Letters: 1956-71). There are still other sources to mine, the little known sources, often non-Chinese sourced that could be traced e.g.  Anna Louise Strong: Three Interviews with Chairman Mao Zedong. [ix]

Not surprisingly there are significant differences and details within the Wansui volumes which provided access to Mao’s unofficial work published without being shaped or polished by consideration or subject to political editing and concerns. The breadth and depth of material reproduced in Taiwan in the early 1970s had previously been unavailable to western scholars and were uneven in quality and indifferent to bibliographical filters and checks.

There was the American government’s publication in 1978 of Collected Works of Mao Tse-Tung (1917-1949) produced by the Joint Publications Research Service[x]  based on a ten volume Chinese language edition, Mao Tse-tung Chi that appeared in Hong Kong in 1975 . However any item official published in Selected Works or Selected Readings were not included. Again the main source were the unofficial Red Guard collections Mao Tse-tung Ssu-shiang Wan-sui (Long live Mao Tse-tung thought).

After Mao

Without great fanfare and promotion, and not intended for a mass readership, nevertheless there has been detailed and thematically organized collections of Mao works published. China state publications provide the bedrock of material of work by Mao published in China after his death, and seeded many an academic’s publishing record.

The body of available material expanded through selective official publication of individual items like letters and various thematic volumes which are published exclusively in Chinese language editions, either openly or for restricted circulation (neibu) mainly from the Central Committee supervised Department for Research on Party literature.

The Central Committee’s Research Institute on Party Literature remains responsible for releasing new material. The official publication of Mao’s work had been significant as defining the political orthodoxy. Its release was a carefully choreographed and deliberate statement. This was a function of the Selected Works version published during Mao’s lifetime when revised texts were produced under Mao’s supervision and often with his active participation. Mao’s Selected Works were not simply a historical collection recording what was said at the time. They have been subject to collective editing reflecting their purpose as a political instrument as party orthodox and promotion of ideological training. For instance, Volume V of Selected Writings had only 70 articles from the period 1949-1957 when Western academics identified 750 possible entries for inclusion and actually selected 522 to publish.[xi] Drawn up under the brief tenure of Hua Guofeng, Volume V was quickly suppressed partly because of its “errors” in its stance of upholding the “continuing revolution under the dictatorship of the revolution”.

As with previous work, after Mao’s death the assumption must be that public editions of Mao’s writings are still released to support current party policy. Even though the contents are incomplete and extremely selective in relation to the total corpus of Mao’s work, notable was the lack of appearance of Mao’s more radical advocacy, a shunning of the “ultra-leftist” positions associated with Mao’s later years (seemingly any thought after the aged of 63). [xii]

Back in 1988, Timothy Cheek discussed the massive amount of material released with 23 volumes of talks and writings attributed to Mao, amounting to over 5,500 pages.[xiii] Unlike the hundreds of millions of copies involved in the print run of officially sponsored Mao publications in his life time, and the 28 million copies of Volume V of Selected Work published in 1977-78, these new releases were more modest in number and not as widely circulated beyond the orbit of the sinologist field. Such releases fed new publications of Mao’s writing in English by academic publishers such as The Secret Speeches of Chairman Mao: From the Hundred Flowers to the Great Leap Forward[xiv] .

In all, the release from the 1980s onwards were part of a Chinese party/state sanction scholarly and historicist drive that saw a release of new volumes of Mao’s writings that  specialist libraries like at Harvard (USA) and western academics secured access regardless of their circulation status. Some of the sources referenced by scholars include:

1983 Selected Correspondences of Mao Zedong

1983 Selected Materials regarding Mao Zedong’s Journalistic work

1983 Collected writings of Mao Zedong on the investigations in the countryside.

1986 Mao Zedong Reader in two volume edition published covering 1921-1964 with copious (488) and lengthy end notes.

1986 a collection of 14 articles on Mao’s reading habits was published: Mao Zedong’s Reading Life (Mao Zedong de dushu shenghuo , Sanlian Shudian, Beijing 1986)

1987 a research guide to 14,000 items in two volumes, Index to research on Mao Zedong’s life and works ( Mao Zedong shengping, zhuzuo yanjiu suoyin. Guofeng Daxue Chubanshe, Beijing 1987) was published. A testimony to the interest and extent of material generated around Mao.

1987 A Collection of Mao Zedong’s Comments and Notes on Philosophical Writings is another volume of the series of Mao Zedong’s special works edited by the CPC Central Committee’s Party Literature Research Center (with the cooperation of other units). It is a collection of Mao Zedong’s notes on and extracts from the philosophical writings on Marxism which he studied between the 1930’s and 1960’s. “Most of them have never been published before.[xv]

1987 – 1996 Mao Zedong’s Manuscript since the founding of the People’s Republic (Jianguo yilai Mao Zedong wengao .Beijing: Zhongyang wenxian chubanshe, 1987-1996). This multivolume collection has three volumes covering the period of the Cultural revolution: Volume 11: January 1964 – December 1965  to Volume 13: January 1969 – July 1976

1991 Draft Writings by Mao Zedong for the Early Period, June 1912-November 1920. Mao Zedong Zaoqi Wengao, 1912.6-1920.11 Changsha: Hunan Chaubanshe.

1993-1999. 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”.[xvi]

1993 Mao Zedong’s Military Writings six volumes (Mao Zedong junshi wenji .Beijing: Zhongyang wenxian chubanshe, 1993).

1994 Selection of Materials by Mao Zedong on Foreign Affairs (Beijing: Zhongyang wenxian chubanshe, 1994) In the former, over five-sixths of the documentation covers the post-1949 period, the last being from his May 25, 1974 talk with former British Prime Minister Edward Heath. An English-language collection of Mao’s writing On Diplomacy was produced by Foreign Language Press in 1998.

1995 A Collection of Reports and Speeches by Mao Zedong to the Seventh Party Congress (Mao Zedong zai qida de baogao he jianghua ji . Beijing: Zhongyang wenxian chubanshe, 1995).

Also, Nancy Hearst and Tony Saich suggested that (although unseen) a limited circulation 60-volume edition of pre-1949 Mao texts apparently exists.[xvii]

1998 Complete Books of Mao Zedong, 6 volumes (ed) Jiang Jiannong. Mao Zedong Chuan Shu, Shijiazhuang: Hebi Renmin Chubanshe

2013 Mao Zedong Nianpu 1949-1976 of six volumes of previously obscure materials from the central party archives press published to celebrate the 120th anniversary of the birth of Mao Zedong, Guangming Daily (23/12/2013) reported the publication of the Mao Nianpu (or Mao Zedong Chronology) (1949-1976). Compiled by the CCCPC Party Literature Research Office, it comprised six volumes and about three million words, covering Mao’s life and achievements during the twenty-seven years from the founding of the People’s Republic of China to his death.

Adam Cathcart commented that in Mao Zedong Nianpu a single editor was responsible for editing the entire Cultural Revolution period, covered in a single volume of 653 pages of text covering ten years (1966-1976), and suggests Mao’s dwindling physical activity could be partially to account for the relative lack of density of the entries. Judicious selection based on the 1981 resolution may leave other writings safely in the archives?

  At the same time, the Chronicle of Mao Zedong (1893-1949) (total three volumes) published in December 1993 has been revised and issued across the country.

IV Turning Mao’s Chinese into English

The reworking on Mao related text, as in the scholarship undertaken by FLP, is a constant feature as in finding the original source of a document that was only available as an excerpt in the 1st edition of the Selected Works Vol. 9 and replace the excerpt with it in the 2nd edition. But there are frustrations too as FLP Twitter account noted: “wish we found this a week earlier. Rab Rab Press, a tiny publisher from Finland, has released in June 2020 a new translation of the last meeting of Mao with Red Guards leaders that corrects so many parts that the JPRS translation one has wrongly translated.”

Foreign Language Press has taken on the challenge with an announcement regarding the future of their work on the Mao’s writings. Work has already begun on Volume X with several hundreds of page of Mao’s writings, interviews, letters and instructions from 1966 to 1976 that have yet to be released in English. They hope to publish in 2021.[xviii]

The readability of the translated work requires an understanding of the nuances of Chinese terms and expressions while ensuring that what is read is both accurate and conveys what was said. A good translation requires more than transliteration in the translation, a good English renderings of Mao’s Chinese, translate into “accuracy and nuance, tone and register.”  These concerns were evident in the 1930s according to this account by Edgar Snow.

In his Red Star over China Snow writes: “Seated next to me was Wu Liang-ping, a young Soviet ‘functionary’, who acted as interpreter during my ‘formal’ interviews with Mao Tse-tung. I wrote down in full in English Mao Tse-tung’s answers to my questions, and these were then translated into Chinese and corrected by Mao, who is noted for his insistence upon accuracy of detail. With the assistance of Mr. Wu, the interviews were then re-translated into English.” In 1979 Wu Liang-ping wrote an additional explanation: “At the request of Mao Tse-tung, Snow compiled the notes on Mao’s revolutionary experience and wrote an account that was, after having been translated into Chinese by Huang Hua, scrutinized and revised slightly by Mao. Huang Hua translated these revisions into English, and returned the draft to Snow.” [xix]

Reviewing the English language series Mao’s Road to Power: Revolutionary Writings, Brantly Womack judged “they lack the genius of the official Chinese translations. The translations in the official Selected Works of Mao Tsetung are remarkable for their ability to transcend the literal text and to get the original point across better with a different construction or wording.”[xx]

Foreign Language Press alluded to the questions raised on which version of the available texts are more authentic, or more authoritative, in its consideration of using the texts in the collection published as Mao Papers, Anthology and Bibliography Edited by Jerome Chen (1970) . It was also a practical concern as FLP’s second editions of the “Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung” compiled in early 1990s by comrades from Kranti Publications, corrects typographical and formatting errors. In Mao Papers the editor had undertaken his own translation and ignored pre-existing official version of English language published texts. A noted and respected translator of Mao, the sinologist  Stuart Scram (1924 –2012)  noted in his review of the publication of these independent translations – “many of which are highly elliptical and difficult to interpret” – errors in dating and distorting editorial choices .[xxi]  The FLP highlight some of these concerns in Jerome Chen’s use of material that have to be addressed by any compiler of Mao’s writings. [xxii]

This small, if energised MLM publishing house noted in its politically-driven scholarship:

“You can trace our evolution in Mao’s Selected Works: Volume VI is basically a reprint with some corrections of the more obvious typographical errors; Volume VII was much more thoroughly copyedited and we replaced all the Wade-Giles Chinese with pinyin and included an index of names and places; Volume VIII included, in addition to the corrections made in previous volumes, corrections in the sourcing of the texts in particular; and Volume IX… in Volume IX we uncovered a whole host of problems. Texts that were translated incorrectly, placed out of context, chopped up and moved into other texts and dated and sourced incorrectly. The more deeply we dug, the more errors we discovered, and found ourselves irretrievably behind schedule.” [xxiii]

On translating Mao, academic author Thomas Kampen, listed the difficulties the task involves[xxiv]

Many aspects have to be considered:

1) Many of Mao’s speeches were not intended for publication.
2) Many speeches were not based on detailed manuscripts.
3) Many listeners were not from Hunan and were not familiar with his pronunciation.
4) Notes were handwritten and not always legible.
5) The speeches sometimes lasted for several hours (people may have been exhausted).
6) Ambiguity was not always intended; participants were aware of the speeches by other
leaders or RMRB/Hong Qi editorials of the time.

The officially published works of Mao have gone through an editorial process and polishing not unknown in western publishing circles where fiction texts receive the blue pencil while maintaining the mythology of the lone writer, and why employ a sub-editor in a newspaper office, who would go without the benefit of peer review in academic study that brings items to the author’s attention? As FLP notes, the source material for unofficial publication of work attributed to Mao are “compilations of documents published in other compilations translated from… Chinese compilations”.

A background case study illustrating the problems suggested to in the endeavour to bring Mao’s work to a wider audience. Just two small episodes illustrates the complexities involved in presenting Mao for professional academics:

Is what you read, what was written – the problem of mistranslation was explored upon in a blog by Leeds University lecture, Adam Cathcart with regard to Mao’s addresses to the Chengdu conference of March 1958 when “Mao gave no fewer than six speeches at the Chengdu meeting — none of which was publicised at the time.”[xxv]

Once you have a translated quote, is it understood and used appropriately with accuracy? The academic response [xxvi]  provoked by the lies and distortion contained in the worldwide best-selling hatchett job on Mao by Jung Chang and her husband, Jon Halliday, was a public condemnation of “poor scholarship” that is discussed quietly online in numerous forums. For instance, Did Mao say let half the people starve? Academic consensus growing that Frank Dikotter, author of a best-selling trilogy on modern Chinese history, got Mao’s quote seriously wrong does not stop it been repeated and reproduced elsewhere. The hunt for the killer quote was dissect and framed within an academic discussion. [xxvii]

The discussion did bring forth a self-criticism from an eminent scholar in the field of Chinese studies, Michael Schoenhals,

“…perhaps you would like to believe that the authors of Mao’s Last Revolution (HUP 2006) can be trusted when, on p. 102, they have Mao saying “the more people you kill, the more revolutionary you are”? Don’t! I was responsible for that translation of Mao’s abstruse remark “越杀人就越要革命” and the translation is wrong. A correct translation …. should read “The greater the number of people murdered, the greater the wish [on the part of the survivors] for a revolution.” A world of difference!”

The evidence of the diversity of material since 1949 might question the need for the translation of every item produced in his life-time, after all it would take an equal amount to read and study it!

Not all entries need equal attention and study as the volumes are full of sleight, single sentences entries, recording comments and letters, diplomatic greetings and observation written by Mao e.g a simple opinion is editorial elevated to be taken as an “Evaluation of the movie “The Song of the Gardener” “ Mao’s comment in November 1974 was:  I think it is a good show.

An explanatory note from the editor explains that prior to this, the “Gang of Four” had criticised the movie “The Gardener” in Hunan in November 1974.[xxviii]

Its inclusion may serve a wider agenda of the Chinese authorities seeking to disassociate Mao from the “Gang of Four” by citing differences in opinion but much further contextual research would be required, and what criteria is invoked in the judgement – artistic, political, politeness ? The numerous occurrence of such entries reinforces the need to evaluate and select what is given prominence in any published work.

The original producers of the unauthorised Volume Six acknowledged the limitations of “the works included in this volume, we have neither the means nor the competence to vouch safe about their authenticity and completeness.” Upfront there were warnings for the reader to be wary – “We fondly hope that much more additional material could come to light enabling us to substantially improve on this” – but in that absence the intention was to “further stimulating the study of Mao’s works.” [xxix]

They pointed out the weakness in that there was poor bibliographic control. ..Except indicating the primary source quoted in the originals, no attempt is made to annotate or edit the texts in any respect or in any manner.” So maybe “Works” is accurate, rather than writings, as much of what is available consists of manuscripts of notes and contemptuous recording by others.

V   Political Interpretation

“No verdict on a man who changed either the course of events or accepted patterns of thought (and Mao changed both) can ever be called final. Many such individuals are re-evaluated, and argued about, decades or even centuries after their disappearance.” Stuart Schram 1982 in a lecture in Hong Kong.

The fashion to paint Mao as one-dimensionally and unremittingly evil was not Deng’s, nor was the idea of maintaining Mao’s legacy: Deng Xiaoping had a different agenda for China’s development that was reformist, state capitalist and market-driven.

In saying that we should use as our guide genuine Mao Zedong Thought taken as an integral whole, I mean that we should have a correct and comprehensive understanding of Mao Zedong Thought as a system and that we should be proficient at studying it, mastering it, and applying it as a guide to our work. Only in this way can we be sure that we are not fragmenting Mao Zedong Thought, distorting or debasing it. We can then see that what Comrade Mao Zedong said with regard to a specific question at a given time and under particular circumstances was correct, and that what he said with regard to the same question at a different time and under different circumstances was also correct, despite occasional differences in the extent of elaboration, in emphasis and even in the formulation of his ideas. So we must acquire a correct understanding of Mao Zedong Thought as an integral system instead of just citing a few specific words or sentences.[xxx]

One approach of the post-Mao leadership was to quote an earlier Mao in contrast to his later self as demonstrated in the Beijing Review article, “Chairman Mao on Mao Zedong Thought”. [xxxi] It sought to establish a legitimatising source and symbol it could use against the Mao that would issue calls to bombard the headquarters against the capitalist roaders. The perspective was reinforced that condemned and shelved Mao’s erroneous thinking. Li Rui, briefly in the mid-1950s, the personal secretary to Mao Zedong on industrial affairs, noted for his criticisms of the Great Leap Forward, so not an unpartisan observer, commented on the wider impact of such thinking: 

As a historical phenomenon, Mao Zedong’s erroneous thinking in his later years also generated considerable worldwide impact.

During the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong Thought was declared to be the “third milestone” in the evolution of Marxism, focusing on this erroneous thinking in his later years. Left-wing parties and groups in some countries not only accepted his theories but also put them into practice. The ways in which the Cultural Revolution was conducted were once followed by radicals in a dozen countries and regions and at one time created a stir, such as the “Red May Storm” in France, the “Khmer Rouge” in Southeast Asia, and the “Shining Path” in Latin America. This indicated that Mao Zedong’s erroneous thinking in his later years already went beyond national boundaries and its study is of international importance. [xxxii]

Political Interpretation in China is hostile to the sentiments expressed worldwide by revolutionaries was voiced by the Australian E.F. Hill:

This is meant to be no more than a note prompted by another note. I adhere to the view that Mao Zedong made a unique contribution to the international cause of Communism and the liberation of mankind. His writings should be deeply studied and independently thought over using the general principles and putting on one side those things peculiarity confined to China.  [xxxiii]

In a 1956 conversation with representatives of some Latin American communist parties, Mao Zedong warns them about mechanically copying the experiences of the Chinese revolution:

“The experience of the Chinese revolution, that is, building rural base areas, encircling the cities from the countryside and finally seizing the cities, may not be wholly applicable to many of your countries, though it can serve for your reference. I beg to advise you not to transplant Chinese experience mechanically. The experience of any foreign country can serve only for reference and must not be regarded as dogma. The universal truth of Marxism-Leninism and the concrete conditions of your own countries–the two must be integrated.” [xxxiv]

 Studying Mao can be a fulltime occupation and the field of scholarship has generated library shelves throughout the world. The official publication of Mao has continued with the specific intent to tame and shape his legacy. The “collective wisdom” created and applied throughout the Chinese Revolution is institutionalise in the party, relativizing his thought away from its dominance as Deng Xiaoping began the de-mythologizing of Mao that keeps him as a symbol.  Whilst the 1987 new material for the Study of Mao Zedong’s Philosophical Thinking was advertised as “something which has great theoretical and practical significance” in Red Flag, little sweeps into party practice.

The process of articulating and systematizing what became known as the Thought of Mao Zedong within China began in the mid-1930s amidst the shift from a rural class-based revolution to a national united front against Japanese imperialism; the application of Marxism to Chinese conditions. It was this intellectual contribution that was the discourse of Western academics when they debated the subject of Maoism.[xxxv] Events moved on, and different interpretations arose…

The analyses of Stuart 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[xxxvi]

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 capitalist Cold War adversaries.

The early years of this century saw intellectual ferment among self-identifying Maoist focusing on the ideological judgements behind terminology issues – to use Mao Zedong Thought or Maoism.[xxxvii]  That extended contention in recent years has swivelled to encompass a contention that basically Mao Zedong was not even a maoist. One current associated with the positions of the chairman of Partido Comunista del Peru (CPP), Chairman Gonzalo , argues that it needs someone like Gonzalo to systematize and formulate the universal lessons learned from the revolutionary struggle in China led by Mao, critics ask in what way have CPP and Gonzalo systematized and formulated Mao’s thinking questioning whether a few authoritative text produced by the PCP suffice as the basis for such an assertion when contested by other Maoists. [xxxviii]

 “For most Maoists, the practices and lessons learned from the Cultural Revolution are the cornerstone of the development of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought to Maoism. The launching of the GPCR was Mao’s response to the emergence of a new bureaucratic capitalist class in the Party under socialism. He believed that the only way to win the struggle for socialism was the elevated consciousness of the masses and their ability to rectify the Party: to target the real enemies of the dictatorship of the proletariat within the Party leadership itself. In the end, the masses were unable to accomplish this, in spite of—as you can read in the many documents in this volume—all of his efforts to enable them to do so.”[xxxix]


VI      Related Posts

Reading Mao Zedong


Reading More About Mao


Volume 1 of Selected Works


Volume 4 of Selected Works


Appreciating Mao



Global Maoism





[i] Announcing the upcoming release of the Selected Works of Mao Zedong Vol. IX December 26, 2020

[ii] Mao Zedong; Moss Roberts, trans. (1977). A Critique of Soviet Economics. New York: Monthly Review Press

[iii] Timothy Cheek, The ‘Genius’ Mao: a treasure trove of 23 newly available volumes of post-1949 Mao Zedong texts. The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs 19/20, 1988.

[iv] Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung Volume 9 (1993) Kranti Publications

[v] Quan Yanchi (1992) Mao Zedong Man, Not God. Translated by Wang Wenjiong and English text edited by Gale Hadfield. Paperback: 213 pages. Foreign Languages Press.  9787119014456 and Zhong Wenxian (ed) (1986) Mao Zedong: Biography – Assessment -Reminiscences. 238 pages. Foreign Languages Press .083511886X

[vi] Mao Zedong Ji (Collected Writings of Mao Zedong) edited by Takeuchi Minoru. 10 volumes. (Tokyo: Sososha 2nd ed. 1983) + Mao Zedong Ji: Bujuan (Supplement to Collected Writings of Mao Zedong ) edited by Takeuchi Minoru. 10 volumes. (Tokyo : Sososha 1983-1986)

[vii] See https://emaoism.files.wordpress.com/2018/06/nick-knight.pdf

[viii] Neibu – The concept of restricted circulation based on political criteria is a much discussed source by western academics who are less forthcoming about the private government briefings and seminars, the newsletters of restricted circulation based on financial criteria, and research products from the financial markets circulated by connections and restricted access to archives that all contribute to the ecology of information circulation in the west.

[ix] The China Quarterly, No. 103 (Sep., 1985), pp. 489-509

[x] The Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) was a United States government defense-funded organization that was absorbed into the monitoring service, Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS).

[xi] Michael Y.M.Kau and John K Leung, The Writing of Mao Zedong, 1949-1976 : Vol 1 September 1949-December 1955 (1986) New York: M.E. Sharpe:   Vol 2 January 1956- December 1957 (1992) New York: M.E. Sharpe

[xii] See Li Rui (1996) An Initial Study on Mao Zedong’s Erroneous “Left” Thinking in His Later Years. Chinese Law & Government, 29:4, 6-11

[xiii]Timothy Cheek, The ‘Genius’ Mao: a treasure trove of 23 newly available volumes of post-1949 Mao Zedong texts. The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs 19/20, 1988

[xiv] The Secret Speeches of Chairman Mao: From the Hundred Flowers to the Great Leap Forward edited by Roderick MacFarquhar, Timothy Cheek, and Eugene Wu.  Harvard University, 1989

[xv] Noted Shi Zhongquan in Hongqi [Red Flag] No 17, 1 Sept 1987 pp 3-9

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

[xvii] Newly Available Sources on CCP History from the People’s Republic of China in New perspectives on state socialism of China (eds) Timothy Cheek and Tony Saich. 1997

[xviii] Announcing the upcoming release of the Selected Works of Mao Zedong Vol. IX.   December 26, 2020

[xix] https://emaoism.wordpress.com/2015/04/26/52-republication-of-mao-zedongs-autobiography/

[xx] Brantly Womack, Mao before Maoism. The China Journal No.46 July 2001:95-117. His 1977 Ph.D. thesis at the University of Chicago was published in 1982: Foundations of Mao Zedong’s Political Thought, 1917-1935 Honolulu: The University Press of Hawaii. Subsequently published by China Renmin University Press (2006) translated as Mao Zedong Zhengzhi Sixiang de Jichu (1917–1935) 毛泽东政治思想的基础 (1917–1935).

[xxi]  The China Quarterly 46 June 1971: 366-369

[xxii] For detail criticism see “Announcing the upcoming release of the Selected Works of Mao Zedong Vol. IX.”   December 26, 2020 

[xxiii] Announcing the upcoming release of the Selected Works of Mao Zedong Vol. IX.   December 26, 2020 

[xxiv] https://networks.h-net.org/node/3544/discussions/99266/looking-great-leap-smoking-gun-document   December 9, 2015

[xxv] See https://adamcathcart.com/2019/01/07/mistranslating-mao-in-chengdu-1958/

[xxvi] Gregor Benton and Lin Chun (Editors) (2010) Was Mao Really a Monster? The Academic Response to Chang and Halliday’s Mao: The Unknown Story Routledge

[xxvii] See: Looking for Great Leap “smoking gun”.https://networks.h-net.org/node/3544/discussions/99266/looking-great-leap-smoking-gun-document

[xxviii] Manuscripts of Mao Zedong since the founding of the state vol.13 Jan. 1969-July 1976

[xxix] Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung Volume 6 ,  Kranti publications 1990  [Publisher’s Note]

[xxx] Speech at the Third Plenary Session of the Tenth Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. July 21, 1977.  Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Volume II 1975-1982.   See also, Deng Xiaoping (1960) Correctly Disseminate Mao Zedong Thought https://emaoism.wordpress.com/2015/04/21/1960-correctly-disseminate-mao-zedong-thought/

[xxxi]  Beijing Review, #2, Jan. 14, 1980, pp. 23-26 or https://emaoism.wordpress.com/2015/04/25/chairman-mao-on-mao-zedong-thought/

[xxxii] Li Rui (1996) An Initial Study on Mao Zedong’s Erroneous “Left” Thinking in His Later Years, Chinese Law & Government, 29:4, 6-11

[xxxiii] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/australia/hill-mao.htm

A more extended and argued piece can be found in the work of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Chile, Evaluation of the Work of Mao Tsetung [published in Revolution, Journal of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, Vol. 5, No. 1, January 1980].

[xxxiv] https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-5/mswv5_54.htm

[xxxv] See: What is Maoism? A Symposium, Problems of Communism, September 1966 Issue and the earlier disagreements voiced in the pages of The China Quarterly: Karl Wittvogel, “The Legend of Maoism” China Quarterly Nos 1-2 (1960) and Benjamin Schwartz, “The Legend of the ‘Legend of Maoism’” China Quarterly No.2 (April-June 1960).

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

[xxxvii] See J. Moufawad-Paul, Critique of Maoist Reason FLP 2020

[xxxviii] PCP articles found in Collected Works of the PCP 1968-1987 FLP 2016. Drawing a line of demarcation in 21st Maoism, the veteran Philippine Marxist, Joma Ma. Sison, in an interview spoke critically on  those taking such positions in  the contemporary world communist movement. Published by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, 18 November 2019 https://ndfp.org/questions-on-mao-zedong-thought-maoism/

[xxxix] Announcing the upcoming release of the Selected Works of Mao Zedong Vol. IX.   December 26, 2020

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