Historians provide various explanations for Mao Zedong’s rise to power. This person can be regarded as a skillful political strategist and tactician who could manipulate, forestall, and coerce his opponents into defeat. Yet, he can also be considered as an opportunist always able to take advantage of various circumstances, even those ones when he made obvious mistakes.
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Thus, it is necessary to show how modern scholars describe and assess Mao Zedong. In particular, we can compare Maurice Meisner’s evaluation of Mao with the assessment offered by David Apter and Tony Saich. To some degree, the works of these historians represent opposing views on Mao Zedong political struggles.
Meisner emphasizes his efforts to appeal to various social classes. He shows what Mao Zedong gained the trust of his potential supporters. In turn, Apter and Saich attach greater importance to his rivalry with various people who could undermine his authority.
First, it should be mentioned that these scholars pursue a similar objective; in particular, they strive to explain how Mao Zedong gained supremacy in the Communist Party, and became a symbol of a leader for the Chinese people. Yet, these texts differ greatly in the style of presentation.
In his work Maurice Meisner looks at Mao’s succession to power from a strictly chronological standpoint. He discusses a series of events that contributed to Mao’s ascendance to power. His attention is focused on the Long March, the Japanese invasion of China, the establishment of Red Capital in Yan’an and so forth.
He shows how these events helped to gain the support of people with “proletariat consciousness” (Meisner, 45). In their turn, Apter and Saich discuss separate strategies and tactics that Mao employed to overpower his opponents among politicians, intellectuals, administrators and military.
Additionally, it is important to compare the data that these scholars analyze. For instance, Maurice Meisner discusses quantitative demographic data that shows how many people supported Mao and many people lost their lives because of his initiatives. Still, he also gives preference to quantitative research methods.
He focuses on Mao’s description and perceptions of his successes and failures. The data that this historian discusses mostly comes from primary sources such as Mao’s books, articles, and interviews conducted with this political leader.
He also uses secondary sources, especially, the books published by other historians and journalists. In contrast, Apter and Saich don’t use quantitative data. They give preference to qualitative data that allows the reader to understand the opinions of Mao and his opponents. Their data come from primary sources such as letters, diaries, pamphlets, and books published during that period.
There are some similarities in conclusions that these authors arrive at. One of his arguments is that Mao was able to transform his failed initiatives into victories. For example, the Long March which resulted in thousands of casualties, was later transformed into a symbol of “will, spirit, and revolutionary consciousness” (Meisner, 34).
Mao understood that this March could have been ruinous for the Communist Party, but he never admitted his errors and attributed them to his political rivals.
This idea is shared by David Apter and Tony Saich who also think that Mao Zedong was good at “turning defeats into lessons, and lessons into claims to truth” (Apter and Saich, 37). Overall, the authors agree that he was able to shift the blame for his failures on others.
However, these scholars have different perspectives on Mao Zedong’s strategy. For instance, David Apter and Tony Saich focus on the so-called “four struggles” of Mao (Apter and Saich, 35). This term describes Mao’s attempts to win military, ideological, intellectual, and administrative leadership in China (Apter & Saich, 35).
These authors show how he was able to manipulate, coerce, and discredit his potential rivals such as Zhang Guotao, Liu Zhidan, Wang Ming, and Wang Shiwei. These people could eventually challenge Mao’s authority and his status within the communist Party.
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Maurice Meisner does not try to refute this argument, but in his view, Mao’s success can be explained by his ability to appeal to various social classes, especially to people with the so-called “proletariat consciousness” (Meisner, 45).
According this scholar, Mao was able to construct such an image of himself that could earn him the trust of peasants, workers, and bourgeois. He believed that revolutionary consciousness could be possessed by people of various social backgrounds. In part, this rhetoric enabled him to attract more potential supporters of the Communist Party.
Additionally, these historians agree that the establishment of a communism regime in Yan’an played a pivotal role for the success of Mao Zedong and the Communist Party in general. This period shaped future policies of the party.
However, these scholars differ greatly when they interpret the legacies of Yan’an. Maurice Meisner emphasizes the idea that this period intensified people’s belief in the strength of revolutionary forces, and their ability to overcome material hardships and bureaucratic barriers (Meisner, 50).
Maurice Meisner also mentions some social practices that emerged from the Yan’an years, for instance, the combination of industrial and agricultural production. In contrast, David Apter and Tony Saich argue that this period only identified the enemies of the communist revolution. In this case, one can speak about intellectuals such as Wang Shiwei or Wang Ming.
Moreover, one can mention administrators and military like Guotao and Zhidan. According to these scholars, the potential opponents of Mao were regarded as “the demons of Yan’an” (Apter & Saich, 68). In their opinion, the Yan’an period shaped future policies of the Communist Party toward those people who could disagree with Mao or his regime.
Hence, it is possible to say that both these texts describe a set of strategies that Mao Zedong adopted to become a leader. Maurice Meisner discusses how this person was able to augment the ranks of his supporters.
This scholar also explains how Mao Zedong’s ability to put his failures in a more positive light. In contrast, David Apter and Tony Saich show how he defeated his possible rivals. These authors focus on different aspects of Mao’s struggle against potential opponents.
On the whole, it is not very easy to determine which of these texts is more useful or convincing. Maurice Meisner’s work illustrates how Mao Zedong was able to win ideological struggle in the country.
This work enables the readers to understand his populist strategies. In turn, the article by David Apter and Tony Saich shows whom Mao regarded as enemies of his rule. It seems that this work throws more light on Mao Zedong.
The thing is that his politics was largely based on his willingness to find enemies of the state and blame them for every misfortune. Moreover, his methods such as manipulation and coercion remained unchanged during his rule. In my view, David Apter and Tony Saich were able to capture the essence of Mao Zedong regime.