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The work of Mao Zedong and his beliefs concerning China, Japan, and other countries involved in territorial conflicts is a defining part of Chinese history. Mao’s movement was empowered by the peasants’ lack of authority over their lives. Moreover, people’s disagreement with the former Chinese government and the tensions between Kuomintang, Japanese forces, and the Communist Party of China (CPC) also contributed to Mao’s political career. 1
His struggle to combat both Chinese forces of Chiang Kai-Shek and Japanese influence led to two major Civil Wars in China and another Sino-Japanese War that significantly changed the path of the Chinese government. Mao’s impact on Chinese history is substantial – the communist revolution takes its roots in Mao’s robust military strategies and determination to engage peasants in the uprisings.
Outline of Events: China in 1919-1949
- 1919 – May 4 Movement is initiated. Students lead protests against the Chinese government’s response to the treaty of Versailles.
- 1921 – Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao establish the Communist Party of China (CPC). Mao founds a branch of the party in Changsha.
- 1923 – The CPC allies with the Kuomintang (KMT), a Chinese party with nationalist views. As a result, the First United Front is founded by the two groups.
- 1924 – The first KMT Congress is held, during which Mao expresses the need to decentralize power.
- 1926 – The Northern Expedition Attack is launched by the National Revolution Army (governed by the KMT) against the government and landowners.
- 1927, April – Mao becomes one of the five members of the Central Land Committee, further encouraging peasants to rebel against the government.
- 1927 – In Shanghai, communists are attacked by Chiang Kai-Shek.
- 1927, September 7 – In Changsha, Mao organizes an Autumn Harvest Uprising.
- 1928 – The KMT advance into Jinggangshan and the two groups (KMT and Mao’s troops) fight in the guerrilla war.
- 1930 – Mao establishes the Southwest Jiangxi Provincial Soviet Government.
- 1930-1931 – The Red Army attempts to overthrow Mao’s rule. The Soviet Republic of China is founded in Jiangxi, and Mao loses his authority in the army.
- 1934-1935 – The Red Army goes on the “Long March” in hopes to evade the KMT’s forces. The status of Mao rises again, and he becomes the leader of the CPC.
- 1937 – 1945 – The Second Sino-Japanese War happens. Mao encourages the establishment of the Second United Front with the KMT in order to defeat the Japanese forces.
- 1943 – Mao’s status as the CPC Chairman becomes official.
- 1946 – 1949 – The Civil War in China changes its direction, and Mao’s army overpowers the KMT forces.
- 1949, October 1 – The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is founded.2 3
The outline shows the complicated path that Mao went through while trying to engage peasants in the revolution against the government. His initial participation in movements was based on his disagreement with the Versailles treaty that positioned China as weak. 4 Mao’s interest in communism led to him becoming a vital part of the CPC. During the onset of the student-led rebellion, Mao saw that his works had a substantial impact on the public5.
The future leader used his ability to organize students to bring his revolutionary ideas to life. In order to reach a wide audience, Mao utilized published literature that contained understandable and straightforward language.6 It can be perceived that Mao’s activity directly contributed to the May 4 Movement.
In his later career, Mao continued to strategize to maintain the outreach of the party and its effect on the Chinese government and citizens. For example, the alliances with the KMT possibly allowed Mao to learn more about the other party. On the one hand, the step of creating the First United Front may have been necessary to present a group that was more powerful than imperialists.7 On the other hand, the collaboration allowed Mao to participate in the processes of the KMT and share his ideas with a large nationalist party that viewed other communists as a potential threat. Mao’s activity in the KMT, however, was disrupted when the leader of the party, Chiang Kai-Shek, attacked communists in 1927.8
This set of events led to Mao losing his authority in the party, but did not stop him from using the remaining military forces to continue working with Chinese peasants. His decision to lead multiple peasant uprisings showed his strong interest in workers’ power in the state and the efficient approach to gaining disciplined followers.
The ongoing conflict between the KMT and the Red Army of communists resulted in Mao gaining power over the CPC which he used to continue enforcing his ideas. The decision-making ability of Mao and his approach to managing military conflicts can be seen in his choice to unite with Chiang’s KMT to defeat Japan.9
While the two parties did not have a trusting relationship, especially after the civil war, Mao understood that their collaboration was vital in winning the war against Japanese forces. Here, it is clear that Mao prioritized the independence of China and the stance against imperialists and outside forces. Nonetheless, after the opponent surrendered, Mao resumed the civil war, thus showing ruthless strategic thinking.10 In the end, it is possible that Mao’s performance in the Sino-Japanese war increased his status and assisted in gaining power after civil conflicts. 11
The Effect of the Movement on Partners
The communist victory in China changed the views of other Asian countries and led to the establishment of relationships between states that accepted the ideology of Mao as effective. The prominent opinions of Mao and his success in both the Sino-Japanese and Chinese Civil Wars had a substantial impact on parts of Vietnam and Korea. The Chinese leader was able to support one side during the conflict in Vietnam, potentially changing the course of the war. Furthermore, it is possible that the aid to North Vietnam increased its chances of standing against other international forces.12
The party of Mao and his beliefs contributed to the nationalist views of North Korea as well. Mao participated in the Korean War by supplying resources and promoting the communist ideology. The reinforcement of the forces of North Korea was a step to support the region with similar communist views.13 Moreover, it was possibly done to oppose the assistance of the Western troops which helped South Korea and denied a communist worldview. Mao’s previous experience in military strategy allowed him to assist other armies in overpowering their opponents.
The history of such movements as Mao’s communist party is defined by the strong influential beliefs that the leader expressed and followed. Mao utilized information sharing and simple but forceful language in order to encourage the underserved public to rise against the government. At the same time, he recognized that all conflicts between national parties were not as important or urgent as the need to stand up against outside influences. Mao’s military and political strategy allowed him to use the conflict between China and Japan to weaken the opposing party and gain recognition as a prolific leader. Mao also contributed to other countries’ views of nationalism and government support of the citizens.
Armstrong, Charles K. The North Korean Revolution, 1945–1950. London: Cornell University Press, 2004.
Gordon, David M. “The China-Japan War, 1931-1945.” The Journal of Military History 70, no. 1 (2006): 137-182.
Karl, Rebecca E. Mao Zedong and China in the Twentieth-Century World: A Concise History. London: Duke University Press, 2010.
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Knight, Nick. Rethinking Mao: Explorations in Mao Zedong’s Thought. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2007.
- David M. Gordon, “The China-Japan War, 1931-1945,” The Journal of Military History 70, no. 1 (2006): 142.
- Ibid., 137-180.
- Rebecca E. Karl, Mao Zedong and China in the Twentieth-Century World: A Concise History (London: Duke University Press, 2010), 5-70.
- Ibid., 15.
- Nick Knight, Rethinking Mao: Explorations in Mao Zedong’s Thought (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2007), 73.
- Karl, Mao Zedong, and China, 63.
- Ibid., 56.
- Ibid., 33.
- Knight, Rethinking Mao, 100.
- Karl, Mao Zedong, and China, 46.
- Gordon, “The China-Japan War,” 150.
- Knight, Rethinking Mao, 152.
- Charles K. Armstrong, The North Korean Revolution, 1945–1950 (London: Cornell University Press, 2004), 245.