Mao Zedong or Mao Tse-tung (December 26, 1893 – September 9, 1976), also known as Chairman Mao, was a Chinese communist revolutionary, poet, political theorist and founding father of the People’s Republic of China, which he governed as the Chairman of the Communist Party of China from its establishment in 1949, until his death in 1976. His Marxist–Leninist theories, military strategies, and political policies are collectively known as Maoism or Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.
Born the son of a wealthy farmer in Shaoshan, Hunan, Mao adopted a Chinese nationalist and anti-imperialist outlook in early life, particularly influenced by the events of the Xinhai Revolution of 1911 and May Fourth Movement of 1919. Mao adopted Marxism–Leninism while working at Peking University and became a founding member of the Communist Party of China (CPC), leading the Autumn Harvest Uprising in 1927. During the Chinese Civil War between the Kuomintang (KMT) and the CPC, Mao helped to found the Chinese Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, led the Jiangxi Soviet’s radical land policies and ultimately became head of the CPC during the Long March. Although the CPC temporarily allied with the KMT under the United Front during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–45), after Japan’s defeat China’s civil war resumed and in 1949 Mao’s forces defeated the Nationalists who withdrew to Taiwan.
On 1 October 1949, Mao proclaimed the foundation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), a one-party state controlled by the CPC. In the following years Mao solidified his control through a campaign of classicide against landlords, and a mass purge of perceived enemies of the state he termed as “counter-revolutionaries” alleged to have caused between 2,000,000 to 6,000,000 deaths. (Mao himself admitting 800,000 deaths in the classicide and 712,000 in the suppression of Counterrevolutionaries) In 1957, he launched the Great Leap Forward campaign that aimed to rapidly transform China’s economy from an agrarian economy to an industrial one. The campaign contributed to a widespread famine, whose death toll is estimated at between 15,000,000 and 55,000,000. In 1966, he initiated the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, a program to remove “counter-revolutionary” elements of Chinese society that lasted 10 years and which was marked by violent class struggle that killed 400,000 to 10,000,000 people, widespread destruction of cultural artifacts and unprecedented elevation of Mao’s personality cult. In 1972, Mao welcomed American President Richard Nixon in Beijing, signalling a policy of opening China, which was furthered under the rule of Deng Xiaoping (1978–1992). Mao suffered a series of heart attacks in 1976, and died at the age of 82 on 9 September. He was succeeded as Paramount leader by Hua Guofeng (1976–1978), who was quickly sidelined and replaced by Deng.
A controversial figure, Mao is regarded as one of the most important individuals in modern world history, and is also known as a theorist, military strategist, poet and visionary. Supporters credit him with driving imperialism out of China, modernising China and building it into a world power, promoting the status of women, improving education and health care, and increasing life expectancy as China’s population grew from around 550 million to over 900 million under his leadership. In contrast, critics consider him a dictator comparable to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin who damaged traditional Chinese culture, as well as considering him a perpetrator of human rights abuses, and they estimate that Mao was responsible for 40 to 70 million deaths through starvation, prison labour and executions, which would rank his tenure as the top incidence of excess mortality in human history.
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