The historical image of Mao Zedong has for some time suffered considerable damage and smears, due to the prevailing criticism of Mao and to the deliberate disregard, distortion and negation of history. Long devoted to studying Mao Zedong, I would say that Mao has made, to say the least, five major contributions to the Chinese nation, to the New China and to the Communist Party of China.
Firstly, it was Mao Zedong who led the Chinese people to weather the long revolutionary struggle, and finally gain national independence, liberate the people and found the New China. This is the most historically significant contribution he made. It is well known that after 1840, when western powers like Britain and France came to invade, take advantage of and plunder China, the country was reduced to a semi-colony and its state sovereignty was severely trampled upon. Feudalism, which had lasted for thousands of years, lingered on in an already rotten Chinese society characterized by insuperable social contradictions and extreme poverty. In the midst of domestic strife and foreign aggression, the Chinese people were oppressed both by domestic feudal forces and western powers. Given the grim situation, countless people with lofty ideals rose up, making unremitting efforts for the sake of national independence and the people's liberation. These people's names range from Lin Zexu, Wei Yuan and Gong Zizhen in the early period, to Hong Xiuquan who staged the Taiping Rebellion, Kang Youwei, Liang Qichao, and finally to Sun Yat-sen who led the great Xinhai Revolution of 1911.
Nonetheless, it was Mao Zedong and his comrades-in-arms who pointed to a way out and defined its direction. Sticking together, the Chinese communists fought dauntlessly for 28 years to salvage China from subjugation, at the cost of tens of millions of fighters' lives, including six family members of Chairman Mao. Of these six martyrs, five lost their lives during the period of the democratic revolution, and the other one was Mao Anying, who sacrificed himself in the war to resist U.S. aggression and aid Korea after the founding of the New China. Comrade Mao Zedong and the great men of that generation achieved notable merits for the Chinese Nation. To quote Deng Xiaoping, had it not been for Mao Zedong, the Chinese people would have had to grope in the dark for a really long time.
Secondly, it was Mao Zedong who set the Chinese people on the path to socialist modernization after the People's Republic of China was founded. For ages, China was an agrarian country developed under a self-sufficient smallholder economy. In modern times, whereas the western world vigorously carried out industrial revolutions and thus modernized its societies, China failed to keep up with the global wave and was consequently left far behind. This is an important reason why the miserable Chinese nation was left poor and weak and in a passive position for over a hundred years. Therefore, since the founding of the PRC, Mao Zedong and his comrades-in-arms never forgot the need to establish an industrialized China, because nothing was more important than industrialization at the time. Thus in 1953, when the national economy was at the beginning of its recovery and the war to resist U.S. aggression and aid Korea was drawing to a close, China started its first Five-year Plan. With the help of the Soviet Union, it undertook 156 projects and preliminarily solved the fundamental problems of industrialization. From Mao's time onwards, the core of the following generations of leaders, from Comrade Deng Xiaoping to Comrade Jiang Zemin, Comrade Hu Jintao and finally to the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping as General Secretary, have been carrying forward this tradition, and now China is smoothly implementing the Twelfth Five-year Plan. While enjoying the achievements of industrialization, we cannot forget the great contributions made by the revolutionary elders.
Although it must be admitted that Mao made some mistakes during this process, deviated from the central task of economic development and in particular committed the mistake of the “Cultural Revolution”, China's industrialization never stopped. Even over the ten tough years of the “Cultural Revolution”, China strived to eliminate all sorts of barriers and move on with its industrial development. Most remarkably, China successfully launched the first self-developed man-made satellite in 1970, and the first recoverable satellite in 1975. The Gezhou Dam Key Water-control Project was also started in the 1970s. At about that time, China also began to import western chemical equipment in batches and sets after the Sino-U.S. relationship was normalized. In the mid-1970s, therefore, China had already taken the first step towards modernization, in other words it had built relatively complete and independent industrial and national economic systems, addressed the basic problems of industry and introduced manufacturing. It is noteworthy that the conception and strategic planning of the four modernizations were initially presided over by Mao Zedong himself. In 1964, the 3rd National People's Congress formally proclaimed the four modernizations of industry, agriculture, national defense and science and technology. Although they were not achieved as scheduled, the foundation for the first step had been laid. It is often said in academia that China completed its initial industrialization in the 1970s, and this was the precondition for overall modernization. We are now approaching the goal of overall modernization step by step. It can be said that we will basically achieve modernization in the mid-21st century and approach the levels of moderately developed countries. This will be a great historical step forward.
Thirdly, it was Mao who significantly beefed up China's national defenses. It is well known that for a long time after 1840, many people with high ideals deplored that China had borders but no defense, as it had not set up defenses in spite of its long borders and vast sea. With or without defenses, it would have been unable to resist the invasion of foreign ships and armament. Consequently China even suffered defeated by Japan during the Sino-Japanese war's sea battles, something which shocked the country's intelligentsia a great deal. After the PRC was established, Mao Zedong had to start from scratch in an extremely difficult situation, without financial resources or an industrial base, and empowered the Chinese national defense industry to make noticeable progress. It was he who proposed building powerful naval forces to consolidate sea defenses and building powerful air forces to consolidate the air defense. In the latter half of the 1950s, he again proposed to strengthen national defense and enhance the three-line construction (of national defense, industry and communication). At that time major industries, including the defense industry, were developed in the coastal areas rather than in the hinterland. In the mid-1960s and the whole of the 1970s, China's national defense industry, especially the three-line construction, was laid out more reasonably. From the coastal areas to the hinterland, and further on to the western regions, industrial bases were built in all regions, including atomic and nuclear test bases, an impressive achievement. Due to this, although wars periodically broke out around the world from during the 1950s and the 1960s, China’s border defenses and national defenses remained stable, because no country dared to harass it. This can be counted as another of Mao's great contributions.
Fourthly, it was Mao Zedong who set up an advanced Marxist party—the Communist Party of China (CPC). Mao first laid the ideological foundation of the CPC, which is the ideological line of seeking truth from facts. Meanwhile, he also built a sound mass base and fostered a fine tradition of going deep among the masses, namely, the mass line. Most importantly, since the CPC had shouldered since its birth the sacred mission of winning national independence, liberating the people, achieving national prosperity and enriching the people, it must be equipped with a scientific world outlook and methodology which allows it to understand and change the world and thus rejuvenate China. This world outlook and methodology was the adaptation of Marxism for China, for which Mao paved the way and which has endured to date. When Mao was alive, however, nobody successfully summed up the core of Mao Zedong's Thought until Deng Xiaoping took up the task. He boiled down Mao Zedong's Thought to three key aspects: seeking truth from facts, pursuing the mass line, and sticking to the principle of independence. These three key aspects constitute not only the philosophical foundation of Mao Zedong's Thought, but also that of the theoretical system of socialism with Chinese characteristics.
Last but not least, it was Mao who much improved China's international status. After the Opium War, China had little standing in the international community. This situation was not turned around until the anti-Japanese War, and particularly until China won the war, since it was the first outright victory against aggression in modern Chinese history. For a long time after that, however, the country was embroiled in internal battles. With unrelenting efforts, Mao Zedong and the CPC finally founded the PRC, won ultimate peace for the nation and established it as a great power in the world.
After the founding of the New China, the US-dominated West didn’t recognize the newly-born regime, and the U.S. proclaimed that “things have come to a close”. By this phrase, it was meant that the New China founded by the CPC would not last long, so it would not be considered to establish diplomatic relations with China until the CPC stepped down. In other words, the ruling position of the CPC and the status of China in the world were denied. The CPC disregarded this and was fearless in the face of tremendous pressure. Sticking to the principle of independence, it finally withstood the test and triumphed in the war to resist U.S. aggression and aid Korea. Not until then did Americans feel the need to have dealings with us. In 1954, when the international conference to tackle the issues of the Korean Peninsula and Indochina was to take place in Geneva, the U.S. had no choice but to invite China to take part even though it was unwilling to admit it, because without its participation the two issues could not be solved.
In 1972, the then U.S. President Nixon paid a visit to China at a time when the U.S. had no diplomatic relations with China and didn’t recognize the international status of the New China. Nevertheless, Nixon came to China to seek the normalization of Sino-U.S. relations and signed the famous “Shanghai Communiqué”. This remarkable diplomatic achievement gave a huge boost to China's international status and opened the door for China to normalize its relations with western countries, which also laid a foundation for the opening-up. In the meantime, the PRC also restored its lawful seat as a permanent member state in the United Nations and drove out the representative of the Kuomintang. This was greatly contributed to by many developing countries, China's “poor friends”. As Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai said repeatedly, “we should never forget our 'poor friends', because it was they who carried China in a sedan chair into the United Nations”.
On account of the aforementioned five historical achievements, it is fair to say that Comrade Mao Zedong is an immortal national hero. He devoted his whole life selflessly for the independence of the Chinese nation, the liberation of the Chinese people, the prosperity of the New China and the well-being of the commoners. Although he made mistakes, sometimes very serious mistakes, and caused great damage to the country, to the nation, to the Party and to the people, the Chinese people remember him well because had it not been for Mao Zedong, we could never have had such a happy living environment. Therefore, every time the CPC reviews history, it will stress that it was Chairman Mao's establishment of the New China and him leading us down the socialist road that paved the way for all the development and progress the country achieved later. Surely we have to add that we would never have taken the road of the reform and opening up if the CPC had not boldly lead us to break away from the shackles of traditional socialist views and of “leftism” after the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee. In this regard Comrade Deng Xiaoping should take the credit, and so should Comrade Jiang Zemin, Comrade Hu Jintao and General Secretary Xi Jinping, and the sustained efforts of generations of CPC members.
The author is the Vice-President of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) and Director of the Institute of Contemporary China Studies of the CASS.
Translated by Chen Mirong
Revised by Gabriele Corsetti