Thursday, October 23, 2014

Edgar Snow Interview of Chairman Mao in 1965

      Edgar Snow and Chairman Mao in 1960
Democracy and Class Struggle re publish this interview with Chairman Mao but particularly would like to emphasise the section on China's population and the reply of Chairman Mao below:
The censuses in the 1950's were notoriously inaccurate and even in 1960's misleading - it was this data that the US State Department was later to use to exaggerate the deaths during the famine in China at the end of the 1950's and early 1960's and give professors lots of work - has Chairman Mao says what kind of professors are they ? we know the answer today. 
“Can you give me a population figure resulting from the recent census?” asks Edgar Snow

The chairman replied that he really did not know.

Some said that there were 680 to 690 million, but he did not believe it.

How could there be so many?

When I suggested that it ought not to be difficult to calculate, on the basis of ration coupons (cotton and rice) alone, he indicated that the peasants had sometimes confused the picture.

Before liberation they had hidden births and kept some off the register out of fear of having them conscripted.

Since liberation there had been a tendency to report greater numbers and less land, and to minimize output returns while exaggerating the effects of calamities.

Nowadays a new birth is reported at once, but if someone dies it may not be reported for months.

(His implication seemed to be that extra ration coupons could be accumulated in that way.) No doubt there had been a real decline in the birth rate but the decline in the death rate was even greater.

Longevity had increased from about 30 years of age to a life expectancy of around 50.

That was the kind of answer, I said, which was calculated to give foreign professors lots of work to do.

What kind of professors were those, Mao asked?


This piece originally appeared at The New Republic on February 27, 1965.

In a rare interview which lasted about four hours, Mao Tse-tung conversed with me on topics ranging over what he himself called shan nan hai pei, or “from south of the mountains to north of the seas.” With China’s bountiful 200-million-ton 1964 grain harvest taxing winter storage capacities, with shops everywhere offering inexpensive foods and consumer goods necessities, and with technological and scientific advances climaxed by an atomic bang that saluted Khrushchev’s political demise, Chairman Mao might well have claimed a few creative achievements. I found him reflecting on man’s rendezvous with death and ready to leave the assessment of his political legacy to future generations.

The 72-year-old warrior greeted me in one of the spacious Peking-décor rooms of the Great Hall of the People, across the wide square facing Tien An Men, the Heavenly Peace Gate of the former Forbidden City. During our conversation he repeatedly thanked foreign invaders for speeding up the Chinese revolution and for bestowing similar favors in Southeast Asia today. He asserted that China has no troops outside her own frontiers and has no intention of fighting anybody unless her own territory is attacked. He observed that the more American weapons and troops brought into Saigon, the faster the South Vietnamese liberation forces would become armed and educated to win victory. By now they did not need the help of Chinese troops.

At the start of our conversation Chairman Mao agreed to be photographed informally in a film I believe to be the first ever made of him for foreign television. From this film political clinicians may make their own diagnosis of his condition, lately rumored to be much deteriorated. On January 9, coming at the end of strenuous weeks of daily and nightly conferences with many regional leaders drawn to the capital for the annual National People’s Congress, his talk with me might have been more speedily terminated by a sick man. He seemed wholly relaxed throughout our conversation, which began before six, continued during dinner and went on for about two hours after.

One of the chairman’s doctors informed me that Mao has no organic troubles and suffers from nothing beyond the normal fatigue of his age. He ate moderately of a peppery Hunanese meal shared with me and drank a glass or two of wine, rather perfunctorily.

It was reported abroad that other “government officials” were present during my interview. These officials were two friends from pre-revolutionary days in China: Mme. Kung Peng, now an assistant to the Chinese Foreign Minister, and her husband, Chiao Kuanhua, an assistant minister in the same department. I submitted no written questions and took no notes during the interview. Fortunately I was able to refresh my memory by reviewing the conversation with one of those present who had kept a written record. It was agreed that I might publish, without direct quotation, some of the chairman’s comment as is given below.

“Some American commentators in Saigon have compared the strength of the Viet Cong there with the 1947 period in China, when the People’s Liberation Army began to engage in large-scale annihilations of Nationalist forces. Are the conditions comparable?”

The chairman thought not. By 1947 the People’s Liberation Army already had more than a million men, against several million troops on Chiang Kai-shek’s side. The PLA had then used divisional and group army strength, whereas the Vietnamese liberation forces were now operating at battalion or at most regimental strength. American forces in Vietnam were still relatively small. Of course, if they increased they could help speed up the arming of the people against them. But if he should tell that to United States leaders they would not listen. Had they listened to Diem? Both Ho Chi Minh and he (Mao Tse-Tung) thought that Ngo Dinh Diem was not so bad. They had expected the Americans to maintain him for several more years. But impatient American generals became disgusted with Diem and got rid of him. After all, following his assassination, was everything between heaven and earth more peaceful?

“Can Viet Cong forces now win victory by their own efforts alone?” Yes, he thought that they could. Their position was relatively better than that of the Communists during the first civil war (1927-37) in China. At that time there was no direct foreign intervention, but now already the Viet Cong had the American intervention to help arm and educate the rank and file and the army officers. Those opposed to the United States were no longer confined to the liberation army. Diem had not wanted to take orders. Now this independence had spread to the generals. The American teachers were succeeding. Asked whether some of these generals would soon join the liberation army, Mao said yes, some would follow the example of Kuomintang generals who had turned to the Communists.

The “Third World”

“United States intervention in Vietnam, the Congo and other former colonial battlefields, suggests a question of some theoretical interest as seen within Marxist concepts. The question is whether the contradiction between neo-colonialism and the revolutionary forces in what the French like to call the ‘third world’the so-called underdeveloped or ex-colonial or still colonial nations of Asia, Africa and Latin Americais today the principal political contradiction in the world? Or do you consider that the basic contradiction is still one between the capitalist countries themselves?”

Mao Tse-tung said that he had not reached an opinion about that but he recalled something that President Kennedy had said. Had Kennedy not declared that as far as the United States, Canada and Western Europe were concerned, there was not much real and basic difference? The President had said that the problem was in the Southern Hemisphere. In advocating “special forces warfare” training for “local [countersubversive?] warfare” the late President may have had my question in mind.

On the other hand, contradictions between imperialists were what had caused two world wars in the past, and their struggles against colonial revolutions had not changed their character. If one looked at France one saw two reasons for de Gaulle’s policies. The first was to assert independence from American domination. The second was to attempt to adjust French policies to changes occurring in the Asian-African countries and Latin America. The result was intensified contradiction between the capitalist nations, but was France part of its so-called “third world”? Recently he had asked some French visitors about that and they had told him no, that France was a developed country and could not be a member of the “third world” of undeveloped countries. The matter was not so simple.

“Perhaps it could be said that France is in the third world but not of it?”

Perhaps. This question which had engaged the interest of President Kennedy had led Kennedy, Mao had read, to study Mao’s own essays on military operations. Mao had also learned from Algerian friends during their struggle against France that the French were reading his works and using his information against them. But he had told the Algerian Prime Minister, Abbas, at that time, that his own books were based on Chinese experience and would not work in reverse. They could be adapted only to the waging of people’s wars of liberation and were rather useless in an anti-people’s war. They did not save the French from defeat in Algeria. Chiang Kai-shek had also studied the Communists’ materials but he had not been saved either.

Mao remarked that the Chinese also study American books. For instance, he had read The Uncertain Trumpet by General Taylor, the United States Ambassador in Saigon. General Taylor’s view was that nuclear weapons probably would not be used, therefore non-nuclear arms would decide. Taylor wanted priority given to the Army. Now he had his chance to test out his theories of special warfare. In Vietnam he was gaining some valuable experience.

The chairman had also read some articles issued by U.S. authorities to their troops on how to handle guerrillas. These instructions dealt with the shortcomings and military weaknesses of the guerrillas and held out hopes for American victory. They ignored the decisive political fact that whether it was Diem or somebody else, governments cut off from the masses could not win against wars of liberations.

Since the Americans would not listen to Chairman Mao, his advice would do nobody any harm.
“In Southeast Asia as well as in India and certain countries of Africa and even Latin America, there exist some social conditions comparable to those that brought on the Chinese revolution. Each country has its own problems, and solutions will vary widely, yet I wonder if you agree that social revolutions will occur which may borrow much from the Chinese?”

Anti-feudal and anti-capitalist sentiments combined with opposition to imperialism and neo-colonialism, he replied, grew out of oppression and wrongs of the past. Wherever the latter existed there would be revolutions, but in most of the countries I was talking about, the people were merely seeking national independence, not socialismquite another matter. European countries had also had anti-feudal revolutions. Though the United States had had no real feudal period, still it had fought a progressive war of independence from British colonialism, and then a civil war to establish a free labor market. Washington and Lincoln had been great men of the time.

“Among the roughly three-fifths of the earth which belongs in the third world category, very acute problems exist, as we know. The gap between the ratio of population growth and growth of production is growing more disadvantageous. The gap between their every-falling standard of living and that of the affluent countries is rapidly widening. Under such conditions, will time wait for the Soviet Union to demonstrate the superiority of the socialist systemand then wait a century for parliamentarianism to arise in the underdeveloped areas and peacefully establish socialism?”
Mao thought it would not wait so long.

I asked whether the question did not perhaps touch upon the nexus of China’s ideological dispute with the Soviet Union. He agreed that it did.

“Do you think it would be possible to complete not only the national liberation of emerging nations of the third world, but also their modernization, without another world war?”

Use of the word “complete” must give one pause, he said. Most of the countries concerned were still very far from socialist revolutions. In some there were no Communist Parties at all, while in others there were only revisionists. It was said that Latin America had 20 Communist Parties and of these 18 had issued resolutions against China. One thing was certain. Where severe oppression existed there would be revolution.

China and the Bomb 

“Do you still believe that the bomb is a paper tiger?”

That had just been a way of talking, he said, a kind of figure of speech. Of course the bomb could kill people. But in the end the people would destroy the bomb. Then it would truly become a paper tiger.
“You have been quoted as saying that China had less fear of the bomb than other nations because of her vast population. Other peoples might be totally wiped out, but China would still have a few hundred millions left to begin anew. Was there ever any factual basis to such reports?”

He answered that he had no recollection of saying anything like that but he might have said it. He did recall a conversation he had had with Jawaharlal Nehru, when the latter visited China (in 1954). As he remembered it, he had said China did not want a war. They didn’t have atom bombs, but if other countries wanted to fight there would be a catastrophe in the whole world, meaning that many people would die. As for how many, nobody could know. He was not speaking only of China. He did not believe on atom bomb would destroy all mankind, so that you would not be able to find a government to negotiate peace. He mentioned this to Nehru during their conversation. Nehru said that he was chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission of India and he knew about the destructiveness of atomic power. He was sure that no one could survive. Mao replied that it would probably not be as Nehru said. Existing governments might disappear but others would arise to replace them.
Not so long ago, Khrushchev said that he had a deadly weapon capable of killing all living beings. But then he immediately retracted his statementnot only once but many times. Mao would not deny anything he had said, nor did he wish me to deny for him this so-called rumor (about China’s millions’ power of survival in a nuclear war).

Americans also had said very much about the destructiveness of the atom bomb and Khrushchev had made a big noise about that. They had all surpassed him in this respect, so that he was more backward than they, was not that so? Yet recently he had read reports of an investigation by Americans who visited the Bikini Islands six years after nuclear tests had been conducted there. From 1959 onward research workers had been in Bikini. When they first entered the island they had had to cut open paths through the undergrowth. They found mice scampering about and fish swimming in the streams as usual. The wellwater was potable, plantation foliage was flourishing, and birds were twittering in the trees. Probably there had been two bad years after the tests, but nature had gone on. In the eyes of nature and the birds, the mice and the trees, the atom bomb was a paper tiger. Possibly man has less stamina than they?

“Nevertheless, you would not exactly consider nuclear war to be a good thing?”

Certainly not, he replied. If one must fight one should confine oneself to conventional weapons.
Indonesia had withdrawn from the United Nations, I observed, accompanied by applause from China. Did Mao Tse-tung think the move would set a precedent and that other withdrawals would follow?
Mao said that it was the United States which had first set the precedent, by excluding China from the United Nations. Now that a majority of nations might favor restoring China’s seat despite U.S. opposition, there was a new scheme to require a two-thirds majority instead of a simple majority. But the question was, did China gain or lose by being outside the U.N. during the past 15 years? Indonesia had left because she felt that there was not much advantage to remaining in the U.N. As for China, was it not in itself a United Nations? Any one of several of China’s minority nationalities was larger in population and territory than some states in the U.N. whose votes had helped deprive China of her seat there. China was a large country with plenty of work to keep her busy outside the U.N.
“Is it now practicable to consider forming a union of nations excluding the United States?”
Mao pointed out that such forums already existed. One example was the Afro-Asian conference. Another was GANEFOGames of the New Emerging Forcesorganized after the United States excluded China from the Olympics.

(Preparations for the Afro-Asian conference scheduled to open in Algiers in March had been plagued by many problems. These included the Indonesia-Malaysia dispute, and insistence on the part of pro-China Bandung powers that the USSR must be excluded from the conference, as a strictly European power. There is reason to believe that China regards the Afro-Asian organization as the potential center of planned development of a third world largely independent of neo-colonial or Western capital. Following Chinese principles of “self-reliance” in internal development, and of mutual help between the Afro-Asian states, the process of modernization might be so speeded up as to bypass the slow and painful method of capital accumulation by traditional bourgeois means. Such a theoretical alternative would of course imply more rapid and radical political evolution and an earlier arrival at pre-socialist conditions in the capital-poor Afro-Asian states. Outside the context of this interview, it may be added that it has been obvious for some time that the Afro-Asian conference is also viewed as a potential permanent assembly of the have-not nations, to exist independently from the American-dominated United Nations from which China and her closest allies have long been excluded and which Indonesia has recently left.)

“In fact, Mr. Chairman, how many people are there inside China’s own ‘United Nations’?” I asked. “Can you give me a population figure resulting from the recent census?”

The chairman replied that he really did not know. Some said that there were 680 to 690 million, but he did not believe it. How could there be so many? When I suggested that it ought not to be difficult to calculate, on the basis of ration coupons (cotton and rice) alone, he indicated that the peasants had sometimes confused the picture. Before liberation they had hidden births and kept some off the register out of fear of having them conscripted. Since liberation there had been a tendency to report greater numbers and less land, and to minimize output returns while exaggerating the effects of calamities. Nowadays a new birth is reported at once, but if someone dies it may not be reported for months. (His implication seemed to be that extra ration coupons could be accumulated in that way.)

No doubt there had been a real decline in the birth rate but the decline in the death rate was even greater. Longevity had increased from about 30 years of age to a life expectancy of around 50.

That was the kind of answer, I said, which was calculated to give foreign professors lots of work to do. What kind of professors were those, Mao asked?

He was interested to hear that I had attended a conference where professors had debated whether he had or had not made any original contributions to Marxism. I told him that I had asked one professor, at the close of such a conference, whether it would make any difference in their controversy if it could be shown that Mao himself had never claimed to have made any creative contribution. The professor said, “No.”

Mao was amused. More than 2,000 years ago, he remarked, Chuang Chou wrote his immortal essay on Lao Tzu (called the Chuang Tzu). A hundred schools of thought then arose to dispute the meaning.

Mao’s Writings

In 1960, when I had last seen Mao Tse-tung, I asked him whether he had ever written or had any intention of writing an “autobiography.” He had replied in the negative. Nevertheless, learned professors had discovered “autobiographies” written by Mao. The fact that they were fraudulent did not in the last affect their documentary terminology.

A question currently exercising the professors was whether Mao had in fact written his celebrated philosophical essays On Contradictions and On Practice in the summer of 1937, as asserted in his collected works, or whether they had really been composed later.

He replied that he had indeed written them in the summer of 1937. During the weeks preceding and immediately following the Liukouchiao incident, there had been a lull in his life in Yenan. The army had left for the front and Mao had found time in which to collect materials for some lectures on basic philosophy for use in the anti-Japanese academy. Some simple and yet fundamental text was needed for the young students being prepared, in brief, three-month courses, for political guidance during the years immediately ahead.

At the insistence of the party Mao prepared On Contradictions and On Practice to sum up the experiences of the Chinese revolution, by combining the essentials of Marxism with concrete and everyday Chinese examples. Mao wrote most of the night and slept during the day. What he had written over a period of weeks he delivered in lecture form in a matter of two hours. Mao added that he himself considered On Practice a more important essay than On Contradictions.

As for a treatise entitled On Dialectical Materialism, which has been attributed to Mao’s authorship by foreign Sinologists, he said that he had no recollection of having written any such work and he thought he would not have forgotten it had he done so.

“Youths who heard you lecture at Yenan later learned about revolution in practice but what could be the substitute for youths in China today?”

Mao said that of course those in China now under the age of 20 had never fought a war and never seen an imperialist or known capitalism in power. They knew nothing about the old society at first hand. Parents could tell them, but to hear about history and to read books was not the same thing as living it.

“Is the current emphasis on indoctrination of students with revolutionary principles and manual labor practice intended primarily to safeguard the future of socialism inside China or to teach Chinese youth that that security can never be guaranteed until socialism is victorious everywhere? Or are both aims inseparable?”

For the moment he did not directly answer the question. He asked what nation could really be said to have security? All the governments were talking about it and at the same time talking about complete and total disarmament. China herself had proposed general disarmament since a long time past. So had the Soviet Union. The U.S. kept talking about it. What we were getting instead was complete rearmament.

“President Johnson may find it difficult to settle problems in the East one by one,” I said. “Perhaps if he desired to expose the world to the real complexity of those problems he might do worse than cut to the heart of the matter by accepting China’s proposal to hold a summit conference to consider the total destruction of nuclear weapons.”

Chairman Mao agreed but concluded that it would be quite impossible. Even if Mr. Johnson himself desired such a meeting, he was after all but a steward for the monopoly capitalists, and they would never permit it. China had had only one atomic explosion and perhaps it had to be proved that one could divide into two, and so ad infinitum. Yet China did not want a lot of bombs, which were really quite useless, since probably no nation dared employ them. A few would suffice for scientific experiments. Even one bomb was not liked in China’s hands, however. Mao feared that his reputation was against him. The imperialists did not like him. Yet was it really right to blame China for everything and start anti-Chinese movements? Did China kill Ngo Dinh Diem? And yet that had happened. When the assassination of President Kennedy occurred, the Chinese were quite surprised. They had not planned that. Once more, they were quite surprised when Khrushchev was removed in Russia.

The View of Khrushchev

“Western commentators, and especially the Italian Communists, severely criticized the Soviet leaders for the conspiratorial and undemocratic way in which Khrushchev was thrown aside. What is your view?”

He replied that Mr. K had not been very popular in China even before his fall. Few portraits of him were to be seen. But K’s books were for sale in the bookstores before the fall and they were still for sale here but not in Russia. The world needed Khrushchev: his ghost would linger on. There were bound to be people who liked him. China would miss him as a negative example.

“On the basis of your own 70/30 standardthat is, a man’s work may be judged satisfactory if it is 70 percent correct and only 30 percent in errorhow would you grade the present leadership of the Soviet party? How far is it still below passing?” I asked.

Mao said he would not choose to discuss the present leaders in those terms. As for any improvement on Sino-Soviet relations, there was possibly some but not much. The disappearance of Khrushchev had perhaps only removed a target for polemical articles.

“In the Soviet Union, I said, “China has been criticized for fostering a ‘cult of personality’.”
Mao thought that perhaps there was some. It was said that Stalin had been the center of a cult of personality, and that Khrushchev had none at all. The Chinese people, critics say, have some (feelings or practices of this kind). There might be some reasons for saying that. Was it possible, he asked, that Mr. K fell because he had no cult of personality at all?

“Naturally I personally regret that forces of history have divided and separated the American and Chinese peoples from virtually all communication during the past 15 years. Today the gulf seems broader than ever. However, I myself do not believe it will end in war and one of history’s major tragedies.”

Mao said that forces of history were also bound, eventually, to bring the two peoples together again; that day would surely come. Possibly I was right that meanwhile there would be no war. That could occur only if American troops came to China. They would not really get much out of it. That simply would not be allowed. Probably the American leaders knew that and consequently they would not invade China. Then there would be no war, because the Chinese certainly would never send troops to attack the United States.

“What of the possibilities of war arising over Vietnam? I have read many newspaper stories indicating that the United States has considered expanding the war into North Vietnam.”

No, Mao said, he thought otherwise. Mr. Rusk had now made it clear that the U.S. would not do that. Mr. Rusk may have earlier said something like that, but now he had corrected himself and said that he had never made such a statement. Therefore, there need not be any war in North Vietnam.
“I do not believe that the makers and administrators of United States policy understand you,” I said.
Why not? China’s armies would not go beyond her borders to fight. That was clear enough. Only if the United States attacked China would the Chinese fight. Wasn’t that clear? The Chinese were very busy with their internal affairs. Fighting beyond one’s own borders was criminal. Why should the Chinese do that? The Vietnamese could cope with their situation.

“American officials repeatedly say that if United States forces were withdrawn from Vietnam, then all Southeast Asia would be overrun.”

The question was, said Mao, “overrun” by whom? Overrun by Chinese or overrun by the inhabitants? China was “overrun,” but only by Chinese.

No Troops Outside China

In reply to a specific question, the chairman affirmed that the were no Chinese forces in Northern Vietnam or anywhere else in Southeast Asia. China had no troops outside her own frontiers.
(In another context, it was said that unless Indian troops again crossed China’s frontiers, there would be no conflict there.)

“Dean Rusk has often stated that if China would give up her aggressive policies then the United States would withdraw from Vietnam. What does he mean?”

Mao replied that China had no policies of aggression to abandon. China had committed no acts of aggression. China gave support to revolutionary movements but not by sending troops. Of course, whenever a liberation struggle existed China would publish statements and call demonstrations to support it. It was precisely that which vexed the imperialists.

Mao went on to say that on some occasions China deliberately makes a loud noise, as for example around Quemoy and Matsu. A flurry of shots there could attract a lot of attention, perhaps because the Americans were uneasy so far away from home. Consider what could be accomplished by firing some blank shells within those Chinese territorial waters. Not so long ago the United States 7th Fleet in the Taiwan Strait was deemed insufficient to reply to the shells. The U.S. also dispatched part of its 6th Fleet in this direction and brought over part of the Navy from San Francisco. Arrived here, they had found nothing to do, so it seemed that China could order the American forces to march here, to march there. It had been the same with Chiang Kai-shek’s army. They had been able to order Chiang to scurry this way and then to hurry off in another direction. Of course when Navy men are warm and have full bellies they must be given something to do. But how was it that shooting off empty guns at home could be called aggression, while those who actually intervened with arms and bombed and burned people of other lands were not aggressors?

He continued: some Americans had said that the Chinese revolution was led by Russian aggressors, but in truth the Chinese revolution was armed by Americans. In the same way the Vietnamese revolution was also being armed by Americans, not by China. The liberation forces had not only greatly improved their supplies of American weapons during recent months but also expanded their forces by recruiting American-trained troops and officers from the puppet armies of South Vietnam. China’s liberation forces had grown in numbers and strength by recruiting to their side the troops trained and armed by the Americans for Chiang Kai-shek. The movement was called “changing of hats.” When Nationalist soldiers changed hats in large numbers because they knew the peasants would kill them for wearing the wrong hat, then the end was near. “Changing hats” was becoming more popular now among the Vietnamese puppets.

Mao said that the conditions of revolutionary victory in China had been, first, that the ruling group was weak and incompetent, led by a man who was always losing battles. Second, the People’s Liberation Army was strong and able and people believed in its cause. In places where such conditions did not prevail the Americans could intervene. Otherwise, they would stay away or soon leave.

“Do you mean that the circumstances of victory for the liberation front now exist in South Vietnam?”
Mao thought that the American forces were not yet ready to leave. Fighting would go on perhaps for one to two years. After that the United States troops would find it boring and might go home or somewhere else.

“Is it your policy now to insist upon the withdrawal of United States forces before participating in a Geneva conference to discuss the international position of a unified Vietnam?”

The chairman said that several possibilities should be mentioned. First, a conference might be held and United States withdrawal would follow. Second, the conference might be deferred until after the withdrawal. Third, a conference might be held but United States troops might stay around Saigon, as in the case of South Korea. Finally, the South Vietnamese front might drive out the Americans without any conference or international agreement. The 1954 Geneva conference had provided for the withdrawal of French troops from all Indochina and forbade any intervention by any other foreign troops. The United States had nevertheless violated the convention and that could happen again.
“Under existing circumstances,” I asked, “do you really see any hope of an improvement in Sino-American relations?”

Going to See God Soon

Yes, he thought there was hope. It would take time. Maybe there would be no improvement in his generation. He was soon going to see God. According to the law of dialectics all contradictions must finally be resolved, including the struggle of the individual.

“Judging from this evening you seem to be in good condition,” I said.

Mao Tse-tung smiled wryly and replied that there was perhaps some doubt about that. He said again that he was getting ready to see God very soon.

“I wonder if you mean you are going to find out whether there is a God. Do you believe that?”
No, he did not. But some people who claimed to be well-informed said there was a God. There seemed to be many gods and sometimes the same god could take all sides. In the wars of Europe the Christian God had been on the side of the British, the French, the Germans, and so on, even when they were fighting each other. At the time of the Suez Canal crisis God was united behind the British and French, but then there was Allah to back up the other side.

At dinner Mao had mentioned that both his brothers had been killed. His first wife had also been executed during the revolution and their son had been killed during the Korean War. Now he said that it was odd that death had so far passed him by. He had been prepared for it many times but death just did not seem to want him. What could he do? On several occasions it had seemed that he would die. His personal bodyguard was killed while standing right beside him. Once he was splashed all over with the blood of another soldier, but the bomb had not touched him. There had been other narrow escapes.

After a moment of silence Mao said that he had, as I knew, begun life as a primary school teacher. He had then had no thought of fighting wars. Neither had he thought of becoming a Communist. He was more or less a democratic personage such as myself. Later on, he sometimes wondered by what chance combination of reasons he had become interested in founding the Chinese Communist Party. Anyway, events did not move in accordance with the individual human will. What mattered was that China had been oppressed by imperialism, feudalism and bureaucratic capitalism.

“Man makes his own history, but he makes it in accordance with his environment,” I quoted. “You have fundamentally changed the environment in China. Many wonder what the younger generation bred under easier conditions will do. What do you think about it.”

He also could not know, he said. He doubted that anyone could be sure. There were two possibilities. There could be continued development of the revolution toward Communism, the other possibility was that youth could negate the revolution, and give a poor performance: make peace with imperialism, bring the remnants of the Chiang Kai-shek clique back to the mainland, and take a stand beside the small percentage of counter-revolutionaries still in the country. Of course he did not hope for counter-revolution. But future events would be decided by future generations, and in accordance with conditions we could not foresee.

From the long-range view, future generations ought to be more knowledgeable than we are, just as men of the bourgeois-democratic era were more knowledgeable than those of the feudal ages. Their judgment would prevail, not ours. The youth of today and those to come after them would assess the work of the revolution in accordance with values of their own. Mao’s voice dropped away, and he half closed his eyes. Man’s condition on this earth was changing with ever increasing rapidity. A thousand years from now all of them, he said, even Marx, Engels and Lenin, would possibly appear rather ridiculous.

Mao Tse-tung walked me through the doorway and, despite my protests, saw me to my car, where he stood alone for a moment, coatless in the sub-zero Peking night, to wave me farewell in the traditional manner of that ancient cultured city. I saw no security guards around the entrance, nor can I now recall having seen even one armed bodyguard in our vicinity all evening. As the car drove away I looked back and watched Mao brace his shoulders and slowly retrace his steps, leaning heavily on the arm of an aide, into the Great Hall of the People.


Democracy and Class Struggle also recommends the following for those interested in question of  the Great Leap Forward :

Did Mao really kill Millions in the Great Leap Forward ? by Joseph Ball

The Great Leap Forward was not all bad by Henry CK Liu

See also the Battle for China's Past by Mobo Gao

Also :


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