Mao Zedong's Rise to Power
China History

Research Report
Web Resources



Mao Zedong, though born to a disapproving father, was able to educate himself, being influenced by many revolutionary writings of the time.  The New Youth magazine and The Communist Manifesto were particularly influential, and he became a communist in 1920.  Rising slowly through the ranks of the Chinese Communist Party and participating in the Long March, he became increasingly powerful.  Mao altered the standard ideology of communism to conform it to a format that would work in China.  He was eventually elected chairman of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, and is now seen as a national icon.

Historical Background

        With foreign domination in Chinese economy, and failed leadership at home, China was a country of increased tensions and hardships in the late nineteenth century.  The Qing dynasty was rapidly losing the power and prestige they had gained when conquering the Ming dynasty in 1644.  Events such as the 1911 Revolution, the Boxer Rebellion and the May Fourth Movement removed the Qing dynasty and increased dissent among the peasants for the government, demanding something be done.
        In order to find a solution to their problems, many revolutionaries began looking to Western ideologies.  Marxism was at first not a feasible solution because it required a proletariat to lead a revolution, which China did not have.  But Mao Zedong's amendments to Karl Marx's theory created a system that revolutionized China

Research Report

        Mao Zedong was born on December 26, 1893, in the village Shaoshan in Hunan.  His father was a farmer who was able to amass enough land and money to hire workers.  Mao was educated enough to read the classics, but his father forbid him to read other books.  He eventually defied his father and paid his own way to continue his studies.  His mother was a typical rural farm wife who was illiterate and performed household chores.  Mao had two younger brothers and a sister, all who were later involved in the communist party, two of whom were killed for their participation.
        After the 1911 Revolution, Mao joined the army for a brief time, but after Yuan Shikai became the new president, he returned to his studies.  He was strongly influenced by the New Youth magazine and began writing against the Qing, the subordination of women, and other political interests.  In 1918, Mao graduated from Hunan First Normal School and began working in Peking University.

        1920 was a year of great activity for Mao Zedong.  For the first time he read the Communist Manifesto which had just recently been translated into Chinese.  He met Chen Duxiu, the editor of the New Youth, and for the first time began forming a communist group.  Also in 1920 he was able to secure a job as the head of a primary school, giving him enough prestige to marry Yang Kaihui, the daughter of his former teacher.
        After the formation of the Chinese Communist Party, Mao began travelling about the country, spreading communism to small working communities.  He began a school to educate farmers and workers who wanted to learn Chinese and arithmetic.  Mao also organized unions for workers who were being ignored, and encourage strikes when demands were not met.  This labor movement was very successful locally, but, as in the tradition of the Chinese, there was no centralized leadership for it to become a strong force to revolutionize the country.  Mao continued to be an active supporter for the peasants, encouraging them to rise up.  As the largest demographic, he realized their potential to be a leading force in the rise of communism in China.  In 1927 he began planning for a huge uprising of what he estimated to be ten million peasants.  Meanwhile, Chiang Kai-Shek, the most powerful man in China at the time and leader of the army, realized the peasants could rise up with the communists and the time had come to expel the communists from China.  What followed was the White Terror on April 12, 1927, killing thousands of communists and preventing the impending peasant uprising.  Mao was able to escape the slaughter. That same year, his wife, Yang Kaihui, was killed for her associations with Mao, and in 1928 Mao began living with another woman, Ho Zizhen, who gave him six children in addition to the four by Yang.  Mao divorced Ho Zizhen in 1937, and in 1939 he married Chiang Ch'ing, who became very influential in the communist party late in Mao's life.
        Mao then began working on a planned peasant uprising in Hunan and Kiangsi.  The ensuing Autumn Uprising failed because of a lack of military supplies.  The peasants, too, were becoming disheartened at their lack of progress to close the gap between them and the warlords.  The army which remained became known as the Red Army, with Mao as its commander.

        The Jiangxi Soviet was formed and had become the home of the Chinese Communist Party from 1927-1934.  It was situated in the mountains in southeastern China and Mao was named as its chairman.  The CCP was forced to abandon the Jiangxi Soviet in 1934 by the Guomindang, the Chinese Nationalist Party, once allies of the CCP, but had since broken away and was now in opposition with the communists.  This led to the Long March.  On October 16, 1934, the Long March began as the CCP abandoned the Jiangxi Soviet.  The march lasted for 368 days as the communists made their way to Yanan, many not surviving the journey.  Once in Yanan, the communists, including Mao, set about reorganizing and recruiting to strengthen their power.  In 1937, and CCP had approximately 40,000 members, but this number grew to 1,200,000 by 1945.

        Perhaps Mao’s greatest achievement during this period was his ability to be flexible in his ideology.  By doing so, he was able to recruit more allies and troops, which became imperative in Japan’s invasion during World War II and the civil war against the Guomindang.  While he was recruiting, Mao Zedong also began pushing for his version of Marxism to be accepted by the CCP.  He believed the impending revolution should not be commanded be a few elite, but the policy should be that of the common people.  Those who had written in opposition to this doctrine were given a chance to side with Mao, and if they refused, they were tortured and killed.  By this time, Mao had gained a lot of power within the CCP; power he would continue to gain.
        When the Japanese were defeated in World War II by the American dropping of the atomic bomb, all Japanese troops were removed from China.  With the Japanese went the Guomindang to Taiwan as they lost the civil war against the communists, as well as their support from the United States and the Soviet Union.  With the communists in firm control of the country after decades of competing with the Nationalist Party, Mao Zedong was elected chairman of the People’s Republic of China on September 30, 1949.

Historical Significance

        With Mao Zedong as the leader of communist China, the country was forever changed.  His projects such as the Hundred Flowers Movementto hear the citizens opinions of the communist party, and the Great Leap Forward to increase industrialization in China, failed, leaving famine spreading across the country.  He regained popularity and support with the Cultural Revolution, in which he attacked other leaders in the communist party, planned out by his wife, Chiang Ch'ing, but the last five years of his life were a power struggle.  Mao Zedong died on September 9, 1976, but his ideology, Mao Zedong Thought, remained the basis of the communist party.  Although disliked by many, Mao’s actions unified China and improved the lives of many.  He is now looked upon as a national icon, and a monument was built for him in Tianamen Square, where his body still lies.


Breslin, Shaun.  Mao.  Longman: London, 1998.
Change Kuo-sin. Mao Tse-Tung and His China.  Heinemann: Hong Kong, 1978.
Davin, Delia.  Mao Zedong.  Sutton Publishing: Phoenix Mill, 1997.
Terrill, Ross. Mao: A Biography.  Stanford University Press: Stanford, 1999.
Uhalley, Jr., Stephen. Mao Tse-Tung: A Critical Biography.  New Viewpoints: New   York, 1975.

Web Resources  Mao Zedong's writing on the peasant movement in Hunan.  Pictures and history of Mao Zedong. Selected works of Mao Zedong. Conversation between Stalin and Mao. Documentation Project.

Site created by:  Maggie Berens  April 2, 2001