The autobiography of Mao Zedong – Part 2 (Changsha days)

I began to long to go to Changsha, the great city, the capital of the province,
which was about 120 li from my home. It was said that this city was very
big, contained many, many people, numerous schools, and the yamen of the
governor. It was a magnificent place altogether. I wanted very much to go
there at this time, and enter the middle school for Hsian Hisiang (Xiang
Xiang 湘鄉) people. That winter I asked one of my teachers in the higher
primary school to introduce me there. The teacher agreed, and I walked to
Changsha, exceedingly excited, half fearing that I would be refused entrance,
hardly daring to hope that I could actually become a student in this great
school. To my astonishment, I was admitted without difficulty. But political
events were moving rapidly and I was to remain there only half a year.

In Changsha I read my first newspaper, Min-li-pao (民立報 or People’s Strength)
, a nationalist revolutionary journal which told of the Canto Uprising against
the Manchu Dynasty and the death of the Seventy-two Heroes, under the leadership
of a Hunanese named Huang Hsing (黃興 Huang Xing). I was most impressed
with this story and found the Min-li-pao full of stimulating material. It
was edited by Yu Yu-jen (于右任 Yu Youren), who later became a famous leader
of the Kuomintang. I learned also Sun Yat-sen at this time, and of the programme
of the Tung Meng Hui (同盟會 Tong Meng Hui, a revolutionary secret society,
was founded by Dr. Sun Yat-sen and was the forerunner of the Kumintang.
Most of its members were exiles in Japan, where they carried on a vigorous
‘brush-war’ [war by writing brushes, or pens] against Liang Qichao and Kang
Youwei, leaders of the ‘reformed monarchist’ party). The country was on
the eve of the First Revolution. I was so agitated that I wrote an article,
which I posted on the school wall. It was my first expression of a political
opinion, and it was somewhat muddled. I had not yet given up my admiration
of Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao. I did not clearly understand the differences
between them. Therefore in my article I advocated that Sun Yat-sen must
be called back from Japan to become president of the new government, that
Kang Youwei be made premier, and Liang Qichao minister of foreign affairs!
(An absurd coalition, since Kang Youwei and Liang were monarchists at that
time, and Sun Yat-sen was anti-monarchist).
The anti-foreign-capital movement began in connection with the building
of the Szechuan-Hankou (Sichuan-Hankou 川漢) railway, and a popular demand
for a parliament became widespread. In reply to it the Emperor decreed merely
that an advisory council created. The students in my school became more
and more agitated. They demonstrated their anti-Manchu sentiment by a rebellion
against the pigtail (An act perhaps more anti-Confucian than anti-Manchu.
Some orthodox Confucianists held that man should not interfere with nature,
including growth of hair and fingernails). One friend an I clipped off our
pigtails, but others, who had promised to do so, afterwards failed to keep
their word. My friend and I therefore assaulted them in secret and forcibly
removed their queues, a total of more than ten falling victim to our shears.
Thus in a short space of time I had progressed from ridiculing the False
Foreign Devil’s imitation queue to demanding the general abolition of queues.
How a political idea can change a point of view!

I got into a dispute with a friend in a law school over the pigtail episode,
and we each advanced opposing theories on the subject. The law student held
that the body, skin, hair and nails are heritages from one’s parents and
must not be destroyed, quoting the Classics to clinch his argument. But
I myself and the antipigtailers developed a counter-theory, on an anti-Manchu
political basis, and thoroughly silenced him.

After the Wuhan Uprising occurred (in 1911, the start of the revolution
that overthrew the Manchu Dynasty), led by Li Yuan-hung (黎元洪 Li Yuanhong),
martial was declared in Hunan. The political scene rapidly altered. One
day a revolutionary appeared in the middle school and made a stirring speech,
with the permission of the principal. Seven or eight students arose in
the assembly and supported him with vigorous denunciation of the Manchus,
and calls for action to establish the Republic. Everyone listened with complete
attention. Not a sound was heard as the orator of the revolution, one of
the officials of Li Yuanhong, spoke before the excited students.

Four or five days after hearing this speech I determined to join the revolutionary
army of Li Yuan-hung (黎元洪 Li Yuanhong). I decided to go to Hankou (漢
口) with several other friends, and we collected some money from our classmates.
Having heard that the streets of Hankou were very wet, and that it was
necessary to wear rain shoes, I went to borrow some from a friend in the
army, who was quartered outside the city. I was stopped by the garrison
guards. The place had become very active, the soldiers had for the first
time been furnished with bullets, and they were pouring into the streets.

Rebels were approaching the city along the Canton-Hankou railway (粵漢鐵
路), and fighting had begun. A big battle occurred outside the city walls
of Changsha. There was at the same time an insurrection within the city,
and the gates were stormed and taken by Chinese labourers. Through one of
the gates I re-entered the city. Then I stood on a high place and watched
the battle, until at last I saw the Han (漢)[1A] flag raised over the yamen.
It was a white banner with the character Han (漢) in it. I returned to my
school, to find it under military guard.

On the following day, a tutu (都督 Dudu) government was organized. Two prominent
members of the Ke Lao Hui (哥老會 Ge Lao Hui or Elder Brother Society) were
made Du Du and vice Du Du. The new government was established in the former
buildings of the provincial advisory council, whose chief had been Tan Yen-kai
(譚延闓 Tan Yankai), who was dismissed. The council itself was abolished.
Among the Manchu documents found by the revolutionaries were some copies
of a petition begging for the opening of parliament. The original had been
written in blood by Hsu Teh-li (徐特立 Xu Teli) who is now commissioner
of education in the Soviet Government . Hsu (徐Xu) had cut off the end of
his finger, as a demonstration of sincerity and determination, and his petition
"Begging the parliament to be opened, I bid farewell [to the provincial
delegates to Peking] by cutting my finger."

The new Du Du (都督) and vice Du Du (副都督) did not last long. They were
not bad men, and had some revolutionary intentions, but they were poor and
represented the interests of the oppressed. The landlords and merchants
were dissatisfied with them. Not many days later, when I went to call on
a friend, I saw their corpses lying in the street. Tan Yankai had organized
a revolt against them, as representative of the Hunan landlords and militarists.

Many students were now joining the army. A student army had been organized
and among these was Tang Sheng-chih (唐生智 Tang shengzhi, who later became
commander of the Nationalist armies of Wuhan Government 武漢政府 of Wang
Ching-wei [汪精衛 Wang Jingwei] in 1927. He betrayed both Wang and the reds
and began the ‘peasant massacre’ of Hunan). I did not like the student army;
I considered the basis of it too confused. I decided to join the regular
army instead, and help complete the revolution. The Ching Emperor (Qing
Emperor 清朝皇帝) had not yet abdicated, and there was a period of struggle.

My salary was seven yuan a month – which is more than I get in the Red
Army now, however – and of this I spent two yuan a month on food. I also
had to buy water. The soldiers had to carry water in from outside the city,
but I, being a student, could not condescend to carrying, and bought it
from the water peddlers. The rest of my wages were spent on newspapers,
of which I became an avid reader. Among journals then dealing with the revolution
was the Hsiang Chiang Jih-pao (湘江日報 or Hsiang River Daily News). Socialism
was discussed in it, and in these columns I first learned the term. I also
discussed socialism, really social-reformism, with other students and soldiers.
I read some pamphlets written by Kiang Kan-hu (江亢虎 Jiang Kanghu) about
socialism and its principles. I wrote enthusiastically to several of my
classmates on this subject, but only one of them responded in agreement.

There was a Hunan miner in my squad, and an iron-smith, whom I liked very
much. The rest were mediocre, and one was a rascal. I persuaded two more
students to join the army, and came to be on friendly terms with the platoon
commander and most of the soldiers. I could write, I knew something about
books, and they respected my "great learning" I could help by writing letters
for them or in other such ways.

The outcome of the revolution was not yet decided. The Qing (清) had not
wholly given up power, and there was a struggle within the Kuomintang concerning
the leadership. It was said in Hunan the further war was inevitable. Several
armies were organized against the Manchus and against Yuan Shih-kai (袁世
凱 Yuan Shikai) [2A]. Among these was the Hunan army. But just as the Hunanese
were preparing to move into action, Sun-Yat-sen (孫中山) and Yuan Shih-kai
came to an agreement, the scheduled war was called off, North and South
were "unified", and the Nanking (Nanjing) Government was dissolved. Thinking
the revolution was over, I resigned from the army and decided to return
to my books. I had been a soldier for half a year.

I began to read advertisements in the papers. Many schools were then being
opened and used this medium to attract new students. I had no special standard
for judging schools; I did not know exactly what I to do. An advertisement
for a police school caught my eye and I registered for entrance to it. Before
I was examined, however, I read an advertisement of a soap-making "school".
No tuition was required, board was furnished and a small salary was promised.
It was an attractive and inspiring advertisement. I told of the great social
benefits of soap making, how it would enrich the country and enrich the
people. I changed my mind about the police school and decided to become
a soap maker. I paid my dollar registration fee here also.

Meanwhile a friend of mine had become a law student and he urged me to enter
his school. I also read an alluring advertisement of this law school, which
promised many wonderful things. It promised to teach students all about
law in three years and guarantee that at the end of this period they would
instantly become mandarins. My friend kept praising the school to me, until
finally I wrote to my family, repeated all the promises of the advertisement,
asking them to send me tuition money. I painted a bright picture for them
of my future as a jurist and mandarin. Then I paid a dollar to register
in the law school and waited to hear from my parents.

Fate again intervened in the form of an advertisement for a commercial school.
Another friend counseled me that the country was in economic war, and that
what was most needed were economists who could build up the nation’s economy.
His argument prevailed and I spent another dollar to register in this commercial
middle school. I actually enrolled there and was accepted. Meanwhile, however,
I continued to read advertisements, and one day I read one describing the
charms of a higher commercial public school. It was operated by the government,
it offered a wide curriculum, and I heard that its instructors were very
able men. I decided it would be better to become a commercial expert there,
paid my dollar and registered, then wrote my father of my decision. He was
pleased. My father readily appreciated the advantages of commercial cleverness.
I entered this school and remained – for one month.

The trouble with my new school, I discovered, was that most of the courses
were taught in English, and, in common with other students, I knew little
English; indeed, scarcely more than the alphabet. An additional handicap
was that the school provided no English teacher. Disgusted with this situation,
I withdrew from the institution at the end of the month and continued my
perusal of the advertisements.

My next scholastic adventure was in the First Provincial Middle School.
I registered for a dollar, took the entrance examination, and passed at
the head of the list of candidates. It was a big school, with many students,
and its graduates were numerous. A Chinese teacher there helped me very
much; he was attracted to me because of my literary tendency. This teacher
lent me a book called the Yu-pi Tung-chien (御批通鑑 or Chronicles with
Imperial Commentaries), which contained imperial edicts and critiques by
Chien Lung (乾隆 Qian Long – the gifted fourth emperor of the Qing Dynasty
清朝 1644AD to 1911AD).

About this time a government magazine exploded in Changsha. There was a
huge fire, and we students found it very interesting. Tons of bullets and
shells exploded, and gundowder made an intense blaze. It was better than
firecrackers. About a month later Tan Yen-kai (譚延闓 Tan Yankai) was driven
out by Yuan Shih-kai (袁世凱 Yuan Shikai), who now had control of the political
machinery of the Republic. Tang Hsiang-ming (湯薌銘 Tang Xiangming) replaced
Tan Yankai and he set about making arrangements for Yuan’s enthronement
(in an attempted restoration of the monarchy, which speedily failed).

I did not like the First Middle School. Its curriculum was limited and its
regulations were objectionable. After reading Yu Pi Tong Jian (御批通鑑)
I had also come to the conclusion that it would be better for me to read
and study alone. After six months I left the school and arranged a schedule
of education of my own, which consisted of reading every day in the Hunan
Provincial Library. I was very regular and conscientious about it, and the
half year I spent in this way I consider to have been extremely valuable
to me. I went to the library in the morning when it opened. At noon I paused
only long enough to buy and eat two rice cakes, which were my daily lunch.
I stayed in the library every day reading until it closed.

During this period of self-education I read many books, studied world geography
and world history. There for the first time I saw and studied with great
interest a map of the world. I read Adam Smith’s The wealth of Nations,
and Darwin’s Origin of Species, and a book on ethics by John Stuart Mill.
I read the works of Rousseau, Spencer’s Logic, and a book on law written
by Montesquieu. I mixed poetry and romances, and the tales of ancient Greece,
with serious study of history and geography of Russia, America, England,
France, and other countries.

I was then living in a guild house for natives of Hsiang Hsiang (湘鄉 Xiang
Xiang) district. Many soldiers were there also – "retired" or disbanded
men from the district, who had no work to do and little money. Students
and soldiers were always quarrelling in the guild house, and one night this
hostility between them broke out in physical violence. The soldiers attacked
and tried to kill the students. I escaped by fleeing to the toilet, where
I hid until the fight was over.

I had no money then, my family refusing to support me unless I entered school,
and since I could no longer live in the guild house I began looking for
a new place to lodge. Meanwhile, I had been thinking seriously of my "career"
and had about decided that I was best suited for teaching. I had begun
reading advertisements again. An attractive announcement of the Hunan Normal
School now came to my attention, and I read with interest of its advantages:
no tuition required, and cheap board and cheap lodging. Two of my friends
were also urging me to enter. They wanted my help in preparing entrance
essays. I wrote of my intention to my family and I received their consent.
I composed essays for my two friends, and wrote one of my own. All were
accepted – in reality, therefore, I was accepted three times. I did not
then think my act of substituting for my friends an immoral one: it was merely
of friendship. [It was 1912 and Mao Zedong was 19 years old).

I was a student in the normal school for five years, and managed to resist
the appeals of all future advertising. Finally I actually got my degree.
Incidents in my life here, in the Hunan Provincial First Normal [Teachers’
Training] School, were many, and during this period my political ideas began
to take shape. Here also I acquired my first experiences in social action.

There were many regulations in the new school and I agreed with very few
of them. For one thing, I was opposed to the required courses in natural
science. I wanted to specialize in social sciences. Natural science did
not especially interest me, and I did not study them, so I got poor marks
in most of these courses. Most of all I hated a compulsory course in still-life
drawing. I thought it extremely stupid. I used to think of the simplest
subjects possible to draw, finish up quickly and leave the class. I remember
once, drawing a picture of the ‘half-sun, half-rock,’ (the reference is to
a line in a poem by Li Bai 李白), which I represented by a straight line
with a semicircle over it. Another time during an examination in drawing
I contented myself with making an oval. I called it an egg. I got 40 in
drawing, and failed. Fortunately my marks in social sciences were all excellent,
and they balanced my poor grades in these other classes.

A Chinese teacher here, whom the students nicknamed "Yuan the Big Bear",
ridiculed my writing and called it the work of a journalist. He depised
Liang Chi -chao (梁啟超 Liang Qichao), who had been my model, and considered
him half-literate. I was obliged to alter my style. I studied the writings
of Han Yu (韓愈768AD to 824AD), and mastered the old Classical phraseology.
Thanks to Yuan the Big Bear, therefore, I can today still turn out a passable
Classical essay if required.

The teacher who made the strongest impression on me was Yang Chang-chi (楊
昌濟 Yang Changji), a returned student from England, with whose life I was
later to become intimately related. [Later he became Mao Zedong’s father-in-law].
He taught ethics, he was an idealist and a man of high moral character.
He believed in his ethics very strongly and tried to imbue his students
with the desire to become just, moral, virtuous men, useful in society.
Under his influence I read a book on ethics translated by Tsai Yuan-pei
(蔡元培 Cai Yuanpei) and was inspired to write a essay which I entitled
"The Energy of the Mind". I was then an idealist and my essay was highly
praised by Professor Yang Changji, from his idealist viewpoint. He gave
me a mark of 100 for it.

A teacher named Tang used to give me old copies of Min Pao (民報 or People’s
Journal), and I read them with keen interest. I learned from them about
the activities and programme of the Tung Meng Hui (同盟會). One day I read
a copy of the Min Pao containing a story about two Chinese students who
were travelling across China and had reached Tatsienlu (打劍爐 Da Jian Lu),
on the edge of Tibet. This inspired me very much. I wanted to follow their
example; but I had no money, and thought I should first try out travelling
in Hunan.

The next summer I set out across the province by foot, and journeyed through
five counties. I was accompanied by a student named Hsiao Yu (蕭瑜 Xiao
Yu). We walked through these five counties without using a single copper.
The peasants fed us and gave us a place to sleep: wherever we went we were
kindly treated and welcomed. This fellow, Xiao Yu, with whom I travelled,
later became a Kuomintang official in Nanking, under Yi Pei-chi (易培基
Yi Peiji), who was then president of Hunan Normal School. Yi Peiji became
a high official at Nanking and had Xiao Yu appointed to the office of custodian
of the Peking Palace Museum. Xiao Yu sold some of the most valuable treasures
in the museum and absconded with the funds in 1934.

Feeling expansive and the need for a few intimate companions, I one day
inserted an advertisement in an Changsha paper inviting young men interested
in patriotic work to make a contact with me. I specified youths who were
hardened and determined, and ready to make sacrifices for their country.
To this advertisement I received three and one half replies. One was from
Lu Chiang-lung (羅章龍 Luo Zhanglong), who later was to join the Communist
Party and afterwards to betray it. Two others were from young men who later
to become ultra-reactionaries. The "half" came from a noncommittal youth
named Li Li-san (李立三 Li Lisan). Li listened to all I had to say, and
then went away without making and definte proposals himself, and our friendship
never developed [Li Lisan later became responsible for the Chinese Communist
Party "Li Lisan line", which Mao Zedong bitterly opposed. Further on Mao
tells of Li’s struggle with the Red Army).

But gradually I did build up a group of students around myself, and the
nucleus was formed of what later was to become a society [The Xin-Min Xue-Hui
新民學會 or New People’s Study Society] that was to have a widespread influence
on the affairs and destiny of China. It was a serious-minded little group
of men and they had no time to discuss trivialities. Everything they did
or said must have a purpose. They had no time for love or "romance" and
considered the times too critical and the need for knowledge too urgent
to discuss women or personal matters. I was not interested in women. My
parents had married me when I was fourteen to a girl of twenty, but I had
never lived with her – and never subsequently did. I did not considered
her my wife and at this time gave little thought of her. Quite aside from
the discussion of feminine char, which usually play an important role in
the lives of young men of this age, my companions even rejected talk of
ordinary matters of daily life. I remember once being in the house of a
youth who began to talk to me about buying some meat, and in my presence
called in his servant and discussed the matter with him, then ordered him
to buy a piece. I was annoyed and did not see that fellow again. My friends
and I preferred to talk only of large matters – the nature of men, of human
society, of China, the world, and the universe!

We also became ardent physical culturists. In the winter holidays we tramped
through the fields, up and down mountains, along city walls, and across
the streams and rivers. If it rained we took off our shirts and called it
a rain bath. When the sun was hot we also doffed shirts and called it a
sun bath. In the spring winds we shouted that this was a new sport called
"wind bathing". We slept in the open when frost was already falling and
even in November swam in the cold water. All this went on under the title
of "body training". Perhaps it helped much to build the physique which I
was to need so badly later on in my many marches back and forth across South
China, and on the Long March from Jiangxi (江西) to the North-West.

I built up a wide correspondence with many students and friends in other
towns and cities. Gradually I began to realize the necessity for a more
closely knit organization. In 1917, with some other friends, I helped to
found Xin Min Xue Hui. It had from seventy to eighty members, and of these
many were later to become famous names in Chinese Communism and in the history
of the Chinese Revolution. Among the better-known Communists who were in
the Xin Min Xue Hui were: Luo Mai (Li Weihan) – now secretary of the Party
Organization Committee; Xia Xi (夏曦) – now in the Second Front Red Army;
He Shuheng, who became high judge of the Supreme Court in the Central Soviet
regions and was later killed by Chiang Kai-shek (1935); Guo Liang, a famous
labour organizer, killed by General He Jian in 1930; Xiao Zizhang (Xiao
San 蕭三, or Emi Xiao, the younger brother of Xiao Yu 蕭瑜) – a writer now
in Soviet Russia; Cai Hesen, a member of the Central Committee of the Communist
Party, killed by Chiang Kai-shek in 1927; Ye Liyun (葉立雲) – who became
a member of the Central Committee, and later "betrayed" to the Kuomintang
and became a capitalist trade-union organizer; Xiao Zheng, a prominent Party
leader, one of the six signers of the original agreement for the formation
of the Party, who died not long ago from illness. The Majority of the members
of the Xin Min Xue Hui were killed in the counter-revolution of 1927.

Another society that was formed about that time, and resembled the Xin Min
Xue Hui, was the "Social Welfare Society" of Hubei (湖北). Many of its members
also later became Communists. Among them Yun Daiying (惲代英 1895 – 1931)
who was killed during the counter-revolution by Chiang Kai-shek. Lin Biao
(林彪), now president of the Red Army University, was a member. So was Zhang
Hao (張豪), now in charge of work among White troops [those taken prisoner
by the Reds]. In Peking (北京 Beijing) there was a society called Hu She
(互社), some of whose members later became Reds. Elsewhere in China, notably
in Shanghai, Hangzhou and Tianjin[4A], radical societies were organized
by the militant youth then beginning to assert an influence on Chinese politics.

Most of these societies were organized more or less under the influences
of Xin Qing Nian (新青年 or New Youth), the famous magazine of the literary
renaissance, edited by Chen Duxiu (陳獨秀). I began to read this magazine
while I was a student in the normal school and admired the articles of Hu
Shi (胡適) and Chen Duxiu very much. They became for a while my models,
replacing Liang Qichao (梁啟超) and Kang Youwei (康有為), whom I had already

At this time my mind was a curious mixture of ideas of liberalism, democratic
reformism, and utopian socialism. I had somewhat vague passion about "nineteen-
century democracy", utopianism, and old-fashioned liberalism, and I was definitely
anti-militarist and anti-imperialist.

I had entered the normal school in 1912, I was graduated in 1918

Han-ren (漢人)
means the ethnical descendants of ‘men of Han’, referring to the long-lived
Han Dynasty (漢朝 220BC to 202AD). Europeans derived the name ‘China’ and
‘Chinese’ from the Chin Dynasty (Qin Dynasty 秦朝 221BC to 207BC) which
immediately preceded the Han. China was known to Han-ren as Zhong Guo (中
國), the ‘Central Realm’ also translated as ‘Middle Kingdom’. In official
terminology all its inhabitants, including non-Han peoples, were called
Zhong Guo Ren (中國人) or ‘Central-Realm People. Thus the Manzhou (滿洲
人) were also Zhong Guo Ren ( China-men) but not Han-ren.

Yuan Shikai (袁世凱)
Yuan Shikai, army chief of staff to the Manchu rulers, forced their abdication
in 1911. Sun Yat-sen returned to China and was elected president by his
followers in a ceremony at Nanjing. Yuan held military control throughout
most of the country, however. To avoid a conflict, Sun resigned when Yuan
Shikai agreed to a constitutional convention and formation of a parliament.
Yuan continued to rule as a military dictator, and in 1915 proclaimed himself
emperor, whereupon his warlord supporters deserted him. The proclamation
was rescinded after a few months. Yuan died, and the Republic (if not constitutional
government) survived, to enter a period of provincial warlordism and national

Other members included Liu Shaoqi (劉少奇), Ren Bishi (任弼時), Li Fuchun
(李富春), Wang Ruofei (王若飛), Teng Daiyuan (滕代遠), Li weihan (李維漢
), Xiao Jingguang (蕭勁光), and at least one woman Cai Chang (蔡暢), the
younger sister of Cai Hesen (蔡和森),

All of these achieved high rank in the Chinese Communist Party. Mao’s favourite
professor and future father-in-law, Yang Changji (楊昌濟) and Xu Teli (徐
特立), Mao’s teacher at the First Normal School, were patrons.

In Tianjin it was the Jue Wu She 覺悟社 or Awakening Society, which led
an organization of radical youth. Zhou Enlai 周恩來 was one of the founders.
Others included Deng Yingchao (鄧穎超now Madam Zhou Enlai;
Ma Jun (馬鈞), who was executed in Beijing in 1927;
Sun Zhaojun (孫肇俊), who later became secretary of the Guangzhou (廣州)
Committee of the Koumintang (國民黨).

Red Star Over China
By Edgar Snow

Posted to
By CHUNG Yoon-Ngan (鄭永元)


About kchew

an occasional culturalist
This entry was posted in Chairman Mao. Bookmark the permalink.

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