The autobiography of Mao Zedong – Part 3 (Prelude to revolution)

. Prelude to Revolution

Of the great leaders of the world, only Mao Zedong was a poet. This one
was written in autumn 1925 when he said goodbye to his youth and his beloved
city Changsha (長沙).
長沙 Changsha (written in Autumn 1925)

獨立寒秋,—————-Du2 li4 han2 qiu,
湘江北去,—————-Xiangjiang bei3 qu4
橘子洲頭.—————-Ju2 zi zhou tou2,
看萬山紅遍,————-Kan wan4 shan hong2 bian4,
層林盡染;—————–Ceng2 lin2 jin4 ran3,
漫江碧透,—————–Man4 jiang bi4 tou4,
百舸爭流.—————–Bai3 ge2 zheng liu2,
鷹擊長空,—————–Ying ji chang2 kong,
魚翔淺底,—————–Yu2 xiang2 qian3 di3,
萬物霜天競自由.——Wan4 wu4 shuang tian jing zi4 you2.
悵寥廓,——————–Chang4 liao2 kuo4,
問蒼天大地,————-Wen4 cang tian da4 di,
誰主浮沉.—————–Shui2 zhu3 fu2 chen2

攜來百侶曾游,———-Xie2 lai2 bai3 lu3 zeng you2,
憶往昔崢嶸歲月稠.—Yi4 wang3 xi zheng rong2 sui4 yue4 chou2.
恰同學少年,————–Qia2 tong2 xue2 shao4 nian2,
風華正茂;——————Feng hua2 zheng4 mao4;
書生意氣,——————Shu sheng yi4 qi4
揮斥方遒.——————Hui chi4 fang qiu2
指點江山,——————Zhi3 dian3 jiang shan,
激揚文化,——————Ji2 yang2 wen2 hua4,
糞士當年萬戶侯.——-Fen4 tu3 dang nian2 wan2 hu4 hou2.
曾記否,———————Zeng ji4 fou3
到中流擊水,————–Dao4 zhong liu2 ji shui3,
浪遏飛舟.——————Lang4 e4 fei zhou.


Alone, standing in autumn’s chill
As the Xiang River
Flows north past Orange Island[1A],
I see the red-stained thousand hills
With crimson forests trooping.
On the lucid blue water a hundred barges sail,
Eagles fly above,
Fish glide in the deeps,
Under the unmoving sky, all living things strive for freedom.
I ponder, and ask the boundless earth
Who maters destiny?

In past years
I walked here with many companions,
Friends of crowded years and months of endeavor,
All of us students, all of us young,
In high assurance, strong and fearless,
Pointing the finger at all things,
Praising and condemning in our writings,
The highest in the land we counted no more than dust.
But do you remember?
How, reaching midstream, we struck the waters,
And the waves dashed against our speeding boats?

Mao Tsetung poems.
Foreign Language Press, Peking, 1976.

This is how Dr. Han Suyin, the world renowned writer, interprets this poem
in her book, "The Morning Deluge"
I quote:
"Changsha – Nothing is more beautiful to a Hunanese than the landscape of
the Xiang River in autumn, when the hills are russet and gold, and Orange
Grove island, opposite Changsha city, glows like a gold nugget in the sunset.
The Revolution seemed very near, Mao stood, staring at the water. The Revolution
would go forward, but there would be obstacles to its progress.

There is no rapture, only sober purpose in this poem. Mao Zedong was perhaps
saying farewell to his own youth. As he slipped on foot across the hills,
autumn harvest was being reaped. Soon, armies would be trampling the winter

(題解 The explanation)

In 1912, at the age of 19, Mao Zedong entered the Hunan Provincial Normal
School (湖南第一師範學校). He graduated and obtained his degree in 1918
when he was 25 years old. His father, Mao Rensheng (毛仁生), a middle peasant,
was a very generous man who was willing to support his eldest son to study
all these years.

In 1918, also the year that his mother died. Mao Zedong and his school mates,
Xiao Yu (蕭瑜), Cai Hesen (蔡和森) and others organized an association
in the school. The Association was called Xin Min Association (新民會).
From then on, began the political activities of Mao Zedong

In Autumn 1925, again, Zhao Hengti (趙恆惕), the Military Governor of Hunan
province issued a warrant to arrest Mao Zedong for being an "extremist 過
激份子". He had to leave behind his wife Yang Kaihui (楊開慧), and their
two sons, Anying (岸英) and Anjing (岸菁). Before he left Changsha for the
city of Guangzhou (廣州), Mao Zedong stood on a high ground and stared at
the Xiang River for a long time as if he was saying goodbye to the river.
Then he wrote this poem.
橘子洲頭 (Orange Island). The actual name is 水陸洲 (Shii Lu Zhou)
is in the middle of Xiang River (湘江). Please refer to the map of Chang.Sha

During my years in normal school in Changsha (長沙) I had spent, altogether,
only $160 – including my numerous registration fees! Of this amount I must
have used a third for newspapers, because regular subscriptions cost me
about a dollar a month, and I often bought books and journals on the news-stands.
My father cursed me for this extravagance. He called it wasted money on
wasted paper. But I had acquired the newspaper-reading habit, and from 1911
to 1927, when I climbed up Jinggangshan (井岡山), I never stopped reading
the daily papers of Peking, Shanghai, and Hunan.

In my last year in school my mother died and more than ever I lost interest
in returning home. I decided, that summer, to go to Peking. Many students
from Hunan (湖南) were planning trips to France, to study under the "work
an learn" scheme, which France used to recruit youth Chinese in her cause
during the World War. Before leaving China these students planned to study
French in Peking. I helped to organize the movement, and in the groups who
went abroad were many students from Hunan Normal School (湖南師範學校), most
of whom were later to become famous radicals. Xu Teli (許特立) was influenced
by the movement also, and when he was over forty he left his professorship
at Hunan Normal School and went to France. He did not become a Communist,
however, till 1927.

I accompanied some of the Hunanese students to Peking. However, although
I had helped organize the movement, and it had the support of the Xin-Min
Xue-hui (新民學會), I did not want to go to Europe, I felt that I did not
know enough about my own country, and that my time could be more profitably
spent in China. Those students who had decided to go to France studied French
then from Li Shizeng (李石曾), who is now president of the Zhong-Fa [中法
Sino French] university, but I did not. I had other plans.

Peking seemed very expensive to me. I had reached the capital by borrowing
from friends, and when I arrived I had to look for work at once. Yang Changji
(楊昌濟), my former ethics teacher at normal school, had become a professor
at Peking National University. I appealed to him for help in finding a job,
and he introduced me to the university librarian. He was Li Dazhao (李大
釗 please refer to the above link), who later became a founder of the Communist
Party of China, and was afterwards executed by Zhang Zuolin (張作霖 The ex-bandit
who became military dictator of Manchuria. Marshall Zhang held power in Peking
before the arrival of the Nationalists there. He was killed by the Japanese
in 1928. His son, Zhang Xueliang 張學良, known as the ‘Young Marshall’ succeeded
him).Li Dazhao gave me work as assistan librarian, for which I was paid
the generous sum of $8 a month.

My office was so low that people avoided me. One of my tasks was to register
the names of people who came to read newspapers, but to most of them I didn’t
exist as a human being. Among those who came to read I recognized the names
of famous leaders of the renaissance movement, men like Fu Sinian (傅斯年
), Luo Jialun (羅家倫), and others, in whom I was intensely interested.
I tried to begin conversation with them on political and cultural subjects,
but they were very busy men. They had no time to listen to an assistant librarian
speaking southern dialect.

But I wasn’t discouraged. I joined the Society of Philosophy, and the Journalism
Society, in order to be able to attend classes in the university. In Journalism
Society I met fellow students like Chen Gongbo (陳公博), who is now a high
official at Nanjing (南京); Tan Pingshan (譚平山), who later became a Communist
and still later a member of the so-called "Third Party"; and Shao Piaoping
(邵飄萍). Shao, especially, helped me very much. He was a lecturer in the
Journalism Society, a liberal, and a man of fervent idealism and fine character.
He was killed by Zhang Zuolin in 1926.

While I was working in the library I also met Zhang Guotao (張國燾 please
refer to the above links), now vice-chairman of the Soviet Government; Kang
Baiqing (康白情) who later joined the Ku Klux Klan in California, USA; Duan
Xiping (段錫平), now Vice-Minister of Education in Nanking. And here also
I met and fell in love with Yang Kaihui. She was the daughter of my former
ethics teacher, Yang Changji, who had made a great impression on me in my
youth and who afterwards was a genuine friend in Peking.

My interest in politics continued to increase, and my mind turned more and
more radical. I have told you of the background for this. But just now I
was still confused, looking for a road, as we say. I read some pamphlets
on anarchy, and was much influenced by them. With a student named Zhu Lianzhi
(朱譧之), who used to visit me, I often discussed anarchism and its possibilities
in China. At that time I favoured many of its proposal.

My own living conditions in Peking were quite miserable, and in contrast
the beauty of the old capital was a vivid and living compensation. I stayed
in a place xalled San Yan Jing (三眼井 or Three Eyes Well), in a little
room which held seven other people. When we all packed fast on the Keng
(坑) there was scarcely room enough for any of us to breath. I used to have
to warn people on each side of me when I wanted to turn over. But in the
parks and the old palace grounds I saw the early northern spring, I saw
the white plum blossoms flower while the ice still held solid over Bei Hai
(北海 or the North Sea; Bei Hai and other ‘seas’ were artificial lakes in
the former Forbidden City). I saw the willows over Bei Hai with the ice
crystals hanging from them and remembered the description of the scene by
the Tang poet Cen Can (岑參), who wrote about Bei Hai’s winter-jewelled trees
"like ten thousand peach trees blossoming 千樹萬樹梨花開".
The innumerable trees of Peking aroused my wonder and admiration.

Early in 1919 I went to Shanghai with the students bound for France. I
had a ticket only to Tianjin (天津), and I did not know how I was to get
any further. But, as the Chinese proverb says, "Heaven will not delay a
traveller 天無絕人之路", and a fortunate loan of ten yuan (dollars) from
a fellow student, who had got some money from the Auguste Comte School (孔
德學校) in Peking, enabled me to buy a ticket as far as Pukou (浦口). On
the way to Nanjing (南京) I stopped at Qufu (曲阜) and visited Confucius’
grave. I saw the small stream where Confucius’ disciples bathed their feet
and the little town where the sage lived as a child. He is supposed to have
planted a famous tree near the historic temple dedicated to him, and I saw
that. I also stopped by the river where Yan Yuan (顏淵), one of Confucius’
famous disciples, had once lived, and I saw the birthplace of Mencius (孟
子). On this trip I climbed Taishan (泰山), the sacred mountain of Shandong,
where General Feng Yuxiang (馮玉祥) retired and wrote his patriotic scrolls.

But when I reached Pukou (浦口) I was again without a copper, and without
a ticket. Nobody had any money to lend me; I did not know how I was to get
out of town. But the worst of the tragedy happened when a thief stole my
only pair of shoes! Ai-ya! What was I to do? But again,
"Heaven will not delay a traveller 天無絕人之路",
and I had a very good piece of luck. Outside the railway station I met an
old friend from Hunan, and he proved to be my "good angel". He lent me money
for a pair of shoes, and enough to buy a ticket to Shanghai. Thus I safely
completed my journey – keeping an eye on my new shoes. At Shanghai I found
that a good sum had been raised to help send the students to France, and
an allowance had been provided to help me return to Hunan. I saw my friends
off on the steamer and then set out for Changsha.

During my first trip to the North, as I remember it, I made these excursions:
I walked around the lake of Dongting (洞庭湖), and I circled the wall of
Baoding (保定). I walked on the ice of the Gulf of Beihai (北海). I walked
around the wall of Xuzhou (徐州), famous in the San Guo (三國志 or The Three
Kingdoms), and around Nanjing (南京)’s wall, also famous in history. Finally
I climbed Taishan (泰山) and visited Confucius’ grave. These seemed to me
then achievements worth adding to my adventures and walking tours of Hunan.

When I returned to Changsha (長沙) I took a more direct role in politics.
After the May Fourth Movement [Considered the beginning of the ‘Second Revolution’
, and of modern Chinese nationalism.] I had devoted most of my time to student
political activities, and I was editor of the Xiang River Review ( 湘江評
論), the Hunan students’ paper, which had a great influence on the student
movement in South China. In Changsha I helped found the Wenhua Shushe (文
化書社 or Cultural Book Society), an association for study of modern cultural
and political tendencies. This society, and more especially the Xin Min Xue
Hui (新民學會), were violently opposed to Zhang Jingyao (張敬堯), then Dudu
(都督 or Military Governor) of Hunan, and a vicious character. We led a
general student strike against Zhang, demanding his removal, and sent delegations
to Peking and the South-West, where Sun Yat-sen was then active, to agitate
against him. In retaliation for the students’ opposition, Zhang Jingyao
suppressed the Xiang River Review.

After this I went to Peking, to represent the New People’s Study Society
(新民學會) and organize an anti-militarist movement there. The society broadened
its fight against Zhang Jingyao into a general anti-militarist agitation,
and I became head of a news agency to promote this work. In Hunan the movement
was rewarded with some success. Zhang Jingyao was overthrown by Tan Yankai
(譚延闓), and a new regime was established in Changsha. About this time
the society began to divide into two groups, a right and left wing – the
left wing insisting on a programme of far-reaching social and economic and
political changes.

I went to Shanghai for the second time in 1919. There once more I saw Chen
Duxiu (陳獨秀)[1A]. I had first met him in Peking, when I was at Peking
National University, and he had influenced me perhaps more than anyone else.
I also met Hu Shi (胡適) at that time, having called on him to try to win
his support for the Hunanese students’ struggle. In Shanghai I discussed
with Chen Duxiu our plans for a League for Reconstruction of Hunan [湖南改
造聯盟]. Then I returned to Changsha and began to organize it. I took a
place as a teacher there, meanwhile continuing my activity in the New People’
s Study Society (新民學會). The society had a programme then for the "independence"
of Hunan, meaning, really, autonomy. Disgusted with the Northern Government,
and believing that Hunan could modernize more rapidly if free from connection
with Peking, our group agitated for separation. I was then a strong supporter
of America’s Monroe Doctrine and the Open Door.

Tan Yankai (譚延闓) was driven out of Hunan by a militarist called Zhao
Hengti (趙恆惕), who utilized the "Hunan independence" movement for his
own ends. He pretended to support it, advocating the idea of a United Autonomous
State of China, but as soon as he got power he suppressed democratic movement
with great energy. Our group had demanded equal rights for men and women,
and representative government, and in general approval of a platform for
a bourgeois democracy. We openly advocated these reforms in our paper, the
New Hunan. We led an attack on the provincial parliament, the majority of
whose members were landlords and gentry appointed by the militarists. This
struggle ended in our pulling down the scrolls and banners, which were full
of non-sensical and extravagant phrases.

The attack on the parliament was considered a big incident in Hunan, and
frightened the rulers. However, When Zhao Hengti seized control he betrayed
all the ideas he had supported, and especially he violently suppressed all
demands for democracy. Our society therefore turned the struggle against
him. I remember an episode in 1920, when the Xin Min Xue Hui (新民學會)
organized a demonstration to celebrate the third anniversary of the Russian
October Revolution. It was suppressed by the police. Some of the demonstrators
had attempted to raise the Red flag at that meeting, but were prohibited
from doing so by the police. The demonstrators pointed out that, according
to Article 12 of the Constitution, the people had the right to assemble,
organize, and speak, but the police were not impressed. They replied that
they were not there to be taught the Constitution, but to carry out the
orders of the governor, Zhao Hengti (趙恆惕). From this time on I became
more and more convinced that only mass political power, secured through
mass action, could guarantee the realization of dynamic reforms (In October
1920, Mao organized a Socialist Youth Crops branch in Changsha, in which
he worked with Lin Zuhan 林祖漢 to set up craft unions in Hunan).

In the winter of 1920 I organized workers politically for the first time,
and began to be guided in this by the influence of Marxist theory and the
history of the Russian Revolution. During my second visit to Peking I had
read much about the events in Russia, and had eagerly sought out what little
Communist literature was then available in Chinese. Three books especially
deeply carved my mind, and built up in me a faith in Marxism, from which,
once I had accepted it as the correct interpretation of history, I did not
afterwards waver. These books were the Communist Manifesto, translated by
Chen Wangdao (陳望道) and the first Marxist book ever published in Chinese;
Class Struggle, by Kautsky; and a History of Socialism, by Kirkup. By the
summer of 1920 I ha become, in theory and to some extent in action, a Marxist,
and from this time on I considered myself a Marxist. In the same year I
married Yang Kaihui (楊開慧).
According to Edgar Snow:

Mao Zedong made no further reference to his life with Yang Kaihui, except
to mention her execution. She was a student at Peking National University
and later became a youth leader during the Great Revolution, and one of
the most active women Communists. Their marriage had been celebrated as
an ‘ideal romance’ among radical youths in Hunan.

Mao Zedong was now a Marxist but not a Communist, because as yet there did
not exist in China an organized Communist Party. As early as 1919 Chen Duxiu
(陳獨秀) had established contact with the Com-intern through Russians living
in Peking, as had Li Dazhao (李大釗). It was not until the spring of 1920
that Gregori Voitinsky, an authorized representative of the Communist International,
reached Peking, in the company of Yang Mingcai (楊明才), a member of the
Russian Communist Party who acted as his interpreter. They conferred with
Li Dazhao (李大釗) and probably also met member’s of Li’s Society for the
Study of Marxist Theory. In the same year the energetic and persuasive Jahn
Henricus Sneevliet, a Dutch agent of the Third International – Di San Guo
Ji (第三國際 in Chinese) – came to Shanghai for talks with Chen Duxiu, who
was conferring with serious Chinese Marxist there.

It was Chen who in May 1920, summoned a conference that organized a nuclear
Communist group. Some members of it became (with Li Dazhao’s group in Peking,
another group set up in Guangzhou (廣州) by Chen, groups in Shandong (山
東) and Hubei (湖北), and Mao’s group in Hunan (湖南) conveners of a Shanghai
conference the following year that (with the help of Voitinsky) summoned
the firs Chinese Communist Party congress.

Chen Duxiu (陳獨秀) was born in Anhui (安徽省) in 1879, became a noted scholar
and essayist, and for years headed the department of literature at Peking
National University – ‘cradle of the literary renaissance’. His New Youth
magazine began the movement for adoption of the Bai-Hua (白話 or vernacular
Chinese), as the national language to replace the ‘dead’ Wen-Yan (文言 or
Classical language). With Li Dazhao (李大釗), he was a chief promoter of
Marxist study in China and a pioneer organizer of the Chinese Communist Party.

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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