The Ancient Face
China like India is one of the oldest civilizations on earth. Monk philosophers like Lao Tse and Confucius were the famous ancients who had their followers as the ancient sages of India had. Religion and spiritualism were the guiding principles of their life. Chinese are the Mongoloid people resembling India in its eastern border lands. It has resemblances with the other neighbouring countries like Japan and other south-east Asian countries. China came under the Buddhist influence mainly from the time of the great Indian king Ashoka. Exchange of scholars, religionists and travellers continued for thousand years and more. China is the originating country of tea which was in existence in India too but not known in so early days. It is an irony of fate that such a country came under the influence of communism; its spiritualism and religion, peace and culture were shattered to pieces gradually from the first quarter of the twentieth century bringing it down to the lowest point by any humanitarian standard towards the end of the third quarter of the century till their leader Mao Zedong (as they call now) was living. It is certainly undergoing changes after that.
Lines of pilgrims travelled between the two countries over the Gobi desert, plains and mountains of Central Asia, over the Himalayas and via Indo-China, the sea route. Thousands perished on the way, such difficult were the journeys. Kashyap Matanga the Indian scholar reached China in 67 AD followed by Dharmaraksha and others like Buddhabhadra, Jinabhadra, Kumarajiva, Paramartha, Jinagupta and Bodhidharma. Once reaching to each other’s country, the Chinese and Indians hardly had the time and ability to return. At one time more than 10000 Buddhist monks from India settled in Lo Yang province of China. Some Indians became experts in Chinese literature. Kumarajiva became a renowned writer of Chinese literature. The other Chinese scholars and travellers were men like Fa Hien (Fa Hsien), Sung Yun, Hsuan-Tsang (Chewen Chuang) and I-Tsing (Yi-Tsing). Fa Hien came to India in the fifth century AD. A disciple of Kumarajiva, he studied in Pataliputra University (present Patna, the capital of Bihar in India). Hsuan-Tsang became a student at Nalanda University, not far from Pataliputra, and became its vice-principal. They wrote scholarly books on India as their counter parts did in China. He travelled back to China and while going noticed the influence of Buddhism in such Central Asian countries as Iran (Persia), Khorasan, Iraq, Mosul, up to the frontiers of Syria.
Legend has it that once in 2737 B.C., Emperor Shen Nung, boiling water while resting under a tea tree, found that few leaves drifted in the air and fell in the boiling pot. He found the drink delicious, refreshing and revitalizing. But no recorded reference of the drink was found before the third century A.D. The popularity of the drink was spread in China between fourth and fifth centuries. China, the home of tea, introducing it to the world, had to suffer the humiliation of closing down tea houses, as considered “Unproductive leisure activity” by the wisdom of cultural revolutionaries. Now it is productive again! Once tea became the bone of contention between Britain and China. It became so popular in Britain that it cost their exchequer dearly. So the empire produced opium in India and clandestinely exported to China to pay their bills. Officially China banned the import and consumption of opium, which continued to be exported till 1839. Britain declared war against China and China banned all exports of tea to Britain. China suffered set back in Opium War. Necessity is the mother of invention. The empire rediscovered Indian tea. Gradually Indian tea filled up the vacuum and it became popular among the countries.
The End of Dynasties
The Chinese life continued through different dynasties which covered spiritualism to tea-diplomacy but the two thousand years old dynasty had come to a halt on 1 January 1912 when it was declared a Republic. The brewing discontent among the republicans who were on revolt for some years; they could not tolerate the corrupt Manchu dynasty mainly because it was not made of Han Chinese, the main body of Chinese population. The dowager mother of the last minor king, Pu Yi, took bribe, it is said under compulsion, and signed the abdication papers of her minor son.
China continued through the regimes of war lords, chieftains, nationalist leaders like Sun Yat- sen and Chiang Kai-shek and the Communist Red Armies. The Nationalist Party was founded in 1912 by the merger of a number of Republican groups. Sun Yat-sen became the provisional president of the republic to be overthrown by the army chief Yuan Shih-K’ai. Sun Yat made alliance with Moscow to overthrow the Peking government. Chinese Communist Party was there but it was too small at that time. Sun Yat-sen died in March 1925. Wang Ching-wei became his successor. The Nationalist Party had connections with Moscow and helped the communists sometimes as Stalin wished, strategically to win his favour to establish Nationalist Government.
China was not a whole entity then. Chiang Kai-shek was a military man trained in Japan. He started killing communists with his force. Wang Ching-wei, the party chief broke with the CCP and submitted to Chiang who then became the head of the Nationalist Party. He built a regime that lasted for 22 years on mainland until he was driven to Taiwan by the Communist Party under the leadership of Mao in 1949.
Mao Tse-tung Struggles to Establish Himself
Born on 26 December 1893, the third child of his parents, named Mao Tse-tung, meaning “to shine on the east”, was 19 years old when China became a republic. At the beginning he was a school dropout but he was studious and sought the best place for his study. He was at war always with his father who did not like his son’s selfish, opportunistic attitude but he was a devout follower of his mother. “‘I worshipped my mother . . . Wherever my mother went, I would follow. . . going to temple fairs, burning incense and paper money, doing obeisance to Buddha . . . .Because my mother believed in Buddha, so did I.’ But he gave up Buddhism in his mid-teens.” (Mao/5)
Mao continued to rule ruthlessly, torturing and killing, creating an age of panic and fear so revolt was not to be heard against his dictatorship till his death on 9 September 1976. Whenever there was a chance of rising heads to question he purged them under different slogans like revisionists, capitalist roaders, rightists and the like.
Mao Tse-tung consolidated his position by way of Long March which was a history by itself.
He virtually became the chief of the Chinese Communist Party. His cruelty, torture and ambition to hold on to power and to become a dictator at the cost of his fellow human beings, his colleagues and near relatives, continued throughout his life beginning from the Long March days. He disliked and avoided all physical labour but always insisted on others’ labours to help him and his establishments. His one good quality was to study but that was to help himself most. He had some flare for writing. He wrote some poetry of his brand. But the main trend of this character was to dominate and humiliate others. Cruel, revengeful and sadistic to the extreme point, he hated people but the irony of people’s fate is that this dictator became a people’s leader by dint of his ruthless adventure and advances against all odds. He was a womanizer and licentious; indulging in such activities at will. He married four times. His comments on a book made when he was 24 years old defined his character. “Mao expressed the central elements of his own character, which stayed consistent for the remaining six decades of his life and defined his rule.
“Mao’s attitude to morality . . . ‘I do not agree with the view that to be moral, the motive of one’s action has to be benefiting others. . . . People like me want to . . . satisfy our hearts to the full, and in doing so we automatically have the most valuable moral codes.
“. . . . People like me only have a duty to ourselves, we have no duty to other people. I am responsible only for the reality that I know and absolutely not responsible for anything else. I do not know about the past, I do not know about the future. . . . . I am only concerned about developing myself. . . . I have my desire and act on it. I am responsible to no one. . . . People like me are not building achievements to leave for future generations.’ (Mao/13)
The fulcrum of his activities was divided into three besides many other activities which had made him what he became, the Chairman of the three top bodies; The Central Committee, The Politburo and the Secretariat; all-in-all in the party and fulsome dictator of China. The three great achievements of him were the Long March, Great Leap Forward and the Cultural revolution.
The Long March
“Some 80,000 people set off on the Long March in October 1934. . . .
“some sick and weak fell asleep and never woke up. Many suffered infected feet, which had to be wrapped in rotten cloth and produced unbearable pain when stepping on the ground . . . some labourers deserted . . . some begged in tears to let go. . . soldiers too deserted in drove, as the vigilance of their increasingly exhausted bosses wavered.” (Mao/130)
Chiang’s planes overhead could crush them but did not with an understanding with Russia. He helped their passage to their destined place. 40000 strong Red Force crossed the Xiang river in late November. They passed through extreme mountain chill with enormous suffering but Mao enjoyed. “‘On the March, I was lying in a litter. So what did I do? I read. I read a lot.’ Marchers remembered, ‘When climbing mountains the litter bearers sometimes could only move forward on their knees, and the skin and flesh on their knees were rubbed raw before they got to the top. Each mountain climb left a trail of their sweat and blood.’” (Mao/139) Mao deliberately made a detour of 2000 kilometre in order to avoid his rival in the march at the cost of the common marchers. They were in rags and tatters, extremely hungry and exhausted. On 18 October 1935 they set foot on Red territory. Mao by this time could avoid the threat from Kuo-t’ao. “After a trek of some 10000 kilometre, lasting an entire year, of which four months were extra, thanks to him, but the Party was now to all intents and purposes, his.” (Mao/166) Mind that the marchers walked but some leaders and sick and medical helpers were carried. Mao did not walk but was carried all along. At the end of the march an 80000 strong force was reduced to 4000 but Mao was happy to be in new land with all power in hand to rebuild the soldier force.
With the help of American journalist Edger Snow Mao published the Mao Tse-tung autobiography consisting in larger parts his interview with Snow. Snow also wrote a book, Red Stars Over China, eulogizing Mao. Snow was a sympathiser and doctor for Mao. Here the authors of Mao: the Unknown Story commented, “He led Snow to believe that except when he was ill, he had ‘walked most of the 6000 miles of the Long March, like the rank and file.’ Mao also completely suppressed his links with Moscow, and claimed he wanted friendship with America- a claim that fooled many.” (Mao/192) Mao lived for a decade then at Yenan, the capital of the territories Chiang had assigned to the Reds.
Many propaganda, many publicities happened with many deceptive moves. Many purges of the top leaders were enacted under the able leadership of Mao in the meantime. But for the advancement of the country with the aim of achieving superpower status nothing was spared by the leader including human sacrifices.
The Great Leap Forward
Let us read what the present Party General Secretary and Chairman of China said in recent years about the Great Leap Forward. Mr. Xi Jimping, while speaking to the students of the Central Party School in November 2011, exhorted that, “‘Great Leap Forward’, a disastrous campaign launched by Mao Zedong in 1958 that destroyed the countryside. The four years of devastation were the darkest period of the CPC’s rule, with the scale of disaster arguably even surpassing that of the decade-long Cultural Revolution (1996-76) on account of the sheer magnitude of the tragedy.
“China’s farmers, exhorted by Mao Zedong’s delusions of propelling China to rival the Soviet Union by becoming an industrial superpower overnight, were all told to abandon their farming tools to manufacture iron in backyard furnaces. While fields lay idle, officials fabricated figures to please their Chairman by showing bountiful harvests. . . .
“Starving farmers who tried to leave villages to forage for food to feed their families were shot and killed. Officials who questioned the logic of the campaign were purged. More than 30 million died. . . .
“At that time it was a totalitarian system, that is why Mao’s wrong policy could be carried on for four years. If this was America, Britain or India, the wrong policy would be opposed by people.” (The Hindu. 5.1.2014)
It should be remembered that Mao was born in a farming family. His father was a farmer but he always avoided to work as such. The communist party propagates that it is the friend of farmers and labourers and it aims at establishing the proletariat reign. What happened in the hands of the biggest ideologue and practitioner has been recorded throughout the Soviet and Chinese communist rules.
Let us see what unculture or malculture was enacted during the Cultural Revolution.
“At the end of May 1966, Mao set up a new office, the Cultural Revolution Small Group, to help run the purge. Mme Mao headed it for him, with Mao’s former secretary, Chen Boda, its nominated director and purge expert Kang Sheng its ‘advisor’ this office, in addition to Lin Biao and Chou En-lai, formed Mao’s latest circle. . . .”
“In June Mao intensified the terrorism of society. He picked as his first instrument of terror young people in schools and universities. . . .
“To make sure that students were fully available to carry out his wishes, Mao ordered schooling suspended from 13 June. ‘Now lessons are stopped,’ he said, and young people ‘are given food. With food they have energy and they want to riot. What are they expected to do if not to riot?’Violence broke out within days. On 18 June, scores of teachers and cadres at Peiking University were dragged in front of crowds and manhandled, their faces blackened and dunces’ hats put on their heads. They were forced to kneel, some were beaten up, and women were sexually molested. Similar episodes happened all over China, producing a cascade of suicides.”
“Red Guards immediately embarked on atrocities. On 5 August in a Peiking girls’ school packed with high officials’ children (which Mao’s two daughters attended), the first death by torture took place.” (Mao/517) The headmistress was treated with leather army belt with nails, sticks and hot water besides other tortures.
“In the annihilation of culture, Mme Mao played a key role as her husband’s police chief for this field. And she made sure there was no resurrection of culture for the rest of Mao’s life. Partly thanks to her, for a decade, until Mao’s death in 1976, old books remained banned, and among the handful of new books of general interest that were published, all of them sported Mao’s quotations, in bold, on every other page. There were a few paintings and some songs around, but they all served propaganda purposes and eulogized Mao. Virtually the only performing arts allowed were eight ‘revolutionary model shows’ and a few films that Mme Mao had had a hand in producing. China became a cultural desert.” (Mao/522)
“Stalin had carried out his purges using an elite, the KGB, who swiftly hustled their victims out of sight to prison, the gulag of death. Mao made sure that much violence and humiliation was carried out in public, and he vastly increased the number of persecutors by getting his victims tormented and tortured by their own direct subordinates.” (Mao/523) The revolution was not only against the common people who were thought degenerated but the actual revengeful targets were the enemies of the leader in the party.
Towards the International Fame
After this great purging Mao wanted to become more international. Ping-pong diplomacy started with America; Henry Kissinger visiting China was followed by the visit of American President, Ronald Nixon on 21 February, 1972.
During their talks, “While Nixon and Kissinger both flattered Mao fulsomely, Nixon told Mao: ‘The Chairman’s writings moved a nation and have changed the world.’ Mao returned no thanks and made only one condescending comment on Nixon: ‘Your book, Six Crisis, is not a bad book.’
“Instead, Mao used banter to put Nixon and Kissinger down, exploring how much they would swallow.” (Mao/584)
Interfering in many communist and other country’s affairs and creating a circle of importance “Mao became not merely a credible international figure, but one with incomparable allure. World statesmen beat a path to his door. A meeting with Mao was, and sometimes still is, regarded as the highlight of many career and life.” (Mao/590) China took from Americans various modern technological helps. “Mao had made a lot of headway towards getting what had always been his core objective.” (Mao/590)
This new development between China and America made USSR concerned and they warned of dire consequences if the two countries had any military arrangement. Mao was successful in drawing the flak from many corners of the world and praise from some, thereby augmenting his importance as a world leader. China’s involvement in Korean war created uproar and panic.
China in the Present Era
This must be said that in spite of perpetrating many odds and wrongs in his life Mao Tse-tung could establish himself as a world leader by the use of physical and brutal force. In spite of all inhuman revengeful acts of killing millions of innocent people and acting in anti-cultural way he made China very strong materially and militarily. But it seems that China has forgotten its ancient path of spiritualism. The revengeful sense still prevails in the country, carrying the tradition of aggression and expansion, contrary to the principles of Panchsheel (originally pancasila; taken from the Buddhist text) agreement entered into by India and China in 1954. The five principles are:
(1) Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty;
(2) Mutual non-aggression;
(3) Mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs;
(4) Equality and mutual benefit: and
(5) Peaceful coexistence
It is quite germane to mention here that Sri Aurobindo, a great modern Yogi of India, could read the mind and attitude of modern communist countries while he was living secluded in his modern cave of tapasya for long 24 years without going out. He wrote before passing away in 1950 that China might attack India and that there were possibilities that they would attack and occupy Tibet, an independent country.
Tibet was occupied by them in 1950 which was gradually covered the whole country. Efforts are on to change the ethnic structure of Tibet, vehemently opposed by the Tibetans. People’s Liberation army of China suddenly attacked India on October 20 1962, crossing into Ladakh and Tawang, unprovoked. They penetrated further inside and caused loss of large numbers of innocent lives. They withdrew on 20 November as suddenly as they attacked. India was entirely unprepared after the signing of Panchsheel but tried its best to keep its sovereignty. By withdrawing China avoided the chance of further escalation of war. But they have been continuing to penetrate into Indian territory forcibly and clandestinely without any authority. And withdrawing on each occasion after long diplomatic struggle. They are claiming huge area of Indian territory in Tawang and Aksai China. They were apprehensive of the training of Tibetan people by the USA inside Kalimpong in 1956. They are always apprehensive of such build-up of roads and other things which they themselves do across the Himalayan region. Chinese troops came inside India on several years after 1962. It is reported that on an average there has been 250 transgressions by the Chinese army inside the Indian territory every year. These are regularly happening even after numbers of treaties were signed by them. Not only in the hills at different points of Indian border that they show their presence but in the sea too. A Chinese surveillance post was established 40 kilometre from the northern tip of Andman Islands in India. The Chinese navy located in Coco island of Myanmar too is a disturbance to India for its strategic importance.
War they like still, it seems, as they have some dispute and exchange of forces with other neighbouring countries like Japan and Russia in respect of some islands. They have difficulties with Japan in respect of supply of rare earth. With USA and India they seem to have a relation of doubt and dispute. These are against the principles of peaceful coexistence among countries. The Chinese have the tendency of expansion and settlement in other countries, due may be to a high population in their own country. During the past five years or so thousands of Chinese have discovered the African continent and settled to do business there. The Xinhua News Agency recently estimated that at least 750,000 Chinese were working or living for extended periods on the continent, a reflection of deepening economic ties between China and Africa that reached $55 billion in trade in 2006, compared with less than $10 million a generation earlier. Chinese are across the south Asian islands and in other countries like USA and India.
The world has become a global village. In this village mobility of man has reached an unprecedented scale. The Chinese, known the world over as having very good sports persons and athletes, makers of software and other daily requirements of life, are very diligent and smart and that it is a growing scientific nation. They are certainly welcome in any global village as it is the age of movement and settlement, an age of cultural admixture and expansion of human faculty. And as for ever, there is a call from the spiritual world to collaborate for man’s overall and peaceful development.
In a modern world where many countries openly or overtly keep nuclear arsenal the tendency to dominate and subjugate others should be shunned. The average man in China does understand this. With the others they too wish peaceful life and progress. They wish freedom from mechanical state machinery. While it is difficult to say at what speed the change is occurring in China, when and how it may gain its democratic status, one thing may be said that the harsh attitude of the Government has changed. Mere parent groups are recognized as a formidable presence.
Parents groups, whose members' children were hurt or killed in various tragedies such as the milk scandal, the Sichuan earthquake and the Tiananmen Square massacre -- have become an emerging political force. They pose a special challenge to the Chinese Government, which has not been able to deal with the grieving parents in the same manner it has dealt with others who challenge its authority.
Besides the speech by the present Chairman of China, recognizing fault of Mao Tse-tung and the need to amend, another recent incident draws our attention which is not just an incident but an affair of importance. The same General Secretary and Chairman visited an ordinary restaurant, Qingfeng, and ordered an ordinary meal for his family, eating with all commoners; going away from the usual practice of “China’s top leaders rarely venture beyond the high walls of Zhongnanhai- the central leadership compound- unless on official visits during which they are usually accompanied by large delegations and heavy security.” (The Hindu. 29.12.13)
Everything is moving on earth. Nothing is static; no ism, no system. Man is always seeking the best for him. In this seeking both the rulers and the ruled seem to come nearer to democratic system, in spite of many hurdles that it has to cover. The air of change is blowing. With a clear mind and heart nations of the world are coming closer towards a better understanding and meaningful living. China, a great ancient nation does not seem to remain away from this tendency for long. It does subscribe to The Ideal of Human Unity. The Ideal of Human Unity is a great treatise by the thinker and poet-sage, Sri Aurobindo.
Mao: The Unknown Story. Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. New York; Alfred A. Knopf. 2005
© Aju Mukhopadhyay, 2014