Chairman Mao Was a Classical Poet
Mao Zedong (1893 – 1976) was China’s main Marxist theorist, and a guerrilla fighter, soldier, and statesman, who presided over his country’s communist revolution. He led the Chinese Communist Party from 1935 until his death, and after the communists won control in 1949, he ruled China from that date until his demise. During his time in power, Mao was responsible for the deaths of tens of millions Chinese. They were killed outright by his followers, or starved to death because of Mao’s disastrous economic policies.
However, there was more to Mao than a revolutionary and man of action. He had a particular fondness for classical Chinese poetry and literature. In addition to being a prolific mass murder, Mao was also a prolific writer and poet. Surprisingly, for a man so politically radical and revolutionary, he liked to write and pen verses in classical Chinese forms. It would be akin to a modern American anarchist who liked writing in the manner of Chaucer.
As with most intellectuals of his generation, Mao’s education was based on a foundation of classical Chinese literature. However, while most of his contemporaries moved on to modern styles and themes, Mao stuck with the old when it came to literature and poetry. From his youth, he composed poetry in the classical style. Indeed, his image as a poet was a significant part of his public persona as he rose to power in China.
Mao was actually considered a good poet. Not just by critics in China, who would have been foolhardy indeed to pan his poetry, but also by literary critics outside China and beyond Mao’s clutches. His poetry tended to be on romantic end of things, rather than the more modern realist genre, and hearkened back to the style of the Tang Dynasty, of the 7th to 9th centuries.
Alone I stand in the autumn cold
On the tip of Orange Island,
The Xiang flowing northward;
I see a thousand hills crimsoned through
By their serried woods deep-dyed,
And a hundred barges vying
Over crystal blue waters.
Eagles cleave the air,
Fish glide under the shallow water;
Under freezing skies a million creatures contend in freedom.
Brooding over this immensity,
I ask, on this bondless land
Who rules over man’s destiny?
I was here with a throng of companions,
Vivid yet those crowded months and years.
Young we were, schoolmates,
At life’s full flowering;
Filled with student enthusiasm
Boldly we cast all restraints aside.
Pointing to our mountains and rivers,
Setting people afire with our words,
We counted the mighty no more than muck.
How, venturing midstream, we struck the waters
And the waves stayed the speeding boats?
Mao Zedong – Changsha