- Mao Zedong: Man, Not God, Quan Yanchi,, Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, English translation Wang Wengjiong, 1st ed. 1992, sixth reprint 2009, pages 214, price 45 Yuan
Li Yinqiao, the narrator of this book was Mao Zedong’s personal bodyguard for 15 years, as per his own version, Mao trusted him so much that he told him once to tell the true story of Mao family, after his death, but not before. Lin Yinqiao’s memoir of Mao as the peasant’s son, husband, father and comrade in arms have been presented here by Quan Yanchi, a member of Chinese Writers Association. The author opines that Mao himself would have given this title to this book. Mao has been presented as China’s dynamic leader and world statesman by the author.
In his brief preface to the book Quan Yanchi has described that how he got responses to his queries on Mao’s life from many people, but more importantly from Li Yinqiao. Publisher has claimed many new and unseen photographs of Mao and author has opined that ‘Mao is the greatest man China has produced in this century.’
Book is divided into twenty chapters, through which Lin Yinquao’s memoirs have been given the shape of the book. First and introductory chapter is about how Lin became bodyguard of Mao. He was working as bodyguard to Chou En Lai, when Communist party had headquarters in Yan’an, there was a need of new bodyguard for Mao. Li has joined Chou Enlai as bodyguard in 1947, in the final phase of liberation war, fought during 1946-49. Chiang Kai-shek’s army of 2 lakh thirty thousand men led by his favorite General Hu Zongnan had pushed itself on Yan’an. Communist party headquarter at that time. Communists had to leave its HQ at Yana’n and fight guerrilla war against Chiang click. It was toughest period of war and Communist forces reached Yellow river. There were torrential rains in August and party wanted to cross river and reach at safer place, but Mao was in angry mood and did not want to leave before defeating Hu Zongnan forces. Li Desheng was Mao’s party name at that time. Li’s observation about Mao is that’ Mao always meant what he said; he was a man not to be expected to give in easily to opposition, or change his mind’.(Page 1)
Party wanted Li Yinquao to become bodyguard of Mao, as an earlier bodyguard was dismissed by Mao. Here Li narrates that he joined People Liberation Army at the age of 11 years and worked as orderly, guard and bodyguard in ten years’ time. Li is frank in telling Mao that he does not like change from Chou and Mao likes his frankness. Both make an agreement to spend six months together, which was extended to another six months, before finally making it regular arrangement. In the due course of time Li is promoted as head of bodyguard team for Mao. He does not wish to leave Mao, who convinces him to accept higher position 15 years later and not to block his career. In the very first month, Li Yinquao is impressed by Mao’s fearlessness, who does not get perturbed, when enemy bomb explode even in front of him. Li is also impressed by Mao’s concern for other comrades, as when they had to cross the river and want Mao to cross first, Mao insists every other comrade to cross first and taking his turn last. Li is further impressed that Mao talks to him at personal level and when told that Li’s mother was a Buddhist, comments that ‘Buddhists are kind hearted and compassionate people.’(Page8) In 1956, Li was promoted as commander of Mao’s bodyguards and he stayed on till 1962, when despite Li’s reluctance to leave him, Mao persuaded him to join at higher position in Tianjin province. Their parting is sad and emotional as described by Li that he cried a lot and Mao also took him into his arms and cried by saying-“After I die, don’t forget to come to my grave…once a year.” Mao also told Li that-‘I see my children only a few times a year. You are the only one I saw every day, so you are closer to me than my own children are. But I had to think of your future….’(Page12)
Mao Zedong was vilified by his so called personal doctor Li Zhisin in a book published by Random House under the title-‘The Private Life of Chairman Mao’, though so many scholars and members of personal staff of Mao contradicted his ‘authentic’ claims, who dubbed Mao as ‘womanizer’ etc. This book, though written in very simple narrative and somewhat emotional style by one of the persons, who had to be with Mao most of the time, due to the nature of his duties. He had to perform even most private duties like taking care of Mao’s dressing up or helping him to sleep etc. can be definitely more true account of Mao’s life, as the book has been published by the official organ of Chinese Communist Party, it could be having official sanction also. The author, not to upset present Chinese leadership has at the end of the book criticized Mao on his concept of ‘Cultural Revolution’, but has also tried to reveal Mao’s abiding human qualities in a moving manner. This is one of the rare books in post Mao China that one could find reference to Jiang Qing, Mao’s persecuted wife as part of so called ‘Gang of Four’ and tried to be eliminated from Chinese history, the reference to Jiang Qing are not exactly as villainess, as she had been projected as part of ‘Gang of Four’. The book even contains a rare photograph of Mao and Jiang Qing daughter Li Ne, hugging her father fondly. Li Ne was sent by Mao himself to work in rural side as part of Cultural Revolution campaign of ‘city intelligentsia working in farms to learn’. Author has not mentioned Mao sending Li Ne to sending to work, as the book covers 1947-62 period only, whereas Cultural Revolution was post 1966 phenomenon. However author has mentioned in detail that how Mao has not allowed his children to take any advantage of his position, thus Li Ne, who almost starved in her school mess, was not allowed having any other food than served to all other students, which was a standard meal for a common poor peasant of China. Only when she visited home, she could take full some food at dining table. Mao even snubbed his body guard for showing her any special favor, when he came to know that his official car was used to take her to school or some such thing. She was to travel on public transport; at best she was given a bicycle at his body guard’s persistence. Jiang Qing never pleaded for any favor to her daughter. Same is true of Mao’s two sons from his first wife, who was killed by Kuomintang for not disclosing Mao’s whereabouts. One of these two sons was sent to Korea war in 1950, where he was killed in November 1950 at the age of 28 years only. Mao Zedong was upset, but did not shed a tear and also did not seek his body back home for burial. He said that Mao Anying belongs to the every land of the world and he should be buried, where ever he gave his life for a cause. The memorial is built for Mao’s son in North Korea and his just few month married widow had been visiting every year to pay homage. Li’s book brings many such aspects of Mao’s life to the fore. Mao remained in touch with his in laws from first wife, but told them not to seek any favour from Government. In many cases, Mao financially helped some needy friends or acquaintances from income on his books, but showed no favour at Government level
In second chapter with apt title-‘Mao Enjoys a Challenge’, the very first para of this chapter is worth quoting in full-‘The most outstanding trait in Mao’s character, as his writings attest, was his readiness to take on a challenge. He responded to challenges from Kuomintang with counter-challenges, never conceding an inch. A winner all his life, as far as I know, never admitted to feeling overwhelmed by his adversaries, nor retreated in face of heavy odds against him. Whatever he did, he never quit, short of total victory.’(Page 13)
Li Yinquao proves his point with concrete examples. In 1947, when Mao’s commanders decided to quit Yan’an headquarter of the party in face of two lakh thirty thousand strong Hu Zongnan’s army advance, Mao refused to leave till he saw Hu’s forces and everyone else had left. Chou En Lai assured him. Mao left at last, but making it sure that two boxes of his books reach at safe place, while leaving Marxism Leninism books for enemy troops, as it would be ‘good for them’. Many times Chou Enlai had to use tact to persuade Mao to leave the place of imminent danger. Finally only 20 thousand People’s guerrilla army of Mao Zedong decimated two lakh plus army of Chiang Kai-shek. Li has narrated details of many battles, which Mao won by his sheer confidence and tactics against Chiang armies. Mao’s love of challenge was expressed in his adventurous swimming of dangerous seas and rivers of China. Even as head of state, when he was not allowed free movement, Mao would announce his decision to swim across dangerous rivers or sea and his personal body guards and doctors will be in tough condition. Mao will never retreat, once he decided to swim and his swimming at 70 plus age has legendary tales now. In one instance Mao angrily told his security in charge Luo Ruiqing, when he tried to stop Mao from swimming in Yangtse river-‘All that worries you is that I may drown in that river, but what is this safety business all about? You may get killed by bombs right in your own room.”
In a chapter-‘When Bombers Came’, Li narrates that how Mao never lost his composure in face of death. Death crossed him on close quarters many times, yet it could not deter Mao from the work he was engrossed in. It is revealing to know that attempts were made on Mao’s life in post-revolutionary China too, in 1952 and 1958 by Kuomintang, the conspiracies exposed in time.
Mao’s humanism comes out in ‘Things that upset Mao’ and ‘Mao in Tears’ like chapters. As per Li’s account, Mao could not bear poor people crying, if he saw them in tears, he could not hold his own. During Yana’n days, on road, while traveling in a jeep, he saw a poor girl dyeing in her mother’s lap. Mao asked his doctor to take her along and told him to use only one emergency bottle of penicillin to save the girl. And girl was saved. He stopped red guards from shooting birds in his complex. Mao was fond of Peking Opera, a very powerful vehicle of China’s art. While Mao did not like to watch films much, he enjoyed watching Opera and liked many performances. His last wife Jiang Qing herself was a theater performer. What affected Mao in opera was his emotional bonding with characters, in one occasion, as per Li’s account, even as Chairman of Chinese state, Mao broke into tears in full public view after watching an opera. Not only that, while watching opera, Mao had unshackled his belt and while getting up emotionally to cheer the actors, his pants came down and Li had to take care of pulling up his pants. (This incident has also recently been narrated by novelist Cao Zhenglu, author of Lessons in Democracy in an interview published in October 2013 issue of Monthly Review.)
Mao took personal interest in the lives of his guards and help them by his advice also. According to Li, Mao wore his heart on his sleeve. He wrote a poem for Li at the time of parting, as requested by him. Mao flared up in temper, when he could not sleep for many days. Sometimes he worked for 2-3 days and nights without sleeping and then he needed sleeping piles and if some disturbance made him wake up, he will flare up at such occasions. Mao liked snow and loved to walk and watch it, but he hated money so much that he will even not touch it. Mao said-‘Money is a lousy thing. But there is nothing I can do about it; nothing anyone can do, not even Lenin. We just can’t manage without it.’(Page76)
Mao liked Stewed Pork and also brandy some time, chain smoker he was. Mao , according to Li, sometime liked the slogan-Long Live Chairman Mao, by implying that it is for Chinese Communist party, but sometime he disliked it. Mao’s habits were from his peasant background-rustic. Constipation and insomnia were Mao’s perennial problems. Li has interesting details of Mao’s founding day routine of People’s Republic of China, when he slept till 1 pm and Li made him ready in time to be with other leaders at Tiananmen square by 3 pm and he stood for seven long hours there, responding to peoples slogans of victory, with counter slogans-Long Live Chinese People..
Mao remained concerned to know the reality of people’s lives and the impact of his projects. He will ask his guards, when they went for holiday , the real situation of their areas. As Chairman, his security arrangements were in the hands of Government, so he was not allowed free movement, sometimes, Mao will rebel and make a trip here or there on his own. He also remained worried about factionalism in party. While he himself did not ally with any faction. According to Li, Mao was warmer with non-party writers/intellectuals, while with party people, he kept a distance or aloofness and work like relations. He was suspicious of deviations in the party as early as in 1959 and remained suspicious till the end. The Cultural Revolution came out of these suspicions only, as Mao was worried more and more about rightist tendencies in the party itself, which proved true after his death.
What comes out of Li’s memoirs and elsewhere in the world, Communist leaders in all countries after revolution become so much imprisoned in their shells that they don’t move among people as in liberal democracies. In one such instance when people came to know that Mao is visiting a hotel, thousands of people gathered to see him, greet him, but rather than Mao coming out and greeting people, he remained confined inside for hours, till security people got him out, clearing the way. This happened in all countries. They will address lakhs of people from high risen podium, but will not meet people on roads. Perhaps attack on Lenin in such meetings, made the Communist party super sensitive to the security of their leaders, be it Castro in Cuba or at other places. Attempts on Castro’s life by US agencies have further worsened this situation. At one time in China, Chou En Lai cycled to his office, so was with Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi, but later day developments made the communist countries much more security conscious than even bourgeoisie countries.
Li has devoted one full chapter to Mao’s life with his wife Jiang Qing. They slept in separate rooms, but when guards had difficult problem, they will share it with Jiang Qing, who will handle the situation then. As per Li account, Jiang was caring of Mao and their children, even step children from Mao’s other wives. Li has tried to say Jiang was intemperate and quarreled a lot, even with guards, but as per Li’s own account, he never bothered about her and could even shout at her during dispute. Li Yin Quao acknowledged that both of them despite quarrels, loved each other lived happily during his 15 year stint as body guard. Li acknowledges her other qualities like excellent handwriting, a part of calligraphy as an art in China, good stage performer, liked by all members of central committee of Communist party. If Mao like to tame fiery rivers by his swimming, Jiang liked to tame fiery horses, even the wildest one. She was good in knitting as well and made good dresses. Interestingly she was fond of playing cards and played with guards too. Mao was irritated some time, when her quarrels with guards reached him and admonished them all for playing cards, advising them to study Marx and Lenin in their free time. From Li’s memoirs, another problem of feudal background of China comes to the fore. Perhaps there was little interest for reading among even Chinese Communists, Mao was most voracious and updated reader. Newest books will reach him in his cave at party headquarters in Yan’an. There have been party schools in party headquarters, where emphasis will be given to ideological orientation to the party cadres and leaders. But it seems, no other Chinese communist leader has as much interest in ideological issues of Marxism Leninism as Mao had, that is how he remained undisputed leader of Communist party during pre-revolutionary period and his ideas given the pre fix of Mao Zedong Thought, added to Marxism Leninism. Mao remained committed to the study and development of Communist ideology even after revolution and contributed many more philosophical essays, but after coming to power, many factions in Communist party seems to have lost interest in ideology and became involved in issues of governance, many of them losing their commitment and sincerity as well. Li seems to have some exaggerated accounts of Mao and Jiang exchanges and could have been putting words in Mao’s mouth as per his own perception. Though not vilifying Jiang, Li had projected a picture of Mao and Jiang as unhappy couple.
In a chapter Mao’s relations with people he knew, Li describes Mao’s literary interests, as he was a poet himself. With Chen Yi in party, he had close relations. Mao will occasionally meet eminent Chinese writers like Gu Mo Ru, Zhang Li or Chen Shutong. Mao lost six of his kinfolks in Chinese liberation war and after. Though caring father, Mao was strict in discipline with his children, when his on Mao Anying wanted to marry in hurry, Mao told him-‘You are Mao Zedong’s son, who will stick to regulations, if you don’t?’(Page 170). As his children suffered harshness of life, Mao would say that ‘it is tough luck for them as they are Mao’s children!’. At the time of Korea war, when China decided to send its troops to Korea, Mao sent his son also and said-‘He is Mao Zedong’s son. Who would go if he did n’t?’ From the earlier phase of Chinese people’s republic, Mao disliked those who had started looking for material comforts after the revolution and he made no secret of his feelings-‘A man who vies with others for material comfort and not for service to the revolution is contemptible!’(Page175). Li Ne, Mao’s youngest daughter and very close to him, was never allowed to have any extra food, apart from what she got in her school mess.
After Mao’s death and Jiang Qing arrest, Li Ne also went through tough time, she was separated from her husband. In 1980, Li met Li Ne, who was living alone with her son and was in bad shape. When suggested of remarriage, Mao’s daughter said-“Who would marry a woman, whose mother is member of Gang of four?” Though she was married again and was more comfortable than before, but it shows that how the new Chinese Communist leadership, whose own kith and kin are now playing in billions, treated Mao’s children after his death. Though Mao’s photo is the only one to don at Tiananmen Square, perhaps only its size has been reduced, it was bigger earlier, and Chinese currency also carries Mao’s photographs. Mao’s mausoleum is also taken care by Chinese government, which still attracts long queues of people, yet Mao’s successors have already buried Mao legacy deep in sea and don’t want to even any memory of Mao’s moral legacy to be remembered by people In two small chapters, Li has focused on Mao’s sense of humor and also his love for books. Mao encouraged all his staff to study and personally set up spare time school at Zhongnanhai and selected teachers personally. Rather than his own books, Mao will encourage his staff to read books by Marx and Lenin.
According to Li, Mao probably had two regrets in life, the things which he could not accomplish in his life time- one, he was never able to swim Yellow River, though he yearned and tried for it, secondly, he could not see the liberation of Taiwan and its integration with China. Hong Kong and Macau, also got integrated with China only after Mao’s death, but Taiwan was different.
After revolution Mao went to seek help from Soviet Union and spent almost ten weeks there during Stalin’s time, but got very little help. Later Khrushchev started demanding its repayment prematurely, that soured Sino-Soviet relations. Though Mao described Stalin as The greatest friend of China, later the relations, which took ideological conflict also, became very tense. There is a reference to India too in the book, ascribing Five Principles of peaceful co existence-Panchsheel- as Mao’s brain child, promoted by Chou En Lai in 1955 Bandung conference. The claim of these principles is made by Nehru also.
Li Yinquao does not indulge much in political debates of Communist party, but to keep the present rulers on his right side, he describes Mao’s concept of Cultural Revolution as a ‘mistake’–’Mao merely made a ‘mistake’, but Gang of four committed crimes’– but his observations in this regard are interesting, coming from a common man-
“Mao’s intentions regarding the ‘cultural revolution’ were honorable; he wanted to rid the Communist Party. Amongst other things, of bureaucratic practices and corruption.”(Page 212). Li continues-‘Mao was a dead enemy of bureaucracy and corruption.’ In 1950’s also he campaigned against bureaucracy, waste and corruption, he was so serious about it that he will ask his staff pointedly that if any of them pocketed government money? He will always tell them not to fall for ‘sugar coated bullets’ and resist temptations. He always appreciated honesty and will tell that ‘don’t expect to make big money for working in government’. He will tell the staff leaving him for other job that—‘Be modest and remain true to revolution, without losing your drive or becoming decadent.’(Page 213)
The last para of the book needs to be quoted in full-“Mao did not find everything about the Communist Party or the nation which he had founded to his satisfaction, and he always tried to do something to rectify it. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons why he initiated the ‘cultural revolution’.
Li takes umbrage in Chinese official line in next lines-‘unfortunately for the Chinese nation, this ‘something’, which he did, turn out to be a mistake which triggered ten years of catastrophe.
This was Mao’s ultimate regret and the regret of history as well’ (Page 213)
The book ends with these official words, but what history is now proving, seeing the tide of corruption and reversal of revolution and restoration of not only capitalism, but multinational corporate crony capitalism, ironically proves Mao Zedong to be correct in his assessment that China needs not only one Cultural Revolution, but Cultural Revolution every twenty years, if socialism has to be built and protected/promoted. But he was as much aware of Chinese Communist Party’s inner composition, where capitalist roaders led by Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping always held control over government and state, where Mao was just kept as figure head and show piece of Chinese Revolution. Chinese Communist Party could not do without Mao, even now, as his prestige in leading the Chinese revolution is so high that no one can contest that without Mao’s leadership Chinese Communist party could never make a revolution. Mao was so incensed with rightist elements in the party that he had to issue the personally written poster on 5th August 1966 under the title-‘Bombard the Headquarters’, sitting where Mao himself was feeling suffocated. It was another tragedy of history that due to lack of proper ideological training and also due to deep factionalism in Chinese Communist party, even among so called ‘leftist’ elements like Lin Bio and Jiang Qing, cultural revolution too resorted to excesses, which became a tool in the hands of rightists to grab power and put China back to Capitalist road, fruits of which are now there for everyone to see. In the name of Communist Party, a society has been created in China, which is much worse than even Nehruvian model of ‘mixed economy’!
Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro etc. had conceived Socialism, not just an economic system, they had conceived it as a model of creating a ‘new man’, different from man created by capitalist society. This ‘new man’ did come into being in the initial phases of Soviet, Chinese, Vietnamese and Cuban societies and is still cringing to survive in Cuba, but no more exists in other places, Chinese creating the worst ‘consumerist’ gloated man running after ‘money’ like mad man!
Written in student like innocent narrative style, this book does bring out Mao Zedong’s personality as a fascinating human being, as much fearless and with absolute commitment to the cause of human liberation from all kinds of oppression as were Lenin, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh or Bhagat Singh! Mao Zedong may had made ‘mistakes’ in the cause of liberation, but he made absolutely no mistake in understanding Chinese people, Chinese Communist Party and rightist tendencies in it!