Maoism Book Summary - Maoism Book explained in key points
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Maoism summary

Julia Lovell

A Global History

4.3 (78 ratings)
33 mins

What is Maoism about?

Maoism (2019) is a deep dive into Maoist ideology, tracing the origins of the movement in the caves of northwest China to the jungles of India, the high Andean sierra, and the California city parks where The Black Panthers did their military drills. Maoism is a movement that’s hardly limited to China or even Asia.

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    Maoism can be condensed to a few core principles.

    Communism in China didn’t start with Mao Zedong. But the government’s brutal crackdown on Communists, starting in 1927 in Shanghai, radicalized the movement. It was obvious to Communist leadership that to survive, they’d need an army. Violence was the only way to assert the primacy of Communist beliefs, Mao believed.

    The key message here is: Maoism can be condensed to a few core principles.

    Violence isn’t the only principle inherent to Maoism. Mao was also the first in the Marxist-Leninist tradition to put peasants first. For the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), peasants were its main audience. It succeeded in saturating the countryside with its ideas and attracting peasant recruits like no Communists ever had.

    In its early years, Maoism also placed a large emphasis on feminism. This feminism was radical and helped spread Mao’s ideas throughout the world. But personally, Mao wasn’t only a serial philanderer – he was actively cruel to his wives and mistresses. When his second wife gave birth on the Long March – the Communists’ desperate flight across China – she was forced to give up the baby, who later died.

    It wasn’t only women that Mao ostensibly sought to empower, though. His party also championed anti-imperialism around the world. The rise of the CCP coincided with a massive trend of decolonization across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. For this reason, China was able to position itself as the headquarters of the growing anti-imperial movement.

    Although Maoism theoretically seeks to empower the disenfranchised, it also has darker sides. Under Mao’s rule, people who went against the party were periodically purged, hauled in front of huge audiences, and publicly vilified for days at a time. After days of torment, many were executed. This combination of manipulation and brute force became known as thought reform in China and was a backbone for Maoist China.

    Such purges are key to Maoist thought. In official Maoist propaganda, the process was coined continuous revolution. The largest of such purges started in 1967 when Mao launched the Cultural Revolution. The aim of the revolution was to save Communism in China by purging remaining capitalist and traditional elements of Chinese society. This ten-year social experiment resulted in millions of Chinese people either starving to death or being killed.

    The horrors of the Cultural Revolution notwithstanding, rebels and insurgents all over the world have been inspired by Mao’s rhetoric. According to Maoist doctrine, individuals can triumph simply through force of will, rather than preparation or skill.

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    About the Author

    Julia Lovell is a China scholar and is professor of Modern Chinese History and Literature at Birkbeck, University of London. She’s previously published several books about China: The Politics of Cultural Capital, The Great Wall, and The Opium War. She’s also written articles analyzing Chinese current events for the Guardian, the Times, and other publications. 

    Who should read Maoism?

    • Anyone looking to bone up on Chinese history
    • Followers of leftist politics
    • Those interested in transnational historical arcs

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