Memories of Mao Zedong and His Father
Born into a relatively wealthy family, Mao Zedong not only lived a comfortable life but was also exposed to books. We take it for granted that Mao had a happy childhood. However, it is detected in Edgar Snow's interview that Mao felt bittersweet and so much as stifled in his teens. This was somehow associated with his father, Mao Shunsheng. When asked about his feelings of his father as a child, Mao opened up to Snow and said “I have come to hate him.” After all, what kind of anguish caused by his father rankled Mao in spite of so many years being passed ？
As Mao described, the initial conflict between his father and him focused on his studies. Mao was expected to be immersed in the works of the classics and history at a private school, which was the dream of his father. “As far as I can remember, my father was defeated in court because his rival defended himself by quoting from the classics.” The loss of a lawsuit deeply hurt his heart. From then on, his father was even stricter on him—pushing his son to memorize all the classics (Four Books & Five Classics) and apply the quotations in practice. Nevertheless, Mao preferred the fascinating “leisure readings” such as The Legend of Yue Fei, Outlaws of the Marsh, Story of Sui & Tang Dynasties, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and Journey to the West over the boring and sometimes dull works of the classics.
Unsatisfied with Mao's behavior, rigid pedantic tutors complained to his father about Mao's noncompliance. Whenever these complaints came, Mao Shunsheng burst out with rage and indiscriminately beat Mao unmercifully, which led to an unbridgeable gap between father and son. According to Mao's recollection, the first time that he ran away from home was when he was 10 years old.
“I feared going home and getting beaten, so I headed to the county town. Finally, my family found me after I had wandered for three days. To my surprise, when I was home, there was an improvement in the ‘circumstances.’ My
father was a little more considerate and the tutors were a bit gentler as well. What impressed me was that my protest had taken effect. In short, the strike ended in success.”
Besides the divergence of their views in study, Mao was also disgusted by the characteristics of his father, i.e. stern discipline, excessive severity, and meanness. In the eye of Mao, his father was nothing but a severe supervisor.
“He asked me to work around the clock, either keeping accounts or working on our farmland. He was irascible; he often beat my brothers and me. He never gave us any money and fed us poorly. He bestowed favors on the hired hands on the 15th day of each month by feeding them eggs with rice, but pork was never available. However, he didn't give us eggs, and still less pork.”
The father was characterized as callous. This traumatized Mao so deeply as a child, that he still felt distressed recalling the past after so many years.
According to Mao Shunsheng, there was little sympathy for a man in poverty attributable to his laziness and adversity. On the contrary, his mother was endowed with compassion for the disadvantaged.
“My mother sympathized with the poor. She always 讨饭的时候，她常常给他们饭吃。如果我父亲在场，她就不能这样做了，因为父亲是不赞成施舍的。家里曾为这件事多次争吵。”正因敬仰母亲的慈悲，藐视父亲的冷漠，平时爱动恻隐之心，毛泽东没少和父亲发生争执。
gave food to them in the years of famine, although not in the presence of father due to his objection. Consequently, the family quarreled over that issue from time to time.” It was because Mao revered mother's mercy and despised his father's callousness that he tended to empathize with the weak and argued with his father about it.
In addition, Mao's philosophy was also a far cry from that of his father. What disgusted Mao most was that father imposed his own roadmap on his sons. Sometimes after having a drink, father would spontaneously formulate his master plan in front of the sons, envisaging “in these years, Runzhi (Mao) shall take over the farmland so that I can focus on business; Runlian (Mao’s brother) shall follow his elder brother to take the farmland afterwards when Runzhi gets started in business. It is my hard work that has turned around the mess from your grandparents and established this family’s solid foundation. In the future, as long as we work together and keep industrious & thrifty, I am confident that we will possess hundreds of acres of farmlands and become a widely known and wealthy family. Then I will enjoy my twilight years and die without any regrets.”
Mao went against father's wish and expressed disdain for his father's so-called brilliant vision, and more distaste for his greed. At that time, Mao yearned to live a true and all-powerful/fruitful life like the Liangshan Heroes and Three Kingdoms Heroes.
Conflict of Character
The failure of seeing eye-to-eye on many issues led to growing friction between Mao and his father. However, from a profound perspective, their confrontation was rooted in a conflict of character.
Being arbitrary and headstrong, Mao Shunsheng loved others’ compliance with him. In his opinion, father was the boss in this house; it was nature for the children to obey and follow his words and instructions. Unfortunately, Mao was a man of stubbornness and rebellion. No matter how others opposed or compelled, Mao would assert himself. In no sense would Mao surrender to the dark. In the end, it was a conflict of character that brought Mao into the biggest conflicts with his father.
“When I was 13 years old, one day my father invited a lot of guests to our home. We argued in front of them and father scolded me for laziness and uselessness, which provoked me. I talked back to him and ran away from home. My mother anxiously ran after me and tried to persuade me to go back; my father followed, cursing and instructing me to go home. I reached a pond and threatened that I would jump in if he stepped towards me. Father was somewhat frightened but he insisted that I kowtow and make an apology. I told father that I could go down on one knee if he promised not to beat me. Finally, the war came to an end.”
In contrast, Mao had affection for mother. Whenever talking about mother, he was profuse in compliments that she was a noble-minded lady with kindness and generosity. Mao commended his mother in his letter to classmates, saying there were three kinds of men in the world; those who “harm others to benefit oneself,” those who “benefit oneself without harming others,” and those that “harm oneself to benefit others”—the group to which he believed his mother belonged. Likewise, his mother had a place in her heart for the elder son. Whenever fights occurred
between father and son, she always supported the son to maintain his dignity.
It was mother’s mediation that alleviated the antagonism between father and son. To some certain extent, thanks to his father’s bad temper, Mao also learned to become patient and endurable.
“Frankly speaking, I don’t think his severity was for nothing—it pushed me to work harder on the farmland and keep accounts more carefully, lest he have anything against me.”
Although he never stopped fighting for the principle issues, Mao didn’t want to end the relationship with his father at that time. The various struggles Mao conducted were to gain the rights and respects from his father that he felt he deserved.
When telling the story about the pond, Mao said proudly “I am aware of the truth that if I publicly protest for my rights, father will compromise; otherwise, he will just give me a good beating or perhaps worse.”, which illustrated the notion above.
In view of the attachment to his parents, Mao defied father and loved his mother. However, after pondering over his personality, it eventually came to light that Mao is more affected by his father. Mao was impressed with his father’s characteristics such as diligence and persistence, fortitude and unyieldingness, rationalism and pragmatism, and even his opinionated stubborn temperament.
Nevertheless, different from his father’s cruelty, callousness, inflexibility, and money-driven mentality, Mao had a good imagination and great compassion, and was inclined to be emotional and sentimental, which was reflective of his mother’s disposition.
One scholar on Mao’s life pointed out “Mao is considered to be a romantic poet in possession of the utmost imagination and a vigorous mind as seen through his poetry, while also being a super-rational politician— not only proficient in speculation, but also cautious, calm, and pragmatic, even in the rivalry between him and Chiang Kai-shek. What astonished us is that the two types of personalities that his parents had, in such stark contrast to each other, were unified and harmonized in Mao.”
(From Interpretation of Young Mao Zedong by Central Party Literature Press)
● Mao Zedong’s Residence 毛泽东故居
● Mao Zedong and His Son, Mao Anying 毛泽东与毛岸英
● Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek 毛泽东与蒋介石
● Mao Zedong and Henry Kissinger 毛泽东与基辛格