Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung
January Ninth, 1965: American journalist Edgar Snow’s Interview with Chairman Mao Tse-tung [excerpts]
After I had been back in China more than two months, I was invited to dinner by Mao Tse-tung on the night of 9 January 1965, when we conversed together for about four hours.
Our talk ranged over what Mao himself called shan nan hai pei, or ‘from south of the mountains to north of the seas’. It was hai k’uo t’ien kung, covering ‘an expanse far and wide’, and in some respects unique.
I said: ‘China has been through difficult years since I last saw you but now has emerged on an impressive high level. In 1960 you told me that 90 per cent of the people supported the government and only 10 per cent opposed it. How does that look now?
Mao replied that some Chiang Kai-shek elements were still around but their total was small. Many had changed their thinking and there was hope for more. As for the children of such people, they could be re-educated. Anyway, one could say that about 95 per cent of the people, or even more, were united and supported socialism.
‘Are the Panchen Lama’s difficulties a matter of his feudal ties with the old lama landlord power over the former serfs,’ I asked, ‘or would you say it was a conflict over his duties as a religious leader versus the new political power separated from the church?’
Mao replied that it was basically a matter of the land question, not religious freedom. The feudal lords had lost their land, their serfs had been freed and were now the masters. The Panchen Lama had been keeping company with some ‘bad eggs (‘Huai tan’) of the old privileged class who not only obstructed change but had organized a clique. Certain members of the clique had exposed their plans. Some people around the Panchen were not too old to reform and might yet show progress. The Panchen himself might change his ideas. He was still a member of the National People’s Congress. He was now living in Peking but he could return to Lhasa whenever he desired; it was up to him.
As for lamaism as a religion, nobody was oppressing its true believers, all the temples were open and services maintained, but the trouble was the living buddhas didn’t always practice what they preached and were far from indifferent to non-spiritual affairs. The Dalai Lama himself had told Mao he didn’t believe he was a living god although if one said that openly the Dalai would have to deny it.
‘Are there still some gods in China?’
Yes, of course; as I knew, the Chinese did not have only one god, but many. There were gods for everything, door gods, kitchen gods, rain gods, mountain gods, mercy gods, and so on. Could not even a stone become a god? There were still millions who believed in Islam and many millions more who were Buddhists and Taoists. There were also several million Christians, Catholics and Protestants. And some genuinely believed in the lama gods, too.
‘I wonder if you have ever been to Tibet?’
No, he had never been to Tibet, except the eastern fringes which they crossed during the Long March. At that time he had travelled a great deal, but there were some areas he hadn’t been able to see. They (the Nationalists) wouldn’t let him see Yunnanfu (Kunming), for example. They had let him see Kweichow but they wouldn’t let him see Kweiyang (the capital). Now he could probably visit Yunnan but he had not done so. He also had not been to Sinkiang (Chinese Turkestan).
Remembering that it was thirty years ago that he had first told me about his father’s encounter with the tiger, he said at that time, towards the end of the first war with the Nationalists, their conditions were very poor. Yet that old Chinese Red Army was united and strong even if in numbers it was small. I had seen them when they had possessed only light weapons.
‘Except for those heavy spears carried by the Poor Men’s Militia.’
Yes, and even broomsticks. Victory or defeat was not determined by weapons at hand at the outset. What was really decisive was the will to victory and right aims. Many elements went into that. Now more than twenty years had passed, their weapons were better, but the same factors still determined victory or defeat.
‘People then were thinking mainly of liberating China from Japan. Certainly I did not then foresee the full significance of revolutionary China’s rise in the world.’
‘Some American commentators in Saigon have compared the strength of the Vietcong there with the 1947 period in China, when the People’s Liberation Army began to engage in large-scale annihilations of Nationalist forces. Are the conditions relatively comparable?’
The Chairman thought not. China’s second revolutionary war had involved liberating the whole vast country. By 1947 the People’s Liberation Army already had more than a million men, against several million troops on Chiang Kai-shek’s side. The P.L.A. had then used divisional and group army strength, whereas the South Vietnamese Liberation Forces were now operating at battalion or at most regimental strength. American forces in Vietnam were still relatively small. Of course if they increased they could help speed up the arming of the people against them. But if I should tell United States leaders that they were building up a revolutionary movement which would defeat them, they would not listen. They would not let the Vietnamese decide their own affairs. Had they listened to Ngo Dinh Diem? Both Ho Chi Minh and he (Mao) thought that Ngo Dinh Diem was not so bad. They had expected the Americans to maintain him for several more years. But impatient American generals became disgusted with Diem and got rid of him. After all following his assassination, was everything between Heaven and Earth more peaceful?
‘Can Vietcong forces now win victory by their own efforts alone?’
Yes, he said, he thought that they could. Their position was relatively better than that of the Communists during the first (revolutionary) civil war (1927-37) in China. At that time there was no direct foreign intervention but now already the Vietcong had the American intervention to help arm and educate the rank and file and the army officers. Those opposed to the United States were no longer confined to the Liberation Army. Diem had not wanted to take orders. Now this independence had spread to the generals. The American teachers were succeeding.
Asked whether some of these generals would soon join the Liberation Army, Mao said yes, that some would eventually follow the example of Kuomintang generals who had turned over to the Communists.
‘United States intervention in Vietnam, the Congo, and other former colonial battlefields suggests a question of some theoretical interest as seen within Marxist concepts. The question is whether the contradiction between neo-colonialism and the revolutionary forces in what the French like to call the “Third World” — the so-called under-developed or ex-colonial or still colonial nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America — is today the principal political contradiction in the world? Or do you consider that the basic contradiction is still one between the capitalist countries themselves?’
Mao Tse-tung said that he had not reached an opinion about that. Perhaps I could help him? He recalled that President Kennedy had also been interested in that question. Had he not declared that as far as the United States, Canada, and Western Europe were concerned there was not much real and basic difference? The President had said that the real problem of the future was in the southern hemisphere. In advocating ‘Special Forces’ and training to meet ‘local revolutionary wars’ the late President might have had my question in mind.
On the other hand, contradictions between imperialists were what had caused two world wars in the past, and their struggles against colonial revolutions had not changed their character. Weren’t those wars fought for the purpose of redividing colonies? If another big war occurred wouldn’t it be for the purpose of redividing control over the so-called underdeveloped countries? In fact, the so-called developed countries were not so united today. If one looked at France one saw two reasons for de Gaulle’s policies. The first was to assert independence from American domination. The second was to attempt to adjust French policies to changes occurring in the Asian-African countries and Latin America. The result was intensified contradiction between the imperialist nations. But was France part of its so called ‘Third World’? Recently he had asked some French visitors about that and they had told him no, that France was a developed country and could not be a member of the ‘Third World’ of undeveloped countries. It seemed that the matter was not so simple.
‘Perhaps it could be said that France is in the Third World but not of it?’
Perhaps. This question which had engaged the interest of President Kennedy had led him (Mao said he had read) to study Mao’s own essays on military operations. He had also learned from Algerian friends during their struggle against France that the French were reading his works and using his information against them. But at that time he had told the Algerian prime minister, Abad, that his own (Mao’s) books were based on Chinese experience and would not work in reverse. They could be adapted to the waging of people’s war. They did not save the French from defeat in Algeria. Chiang Kai-shek had also studied the Communists’ materials but he had not been saved either.
Mao remarked that the Chinese also study American books, but that it would be bad for them to fight an anti-people’s war. For instance, he had read The Uncertain Trumpet, by General Maxwell Taylor, the United States ambassador in Saigon. General Taylor’s view was that nuclear weapons probably could not be used, therefore non-nuclear arms would decide. He favoured developing nuclear weapons but wanted priority in their development given to the army. Now he had his chance to test out his theories of special warfare. He had been in Vietnam only since last June, not as long as the duration of the Korean war. In Vietnam General Taylor would gain some valuable experience.
The Chairman had also read some articles of war on how to handle guerrillas issued by United States authorities to their troops. These instructions dealt with the shortcomings and military weaknesses of the guerrillas and held out hopes for American victory. They ignored the decisive political fact that whether it was Diem or some other puppets, no government cut off from the masses could win against wars of liberation. No good could result from helping such governments. The Americans (authorities) would not listen to him, however. They also would not listen to me.
‘In South-East Asia as well as in India and certain countries of Africa and even Latin America there exist some social conditions comparable to those that brought on the Chinese revolution. Each country has its own problems and solutions will vary widely, yet I wonder if you agree that social revolutions will occur which may borrow much from the Chinese experience?’
Anti-feudal and anti-capitalist sentiments combined with opposition to imperialism and neo-colonialism, he replied, grew out of oppression and wrongs of the past. Wherever the latter existed there would be revolution but in most countries I was talking about the people were merely seeking national independence, not socialism — quite another matter. European countries had also had anti-feudal revolutions, but the United States had had no real feudal period.
‘The United States had a brief period of regional feudalism during the period of slavery in the southern states. After a hundred years the ex-slaves are still fighting for social and political equality, so one can’t say that feudal influences don’t hang on in the United States.’
The United States, he said, had first fought a progressive war of independence from British imperialism, and then fought a civil war to establish a free labour market. Washington and Lincoln were progressive men of their time. When the United States first established a republic it was hated and dreaded by all the crowned heads of Europe. That showed that the Americans were then revolutionaries. Now the American people needed to struggle for liberation from their own monopoly capitalists. What part of the United States did I come from?
‘I was born in Missouri, the Middle West, in a geographical situation comparable to your native province, Hunan. We have produced no revolutionaries but Missouri produced Mark Twain and Harry Truman two quite different articles. Missouri was not a slave state, but it was part of the homeland of American Indians taken from them hardly two hundred years ago. Americans think they are not imperialists but the American Indians are of a different opinion. China was not quite so ruthless in despoiling the minority peoples. After 3,000 years, more than half the area of the country is theirs and you still have nearly fifty million non-Han autonomous peoples. How are relations between the Han and the minority peoples today?’
He said that they were improving. In a word, the important thing was to respect them and treat them as equals.
‘Among the roughly three fifths of the earth which belongs in the Third World category very acute problems exist, as we know. The gap between the ratio of population growth and production is becoming more and more advantageous. The gap between their standard of living and that of the affluent countries is rapidly widening. Under such conditions will time wait for the Soviet Union to demonstrate the superiority of the social system — and then wait a century for parliamentarism to arise in the underdeveloped areas and peacefully establish socialism?’
Mao thought it would not wait so long
‘Does that question not perhaps touch upon the nexus of China’s ideological dispute with the Soviet Union?’
He agreed that it did.
‘Do you think it would be possible to complete not only the national liberation of emerging nations of the Third World but also their modernization, without another world war?’
Use of the word ‘complete’ must give one pause, he said. Most of the countries concerned were still very far from socialist revolutions. In some there were no Communist parties at all while in others there were only revisionists. It was said that Latin America had about twenty Communist parties; of those eighteen had issued resolutions against China. He paused and ended by saying that only one thing was certain. Wherever severe oppression existed there would be revolution.
‘Western commentators, and especially the Italian Communists, severely criticized the Soviet leaders for the conspiratorial and undemocratic way in which Khrushchev was thrown aside. What is your view about that?’
Mao did not directly answer the question. He replied that Mr. Khrushchev had not been very popular in China even before his fall. Few portraits of him were to be seen. But Khrushchev’s books were for sale in the bookstores before the fall and they were still for sale here but not in Russia. The world needed Khrushchev; his ghost would linger on. There were bound to be people who liked him. China would miss him as a negative example.
‘On the basis of your own 70/30 standards — that is, a man’s work may be judged satisfactory if it is 70 per cent and only 30 per cent in error — how would you grade the present leadership of the Soviet Party? How far is it still below passing?’
Mao said he would not choose to discuss the present leaders in those terms.
‘Is there any improvement in Sino-Soviet relations?’
Possibly some but not much. The chief difference was that the disappearance of Khrushchev had deprived them of a good target for polemical articles.
‘In the Soviet Union,’ I said, ‘China has been criticized for fostering a “cult of personality”. Is there a basis for that?’
Mao thought that perhaps there was some. It was said that Stalin had been the centre of a cult of personality, and that Khrushchev had none at all. The Chinese people, critics said, had some feelings or practices of this kind. There might be some reasons for saying that. Probably Mr. Khrushchev fell because he had had no cult of personality at all. . .
‘While you were making a revolution in China you also revolutionized foreign Sinology and now there are various schools of Maoists and Pekingologists. Not long ago I attended a conference where professors debated whether you had or had not made any original contributions to Marxism. I asked one professor, at the close of the conference, whether it would make any difference in their controversy if it could be shown that Mao himself had never claimed to have made any creative contribution. The professor impatiently replied. “No, indeed. That would be quite beside the point”’
Mao laughed. More than two thousand years ago, he said, Chuang Chou wrote his immortal essay on Lao Tzu (in The Chuang Tzu). A hundred schools of thought then arose to dispute the meaning of The Chuang Tzu.
‘In 1960 when I last saw you I asked whether you ever wrote or had any intention of writing an autobiography. You replied that you had not, except as you had told me something about your life. Nevertheless, some professors have discovered “autobiographies” written by you. A question currently exercising the professors is whether you in fact wrote your celebrated philosophical essays, “On Contradiction” and “On Practice” in the summer of 1937, as asserted in your Selected Works, or whether they were really composed some years afterwards. I myself seem to recall having seen unpublished longhand translations of those essays in the summer of 1938. Would you give me your own opinion about when you composed those two essays?’
He replied that he had indeed written them in the summer of 1937. During the weeks preceding and immediately following the Lukouchiao incident there had been a lull in his life in Yenan. The army had left for the front and Mao had found time to collect materials for some lectures on basic philosophy for use in the (Yenan) Anti-Japanese Academy. Some simple and yet fundamental text was needed for the young students being prepared, in brief three-month courses, for political guidance during the years immediately ahead. At the insistence of the Party Mao prepared ‘On Contradiction’ and ‘On Practice’ to sum up the experience of the Chinese revolution, by combining the essentials of Marxism with concrete and everyday Chinese examples. Mao said that he wrote most of the night and slept during the day. What he had written over a period of weeks he delivered in lecture form in a matter of two hours. Mao added that he himself considered ‘On Practice’ a more important essay than ‘On Contradiction’.
‘An essay called “Dialectical Materialism”, not included in your Selected Works, has been attributed to you by Mao Tse-tung specialists in the West. Did you write any such essay?’
Mao asked for the question to be repeated. He replied that he had never written an essay entitled ‘Dialectical Materialism’. He thought that he would remember it if he had.
‘You were very busy learning about the art of war from 1927 onwards. Had you found time to read Hegel before 1937?’
Mao said that he had read Hegel and he had also read Engels before then. He added (thinking of his American critics, perhaps) that he had never read any American Marxist theorists. Were there any good ones? I asked whether in his youth he had heard of Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class. If it had been translated into Chinese Mao had not seen it. I mentioned a book which had made a big impression on nineteenth-century American utopian socialists, and was still very interesting reading for its prophetic quality. Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward. As for modern American Marxist thinkers, there was Paul Sweezy’s Theory of Capitalist Development. Mao said he regretted that he had not read any of them.
‘Speaking of tigers, as we were,’ I said, ‘do you still believe that the bomb is a paper tiger?’
That had been just a way of talking, he said, a figure of speech. Of course the bomb could kill people. But in the end the people would destroy the bomb. Then it would truly become a paper tiger.
‘You have been quoted as saying that China had less fear of the bomb than other nations because of her vast population. Other peoples might be totally wiped out but China would still have a few hundred millions left to begin anew. Was there ever any factual basis to such reports?’
He asked when and how he was supposed to have said that. I replied that one source was attributed to a Yugoslav diplomat who claimed that Mao had said that even if all Europeans were wiped out China would still have 300 millions left
Mao answered that he had no recollection of saying anything like that but he might have said it. He did recall a conversation he had had with Jawaharlal Nehru when the latter visited China (in October 1954). As he remembered it he had said China did not want a war. They didn’t have atom bombs, but if other countries wanted to fight there would be a catastrophe in the whole world, meaning that many people would die. As for how many, nobody could know. He was not speaking only of China. He did not believe one atom bomb would destroy all mankind, so that you would not be able to find a government to negotiate peace. He had mentioned this to Nehru during their conversation. Nehru said that he was chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission of India and he knew about the destructiveness of atomic power. He was sure that no one could survive. Mao replied that it would probably not be as Nehru said. Existing governments might disappear but others would arise to replace them.
He had heard that Americans had made a film called On the Beach, which showed nuclear war bringing the world to an end. Was that a scientific film?
‘It’s what is called science fiction.’
Not so long ago, said Mao, Mr. Khrushchev had announced that he had a deadly weapon capable of killing all living things. Then he immediately retracted his statement — not only once but many times. Mao would not deny anything he had said, nor did he wish me to deny for him this so-called rumour (about the power of survival of China’s millions in a nuclear war). Americans also had said very much about the destructiveness of the atom bomb and Khrushchev had made a big noise about that. They had all surpassed him in this respect (boasting of their destructive potency), so that he was more backward than they, was not that so?’ [Mao was ridiculing, by implication, those who supposed him to be an ignorant peasant unaware of the full meaning of nuclear terror.]
Yet recently he had reports of an investigation by Americans who visited the Bikini Islands six years after nuclear tests were conducted there. From 1959 onwards research workers had been in Bikini. When they first entered the main island they had had to cut open paths through the undergrowth. They had found mice scampering about and fish swimming in the streams as usual. The well water was potable, plantation foliage was flourishing, and birds were twittering in the trees. Bacteria had multiplied at the rate of 400 kilogrammes per square mou. Probably there had been two bad years after the tests but nature had gone on. How was it that mice had survived? Plant life was destroyed but not the seeds which lay dormant until the earth’s surface was purified. For the bacteria, the birds, the mice, and the trees, the atom bomb really was a paper tiger. Possibly for man himself it was different. . .
The deeper implication of Mao’s last remark was that even if man disappeared from the earth — committed mass suicide — life could not be extinguished by man’s bomb.
All the governments were talking about complete and total disarmament. China herself had proposed disarmament since a long time past. So had the Soviet Union. The U.S.A. kept talking about it. What we were getting instead was complete and thorough rearmament.
‘President Johnson may find it difficult to settle problems in the East one by one. Perhaps if he desired to expose the world to the real complexity of those problems he might do worse than to cut to the heart of the matter by accepting China’s proposal to hold a summit conference to consider the total destruction of nuclear weapons’.
Mao agreed but concluded that it would be quite impossible. Even if Mr. Johnson himself desired such a meeting he was after all but a bailiff [Huang liang chuang t’ou, an estate overseer.] — for the monopoly capitalists — and they would never permit it. China had had only one atomic explosion and perhaps it had to be proved that one could divide into two, and so on ad infinitum. Yet China did not want a lot of bombs, which were really quite useless since probably no nation dared employ them. A few would suffice for scientific experiments. Even one bomb was not liked in China’s hands.
‘I remember your telling me a story about an ignorant local warlord in South China who posted a bulletin offering a reward for the capture of “Mr Soviet” rumoured to be leading some bandits and causing lots of trouble. Now it is Mr. China A-Bomb that is causing trouble. Why is that?’
Yes, Mao feared that his reputation was not good; the imperialists just did not like him. They didn’t like Mr. China A-Bomb. Yet was it really just to blame Mr. China A-Bomb for everything and to start anti-Chinese movements? Did China kill Ngo Dinh Diem? And yet that had happened. When the assassination of President Kennedy occurred the Chinese (Communists) were quite surprised. They had not planned that. Once more, they were quite surprised when Khrushchev was removed in Russia. They had not ordered that.
‘Indonesia has withdrawn from the United Nations, accompanied by applause from China. Do you think the move will set a precedent and that other withdrawals will follow?’
Mao said that it was the United Sates which had first set the precedent, by excluding China from the United Nations. Now that a majority of nations might favour restoring China’s seat despite U.S. opposition, there was a new scheme to require a two thirds majority instead of a simple majority. But the question was, had China gained or lost by being outside the U.N. during the past fifteen years? Indonesia had left because she felt that there was not much advantage to remaining in the U.N. As for China, was it not in itself a United Nations? Any one of several of China’s minority nationalities was much larger in population and territory than some states in the U.N. whose votes had helped deprive China of her seat there. China was a large country with plenty of work to keep her busy outside the U.N.
What did I think? Would China have been better off being in the U.N. during the past fifteen years?
‘Yes, perhaps so, if it did not mean dividing one China into two Chinas. But some people now say that China does not want to join the U.N. under any conditions?’
To say that would be bad. If two thirds of the U.N. invited China to join, and if the Chinese did not accept, wouldn’t they be called nationalists? (That is, anti-internationalists.) But even if the U.N. decided to recognize mainland China rather than the Taiwan clique, wouldn’t there still be difficulties? How could they give a seat to China while still condemning her as an aggressor? (Referring to the U.N. resolution which branded China an aggressor for intervening after American troops crossed into northern Korea.) But suppose the title of aggressor were even taken away from China? What then? Would the U.N. brand the U.S. an aggressor in Vietnam? Probably the United States would not agree to such changes. Thus there was no danger of China entering the U.N.
‘Is it now practicable to consider forming a union of nations excluding the United States?’
Mao pointed out that such forums already existed. One example was the Afro-Asian Conference. Another was Ganefo — Games of the New Emerging Forces — organized after the United States excluded China from the Olympics.
(Preparations for the Afro-Asian Conference scheduled to open in Algiers in March 1965 had been plagued by many problems. These included the Indonesia-Malaysia dispute and insistence on the part of the pro-China Bandung powers that the U.S.S.R must be excluded from the Conference, as a strictly European power. China then regarded the Afro-Asian organization as the potential centre of planned development of a Third World largely independent of neo-colonial or Western capital. Following Chinese principles of ‘self-reliance’ in internal development, and of mutual help between the Afro-Asian states, the process of modernization might by-pass the slow and painful methods of capital accumulation by traditional bourgeois means. Such a theoretical alternative of course would have implied more rapid and radical political evolution and an earlier arrival at pre-socialist conditions in the capital-poor Afro-Asian states. It had been obvious for some time that the Afro-Asian Conference was also viewed as a potential permanent assembly of the have-not nations to exist independently from the American-dominated United Nations from which China and her closest allies had long been excluded and from which Indonesia had recently excluded itself. Events moved in a different direction, to a great extent helped by Sino-Soviet hostility.)
‘In fact, Mr. Chairman, how many people are there inside China’s own United Nations,’ I asked. ‘Can you give me a population figure resulting from the recent census?
The Chairman replied that he really did not know. Some said that there were 680 to 690 millions but he did not believe it. How could there be so many?
When I suggested that it ought not to be difficult to calculate, on the basis of ration coupons (cotton and rice) alone, Mao indicated that the peasants had sometimes confused the picture. Before Liberation they had hidden births and kept sons off the register out of fear of having them conscripted. Since liberation there had been a tendency to report greater numbers and less land, and to minimize output returns while exaggerating the effects of calamities. Nowadays a new birth was reported at once, but when someone died it might not be reported for months. (His implication seemed to be that extra ration coupons could be accumulated in that way.) No doubt there had been a real decline in the birth rate, but the peasants were still too slow to adopt family planning and birth control. The decline in the death rate was probably greater than the decline in births. Average longevity had gone up from about thirty years to close to fifty years.
‘Do you have any advice for the U.S.A.?’
They had already suggested, a long time ago, that the United States withdraw a bit. The United States had its hands stretched all over the world. As usual the American rulers would not listen.
The American position was difficult, especially in Vietnam. To withdraw was not good; not to withdraw was also not good [Pu-hao...yeh pu-hao]. Wherever there were signs of disturbance the American imperialists must send troops, first moving here and then there.
‘I have heard some people in Washington argue that the fleet and the marines might as well be in Vietnam as anywhere else. They have to be paid anyway.’
Yes, they had plenty to do. Reactionaries everywhere needed their help. In the Congo, for instance. In the end, they must all go home. In the past China had seen American troops in Tientsin, Tsingtao, Shanghai, even Peking. They had all left. In fact they had left very rapidly.
The conditions of revolutionary anti-imperialist victory in China had been, first, that the old ruling group was weak and incompetent, led by Chiang Kai-shek, a man who was always losing battles. Second, the people’s Liberation Army was strong and ably led and people believed in its cause. In places where such conditions did not prevail the Americans could intervene. Otherwise they would stay away or soon leave.
We were at dinner when Mao asked whether I considered that Mr. Johnson could try a Vietnam policy any different from that of his predecessors. I said probably not; it would be easier to follow the old ruts deeper into the trap. But the war in Vietnam was not popular and Mr. Johnson liked to be popular. His administration faced many internal problems which a bigger war in Asia could not really solve. In balance, however, since Ho Chi Minh and Mao Tse-tung probably would not provide Mr. Johnson with ‘an attractive way out’, he would not leave until the costs became very great. I had already given my opinion to Foreign Minister Ch’en Yi, that ‘it would not surprise me to see 100,000 American troops in Vietnam before next year’.
Mao asked what kind of internal problems Mr. Johnson faced.
I ticked off several obvious ones, including unemployment, especially high among blacks, which helped to increase racial tension. War could, of course, tend to cut down unemployment temporarily. Automation was a factor in unemployment, and I also mentioned the great population shift from the farms, where mechanization and capitalization had eliminated so many small proprietors and poured millions of landless people into the urban labour market. Now only about eight per cent of the total U.S. population was needed to produce more food than the country could consume.
Mao asked me to repeat the figure. When I did so he shook his head sceptically. How could that be? was all he said.
‘Naturally I personally regret that forces of history have divided and separated the American and Chinese peoples from virtually all communication during the past fifteen years. Today the gulf seems broader than ever. However, I myself do not believe it will end in war and one of history’s major tragedies.’
Mao said that forces of history were also bound, eventually, to bring the two peoples together again; that day would surely come. Possibly I was right that meanwhile war could be avoided.
War could occur only if American troops came to China. They might come and they might not come. If they came they would not really benefit much. That simply would not be allowed. Probably the American leaders knew that and consequently they would not invade China. Then there would be no war because if they did not send troops to China the Chinese certainly would never send troops to attack the United States.
‘What of the possibilities of war arising over Vietnam? I have read many newspaper stories indicating that the United States has considered expanding the war into North Vietnam.’
No, that would not happen. Mr. Rusk had now made it clear that the U.S. would not do that. Mr. Rusk might have earlier said something like that but now he had corrected himself and said that he had never made such a statement. Therefore, there need not be any war in North Vietnam.
‘Judging from conversations I have had from time to time with a few high American officials, including Dean Rusk, I would say that the makers and administrators of United States policy, the rulers of the United States, simply do not understand you.’
Why not? China’s armies would not go beyond her borders to fight. That was clear enough. Only if the United States attacked China would the Chinese fight. Wasn’t that clear? Chinese were very busy with their internal affairs. Fighting beyond one’s own borders was criminal. Why should the Chinese do so? The South Vietnamese could cope with their situation.
‘American officials repeatedly say that if United States forces were withdrawn from Vietnam then all South-East Asia would be overrun.’
The question is, said Mao, ‘overrun’ by whom? Overrun by Chinese or overrun by the inhabitants? China was overrun but only by Chinese.
‘Are there now any Chinese troops in Vietnam?’
Mao affirmed that there were no Chinese forces in Northern Vietnam or anywhere else in South-East Asia. China had no troops outside her own frontiers.
‘Dean Rusk has said that if China would give up her aggressive policies then the United States would withdraw from Vietnam. What does he mean?’
Mao replied that China had no policies of aggression to abandon. Where was China aggressing? China had committed no acts of aggression. China supported revolutionary movements, but not by invading countries. Of course, whenever a liberation struggle existed China would publish statements and call demonstrations to support it. It was precisely that which vexed the imperialists.
Mao went on to say that on some occasions China deliberately made a loud noise, as, for example, around Quemoy and Matsu. A flurry of shots there could attract a lot of attention perhaps because the Americans were uneasy so far away from home. Consider what could be accomplished by firing some blank shells within those Chinese territorial waters. Not so long ago the United States Seventh Fleet in the Taiwan Straits was deemed insufficient to reply to the shells. The U.S. also dispatched part of its Sixth Fleet in China’s direction and brought over part of the navy from San Francisco. Arrived here, they had found nothing to do. So it seemed that China could order the American forces to march here or to march there.
It was the same with Chiang Kai-shek’s army. They had been able to order Chiang to scurry this way and then to hurry off in another direction. Of course when navy men were warm and had full bellies they must be given something to do. But how was it that shooting off empty guns at home could be called aggression while those who actually intervened with arms and bombed and burned people of other lands were not considered aggressors?
Some Americans had once said that the Chinese revolution was led by Russian aggressors but in truth the Chinese revolution was armed by Americans. In the same way the Vietnamese revolution was also being armed by Americans, not by China. The liberation forces had not only greatly improved their supplies of American weapons during recent months but had also expanded their forces by recruiting American-trained troops and officers from the puppet armies of South Vietnam. China’s liberation forces had grown in numbers and strength by recruiting to their side the troops trained and armed by the Americans for Chiang Kai-shek. The movement was called the ‘changing of hats’. When Nationalist soldiers changed hats in large numbers because they had no confidence in their officers and felt that they would be killed needlessly, that the peasants would kill them for wearing the wrong hat, then the end was near. Changing hats was becoming more popular now among the Vietnamese puppets.
‘Do you mean to say that the circumstances of victory for the Liberation Front now exist in South Vietnam?’
Mao thought that the American forces were not yet ready to leave. Fighting would go on perhaps for one to two years. After that the United States troops would find it uninteresting and might go home or go somewhere else.
‘In a recent interview with Premier Chou Enlai, I understood him to say that China would oppose a Geneva Conference to enforce the Treaty of 1954 unless the United States first withdrew its troops from Vietnam. Is it your policy now to insist upon the withdrawal of United States forces before participating in a Geneva Conference to discuss the international position of a unified Vietnam?’
The Chairman said that he did not know what Premier Chou had said to me. He himself thought that several possibilities should be mentioned. First, a conference might be held and United States withdrawal would follow. Second, the conference might be deferred until after the withdrawal. Third, a conference might be held but United States troops might stay around Saigon, as in the case of South Korea. Finally, the South Vietnamese Front might drive out the Americans without any conference or international agreement.
The 1954 Geneva Conference had provided for the withdrawal of French troops from all Indo-China and had forbidden any intervention by any other foreign troops. The United States had nevertheless violated the Geneva convention and that could happen again. . . Frankly, it was a good thing for the United States to keep troops in South Vietnam. That trained the people and made their Liberation Army strong. It was not enough to have a single Ngo Dinh Diem, just as in China a single Chiang Kai-shek had not been enough. There had to be a Japan to overrun the country for eight and a half years. Only then did the nation develop able leaders and a strong revolutionary army able to defeat the internal reactionaries and drive out the American imperialists.
‘How would China respond if the United States adopted a peace policy, offered to withdraw its forces from South Korea, Taiwan, all South-East Asia, everywhere abroad, if China and other powers would agree not only to total destruction of nuclear weapons but to total world disarmament?’
Mao said that frankly he had never given any thought to such a notion.
‘I have never met President Johnson, but I suppose that if you had any special message for him I might be able to give it to him. Is there anything you would like to say to him?’
After a pause: No, there was not. [Simply, Pu-shih]
‘Under the circumstances,’ I asked, ‘do you really see any hope of an improvement in Sino-American relations?’
Yes, he thought there was hope. It would take time. Maybe there would be no improvement in his generation (lifetime). He was soon going to see God. [In Chinese, ‘Pu chiu yao chien Shang-ti’, ‘to be obliged to see God before long. Mao used Shang-ti, meaning the ‘Emperor God, supreme over all other gods, a term less ambiguous than Tien, which can mean God as Nature or a universal primordial principle.]
‘Speaking of your health, as we were not, judging from this evening you seem to be in good condition.’
Mao Tse-tung smiled wryly and replied that there was perhaps some doubt about that. He said again that he was getting ready to see God very soon. Did I believe it?
‘I wonder if you mean you are going to find out whether there is a God. Do you believe that?
No, he did not, but some people who claimed to be well informed said that there was a God. There seemed to be many gods and sometimes the same god could take all sides. In the wars of Europe the Christian God had been on the side of the British, the French, the Germans, and so on, even when they were fighting each other. At the time of the Suez Canal crisis God was united behind the British and the French but then there was Allah to back up the other side.
At dinner Mao had mentioned that both his brothers had been killed. His first wife had also been executed during the revolution (1930) and their son had been killed during the Korean war. Now, he said that it was odd that death had so far passed him by. He had been prepared for it many times but death just did not seem to want him. What could he do? On several occasions it had seemed that he would die. His personal bodyguard was killed while standing right beside him. Once he was splashed all over with the blood of another soldier but the bomb had not touched him.
‘Was that in Yenan?’
In Yenan, too. His bodyguard had been killed during the Long March. There had been other narrow escapes. According to laws of dialectics all struggles must finally be resolved, including man’s struggle for life on this earth.
‘Accidents of fate which spared you have made possible perhaps the most remarkable career in Chinese history. In all China’s long annals I cannot recall any man who rose from rural obscurity not only to lead a successful social revolution but to write its history, to conceive the strategy of its military victory, to formulate an ideological doctrine which changed the traditional thought of China, and then to live out the practice of his philosophy in a new kind of civilization with broad implications for the whole world.’
After a moment of reflection Mao said that I knew he had begun life as a primary school teacher. He had then had no thought of fighting wars. Neither had he thought of becoming a Communist. He was more or less a democratic personage such as myself. Later on — he sometimes wondered by what chance combination of reasons he had become interested in founding the Chinese Communist Party. Anyway, events did not move in accordance with the individual will. What mattered was that China had been oppressed by imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucratic capitalism. Such were the facts. . . .
‘Youths who heard you lecture in 1937 later learned about revolution in practice, but what can be the substitute for youths in China today?’
Of course those in China now under the age of twenty had never fought a war and never seen an imperialist or known capitalism in power. They knew nothing about the old society at first hand. Parents could tell them but to hear about history and to read books was not the same thing as living it.
‘Man makes his own history but he makes it in accordance with his environment. You have fundamentally changed the environment in China. Many wonder what the younger generation bred under easier conditions will do. What do you think about it?’
He also could not know, he said. He doubted that anyone could be sure. There were two possibilities. There could be a continued development of the revolution towards communism. The other possibility was that youth could negate the revolution and do bad things (ken huai shih): make peace with imperialism, bring the remnants of the Chiang Kai-shek clique back to the mainland, and take a stand beside the small percentage of counter-revolutionaries still in the country. I had asked his opinion. Of course he did not hope for counter-revolution but future events would be decided by future generations, and in accordance with conditions we could not foresee. From the long-range view future generations ought to be more knowledgeable than we are, just as men of the bourgeois-democratic era were more knowledgeable than those of the feudal ages. Their judgement would prevail, not ours. The youth of today and those to come after them would assess the work of the revolution in accordance with values of their own.
Mao’s voice dropped away and he half closed his eyes. Man’s condition on this earth was changing with ever increasing rapidity. A thousand years from now all of us, he said, even Marx, Engels, and Lenin would probably appear rather ridiculous.
Before I rose to leave the Chairman sent his greetings to the American people and said simply that he wished them progress. If he wished them liberation weren’t some people bound to disagree? Wouldn’t they say that they already had the right to vote? But to those among them who were not really liberated, and desired liberation, to them he wished his best.
Mao Tse-tung walked me through the doorway and, despite my protests, saw me to my car, where he stood alone for a moment, coatless in the sub-zero Peking night, to wave me farewell in the traditional manner of that ancient cultured city. I saw no security guards around the entrance nor can I now recall having seen even one armed body guard in our vicinity all evening..........
Mao shook hands and gave me a precautionary word, to take care, quoting a Chinese maxim: ‘Unpredictable high winds and misfortunes are in the skies!’
As the car drove away I looked back and watched Mao brace his shoulders and slowly retrace his steps and re-enter the great Hall of the people.
[1.] On July 7, 1937, the Japanese invading forces attacked the Chinese garrison at Lukouchiao, some ten kilometers southwest of Peking. Under the influence of the ardent nationwide anti-Japanese movement, the Chinese troops put up resistance. This was an event Mao predicted; his accuracy enormously enhanced his prestige both as a party and a national leader.
[2.] Su-Wei-Ai, the characters used in the phonetic transliteration of the Russian word ‘Soviet’, was meaningless to politically unsophisticated Chinese, so the warlord’s assumption that he was dealing with a surname was quite reasonable. The Chinese Communists dropped the use of this foreign term after the Kiangsi period.
[3.] Indonesia returned to the U.N. in 1966, after the army overthrew Sukarno and destroyed the Indonesian Communist Party.
[4.] In 1935 Mao’s brother Mao Tse-t’an was also killed in combat. The youngest brother, Mao Tse-min, made the Long March and was killed in 1942, in an anti-Communist purge in Sinkiang.
Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung