Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung

Talks With Mao Yüan-hsin

July 5, 1964

[Comrade Mao Yüan-hsin is Chairman Mao’s nephew who studied at the Harbin Military Engineering Institute.]

First Talk

THE CHAIRMAN: Have you made any progress in the course of the past half year? Have you raised [your level]?

YÜAN-HSIN[1]: I’m a bit mixed up about it myself, I wouldn’t venture to say that I have made any progress; if I have, it is merely superficial.

THE CHAIRMAN: I think you have after all made some progress, your way of looking at problems is no longer so simple. Have you read the ‘Ninth Reply’ or not?[2] Have you seen the five criteria for successors?

YÜAN-HSIN: I have seen them. (Following on from this, he talked for a while, setting forth the main content of the ‘Ninth Reply’ as regards successors.)

THE CHAIRMAN: You have talked about it, all right, but do you understand it? These five criteria are indissolubly linked to one another. The first is theory, or also orientation. The second is the aim  —  i.e. when you come right down to it, whom do you serve? This is the most important. When you have mastered this point, you can do anything. The third, fourth and fifth criteria relate to questions of methodology. You must unite with the majority, you must implement democratic centralism, you must not allow everything to be settled by the word of one man, you must carry out self-criticism, you must be modest and prudent. Isn’t all this methodology?

(When talking about the first criterion for successors the Chairman said:) Are you going to study Marxism-Leninism, or revisionism?

YÜAN-HSIN: Naturally, I’m studying Marxism-Leninism.

THE CHAIRMAN: Don’t be too sure, who knows what you’re studying? Do you know what Marxism-Leninism is?

YÜAN-HSIN: Marxism-Leninism means that you must carry on the class struggle, that you must carry out revolution.

THE CHAIRMAN: The basic idea of Marxism  —  Leninism is that you must carry out revolution. But what is revolution? Revolution is the proletariat overthrowing the capitalists, the peasants overthrowing the landlords, and then afterwards setting up a workers’ and peasants’ political power, and moreover continuing to consolidate it. At present, the task of the revolution has not yet been completed; it has not yet been finally determined who, in the end, will overthrow whom. In the Soviet Union, is not Khrushchev in power, is not the bourgeoisie in power? We, too, have cases in which political power is in the grip of the bourgeoisie; there are production brigades, factories, and hsien committees, as well as district and provincial committees, in which they have their people, there are deputy heads of public security departments who are their men. Who is leading the Ministry of Culture? The cinema and the theatre are entirely in their service, and not in the service of the majority of the people.[3] Who do you say is exercising leadership? To study Marxism-Leninism is to study the class struggle. The class struggle is everywhere; it is in your Institute, a counter-revolutionary has appeared in your Institute, are you aware of this or not? He wrote a reactionary diary filling a dozen or so notebooks, every day he cursed us, shouldn’t he be considered a counter-revolutionary element? Are you people not completely insensitive to class struggle? Isn’t it right there beside you? If there were no counter-revolution, then why would we still need revolution?

(Yüan-hsin reports on some circumstances regarding the ‘five antis’ in the factory where he had gone for practical training, from which he had learned a great deal.)

THE CHAIRMAN: Everywhere there is counter-revolution, how could it be absent from the factories? Middle-and low-ranking Kuomintang officers, secretaries of hsien [Kuomintang] party offices, etc., have all crept in. No matter what guise they have been transformed into, we must now clean them all out. Everywhere there is class struggle, everywhere there are counter-revolutionary elements. Is not Ch’en Tung-p’ing sleeping right next to you? I have read all the various materials [of his] denounced by your Institute. You were sleeping together with a counterrevolutionary, and yet you did not know it!

(The Chairman next asked about political and ideological work in the Institute. Mao Yüan-hsin gave his views of this.)

YÜAN-HSIN: They call meetings and talk a lot; outwardly it’s very stirring, but they don’t solve many real problems.

THE CHAIRMAN: The whole country is engaged in learning from the People’s Liberation Army on a vast scale. You are members of the PLA; why aren’t you learning from it? Does the Institute have a political department? What is it doing? Do you have political training or not?

(Yüan-hsin explains the way political training is carried out at the Institute.) All this is nothing but attending classes and discussing things, what is the use of it? You should go and study reality. You have not even applied the principle that ideology comes first, you have no real knowledge at all, so when people talk about those things how can you understand them?

(The Chairman especially advocates swimming in great winds and waves, and moreover urges Mao Yüan-hsin to practice it resolutely every day.) You have already come to know water, and have mastered it, that is excellent. Do you know how to ride horseback?

YÜAN-HSIN: I don’t know how [to ride].

THE CHAIRMAN: To be a soldier, and not to know how to ride this should not be. (The Chairman calls on Mao Yüan-hsin to go and learn to ride; the Chairman himself constantly practices riding, and has also made his secretary and staff go and learn.) Have you done any rifle shooting or not?

YÜAN-HSIN: I haven’t touched a gun for four years.

THE CHAIRMAN: At present the militia all shoot very well, but you members of the PLA haven’t done any shooting; you discuss this criticism of mine with XXX, what kind of soldier is it that doesn’t know how to shoot?

(Once when he was swimming, and the weather was relatively cold, so that it was warmer in the water than above it, Mao Yüan-hsin after he had come out and felt a bit cold, said: ‘It is after all a bit more comfortable in the water.’)

THE CHAIRMAN (staring angrily at Mao Yüan-hsin): In fact, you like comfort, and fear difficulties. (The Chairman, in discussing the second criterion for successors, said:) You know how to think about yourself, you spend all your time pondering your own problems. Your father (Comrade Mao Tse-min) was dauntless and resolute in the face of the enemy, he never wavered in the slightest, because he served the majority of the people.[4] If it had been you, wouldn’t you have got down on both knees and begged for your life? Very many members of our family have given their lives, killed by the Kuomintang and the American imperialists. You grew up eating honey, and thus far you have never known suffering. In future, if you do not become a rightist, but rather a centrist, I shall be satisfied. You have never suffered, how can you be a leftist?

YÜAN-HSIN: Is there still some hope for me?

THE CHAIRMAN: Well, yes, there is hope, but if you surpass the criteria I have set, that will be even better.

(The Chairman also talked about the third criterion, saying:) When you people hold a meeting, how do you hold it? You are a squad leader; how does one go about being a squad leader? When everyone criticizes you, can you accept it? Can you accept their criticisms even if they are wrong? Can you accept a false and unjust charge? If you cannot accept it, then how can you unite people? You must especially learn to work with people who disagree with you. If you like to have people praise you, if you like to have honey on your lips, and songs to your glory in your ears, that is the most dangerous thing, and that is exactly what you do like.

(In talking about the fourth criterion, the Chairman said:) Do you unite with the masses or not? Is it not the case that you spend your time with the sons and daughters of cadres, and look down on other people? You must let people talk, and not be satisfied with letting one person settle everything.

(In talking about the fifth criterion, the Chairman said:) In this respect you have already made some progress, you have engaged in a bit of self-criticism, but it’s barely a beginning, you mustn’t think everything is all right.

(Afterwards, the Chairman once again talked about the work at the Institute: The most fundamental defect of your Institute is that you have not applied the ‘four firsts’.[5] Didn’t you say you wanted to study Marxism-Leninism? What method of study do you employ? How much can you learn merely by relying on listening to lectures? The most important thing is to go and learn from practice.

YÜAN-HSIN: A faculty of science and engineering and faculty of letters are different; [the former] doesn’t provide for so much time to go and enter into contact with society.

THE CHAIRMAN: That is wrong; the class struggle is your most important subject, and it is a compulsory subject. I have already discussed this question with XXX. Your Institute should go down to the countryside to carry out the ‘four clean-ups’, from the cadres to the students all of you should go, and not one should remain. You should go this winter, or in the spring of next year; it is better to go earlier than later, you must definitely go. As for you, you must not only spend five months participating in the ‘four clean-ups’, you must also go to a factory and spend half a year carrying out the ‘five antis’. Isn’t it true that you don’t understand a thing about society? If you don’t carry out the four clean-ups, you won’t understand the peasants, and if you don’t carry out the five antis, you won’t understand the workers. Only when you have completed such a course of political training can I consider you a university graduate. Otherwise, if the Military Engineering Institute lets you graduate, I won’t recognize your diploma. If you don’t even know about the class struggle, how can you be regarded as a university graduate? If you are to graduate, I will set you this additional subject. Your Institute has not carried out ideological work; so many counter-revolutionaries, and you were not aware of it; Ch’en Tung-p’ing was right next to you and you didn’t know it.

(Mao Yüan-hsin says that while Ch’en Tung-p’ing was at home during the holidays, he listened to the enemy’s radio and was thus corrupted.) How can you believe the enemy’s radio if you listen to it? Have you listened to it or not? The enemy doesn’t even have food to eat, can you believe what he says? Wei Li-huang[6] was in business in Hong Kong; having lost his money, he returned. Everybody looks down on people like Wei Li-huang; it’s hard to imagine that the enemy doesn’t despise him (Ch’en Tung-p’ing) too.

What are the four firsts? (Mao Yüan-hsin talks about this.) You know about this; why, then, do you not grasp living ideology? I hear there are a lot of political cadres in your Institute, but they do not grasp the essential, so naturally they do not grasp ideology. Naturally, your Institute has scored some successes; there’s nothing so remarkable if it has a few problems. We’ve been engaged in military engineering for only a decade. Our army has no experience in running technical schools. It’s like when we learned to fight in 1927: at first we didn’t know how, and we kept being defeated, but afterwards we learned how.

(The Chairman also asked:) How is it with the reform of teaching in your Institute?

YÜAN-HSIN: The last time we had examinations, our unit tried out a new method. Everyone thought it was good, and gave a correct evaluation of the level [of each student]. It also had an influence on the method of study as a whole, making it possible to study in a lively fashion.

THE CHAIRMAN: This should have been done long ago.

YÜAN-HSIN: In the past, the notion of marks prevailed, so that we did not study with initiative.

THE CHAIRMAN: It’s good that you are able to recognize this. I can’t blame you for this either, for the whole educational system brazenly calls on you to strive for a mark of five. If you don’t strive for such a perfect mark, they may block [your advancement] completely. Your elder sister, too, suffered from this kind of thing. There was a student at Peking University who never took notes at ordinary times, and scored between three-and-a-half and four marks in examinations, yet at graduation time the dissertation he presented was of the highest level in the class. There are people who have seen through all this, and have taken the initiative in study. There are some people like that who have seen through marks, and who study boldly, and with initiative. Your teachers teach by inculcation. Every day you attend lectures. Do they really have that much to say? The teachers should distribute their lecture notes to you. What are they afraid of? They should let the students study them by themselves. To keep the lecture notes secret from the students, allowing them only to take notes in class, hampers the students terribly. In the past, when I was teaching at K’ang Ta, I used to distribute lecture notes to my students in advance. I only talked for thirty minutes, and let the students themselves do their own study; afterwards the students would ask questions and the teacher would answer. With university students, especially the senior students, the main thing is to let them study and work out problems. What is the point of talking so much?

In the past they openly called on everyone to strive for perfect marks. People were perfect in school, but they weren’t necessarily perfect in their work. In Chinese history, none of the highest graduates of the Hanlin Academy had true talent or learning. These were found rather among those who failed even to pass as second-degree graduates. The two greatest poets of the T’ang dynasty[7] did not even obtain the degree of chü-jen. Don’t put too much emphasis on marks; you should concentrate your energies on fostering and training your ability to analyse and solve problems. Do not run along behind the teachers and be fettered by them. The problem of educational reform is primarily a problem of teachers. The teachers have so many books, and they can do nothing without their lecture notes. Why don’t they distribute their lecture notes to you and study problems together with you? When the students in the senior classes ask questions, the teachers will only answer half of them, and will know nothing about the rest, so they will study and discuss the problems together with the students. This is not bad either. They must not put on arrogant airs to frighten people off. Even the bourgeoisie has opposed the cramming method of teaching. Why shouldn’t we oppose it? It will be all right so long as the students are not treated as targets of attack. Teachers are the key to educational reform.

(Once Mao Yüan-hsin had urged the Chairman to visit an exhibition of new scientific achievements; the Chairman had said: ‘I’m busy now, I can’t go and look at it. I haven’t time to look at it carefully, and to look at flowers while riding by on horseback isn’t worthwhile either.’)

How is it that you are interested in this, but not in Marxism-Leninism? In any case, I rarely hear you ask questions about this aspect of things most of the time. What newspaper do you usually read?

YÜAN-HSIN: I read the People’s Daily.

THE CHAIRMAN: There’s nothing worth looking at in the People’s Daily. You should read Liberation Army Daily, or Chinese Youth Daily.[8] The things the workers and soldiers write are real and lively, and they know how to explain problems. Have you read the discussion on ‘two combines into one’?

YÜAN-HSIN: I’ve read only very little, and I didn’t understand much of what I did read.

THE CHAIRMAN: Is that so? Have a look at this newspaper (the Chairman hands him a copy of Chinese Youth Daily), see how the workers analyse things, see how the cadres of the Youth League analyse things, they analyse things very well, it’s easier to understand than People’s Daily.

(The Chairman also said:) Your political study is nothing but talk. If you want to learn a lot of things, the most important point is to go and study in the midst of reality. Why are you interested in your professional speciality, but not in Marxism-Leninism?

When you study history, if you don’t combine it with present reality it’s no good. If you study modern history and don’t carry out work compiling village histories and family histories, it’s a complete waste of time.[9] When you study ancient history, this too must be combined with present reality, and cannot be divorced from excavations and archaeology. Did Yao, Shun, and Yü[10] exist or not? I don’t believe it, you don’t have any real evidence. There are oracle-bones to provide evidence regarding the Shang dynasty, we can believe in that. If you go and burrow into a pile of books, the more you study, the less knowledge you’ll have.



[1.] Comrade Mao Yuan-hsin is Chairman Mao’s nephew who studied at the Harbin Military Engineering Institute.

[2.] At this time, Mao was intensely preoccupied with the problem of bringing up successors to the revolutionary cause to which he had devoted himself for half a century. The five requirements or criteria for such successors were first publicly stated in mid-July 1964, in the editorial entitled ‘On Khrushchev’s Phoney Communism and its Historical Lessons for the World’, translated in Peking Review, No. 29 (1964) pp. 7-27. (The ‘five requirements’ appear on pp. 26-7.) They must be ‘genuine Marxist-Leninists and not revisionists’; they must be ‘revolutionaries who wholeheartedly serve the majority of the people of China and the whole world’; they must be ‘proletarian statesmen capable of uniting and working together with the overwhelming majority’; they must be ‘models in applying the Party’s democratic centralism’, and must master the ‘mass line’ method of leadership; they must be ‘modest and prudent and guard against arrogance and impetuosity’.

[3.] It was in 1964 that Chiang Ch’ing began in earnest her efforts to remedy this situation by developing modern revolutionary Peking opera to replace the old plays about emperors, generals and concubines.

[4.] Mao’s brother, Mao Tse-min, served in Sinkiang from 1938 to 1942 as head of the finance department of the government controlled by the local warlord, General Sheng Shih-ts’ai, who was then collaborating with the Soviet Union. When General Sheng shifted his allegiance from Moscow to the Kuomintang, Mao Tse-min was arrested in September 1942 and executed in 1943.

[5.] In September 1960, Lin Piao presented to a meeting of the Party’s Military Affairs Committee a report on what he called the ‘four relations’, shortly to be reformulated and re-baptized as the ‘four firsts’: priority of men over weapons, of political work over other work, of ideological work over routine political work, and of living ideology over ideas from books. These points were developed in a resolution revised by Mao himself before being adopted by the Military Affairs Committee.

[6.] Wei Li-huang (1896-1960) a former KMT general who was the deputy commander of Chaing Kai-shek’s Northeast Military Headquarters (“Bandid Suppression Headquarters”) during the Third Revolutionary Civil War period (i.e., August 1945-October 1949).  He was relieved of his command after his defeat by PLA troops at the battle of Shenyang in November 1948.  Wei fled to Hong Kong in 1949, and in March 1955 returned to the mainland.  He was invited to be a special delegate to the National Committee of the CPPCC and held this position from 1956 to 1959.  He was also a member of the Standing Committee of the KMT and a Vice-chairman of the National Defense Standing Committee of the KMT and a Vice-chairman of the National Defense Council.  In many ways, therefore, he stood as an example of how progressive elements of the KMT could cooperate with the people’s government.

[7.] The two most famous poets of China’s literary golden age during the Tang dynasty.

[8.] Mao’s enthusiasm for this paper, which was the organ of the Communist Youth League, was natural enough at the time, for it was at the Ninth Congress of the League in June 1964 that the problem of ‘bringing up successors’ for the revolutionary cause had just been extensively discussed for the first time (see Peking Review, No. 28 (1964) pp. 6-22). It appears slightly ironic, however, in the light of what came after, for the Youth League was smashed at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, and restored only after the Party had been rebuilt.

[9.] Such methods of teaching, involving field work to take down the reminiscences of old people, etc., were common in China at the time.

[10.] Legendary rulers supposed to have ascended the throne respectively in 2356, 2255, and 2205 B.C. The first two especially are regarded as models of what a sage-king should be.

Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung