Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung

Speech At Hangchow

December 21, 1965

[SOURCE: Long Live Mao Tse-tung Thought, a Red Guard Publication.]

I have read three articles in this issue of Che-hsueh yenchiu [i.e., the special issue of philosophical articles written by workers, peasants and soldiers, 1965, No. 6] [Philosophical Research]. Those of you who are engaged in philosophy should go in for practical philosophy, otherwise nobody will read it. Bookish philosophy is very difficult to understand. For whom is it written? Some intellectuals like Wu Han[1] and Chien Po-tsan[2] are going from bad to worse. Someone called Sun Ta-jen has written an article refuting Chien Po-tsan’s idea of the feudal landlord class adopting a policy of concessions towards the peasants. After peasant wars the landlord class would only counter-attack and seek revenge; there was never any question of concessions. The landlord class made no concessions to the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom[3]. The Boxers first said: ‘Oppose the Ch’ing and eliminate the foreigners,’ and later, ‘Support the Ch’ing and eliminate the foreigners,’ thus gaining the support of the Empress Dowager Tz’u-hsi. After the Ch’ing dynasty had suffered defeat at the hands of imperialism the Dowager Empress and the Emperor ran away, and Tz’u-hsi started to ‘support the foreigners and eliminate the Boxers’[4]. Some people say that the Inside Story of the Ching Court is patriotic, but I think it is treasonable  —  out-and-out treason[5]. Why is it that some say it is patriotic? Merely because they think that the Kuang Hsu emperor was a pitiable man who, together with K’ang Yu-wei[6], opened schools, formed the New Armies and put into effect a few enlig! htened measures.

At the end of the Ch’ing dynasty some people advocated ‘Chinese learning for the substance, Western learning for practical application’. The substance was like our General Line, which cannot be changed. We cannot adopt Western learning as the substance, nor can we use the substance of the democratic republic. We cannot use ‘the natural rights of man’ nor the ‘theory of evolution’. We can only use Western technology. ‘The natural rights of man’ represents, of course, an erroneous line of thought. Is there such a thing as rights bestowed by nature? Isn’t it man who bestows rights on man? Were the rights we enjoy bestowed by nature? Our rights were bestowed by the common people, and primarily by the working class and the poor and lower-middle peasants.

If you study a little modern history you will see that there was no such thing as a ‘policy of concession’. The only concessions were made by the revolutionary forces to the reactionaries. The reactionaries always counter-attacked and sought revenge. Whenever a new dynasty emerged in history they adopted a policy of ‘decreased labour service and taxation’. This was because people were very poor and there was nothing to take from them. This policy was of advantage to the landlord class.

I hope that those who are engaged in philosophical work will go to the factories and the countryside for a few years. The system of philosophy should be reformed. You should not write in the old manner and you should not write so much.

A student of Nanking University who came from a peasant family, a student of history, took part in the ‘four clean-ups’ movement. Afterwards he wrote some articles on the subject of the necessity for those engaged in history to go down to the countryside. In these articles, which were published in the Nanking University Journal, he made a confession saying: ‘I have studied now for several years and have lost all notion of manual labour.’ In the same issue of the Nanking University Journal is an article which says: ‘The essence is the major contradiction and, in particular, the major aspect of the major contradiction.’ Even I have not made such a statement before. The outward appearance is visible; it stimulates the senses. The essence is invisible and intangible; it is hidden behind the outward appearance. The essence can only be discovered through investigation and study. If we could touch and see the essence there would be no need for science.

You should gradually get into contact with reality, live for a while in the countryside, learn a bit of agricultural science, botany, soil technology, fertilizer technology, bacteriology, forestry, water conservancy, etc. There’s no need to read big tomes. It’s sufficient to read little books and get a bit of general knowledge.

Now about this university education. From entering primary school to leaving college is altogether sixteen or seventeen years. I fear that for over twenty years people will not see rice, mustard, wheat or millet growing; nor will they see how workers work, nor how peasants till the fields, nor how people do business. Moreover their health will be ruined. It is really terribly harmful. I said to my own child: ‘You go down to the countryside and tell the poor and lower-middle peasants, “My dad says that after studying a few years we became more and more stupid. Please, uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters, be my teachers. I want to learn from you.” ’ In point of fact pre-school children have a lot of contact with society up to the age of seven. At two they learn to speak and at three they have noisy quarrels. When they grow a little bigger, they dig with toy hoes to imitate grown-ups working. This is the real world. By then the children have already learned concepts. ‘Dog’ is a major concept. ‘Black dog’ and ‘yellow dog’ are minor concepts. His family’s yellow dog is concrete. Man is a concept which has shed a great deal of meaning. Man or woman, great or small, Chinese or foreigner, revolutionary or counter-revolutionary all these distinctions are absent. What is left are only the characteristics which differentiate man from the other animals. Who has ever seen ‘man’? You can only see Mr. Chang and Mr. Li. You cannot see the concept ‘house’ either, only actual houses, such as the foreign-style buildings of Tientsin or the courtyard houses of Peking.

We should reform university education. So much time should not be spent attending classes. Not to reform arts faculties would be terrible. If they are not reformed, can they produce philosophers? Can they produce writers? Can they produce historians? Today’s philosophers can’t turn out philosophy, writers can’t write novels, and historians can’t produce history. All they want to write about is emperors, kings, generals and ministers. Ch’i Pen-yu’s[7] article is excellent, I read it three times. Its defect is that it does not name names. Yao Wen-yuan’s[8] article is also very good: it has had a great impact on theatrical, historical and philosophical circles. Its defect is that it did not hit the crux of the matter. The crux of Hai Jui Dismissed from Office was the question of dismissal from office. The Chia Ch’ing emperor dismissed Hai Jui from office. In 1959 we dismissed P’eng Te-huai from office. And P’eng Te-huai is Hai Jui too.

We must reform the arts faculties in the universities. The students must go down and engage in industry, agriculture and commerce. The engineering and science departments are different. They have factories for practical work and also laboratories. They can work in their factories and do experiments in their laboratories. After they have finished high school they should first do some practical work. Only to go to the countryside is not enough. They should also go to factories, shops, army companies. They can do this kind of work for a few years and then study for two years. This will be enough. If the university has a five-year system, they should go down for three years. Teachers should also go down and work and teach at the same time. Can’t they teach philosophy, literature and history there too? Must they have big foreign-style buildings to teach them in?

Many great inventors, such as Watt and Edison, came from workers’ families. Franklin, who discovered electricity, sold newspapers: he started as a newspaper boy. Many of the great scholars and scientists did not go through college. Not many of the comrades in our Party’s Central Committee are university graduates.

You cannot go on writing books the way you write them now. Take the example of analysis and synthesis. In the past books did not explain them clearly. They said, ‘Within analysis there is synthesis; analysis and synthesis are indivisible.’ This sort of statement may be correct, but it has its inadequacy. One should say, ‘Analysis and synthesis are both divisible and indivisible.’ Everything can be divided. It is all a case of ‘one divides into two’. Analysis has to be applied in differing circumstances. Take, for example, an analysis of the Kuomintang and the communists. How did we analyse the Kuomintang in the past? We said that it occupied extensive territory with a large population, it controlled the large and medium-sized cities, enjoyed the support of imperialism and had large well-equipped armies. But the fundamental point was that it was divorced from the masses the peasants and soldiers. Also it had internal contradictions. Our armies were small, our weapons inferior (only millet and rifles), our territory was small, we had no big cities and no foreign aid, but we had close links with the masses; we had democracy in the three main fields, we had the three-eight working style, and we represented the demands of the masses. This was the fundamental thing.

Those Kuomintang officers who had graduated from military academies could not fight battles, while those who had studied in the Whampoa Military Academy for only a few months could fight. Among our own marshals and generals there are very few who have been to college. I had never studied military books. I had read the Tso Commentary,[9] the Mirror of Good Government[10] and the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. These books all described battles, but when I actually went into battle I forgot all about them. When we fought we did not take a single book with us. We only analysed the situation of ourselves and the enemy, analysed the concrete situation.

To synthesize the enemy is to eat him up. How did we synthesize the Kuomintang? Did we not do it by taking enemy material and remoulding it? We did not kill prisoners, but released some of them and retained most of them to replenish our own armies. We took all the weapons, food and fodder and equipment of all kinds. Those we did not use we have ‘aufgehoben’, to use a philosophical term, as in the case of people like Tu Yu-ming.[11] The process of eating is also one of analysis and synthesis. For example when eating crabs you eat the meat but not the shell. The stomach will absorb the nutritious part and get rid of the useless part. You are all foreign-style philosophers. I am a native-style philosopher. Synthesizing the Kuomintang means eating it up, absorbing most of it and eliminating a small part. I’ve learnt this from Marx. Marx removed the shell of Hegel’s philosophy and absorbed the useful inner part, transforming it into dialectical materialism. He absorbed Feuerbach’s materialism and criticized his metaphysics. The heritage had always to be passed on. In his treatment of French utopian socialism and English political economy, Marx absorbed the good things and abandoned the bad.

Marx’s Capital started with the analysis of the dual nature of commodities. Our commodities also have a dual nature. In a hundred years’ time commodities will still have a dual nature. Things which are not commodities have a dual nature too. Our comrades likewise have a dual nature, correct and incorrect. Don’t you have a dual nature? I know I have. Young people easily make the mistake of being metaphysical: they cannot bear to talk about their shortcomings. People improve with experience. In recent years, however, it is the young who have made progress; the hopeless cases are some of the old professors. Wu Han is mayor of a city. It would be better if he were demoted to being head of a county. It would be better if Yang Hsien-chen and Chang Wen-t’ien were demoted too. This is the only way we can really help them.

Recently an article was written about the law of adequate justification. What law of adequate justification? I don’t think such a thing exists. Different classes have different ways of justifying their actions. Which class does not have adequate justification? Doesn’t Russell? He recently sent me a pamphlet which should be translated and read. Russell is now a bit better politically. He is anti-revisionist and anti-American and he supports Vietnam. This idealist has acquired a little materialism. I am talking about his actions.[12]

A man should work in many fields, have contact with all sorts of people. Leftists should not only meet leftists but also rightists. They should not be afraid of this and that. I myself have met all sorts of people; I have met big officials and small ones.

In writing philosophy can you change your methods? You must write in a popular style, using the language of the labouring masses. We all talk like students. (Comrade Ch’en Po-ta interrupts: ‘The Chairman excepted’) I have been involved in the peasant movement, the workers’ movement, the student movement, the Kuomintang movement, and I have done military work for over twenty years, so I am somewhat better.

In tackling the study of Chinese philosophy, we must study Chinese history and the historical process of Chinese philosophy. One should first study the history of the past 100 years. Isn’t the historical process the unity of opposites? Modern history is a continual process of one dividing into two and continual struggle. In these struggles some people compromised, but the people were dissatisfied with them and went on struggling. Before the 1911[13] Revolution we had the struggle between Sun Yat-sen and K’ang Yu-wei. After the 1911 Revolution had overthrown the emperor there was the struggle between Sun and Yuan Shih-kai. Afterwards the Kuomintang had continual internal schisms and struggles.

The Marxist-Leninist classics not only need to have prefaces written, but also annotations. Political prefaces are easier to write than philosophical ones, which are none too easy. It used to be said that there were three great laws of dialectics, then Stalin said that there were four. In my view there is only one basic law and that is the law of contradiction. Quality and quantity, positive and negative, external appearance and essence, content and form, necessity and freedom, possibility and reality, etc., are all cases of the unity of opposites.

It has been said that the relationship of formal logic to dialectics is like the relationship between elementary mathematics and higher mathematics. This is a formulation which should be studied further. Formal logic is concerned with the form of thought, and is concerned to ensure that there is no contradiction between successive stages in an argument. It is a specialized science. Any kind of writing must make use of formal logic.

Formal logic does not concern itself with major premises: it is incapable of so doing. The Kuomintang call us ‘bandits’. ‘Communists are bandits’, ‘Chang San is a communist’, therefore ‘Chang San is a bandit’. We say ‘The Kuomintang are bandits’, ‘Chiang Kai-shek is Kuomintang’, therefore we say ‘Chiang Kai-shek is a bandit’. Both of these syllogisms are in accordance with formal logic.

One cannot acquire much fresh knowledge through formal logic. Naturally one can draw inferences, but the conclusion is still enshrined in the major premise. At present some people confuse formal logic and dialectics. This is incorrect.



[1.] Wu Han (b. 1909) was at this time Vice-Mayor of Peking. He had contributed to the series of articles published in 1961 and 1962 in the Peking press under the title ‘Notes from Three-Family Village’, which contained thinly veiled attacks on Mao’s ‘great empty talk’ and failure to listen to advice. Above all, he was the author of the play Hai Jui Dismissed from Office, published in January 1961, which was in fact a defence of P’eng Te-huai camouflaged as an upright official removed from office by the emperor in Ming times because he had defended the right of the peasants to their land. Yao Wen-yüan’s attack on this drama in November 1965 (see note 8, below) gave the signal for the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.

[2.] A leading historian who also came under attack in the Cultural Revolution; at the time of Mao’s speech he was head of the History Department at Peking University.

[3.] A reference to the war of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. It was a peasant revolutionary war waged against the feudal rule and national oppression of the Ching Dynasty in the middle of the 19th century. Hung Hsui-chuan, Yang Hsui-ching and others, the leaders of this revolution, staged an uprising in Kwangsi in January 1831 and proclaimed the founding of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. In 1852 the peasant army proceeded northward from Kwangsi and marched through Hunan, Hupeh, Kiangsi and Anhwei and in 1853 it captured Nanking, the main city on the lower Yangtse. Part of its forces then continued the drive north and pushed to the vicinity of Tientsin, a major city in northern China. Because the Taiping army failed to build stable base areas in the places it occupied and also because, after establishing its capital in Nanking, the leading group in the army committed many political and military errors, it could not withstand the joint attack of the counter-revolutionary troops of the Ching government and the aggressors, Britain, the United States and France, and suffered defeat in 1864.

[4.] Boxers, a reference to the Yi Ho Tuan movement. The Yi Ho Tuan Movement was the anti-imperialist armed struggle which took place in northern China in 1900. The broad masses of peasants, handicraftsmen and other people took part in this movement. Getting in touch with one another through religious and other channels, they organized themselves on the basis of secret societies and waged a heroic struggle against the joint forces of aggression of the eight imperialist powers the United States, Britain, Japan, Germany, Russia, France, Italy and Austria. The movement was put down with indescribable savagery after the joint forces of aggression occupied Tientsin and Peking . In 1901 the Ching government concluded a treaty with the imperialist powers. Its main provisions were that China had to pay those countries the enormous sum of 450 million taels of silver as war reparations and grant them the special privilege of stationing troops in Peking and in the area from Peking to Tientsin to Shanhaikuan.

[5.] A reference to a film with that title. Comrade Mao denounced this film as early as March 1950 and again in October 1954 (see “Directive on the film Qing gong mishi,” Selected Works, Volume VII, p 53 and p 294.)

[6.] Kang Yu-wei (1858-1927), of Nanhai County, Kwangtung Province. In 1895, after China had been defeated by Japanese imperialism in the previous year, he led thirteen hundred candidates for the third grade in the imperial examinations at Peking in submitting a “ten thousand word memorial” to Emperor Kuang Hsu, asking for “constitutional reform and modernization” and asking that the autocratic monarchy be changed into a constitutional monarchy. In 1898, in an attempt to introduce reforms, the emperor promoted Kang Yu-wei together with Tan Sze-tung, Liang Chi-chao and others to key posts in the government. Later, the Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi, representing the die-hards, again took power and the reform movement failed. Kang Yu-wei and Liang Chi-chao fled abroad and formed the Protect-the-Emperor Party, which became a reactionary political faction in opposition to the bourgeois and petty bourgeois revolutionaries represented by Sun Yat-sen.

[7.] Ch’i Pen-yü was an editor of Hung-ch’i. The article to which Mao refers here was entitled ‘Wei ko-ming erh yen-chiu li-shih’ (‘Study History for the Sake of the Revolution’), and appeared in issue No. 13 of that journal, which was published on 6 December 1965, pp. 14-22. As Mao says, it did not name names; it attacked disciples of Hu Shih who had denied the relevance of class struggle to the study of history, and called for a ‘supra-class viewpoint’ and ‘absolute objectivity’, but did not identify them except by saying that they had expressed such ideas openly in 1963.

[8.] Yao Wen-yüan had first attracted attention by an article of June 1957, attacking the bourgeois tendencies of the Shanghai Wen-hui pao. Ironically, his article entitled ‘On the New Historical Play The Dismissal of Hai Jui’ appeared on 10 November 1965 precisely in that paper  —  because, as Mao stated in October 1966 (see below, pp. 270-71), it was not possible to get it published in the Peking press, which was tightly controlled by the Party bureaucracy, headed by Liu Shao-chi.

[9.] The standard commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals, written in the third century B.C.

[10.] The Tzu-chih t’ung-chien of Ssu-ma Kuang (1019-86), written between 1072 and 1084, is a general history of China from 403 B.C. to A.D. 959. It is, with the Shih-chi (already mentioned), one of China’s most famous historical writings.

[11.] The communists applied the treatment which Mao characterizes in Hegelian terms as ‘Aufhebung’ (yang-ch’I) to the Kuomintang general Tu Yü-ming by defeating him in battle and taking him prisoner after he had refused to surrender. See Mao’s ‘Message Urging Tu Yü-ming and Others to Surrender’ of 17 December 1948, Selected Works, Vol. IV, pp. 295-7.

[12.] For Mao’s criticism of Bertrand Russell’s ideas in 1920, see “Communism and Dictatorship”, Selected Works, Vol. VI, pp. 17-19.

[13.] The Revolution of 1911 overthrew the autocratic regime of the Ching Dynasty. On October 10 that year, a section of the New Army, at the urging of the revolutionary societies of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie, staged an uprising in Wuchang. This was followed by uprisings in other provinces, and very soon the rule of the Ching Dynasty crumbled. On January 1, 1912, the Provisional Government of the Republic of China was set up in Nanking, and Sun Yat-sen was elected Provisional President. The revolution achieved victory through the alliance of the bourgeoisie, peasants, workers and urban petty bourgeoisie. But because the group which led the revolution was compromising in nature, failed to bring real benefits to the peasants and yielded to the pressure of imperialism and the feudal forces, state power fell into the hands of the Northern warlord Yuan Shih-kai, and the revolution failed.

Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung