Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung

Talks With Mao Yüan-hsin (2)


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

Second Talk[1]

(February 18, 1966)

Chairman Mao and his nephew discussed the question of whether the Military Engineering Institute should go in for two or three years of study first and then do another year of part-time work and part-time study: and also the question of coordination and assignment of work.

[Chairman Mao:] The science and engineering faculties should still have their own language. With their six-year syllabus we could start by trying to do it in three years first and see how it works out, and not necessarily be in a hurry to shorten it to two years. With advanced science, if there is a clear-cut objective, then three years of study would perhaps be all right, and if three years are not enough they could later add on a bit.

Only when there is a clear-cut objective can you do less but do it well, and only then can you combine the general and the particular. The six-year system can then be altered into a three-year system, and after we have done that our steps can be sure and steady and our direction will be right.

When you try new things, the only way to do it is to carry on for a few years, constantly summarizing your experience.

The science and engineering faculties have their specific nature and have their own special terminology, so you have to read a few books. But they also have something in common with other subjects, it’s no good just to read books. One had only to study at Whampoa Academy for half a year and after graduation one served as a soldier for one year. In that way many talented officers were produced, but after it was changed to the Army University (I have not made a note of how long they studied) the result was that when people graduated, they kept on being defeated in battle and becoming our captives.

I don’t know anything about the science and engineering faculties, but I do claim a little knowledge about the medical faculty. When you listen to an eye doctor talk it all sounds very mysterious, but the human body should be viewed as a whole.

The development of science proceeds from a low level to a high level, from the simple to the complex, but when one teaches one cannot follow the sequence of development. When we study history, we should concentrate on modern history. Now we only have three thousand-odd years of recorded history; what will happen when we have ten thousand years of history, how will we teach it then?

Advanced science, including those fundamental theories which practice has proved useful, must get rid of those parts which practice has proved useless and irrational.

When one lectures on nuclear physics it will suffice to talk about the Sakata model; one needn’t start from the theories of Bohr of the Danish school; otherwise you won’t graduate even after ten years of study. Even Sakata uses dialectics  —  why don’t you use it?

Man’s understanding of things always starts from the concrete and proceeds to the abstract. In medicine they start by teaching abstract things such as psychology, the nervous system, etc. I think this is wrong: they should start by teaching anatomy. Mathematics was originally derived from physical models. Nowadays one cannot associate mathematics with physical models: instead one has gone a step further and made it abstract.


Third Talk


[Chairman Mao:] Formerly, I was principal of a primary school, and a teacher in a middle school. I am also a member of the Central Committee, and was once a department chief for the Kuomintang.[2] But when I went to the rural areas and spent some time with the peasants, I was deeply struck by how many things they knew. I realized their knowledge was wide, and I was no match for them, but should learn from them. To say the least, you are not a member of the Central Committee, are you? How can you know more than the peasants? When you return, tell your political commissar that I said from now on you should go to the countryside once each year. There are great advantages in this!

You don’t understand dialectics; you don’t understand that one divides into two. Formerly, you thought you were something extraordinary, and now you do not think you are worth a tinker’s damn. Both views are wrong.

Those who are guilty of errors should be encouraged. When someone who has made errors sees his mistakes, you should point out his good points. Actually, he will still have many good points. Those who have made errors should be washed clean in warm water. If it is too hot they can’t stand it; warm water is most suitable. Young people who make mistakes should not be dismissed. Dismissal harms them, and there cannot be any confrontations. People like Pu-yi and K’ang Tse[3] were transformed. Among the young people who have not been transformed are some Party members and some [Youth] League members. To dismiss them would be to simplify matters to excess.

At the Institute are you a leftist? I saw an article praising you.[4] To have people flatter you is no good at all. Young people like you should be told off. If they tell you off too little it won’t do. Everything is subject to this kind of compulsion. When I wrote XXX, I was compelled to do it. If I had to write it now, I could not do it.

What do we mean by advanced? To be advanced is to do the work of the backward, to analyse those who are around us, to be intent on making inquiries and making friends wherever we go. Our young people must study dialectics, and master the use of dialectics in analysing problems. Take me, for example. I am not at all more intelligent than others, but I understand dialectics and I know how to use it in analysing problems. If we use dialectics to analyse an unclear problem, the problem becomes clear in a trice. You must diligently study dialectics, its efficacy is very great.



[1.] For the first talk see pp. 111-119 in this volume.

[2.] Mao was acting head of the Propaganda Department of the Kuomintang Central Executive Committee in 1925-6.

[3.] K’ang Tse was one of the leaders of Chiang Kai-shek’s Blue Shirts, with particular responsibility for the Special Task Force which was engaged in the 1930s in propaganda, security, and combat support activities in areas where the Kuomintang was fighting the communists.

[4.] Mao Yüan-hsin was a Red Guard leader at the Institute in Harbin during the early stages of the Cultural Revolution. In January 1967, when a Revolutionary Committee was set up in Heilungkiang Province, he became director of the Propaganda Department. In the spring of 1967, he moved to Liaoning Province, and became Vice-Chairman of the Liaoning Revolutionary Committee in May 1968. At the Tenth Congress in August 1973, he was a member of the presidium.

Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung