Mao Tse Tung
Quotations from Mao Tse Tung

8. People's War


The revolutionary war is a war of the masses; only mobilizing the masses and relying on them can wage it.

"Be Concerned with the Well-Being of the Masses, Pay Attention to Methods of Work" (January 27, 1934), Selected Works, Vol. I. p. 147.*

What is a true bastion of iron? It is the masses, the millions upon millions of people who genuinely and sincerely support the revolution. That is the real iron bastion, which it is impossible, and impossible, for any force on earth to smash. The counter-revolution cannot smash us; on the contrary, we shall smash it. Rallying millions upon millions of people round the revolutionary government and expanding our revolutionary war, we shall wipe out all counter-revolution and take over the whole of China.

Ibid., p. 150.*

The richest source of power to wage war lies in the masses of the people. It is mainly because of the unorganized state of the Chinese masses that Japan dares to bully us. When this defect is remedied, then the Japanese aggressor, like a mad bull crashing into a ring of flames, will be surrounded by hundreds of millions of our people standing upright, the mere sound of their voices will strike terror into him, and he will be burned to death.

"On Protracted War" (May 1938), Selected Works, Vol. II, p. 186.

The imperialists are bullying us in such a way that we will have to deal with them seriously. Not only must we have a powerful regular army; we must also organize contingents of the people's militia on a big scale. This will make it difficult for the imperialists to move a single inch in our country in case of invasion.

Interview with a Hsinhua News Agency correspondent (September 29, 1958).

Considering the revolutionary war as a whole, the operations of the people's guerrillas and those of the main forces of the Red Army complement each other like a man's right arm and left arm, and if we had only the main forces of the Red Army without the people's guerrillas, we would be like a warrior with only one arm. In concrete terms, and especially concerning military operations, when we talk of the people in the base area as a factor, we mean that we have an armed people. That is the main reason why the enemy is afraid to approach our base area.

"Problems of Strategy in China's Revolutionary War" (December 1936), Selected Works, Vol. I, p. 238.

Unquestionably, victory or defeat in war is determined mainly by the military, political, economic and natural conditions on both sides. However, not by these alone. It is also determined by each side's subjective ability in directing the war. In his endeavor to win a war, a military strategist cannot overstep the limitations imposed by the material conditions; within these limitations, however, he can and must strive for victory. The stage of action for a military strategist is built upon objective material conditions, but on that stage, he can direct the performance of many a drama, full of sound and color, power and grandeur.

Ibid., pp. 190-91.*

The object of war is specifically "to preserve oneself and destroy the enemy" (to destroy the enemy means to disarm him or "deprive him of the power to resist", and does not mean to destroy every member of his forces physically). In ancient warfare, the spear and the shield were used, the spear to attack and destroy the enemy, and the shield to defend and preserve oneself. To the present day, all weapons are still an extension of the spear and the shield. The bomber, the machine-gun, the long-range gun and poison gas are developments of the spear, while the air-raid shelter, the steel helmet, the concrete fortification and the gas mask are developments of the shield. The tank is a new weapon combining the functions of both spear and shield. Attack is the chief means of destroying the enemy, but defense cannot be dispensed with. In attack, the immediate object is to destroy the enemy, but at the same time, it is self-preservation, because if the enemy is not destroyed, you will be destroyed. In defense, the immediate object is to preserve yourself, but at the same time defense is a means of supplementing attack or preparing to go over to the attack. Retreat is in the category of defense and is a continuation of defense, while pursuit is a continuation of attack. It should be pointed out that destruction of the enemy is the primary object of war and self-preservation the secondary, because only by destroying the enemy in large numbers can one effectively preserve oneself. Therefore, attack, the chief means of destroying the enemy, is primary, while defense, a supplementary means of destroying the enemy and a means of self-preservation, is secondary. In actual warfare, defense plays the chief role much of the time and by attack for the rest of the time, but if war is taken as a whole, attack remains primary.

"On Protracted War" (May 1938). Selected Works, Vol. II, p. 156.

All the guiding principles of military operations grow out of the one basic principles: to strive to the utmost to preserve one's own strength and destroy that of the enemy.... How then do we justify the encouragement of heroic sacrifice in war? Every war exacts a price, sometimes an extremely high one. Is this not in contradiction with "preserving oneself"? In fact, there is no contradiction at all; to put it more exactly, sacrifice and self-preservation are both opposite and complementary to each other. For such sacrifice is essential not only for destroying the enemy but also for preserving oneself - partial and temporary "non-preservation" (sacrifice, or paying the price) is necessary for the sake of general and permanent preservation. From this basic principle stems the series of principles guiding military operations, all of which - from the principles of shooting (taking cover to preserve oneself, and making full use of fire-power to destroy the enemy) to the principles of strategy - are permeated with the spirit of this basic principle. All technical principles and all principles concerning tactics, campaigns and strategy represent applications of this basic principle. The principle of preserving oneself and destroying the enemy is the basis of all military principles.

"Problems of Strategy in Guerrilla War Against Japan" (May 1938), Selected Works, Vol. II, pp. 81-82.*

Our principles of operation are:

(1) Attack dispersed isolated enemy forces first; attack concentrated strong enemy forces later.

(2) Take small and medium cities and extensive rural areas first; take big cities later.

(3) Make wiping out the enemy's effective strength our main objective; do not make holding or seizing a city or place our main objective. Holding or seizing a city or place is the outcome of wiping out the enemy's effective strength, and often a city or place can be held or seized for good only after it has changed hands a number of times.

(4) In every battle, concentrate an absolutely superior force (two, three, four and sometimes even five or six times the enemy's strength), encircle the enemy forces completely, strive to wipe them out thoroughly and do not let any escape from the net. In special circumstances, use the method of dealing the enemy crushing blows, that is, concentrate all our strength to make a frontal attack and an attack on one or both of his flanks, with the aim of wiping out one part and routing another so that our army can swiftly move its troops to smash other enemy forces. Strive to avoid battles of attrition in which we lose more than we gain or only break even. In this way, although inferior as a whole (in terms of numbers), we shall be superior in every part and every specific campaign, and this ensures victory in the campaign. As time goes on, we shall become superior as a whole and eventually wipe out the entire enemy.

(5) Fight no battle unprepared, fight no battle you are not sure of winning; make every effort to be well prepared for each battle, make every effort to ensure victory in the given set of conditions as between the enemy and ourselves.

(6) Give full play to our style of fighting - courage in battle, no fear of sacrifice, no fear of fatigue, and continuous fighting (that is, fighting successive battles in a short time without rest).

(7) Strive to wipe out the enemy when he is on the move. At the same time, pay attention to the tactics of positional attack and capture enemy fortified points and cities.

(8) Concerning attacking cities, resolutely seize all enemy fortified points and cities that are weakly defended. At opportune moments, seize all enemy fortified points and cities defended with moderate strength, provided circumstances permit. As for all strongly defended enemy fortified points and cities, wait until conditions are ripe and then take them.

(9) Replenish our strength with all the arms and most of the personnel captured from the enemy. Our army's main sources of manpower and materiel are at the front.

(10) Make good use of the intervals between campaigns to rest, train and consolidate our troops. Periods of rest, training and consolidation should not in general be very long, and the enemy should as far as possible be permitted no breathing space. These are the main methods the People's Liberation Army has employed in defeating Chiang Kai-shek. They are the result of the tempering of the People's Liberation Army in long years of fighting against domestic and foreign enemies and are completely suited to our present situation . . .. our strategy and tactics are based on a people's war; no army opposed to the people can use our strategy and tactics.

"The Present Situation and Our Tasks" (December 25, 1947), Selected Military Writings, 2nd ed., pp. 349-50.*

Without preparedness, superiority is not real superiority and there can be no initiative either. Having grasped this point, a force that is inferior but prepared can often defeat a superior enemy by surprise attack.

"On Protracted War" (May 1938), Selected Works, Vol. II, pp. 165-66.


Chapter 9: The People's Army