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Study “Serve the People”

[This article is reprinted from Peking Review, Vol. 10, #2, Jan. 6, 1967, pp. 9-13.]

Following is reference material published by “Jiefangjun Bao” (Liberation Army Daily) on November 30 [1966] as a guide to aid cadres and fighters of the P.L.A. companies in the study of Chairman Mao’s “Serve the People.” - Ed.

SERVE THE PEOPLE was the speech made by Chairman Mao at a memorial meeting for Comrade Chang Szu-teh on September 8, 1944.

Comrade Chang Szu-teh was born in 1915 in Liuhochang in Yilung County, Szechuan Province. His family of four was a poor peasant one. Both his father and elder brother died of exhaustion working for the landlords. When he was only seven months, his mother died of sickness and he was brought up by an aunt named Liu Kuang-yu. The aunt was very poor and Chang Szu-teh had to work for a landlord when he was 12 or 13. He joined the Red Army in August 1933 and was admitted into the Communist Youth League that year. Later, he joined the Chinese Communist Party. He took part in the 25,000-li Long March and was wounded in action. At the time of his death he was a fighter in the Guards Regiment of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. Comrade Chang Szu-teh was always loyal to the Party and the people. He worked diligently, never avoided hardship, danger or difficulty, and displayed the fine qualities of a Communist Party member and a revolutionary fighter. On September 5, 1944, while making charcoal in the mountains of Ansai County in northern Shensi, he was killed when a kiln collapsed. A memorial meeting for Comrade Chang Szu-teh was held by departments directly under the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. Chairman Mao personally wrote the inscription “Salute to Comrade Chang Szu-teh who died for the interests of the people,” and delivered the famous speech Serve the People at the meeting.

Serve the People is a great work of communist education on a high ideological plane and highly convincing; it is the most basic required reading for revolutionary people remoulding their ideology and establishing the proletarian world outlook. Brief and written in a popular style, its contents are extremely rich and profound. For more than 20 years, the great ideas in this article have played and are playing an incalculably great role in raising the class consciousness of the masses of cadres and fighters and in changing the people’s mental outlook. Outstanding persons like Lei Feng, Ouyang Hai, Wang Chieh, Chiao Yu-lu, Mai Hsien-teh, Liu Ying-chun and Tsai Yung-hsiang and outstanding units like the Good Eighth Company, the Staunch Sixth Company, the Red Ninth Company and the No. 32111 Drilling Team were all nurtured by the idea of serving the people which is expounded in this article. The masses of commanders and fighters in the People’s Liberation Army and hundreds of millions of revolutionary people have gained infinite spiritual strength from this article, and this strength has been turned into a tremendous material force transforming the world, enormously strengthening the building of the P.L.A. and greatly pushing forward the cause of China’s socialist revolution and socialist construction.

The idea of wholly and entirely serving the people in this great work is the nucleus of the communist world outlook. Our revolutionary fighters must study Serve the People over and over again, constantly examine themselves and drive themselves forward in the spirit of “wholly” and “entirely” serving the people expounded in this article, and remould themselves into new communist people, successors to the proletarian revolutionary cause who serve the Chinese people and the people of the world wholeheartedly.

Fundamentally speaking, the present great proletarian cultural revolution is a great revolution to destroy all the exploiting classes’ concepts of self-interest of the last several thousand years and to foster the socialist concept of devotion to the public interest, a great revolution to remould people to the depths of their souls. The idea of wholly and entirely serving the people as put forth in this article by Chairman Mao is the powerful ideological weapon for destroying self-interest, promoting devotion to the public interest and remoulding people to the depths of their souls. We must study this great article conscientiously, take the ideas in it as the weapon for thoroughly destroying the exploiting classes’ concepts of self-interest, revolutionizing our thinking, and resolutely fulfilling the great historic task of the great proletarian cultural revolution.

In studying this great article, special attention should be paid to the following points:

1. Destroy Self-interest and Promote Devotion to the
Public Interest, Serve the People Wholly And Entirely

Chairman Mao has said: “Our Communist Party and the Eighth Route and New Fourth Armies led by our Party are battalions of the revolution. These battalions of ours are wholly dedicated to the liberation of the people and work entirely in the people’s interests.” (Serve the People. Unless specified, all other quotations from Chairman Mao in this article are from Serve the People.)

Our Party works for the complete liberation of the proletariat. The proletariat will not only liberate itself, but all mankind. If it cannot liberate all mankind, the proletariat cannot achieve its final liberation. The people are the motive force in the making of world history, the main body of revolution and the masters of society. Therefore, serving the people’s interests is the starting point in all our Party’s work. Chairman Mao has taught us: “Our point of departure is to serve the people wholeheartedly and never for a moment divorce ourselves from the masses, to proceed in all cases from the interests of the people and not from one’s self-interest or from the interests of a small group, and to identify our responsibility to the people with our responsibility to the leading organs of the Party.” (On Coalition Government)

Our army is an armed body for carrying out the political tasks of the revolution under the absolute leadership of the Party; it is a people’s army coming from the people and serving the people. Chairman Mao has pointed out: “The sole purpose of this army is to stand firmly with the Chinese people and to serve them wholeheartedly.” (On Coalition Government)

Serving the people wholly and entirely constitutes the revolutionary essence of our Party and our army as well as a quality which every revolutionary must possess. In serving the people wholly and entirely, the most fundamental question lies in destroying the idea of self-interest and promoting the idea of devotion to the public interest.

Self-interest means always thinking about oneself, taking only oneself into account, striving for fame, wealth, power, position or opportunities to be in the limelight, forgetting the whole, the society, the 700 million Chinese people and the thousands of millions of the people of the world. Working for the public interest means not seeking fame and gain, fearing neither hardship nor death, being utterly devoted to others without any thought of self, working heart and soul for the revolution and the people, and wholeheartedly serving the Chinese people and the people of the world. Working for self-interest and working for the public interest represent two diametrically opposed world outlooks—the bourgeois and the proletarian world outlooks. When two armies are engaged in battle, one must win over the other. If one cannot overcome the other, one must be overcome by the other. Fundamentally speaking, the current great proletarian cultural revolution consists of sharp struggles between these two world outlooks and it is a great ideological revolution to destroy the old and establish the new, to destroy self-interest and promote devotion to the public interest. In this great revolution which touches the people to their very souls, every one of our revolutionary comrades must be able to stand the test, stand in the vanguard of struggle, consciously make revolution in the depths of his soul, wage resolute struggles to eradicate bourgeois ideas and foster proletarian ideas and to destroy self-interest and promote devotion to the public interest, let Mao Tse-tung’s thought completely occupy his mind, and thoroughly wipe out bourgeois ideas of working for self-interest.

To destroy self-interest and promote devotion to the public interest, it is necessary to handle the relations between revolutionary interests and one’s personal interests correctly. This is a line which marks off those comrades who are serving the people wholly and entirely from those who are serving with certain reservations or halfheartedly. To serve the people wholly and entirely, we must put above all else the interests of the revolution, the people and the liberation of all mankind. Personal interests must be subordinated to the revolutionary interests unconditionally. Chairman Mao has taught us: “At no time and in no circumstances should a Communist place his personal interests first; he should subordinate them to the interests of the nation and of the masses.” (The Role of the Chinese Communist Party in the National War) Certain comrades choose between different kinds of work. They are willing to do work that gives them higher wages and more favourable conditions, but not work that does not. They are glad to do work that conforms to their own aspirations, but not work which goes against their aspirations. They like to do work that can bring them fame, but not work that cannot. In short, they place personal interests first. This has nothing to do with the idea of serving the people wholly and entirely. The experience gained by many people illustrates that when people think only of themselves they become narrow-minded, and when they think of nothing but revolution they become open-minded.

Chairman Mao has said: “All our cadres, whatever their rank, are servants of the people, and whatever we do is to serve the people. How then can we be reluctant to discard any of our bad traits?” (The Tasks for 1945) Among the different kinds of revolutionary work, there is only the division of labour; there are no differences such as high or low, lofty or humble. The work in every trade and profession is an indispensable part of the revolutionary cause. As long as we take a correct attitude towards our work, we can all make valuable contributions to the people and our work will be meaningful and have a future. He who does whatever work the Party gives him and does it gladly and with a will, without considering rank, burdens or conditions as long as the work is needed by the Party and the people, is a good comrade. More than a decade after he joined the army, Chang Szu-teh was still happy to be a soldier and considered making charcoal an important task entrusted to him by the Party. He deserved to be considered a loyal servant of the people. Lei Feng said: “The entire task of Communists is wholehearted service to the people.” Whatever work he did, he liked and specialized in. Wherever he went, he brought light. Wang Chieh said: “What is the ideal? It is to carry the revolution through to the end. What is the future? It is the revolutionary cause. What is happiness? It is service to the people.” Every one of our comrades should follow their example, throw away all self-interest, work heart and soul and in a down-to-earth way in any post, become a shining cog which never rusts in the revolutionary machine, and always remain wherever the Party puts him.

2. Live for the People, Die for the People

Chairman Mao has said: “All men must die, but death can vary in its significance. The ancient Chinese writer Szuma Chien said, ‘Though death befalls all men alike, it may be weightier than Mount Tai or lighter than a feather.’ To die for the people is weightier than Mount Tai, but to work for the fascists and die for the exploiters and oppressors is lighter than a feather.” He has also said: “The Chinese people are suffering; it is our duty to save them and we must exert ourselves in struggle. Wherever there is struggle there is sacrifice, and death is a common occurrence. But we have the interests of the people and the sufferings of the great majority at heart, and when we die for the people it is a worthy death. Nevertheless, we should do our best to avoid unnecessary sacrifices.” Chairman Mao has pointed out to us here what basic attitude a revolutionary should take towards the question of life and death.

Our Party is a revolutionary Party and our army is a revolutionary army. Making revolution inevitably means paying a price and making sacrifices.

“Bitter sacrifice strengthens bold resolve
Which dares to make sun and moon shine in new skies.”

(From Chairman Mao’s poem Shaoshan Revisited)

Chairman Mao has also said, “Will the Chinese cower before difficulties when they are not afraid even of death?” (Farewell, Leighton Stuart) Unafraid of death, there is nothing on earth that can intimidate us; on the contrary, it is we who will wipe out all the ghosts and monsters in the world! The modern revisionists fear death and want to survive at any price and so they want to liquidate the revolution. They have completely betrayed the cause of the proletarian revolution. It takes many tests to prove whether a person is a genuine revolutionary or a pseudo-revolutionary, whether one works truly or falsely for the people. And of all the tests, the most exacting, sharpest and hardest is whether one can or cannot die courageously when the interests of the people demand it.

Our countless revolutionary martyrs who have willingly laid down their lives in the interests of the people are shining examples for us. They died to enable more people to live and to bring about the liberation of the masses. Their death is weightier than Mount Tai in significance and they will live in the hearts of the people for ever. Liu Hu-lan did not shun difficulties and danger and finally went to her glorious death in the face of the vicious enemy for the cause of liberation of the people. Chairman Mao wrote an inscription to her which said. “She lived a great life and died a glorious death.” This is also a call to every one of our comrades to make Liu Hu-lan their model—to live and die for the people. It is the best maxim for all our revolutionaries as regards the correct handling of the question of life and death.

Only by being selfless can one be fearless. Only by serving the people wholeheartedly can one become a person with the greatest courage. It was precisely because of their wholehearted dedication to the revolution, to the people and to the public interest that the countless number of our revolutionary martyrs were able to become dauntless and courageous people unafraid of death. This is how Ouyang Hai put it: “If there is a need for us to give our lives for communist ideals, every one of us should and can do so without turning pale and one’s heart palpitating with fear.” Wang Chieh put it this way: “For the people who are suffering, I would willingly go to my death and never change my mind even if I have to scale a mountain of swords and brave a sea of flames.” And, this is how Tsai Yung-hsiang put it: “Like Comrade Norman Bethune, one should dedicate, all one’s energy and all one’s life to the cause of the liberation of mankind and to communism.” All this shows that it was not accidental that they had the spirit of dedicating themselves courageously. This was because they ceaselessly armed themselves with Mao Tse-tung’s thought and established the proletarian world outlook in every day life. How can a person who lives only for himself and who, in every case, fears first for himself, give his life in a noble spirit? This kind of people, when they meet with difficulties in the revolutionary struggle, see darkness all around, become pessimistic and wavering and would even betray the revolution. Only people armed with Mao Tse-tung’s thought who have a firm conviction that victory definitely belongs to the people, and are wholeheartedly devoted to serving the people can, in time of difficulty, see achievements and brightness, struggle against difficulties with boundless courage, and valiantly give their lives when the interests of the people demand them to do so, daring to scale a mountain of swords and brave a sea of flames. In a word, only a person who lives for the people can die for the people. Only a person who stands up to the tests of ordinary times can stand up to the test at the crucial moment.

That we advocate courage and the spirit of being fearless in sacrifice definitely does not mean that we should not value our lives. On the contrary, in order to strive for the interests of the people, we must pay attention to safety and health, and try our utmost to avoid senseless sacrifices. This is absolutely different from fear of death or lack of courage.

3. In the Interest of the People, Persist in
Doing What Is Right and Correct What Is Wrong

Chairman Mao has said: “If we have shortcomings, we are not afraid to have them pointed out and criticized, because we serve the people. Anyone, no matter who, may point out our shortcomings. If he is right, we will correct them. If what he proposes will benefit the people, we will act upon it… If, in the interests of the people, we persist in doing what is right and correct what is wrong, our ranks will surely thrive.” Chairman Mao has pointed out here the basic attitude of a proletarian revolutionary fighter towards criticism and self-criticism, that is, to persevere in doing what is right and to correct what is wrong in the interests of the people.

The conscientious practice of self-criticism is a hall-mark which distinguishes our Party from all other political parties. Our Party’s traditional fine style of work is to conscientiously carry out criticism and self-criticism. With such conscientious criticism and self-criticism, our Party is able to constantly overcome all shortcomings and mistakes which are not in the interests of the people, resist corruption by bourgeois ideas and achieve genuine unity and consolidation. We can thus gain the endorsement and support of the masses and constantly advance our revolutionary cause.

It is on the ideological basis of serving the people wholeheartedly that we Communists can maintain a conscientious development of criticism and self-criticism. As early as 20 years ago, Chairman Mao taught us in all earnestness: “As we Chinese Corpmunists, who base all our actions on the highest interests of the broadest masses of the Chinese people and who are fully convinced of the justice of our cause, never balk at any personal sacrifice and are ready at all times to give our lives for the cause, can we be reluctant to discard any idea, viewpoint, opinion or method which is not suited to the needs of the people? Can we be willing to allow political dust and germs to dirty our clean faces or eat into our healthy organisms?” (On Coalition Government) If we want to carry out this important instruction of Chairman Mao and conscientiously develop criticism and self-criticism, we must have the revolutionary cause and the interests of the Party and the people at heart at all times and cast aside all considerations of personal gain and loss. In this way, we will become people who are open-minded and clear-headed and who will truly persevere in doing what is right and correct what is wrong in the interests of the people.

If a person always puts “egoism” above everything else and worries about personal gain and loss, he will be unable to correctly understand his own shortcomings and mistakes and take a correct attitude towards all kinds of criticism and suggestions. When he has shortcomings, he does not act in a way that is “not afraid to have them pointed out,” but he is afraid of one thing or another—afraid of losing “face” or “prestige,” afraid of undertaking responsibility, of forfeiting his 12 vested interests, and so forth. The result is that his shortcomings are not overcome, his mistakes are not corrected and harm is thereby done to the Party, to the people and to himself. He does not treat others as equals and if he has shortcomings he does not act on the teaching: “Anyone, no matter who, may point out our shortcomings”; instead, his attitude towards criticism from different people varies: He is willing to accept criticism from those of a higher rank but he feels embarrassed by criticism from those below him; he is willing to accept criticism from those whose opinions agree with his and rejects criticism from those who hold dissenting opinions; he is ready to accept criticism from advanced comrades and tends to resent criticism from those comrades who are lagging behind or those who once committed mistakes, and so on. As a result, he has blocked the way to speaking freely and increasingly divorced himself from the masses. In dealing with the opinions of others, he does not take the attitude of “if you are right, we will make corrections,” but wilfully negates the correct opinions of others on the pretext that the “attitude” of others is improper and that the criticism does not conform to the facts on side issues. In his attitude towards the less correct opinions of others, instead of “correct mistakes if you have committed them and guard against them if you have not,” he will all the more fly into a rage, which aggravates differences in opinions and affects the unity between comrades. In his approach to the masses’ proposals, he does not act according to the teaching “if what he proposes will benefit the people, we will act upon it,” but regards himself as wise and resourceful and considers the masses ignorant and incapable, he does not believe in the wisdom of the masses, rejects their reasonable proposals, thus dampening their enthusiasm, and he works coldly and quietly and thus finds himself in an increasingly helpless position. Therefore, if we want to really persevere in doing what is right and correcting what is wrong in the interests of the people, we must have the courage to revolutionize ourselves and overcome all individualist and selfish ideas.

Comrade Lin Piao has said that we should regard ourselves as a part of the strength in the revolution and at the same time constantly make ourselves a target of revolution. We should revolutionize ourselves in the revolution. Without doing this, it is impossible to make the revolution a success. In accordance with Comrade Lin Piao’s instructions, we must use Mao Tse-tung’s thought as a weapon to carry out conscientious self-criticism, revolutionize ourselves to the depths of our souls, and never cease waging relentless struggle against “egoism” and free ourselves from “egoism.” We must establish the idea of wholehearted devotion to the people and be a Communist Party member in its full sense and a proletarian revolutionary fighter who is selfless and who upholds the truth and corrects mistakes.

4. Unite the Comrades, Unite the People to
Realize a Common Revolutionary Objective

Chairman Mao has said: “We hail from all corners of the country and have joined together for a common revolutionary objective. And we need the vast majority of the people with us on the road to this objective.” And he went on to say: “Our cadres must show concern for every soldier, and all people in the revolutionary ranks must care for each other, must love and help each other.” Chairman Mao has raised a most important question here, the question of revolutionary unity.

In order to serve the people and carry out the tasks of revolution, our revolutionary ranks must solve the question of internal and external unity. Unity is strength. Only when unity is reached within our revolutionary ranks and between our revolutionary ranks and the broad masses of the people under the great red banner of Mao Tse-tung’s thought to form a solid militant entity can gigantic power be generated to defeat the enemy, overcome difficulties and win victories in revolution and construction. Chairman Mao has pointed out: “The unification of our country, the unity of our people and the unity of our various nationalities—these are the basic guarantees of the sure triumph of our cause.” (On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People) Our proletarian revolutionary fighters must pay great attention to the immense significance of revolutionary unity.

Our unity is unity for a common revolutionary aim, a unity of will and purpose. In our nation’s present stage, our revolutionary aim is to realize socialism and prepare the conditions for the transition to communism. Consequently, we must unite with all those who are willing to take the socialist road. Mao Tse-tung’s thought is the guiding light on the socialist road that we are resolutely taking and the basic guarantee for realizing our common revolutionary aim. Consequently, Mao Tse-tung’s thought and the Party line and policies drawn up under the guidance of Mao Tse-tung’s thought are the common ideological basis of our unity. All those who genuinely support Mao Tse-tung’s thought and act according to Mao Tse-tung’s thought should unite closely. As for those who oppose the Party, oppose socialism and oppose Mao Tse-tung’s thought—the handful of people in the Party who are in authority and are taking the capitalist road, the bourgeois Rightists and the counter-revolutionary revisionists—we must wage a resolute struggle against them.

As comrades in our revolutionary ranks hail from all corners of the country, there are differences in their ideological level, experience, individual characteristics, habits, and so forth, and their opinions and attitudes on the same thing may vary tremendously. Under such circumstances, how can mutual understanding and unity be achieved among the comrades so that they can have a common aim and co-operate to do their work well? This involves questions of method and attitude, the most fundamental being that of attitude. This is the question of working for self-interest or for the interests of the public. Unity, naturally, cannot be achieved if relations among comrades stem from selfish interests and personal likes and dislikes. Profound class sentiments for comrades, a magnanimous spirit, and good unity can be engendered only by serving the interests of the people, serving a common revolutionary cause.

Cadres can show real concern for every soldier only when there is a magnanimous spirit of wholehearted service to the public interest and profound class sentiment for comrades. Comrade Wang Yu-chang* who loves soldiers is such a person. When a soldier fell sick, he, too, lost his appetite and could not sleep. He suffered the same as the sick soldier did. When a soldier ran into difficulties, he worked tirelessly to help solve those difficulties. Towards soldiers who showed faults, he first of all made a self-examination for not being thorough enough in carrying out his own responsibilities. Wang Yu-chang has often said: “Concern for the soldier is concern for the revolution. For the sake of the revolution I can give up everything.” He has risked his life to save the lives of soldiers five times.

Only when there is the magnanimous spirit of serving the public interest wholeheartedly and when there is profound class sentiment for comrades can class love and the communist style be developed among the revolutionary comrades. Only in this way can one treat questions of principle in a serious and responsible manner and be good at making concessions on questions which do not involve principle. Only thus can one show more concern for others than for oneself in every case, and be the first to accept hardship and the last to partake of enjoyment. Only thus can one shoulder difficulties and leave what is convenient to others; learn from the advanced and help the less advanced; and readily accept risks and leave the honours to others. With such a lofty spirit of collectivism, our ranks will be as firmly united as a piece of steel and be able to smash any bulwark and be victorious everywhere.

In order to serve the Chinese people and the people of the world wholly and entirely, comrades in our revolutionary ranks must in the course of revolutionary struggle strengthen unity and must also strive to unite with all those who can be united. We certainly must unite with the vast majority of the people of the whole country, struggle together, thoroughly defeat all class enemies, carry the great proletarian cultural revolution through to the end, and achieve complete victory in China’s socialist revolution and socialist construction. We must certainly unite with the vast majority of the people of the world, struggle together, thoroughly defeat imperialism, modern revisionism and reactionaries of all countries, and fight for the realization of the great ideal of communism.

(“Jiefangjun Bao,” November 30, 1966.)


* A hero of the P.L.A. For his story, see Peking Review, No. 48, 1966. —Tr.

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