Mao and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – Part 2/2

Mao (born 1893) grew up during a period of madness in China. To learn more, I suggest reading The Roots of Madness, which shows the world he grew up in.

Then the Chinese Civil War lasted from 1926 to 1949 with a few years out to fight the horrors of the Japanese invasion of China during World War II.

The Long March alone was enough to cause PTSD in all 6,000 of its survivors from the more than 80,000 troops that started the year-long journey of retreat, battle, and severe suffering that was surrounded by death.

After Mao was China’s leader, there was an assassination attempt by one of his most trusted generals, Lin Biao, a man Mao had named as his successor after he died.  In addition, during China’s Civil WarChiang Kai-shek ordered more than one failed assassination attempt on Mao.

However, the threats and violence that shaped Mao’s life began before The Long March and before he was a leader in the Chinese Communist Party.

As a child, he grew up among farmers and peasants. In the 1920s, as an idealist and a sensitive poet, he believed in helping the worker and led several labor movements that were brutally subdued by the government. Once, he barely escaped with his life.

In 1930, Yang Kaihu, his wife at the time (Mao was married four times), was arrested and executed. In addition, Mao had two younger brothers and an adopted sister executed by Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT.

To judge Mao by today’s Politically Correct Western values is wrong, since he grew up in a world ruled by a completely different set of values that shaped him to be tough enough to survive and win. Anyone that survived and went on to rule China at that time would have been judged as brutal by today’s “Politically Correct” Western values.

The History of Humanitarianism shows us that this concept was born and nurtured in the West and developed slowly over centuries with the result that the individual was made more important than an entire population.

However, in China, the whole is still more important than one person is as it was during Mao’s time. If you were to click on the link to the History of Humanitarianism and read it, you would discover that China was not part of this movement while Mao lived. (Discover more about China’s Collective Culture)

PTSD as a war wound and a trauma was not recognized or treated until well after America’s Vietnam War.  Prior to its discovery, it was known as “shell shock” and wasn’t treated. The diagnosis of PTSD first appeared in the 1980s, and Mao died in 1976.

In fact, if Mao were alive today he would not be alone. In the United States, it is estimated that 7.8% of all Americans suffer from PTSD, and among that segment of the population, more than 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan military veterans have PTSD in addition to 1.7 million Vietnam veterans. The more combat a veteran was exposed to, the higher the risk.

Discover Mao Zedong, the Poet or start with Mao and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – Part 1


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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6 Responses to Mao and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – Part 2/2

  1. Terry Chen says:

    Yes deng xiaoping was definitely on the long march. While the long march was cruel in many ways, it was one of the many adversities that made mao and deng so tough and decisive. I do not think that Mao and Deng could have been so fearless under extreme foreign pressure if they hadn’t experienced so many troubles.

    • Survival of the strongest and the smartest. Before the Long March, Mao was not a top leader in the Party. By the end, he was the leader and so were the other survivors. And during the Long March, Mao gained the trust of the peasants by treating them with respect instead of taking them for granted as if they were beasts of burden as Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT did.

      The Long March could also be seen as a sort of unplanned political road trip where the candidate running for public office (Mao) had a chance to prove he was the best man for the job so the people would support him.

  2. Terry Chen says:

    I’m sorry to hear that you have PTSD and I wish you the best of luck overcoming it. What Mao did was similar to what many emperors did to keep power but after reading your analysis I agree that PTSD could have been another reason for Mao’s actions. Thankfully Deng xiaoping didn’t have PTSD(at least it seems like it) or else I shudder to imagine what China would be like now.

    • PTSD is something you do not ovecome. You either control it from ruining your life or it controls you and ruins your life. I understand that Deng Xiaoping was also on the Long March. Is this true?

      However, two individuals can be exposed to the same violence and one walks away with PTSD and the other one doesn’t. There are other factors involved and the experts do not know the answer yet.

  3. Terry Chen says:

    Certainly possible, but it must be said that Mao considered himself somewhat like an emperor. He was an educated man and he must have read of the many political battles that emperors had with their subordinates. Your theory sounds logical, but it must be said that he never lost his mind. According to his personal barber, Mao was still following the news on the tangshan eartquake the night he died.

    • Terry,

      I came home from Vietnam with PTSD and then I went to college (BA, teachers credential, MFA), married, had children, taught in the public schools for thirty years and all with my mind altered by the trauma I experienced in Vietnam but I managed. However, my perception of the world was altered and it causes me to react to things differently at a heightened level of alertness and ready to react quickly if I perceive that my family or I am threatened in anyway.

      The VA offers counseling to deal with the PTSD so we are aware of how it affects our behavior and that awareness doesn’t make it easier to live with it, but it helps us survive and get on with life by understanding how the PTSD alters our perceptions of the world turning it into a threatening violent place that we never take for granted.

      Most people with PTSD live semi-normal lives. They don’t lose their minds and it is difficult for others that meet them daily to even know they have PTSD. People closed to people that have PTSD will notice they are sometimes difficult to be around. PTSD is a condition that puts the individual on alert at all times and that causes him or her to alter their perception of the world around them. My PTSD is rated by the VA at about 30%. I have met a man that was rated at 100% and still he managed to function out in society although it was not easy for him or those people that loved or knew him.

      PTSD causes an altered condition and is not insanity. If a woman is attached and brutally raped, she may walk away with PTSD. Her perception of the world changes and from that moment on she is more aware of potential dangers and makes decisions based on that different perception.

      In the US, there are three professions that create situations that cause PTSD — teachers in American classrooms (because it is that bad in America’s public schools), flight controllers that are under daily stress guiding passenger aircraft in for landings and out for takeoffs and combat veterans.

      It is because I have lived with PTSD since the 1960s, that as I learned more of Mao that I recognized some behavior in Mao that may indicate he was living with the same mind altering perceptions of the world around him caused by PTSD, which would have influenced his decisions as the leader of China as my decisions are influenced daily.

Comments are welcome — pro or con. However, comments must focus on the topic of the post, be civil and avoid ad hominem attacks.

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