Waking the Unconscious Demon Within

Recently, I wrote a post about Mao and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD), and provided “overwhelming” evidence that Mao may have suffered from CPTSD. The reason I first thought of this is that I have lived with PTSD since I served in Vietnam as a U.S. Marine. I am no stranger to this malady, and I know I am capable of barbaric behavior under the right circumstances.

Now, more evidence suggests that this demon becomes more difficult to manage as we age.

PTSD Forum had a post about the Dragon Brain – The Dark Side of the Lizard Brain, which along with a study at Stanford forty years ago may offer more insight of how Mao, starting out as a young sensitive poet and activist for the poor, was responsible for decisions later in his life that led to the failed Great Leap Forward then The Cultural Revolution.

The PTSD Forum says, “The down side (of PTSD) is a tendency to be more critical … to sense a threat where none may exist, or to sense a bigger threat than actually appears.”

Anxiety Insights.info says,” Post-traumatic stress, a condition that can cause patients to feel physical pain on remembering a traumatic event, is known to have a number of effects on the mind and body.”

In addition, PTSD may get worse as we grow older. In a comment on Veterans Benefits Network, Patrick428 says, “As we grow older there is a tendency to have less control of our frustrations and we anger more easily… This is why I say PTSD is much more problematic at an older age than was at a younger age.”

I suspect there may be a link between PTSD and a piece that I read in the July/August 2011 Stanford magazine — Six Days on the Dark Side -The Menace Within.

Forty years ago professor Phil Zimbardo (retired 2007) of Stanford’s psychology department conducted an experiment that was meant to run for twelve days but was stopped after six.  What the Stanford Prison Experiment (PSE) revealed was that ordinary college students were capable of doing terrible things under the right/wrong circumstances (like what happened at Abu Ghraib where Iraqi prisoners were abused and tortured by U.S. troops).

In fact, in the last decade, after the revelations of abuses committed by U.S. military and intelligence personal at prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan, the SPE provided lessons in how good people placed in adverse conditions can act barbarically.

After Mao’s death and during Deng Xiaoping’s Beijing Spring, it was the collective consensus in China that Mao liberated China and was a good ruler 70% of the time. It may be difficult for many in the West to accept that Mao liberated most of the people of China from a worse life, but he did.

Now we may look back in hindsight and see that Mao was a product of his environment. He was not only the leader of the  People’s Republic of China, but he was also making decisions (mostly during the last decade of his life) influenced not only by CPTSD but also what SPE revealed about how good people placed in adverse conditions can act barbarically.

That does not make him a monster. It makes him the victim of an environment he had little control over at a young age, and if you want to discover what that environment was, I suggest reading Mao and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the links provided that reveals some of his life.


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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One Response to Waking the Unconscious Demon Within

  1. terry chen says:

    The theory sounds more and more likely. During his last few years, Mao want as far as slandering confucius and even some storybook characters!

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