Mao as Poet

Many outside China only think of Mao Zedong (1893 – 1976) as a brutal dictator. Yet, he was fifty-six when he became the ruler of China and seventy-two at the beginning of The Cultural Revolution.

In fact, while commanding the Red Army during The Long March (1934-1935), we see a man who respected China’s peasants proving he was more of a nationalist than a Communist.

Then there was the move away from Communist Russia after Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, when Mao said, “Our common old friend, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, doesn’t approve of this.”

In 1935, Mao’s poem, “The Long March”, reveals an awareness of the sacrifice and the willingness to suffer to accomplish great things.

The Red Army fears not the trials of the March,
Holding light ten thousand crags and torrents.
The Five Ridges wind like gentle ripples
And the majestic Wumeng roll by, globules of clay.
Warm the steep cliffs lapped by the waters of Golden Sand,
Cold the iron chains spanning the Tatu River.
Minshan’s thousand li of snow joyously crossed,
The three Armies march on, each face glowing.

Mao was a complex man, and it wasn’t until after the failure of the The Great Leap Forward (1958 – 1961) that the fatal attraction and power of leadership corrupted him leading to the horrors of The Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976), which Mao’s critics in the West use to define him.

Anyone who follows Mao’s life instead of relying on his last decade would understand that he cared deeply about the common people while punishing the landowners and wealthy, who abused them.  On the other hand, his foe, Chiang Kai-shek, supported the landowners and wealthy while crushing the peasants and workers.

There is a post on About that says, “Mao’s poetry exhibits a spirit of boldness and power, weaving together history, reality and commitment… Bold transformation of myth and literary quotations are a distinct feature of Mao’s poetry.”

At Mao Zedong Poems, Two Birds” A Dialogue (1965), reveals what Mao may have been thinking about as President Johnson increased America’s involvement in Vietnam. Was Mao also warning us of what he was about to do in 1966, when he launched The Cultural Revolution?

Two Birds: A Dialogue (1965)

The roc wings fanwise,
Soaring ninety thousand li
And rousing a raging cyclone.
The blue sky on his back, he looks down
To survey Man’s world with its towns and cities.
Gunfire licks the heavens,
Shells pit the earth.
A sparrow in his bush is scared stiff..
“This is one hell of a mess!
O I want to flit and fly away.”
“Where, may I ask?”
The sparrow replies,
“To a jewelled palace in elfland’s hills.
Don’t you know a triple pact was signed
Under the bright autumn moon two years ago?
There’ll be plenty to eat,
Potatoes piping hot,
Beef-filled goulash.”
“Stop your windy nonsense!
Look, the world is being turned upside down.”

Through Mao’s poetry, we learn more about the man—not the modern emperor.

Discover China’s Privately Passionate Poetry


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. 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.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

Subscribe to “iLook China”!
Sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top of this page, or click on the “Following” tab in the WordPress toolbar at the top of the screen.

About iLook China

China’s Holistic Historical Timeline

19 Responses to Mao as Poet

  1. Teepee12 says:

    Hey Lloyd! I just got a request through Teddy Rose to be part of your Virtual Tour for “Running With the Enemy.” I’d love to review you … you think we do too much virtual hanging out for me to be an impartial reviewer? Personally, I don’t think impartial matters much. I’m inclined to love whatever you write and I can’t see that as a bad thing. What think you?

    • As long as you are honest in your review, I think it’s okay. But before you decide, I suggest you read all the reviews—even the troll who left the 1-star review without reading the book—and then decide if the book is your cup of tea.

      The novel explores a dark part of humanity and it is violent on many levels—excessively so as a real war can be. I do not pull any punches.

      And I just published a post late Monday on The Soulful Veteran, one of my other Blogs, that mentions the 2-star review of “Running with the Enemy”.

      Here’s a link to the Amazon reviews of “Running with the Enemy”:

      Here’s a link to the novel’s Website:

      I always explore books before I buy to see if they appeal to my tastes. To do that, I often read both the 1-star and 5-star reviews. I also look for Amazon reviews that were a verified purchase and then check the reviewer to see how many reviews they have published to see if there’s any proof of a pro-or-con bias. I find that reviewers with one 5-star review to their credit to be suspicious the same with reviewers who seem to have a habit of only writing mostly 1-and-2 star reviews for books while giving 4-and-5 star reviews for merchandise that wasn’t a book—like gadgets, artwork, candy, etc.

      I think if you check out all of these suggested links and sources, you will have a better idea if “Running with the Enemy” is a book that would fit your reading tastes. I don’t think “Running with the Enemy” is anything like “My Splendid Concubine”. The horror of war and corruption runs thick through “Running”.

      • Teepee12 says:

        I’ll read. I don’t usually want to read reviews before I review, but in this case, maybe I’d better. I sometimes have problems with graphic violence. Gives me nightmares. Thanks Lloyd.

      • The combat and violence in “Running with the Enemy” is graphic to the extreme as I experienced it to be when I served in Vietnam as a Marine. Many of the scenes spring from my worst nightmares/flashbacks that I carried home with me. There is no beauty in war except for someone like General Patton who was in love with it.

        I published a short story based on one night that I lived through while serving in Vietnam. You might be interested in reading that piece to get a feel for Running. In fact, that short story was part of the novel before I spun it out to become a short story. Although no one dies in “A Night at the Well of Purity” I think the themes might disturb some. Eventually, I fictionalized Purity and changed all the names but the core of the story happened as it is depicted. What happened to the little girl was real and is a disturbing truth on many levels.

      • Teepee12 says:

        I have a psyche like a sponge. Whatever I read or worse, see gets rerun in nightmares. It’s one of the big reasons I don’t sleep much. I should be careful about this one. If you, the author think it’s that graphic, I have to believe you. I had a very violent childhood. Left me a bit over-sensitive. I can’t watch violent movies or even silly horror and monster movies. Just does weird things to my brain. Such as it is (my brain, that is).

      • I understand

        Then no matter what you read or watch it might be best to stop reading or watching TV several hours before sleep and get your mind into a pleasant place before closing eyes for sleep. Maybe soft music or the sound of nature to program the brain not to dwell on negative images.

      • Teepee12 says:

        Beethoven. The 6th Symphony. Very peaceful. My husband watches criminal minds. With earphones. I listen to music and read books about worlds that don’t exist.

      • My wife is a realist and she can’t understand my fascination for science fiction and fantasy which is why we watched Ron Howard’s “Frost Nixon” film on DVD this week, but it was good so I enjoyed it even if it wasn’t the Hobbit. :o)

      • Teepee12 says:

        We watched it too. It was good. I’m okay with reality … to a point. After that, it’s back to Middle Earth 🙂

      • I’ve been watching AMC’s The Walking Dead. Gory!!! Into Season 2 with season 3 to go. Waiting for February 2014 for the third season of The Game of Thrones. Too bad it isn’t longer than about ten episodes. Just as you are getting started, it ends and you wait another year.

      • Teepee12 says:

        And that is the one really BIG flaw with all the great series they are making on cable. The seasons are so short. Some are as short as 6 episodes. And remember erratic seasons of The Sopranos? But the cable stations are making some amazing high quality shows … much better than the old networks have made since the long ago days of Playhouse 90 et al.

      • I agree. Some really great stuff coming out.

      • I thought I’d mention that my next book will be a memoir set in a high school classroom–no war; no sex—just a teacher in a classroom struggling to teach. It’s title will be “Crazy is Normal, a classroom expose”.

        About twenty years ago after teaching for twenty years, I decided to keep a daily journal for one full year. Everyday, when I got home, I wrote an entry in that journal. At the end of each month, I printed out a copy of that month and kept it in a binder. After that school year, I put away the binder thinking that one day I might use it to write a book about what it is like to be a public school teacher in the United States. That was in the early 1990s.

        Using that journal that runs more than 500 pages as my primary source, I wrote the memoir and it went through a BETA reading by other teachers—some retired; some still working—and it is now going through its first serious round of revisions. One of my BETA readers taught at the same school that same year. He’s much younger than I am and has maybe 15 years left before he can leave. He said reading it brought back a rush of memories that reminded him of how difficult it was. He said it caused flashbacks. And he says it’s harder now than it was then.

        I hope to have it out next year.


      • Teepee12 says:

        I’d love to read it. I love reading your blogs 🙂 I taught for a few years too, but only part time. I liked it. It felt important.

      • I plan to promote “Crazy is Normal” obsessively and there will be a Book Blog tour. When I say obsessively, that statement is linked to the thirty years I spent teaching in schools surrounded by street gang infested barrios while teachers were blamed for just about everything.

        For instance, years ago, during one of America’s election campaigns, a Republican Senator running for reelection in the Midwest even blamed the prison population in the US on the public schools and teachers without a whisper about the impact of poverty and poor parenting in dysfunctional families.

        The video focuses on 16 to 17 million kids who are malnourished due to poverty.

        But it’s possible to be malnourished in America and still get plenty to each but what you eat is a horrible diet that is missing proper nutrition.

        And it is a fact that being malnourished impacts the ability to learn.

        But in the United States the war on public education rages on and teachers are blamed for just about every student failure in the public schools.

        I guess by now you might have deduced that this is a hot button issue for me.

        I’m sure the critics of public education will find a way to blame the teachers for malnutrition too.

      • Teepee12 says:

        Education is a hot button issue for me too. We so undervalue our teachers yet we entrust our children and our future to them. It’s a scandal and a shame. I’m firmly with you on this. Teachers saved my soul.

  2. Teepee12 says:

    It seems perfectly logical, given the Chinese reverence for older people, that their leaders would be mature too. I can’t imagine a young Chinese national leader.

    • What’s interesting is that Sun Yat-Sen, considered the father of China’s republic and responsible for the end of the Qing Dynasty, quickly resigned as China’s first president. Was he too soft to lead China?

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

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: