Maoist Echoes


Geramie Barme, “White Paper, Red Menace: Watching China Watching (VII),” China Heritage, 17 January 2018.

In an essay published in 2018, Geramie Barme recommends observers of US-China relations read through five pieces that Hu Qiaomu and Mao Zedong published in 1949 under the latter’s name.1 The five pieces were Mao’s response to Dean Acheson’s China White Paper, a compendium of State Department documents intended to clear the Truman administration from the charge of “losing China.” Neither Mao nor Hu slogged through the hundreds of documents there compiled, but they did pay close attention to the prefatory “Letter of Transmittal” that Acheson released along with the White Paper. In this statement Acheson famously argued that “the ominous result of the civil war in China was beyond the control of the government of the United States” and expressed his hope that “ultimately the profound civilization and the democratic individualism of China will reassert themselves and she will throw off the foreign [i.e. communist] yoke.”2


Dean Acheson, “Acheson, “Statement on China, 1949,” published 5 August 1949, available at the USC U.S.-China Institute online documents collection. The rest of the China White Paper can be found at the Office of Historian of the U.S. Department of State.

Over the weekend I took Barme’s advice. I recommend others do the same. I have previously described Chinese concerns with “peaceful evolution” originating in Mao’s study of John Foster Dulles’ strategy for containment. Reading these pieces it is clear that worries about the general threat the phrase “peaceful evolution” was coined to describe–the revolutionary overthrow of the Communist Party of China by Chinese citizens tainted by contact with Western ideology–dates back further. Acheson hoped that “democratic individualism” might eventually unseat the new regime. Acheson’s domestic critics saw those words as a bit of vain bit of straw-grasping; Mao took them far more seriously. Many of his initiatives in the years to come would be aimed squarely at converting or demoralizing all democratic individualists who might be tempted to act as Acheson hoped they would.

One passage struck me particularly powerfully. Its topic is “struggle” 斗争. This term has become a touchstone of the Xi era. Famously, Xi uttered the word more than 60 times in a September 2019 speech to young officials at the Central Party School. In English the semantic range of “struggle” sits between “to strive” and “to fight.” The Chinese 斗争 has a distinctly martial flavor. As a verb it can be translated accurately as to to battle against. Though the word has old provenance in Marxist rhetoric (“class struggle”), I suspect this martial connotation has shaped how Chinese communists use it.

In his rebuttal to Acheson, Mao gives an explicit explanation for why he uses the word. In the second piece in the anti-Acheson series he debuts a new propaganda slogan: “discard delusion and prepare for struggle [丢掉幻想,准备斗争].” In Mao’s telling, the slogan is aimed squarely at those Chinese who might be tempted to view the United States as something less than an enemy to be struggled with:

It is the duty of [party members]to unite with the intermediate strata, middle-of-the-roaders and backward elements of various strata, with all those in People’s China who are still wavering and hesitating (these people will waver for a long time to come and, even after they have once become steady, will waver again as soon as they meet difficulties), give them sincere help, criticize their wavering character, educate them, win them over to the side of the masses, prevent the imperialists from pulling them over and tell them to cast away illusions and prepare for struggle. Let no one think that there is no more work to do now that victory is won. We still have to work, to do a great deal of patient work, before we can truly win these people over. When they are won over, imperialism will be entirely isolated, and Acheson will no longer be able to play any of his tricks.

The slogan, “Prepare for struggle”, is addressed to those who still cherish certain illusions about the relations between China and the imperialist countries, especially between China and the United States. With regard to this question, they are still passive, their minds are still not made up, they are still not determined to wage a long struggle against U.S. (and British) imperialism because they still have illusions about the United States. There is still a very wide, or fairly wide, gap between these people and ourselves on this question.


“准备斗争”的口号,是对于在中国和帝国主义国家的关系的问题上,特别是在中国和美国的关系的问题上,还抱有某些幻想的人们说的。他们在这个问题上还是被动的,还没有下决心,还没有和美国帝国主义(以及英国帝国主义)作长期斗争的决心,因为他们对美国还有幻想。在这个问题上,他们和我们还有一个很大的或者相当大的距离。 3


—Mao Zedong, “Cast Away Illusions, Prepare For Struggle,” or. pub. 14 August 1949, available in Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung, vol 4,

To reiterate: Mao uses the word “struggle” as a signal. Some of you may not be fully committed to our cause, he says. Some of you are undecided. Some of you may even think that the United States is our friend, that it presents a model to aspire to. Banish these illusions now. This is a battle: the time has come for you to take a side.

This is a type and shadow, for those with eyes to see them.

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Mao was afraid of something in China threatening the regime. Xi seems to be afraid of something threatening the regime and he uses the same word to describe efforts to counter that something. The CCP has had contol of the country since 1949. Are they faced with something they can’t really stop from existing?

When talking of “Who lost China?”, I read once that the Japanese Army did by means of their Ichi-Go offensive in 1944 which fatally weakened Nationalist forces.

It would have to weaken the Nationalist forces. Even though the States gave far more weapons and aid to the Communists than the Nationalists, the Communists never fought the Japanese.

It seems that Mao was right. Look what happened when Gorbachev became friends with U.S. I would like to see more friendship, but I’m afraid we have to be realistic and clean up our own (U.S.) house first. We have been the world’s sole superpower, but now …