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The Secret Speeches of Chairman Mao

January 31, 2010

Roderick MacFarquhar, Timothy Cheek, and Eugene Wu, eds. The Secret Speeches of Chairman Mao: from the Hundred Flowers to the Great Leap Forward. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989.

Zhou Guanghui (2003)

Included in this volume are “secret speeches” made by Mao Zedong during the eventful period from 1957 to 1958. Unlike the heavily edited official versions of Mao’s works, these speeches, which were never formally published in China and were little known to both Westerners as well as the Chinese audience, truly preserve Mao’s personal voice. Through Mao’s earthy, elusive, and often provocative speaking, this book retells the story of the Hundred Flowers and the Great Leap Forward and provides the reader with much insight into Chinese politics.

The speeches dealing with the Hundred Flowers period highlight Mao’s political concerns, his troubled relationship with party officials and his personal leadership style. The post-Stalin ‘thaw’ and issues of domestic economic development convinced Mao of the importance of so-called bourgeois intellectuals. The “Hundred Flowers” policy, which promised great freedom of speech to intellectuals, indeed aimed to dispel the suspicions of many officials and win their cooperation in the new drive for socialism, as vividly shown in Mao’s repeated talks to a wide circle of officials and non-party members. To carry out this policy and overcome strong bureaucratic opposition, Mao used detached analysis, cajolery, assertion, bullying, and many other methods, a revealing feature of personal politics at the time. However, these speeches also reveal the expedient nature of Mao’s flirtation with intellectuals. The “Hundred Flowers” policy based on some contingent conditions and Mao’s fragile belief that “without any alternative, bourgeois intellectuals will accept the party leadership.” This might explain why Mao suddenly turned from a fervent advocate of the policy to a determined supporter of the anti-rightist “rectification” movement in 1957.

The speeches dealing with the Great Leap Forward also provide much information about Mao’s utopian vision of the people’s commune and China’s industrialization. Moreover, the tragic consequence of the Great Leap Forward can find its roots in policy-making decisions. As indicated in one of Mao’s speeches at the Beidaihe conference, Mao, obviously convinced that a bumper harvest was on the way, emphasized grain output and attempted to raise steel quotas, which turned out to be disastrous.

Intended for a wider audience, this volume of translations of Mao’s speeches not only preserves the original style of the texts, but also given illuminating annotations regarding the historical background, obscure persons mentioned by Mao, and political institutions. The long introductory chapters by Roderick MacFarquhar, Benjamin Schwartz, Merle Goldman, Eugene Wu, and Timothy Cheek are also very helpful to the reader. Timothy Cheek’s analysis of the main sources of Mao’s texts offers a valuable introduction to the historiography of Mao’s writings.

See also: Pacific Affairs, vol. 61, no. 1 (Spring 1991): 92-93.

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