Whereas January 1950 had found the Chinese leader stuck in Moscow, January 1951 found Mao Zedong at the storm center in Beijing. Mere months after founding the new People’s Republic of China, Mao was wrapped in a highly active policy agenda focusing on anti-bandit activity, mass propaganda, land reform, territorial consolidation, and national defence. The fact that he had just learned of his son’s death in Korea failed to slow him down, and he pursued his agenda and his colleagues with great vigor.
The following sources are all summarized/translated from volume 1 of the Mao Zedong Nianpu (Chronology), newly published in Beijing in December 2013.*
7 January 1951
Mao gets agitated in reading a report from Tao Zhu [陶铸], who was in charge of a number of military and political projects in southern China. Tao report described progress on anti-bandit work in Guangxi, itself a generally difficult task given the region’s topography, ethnic makeup, its historically persistent warlordism, and the fact that it had been one of the last mainland provinces to fall to the People’s Liberation Army. But Guangxi was also strategically vital, given links to Indochina and comrades in north Vietnam.
Mao commented on the report, sending it to Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yi, He Long, Rao Zhangfeng, and Xi Zhongxun (the last-named being the father of current CCP Chairman Xi Jinping), telling them to forward it “so that [cadre in] all localities and in military units where the solving of the bandit problem has been particularly severe can read it.” Mao implored Deng and others: “Evaluating the most recent work in Guangxi, one has to say that it is very good, and merits [your] research.” Cadre in Guangxi, according to Tao’s original report, had done an effective job of “uniting military power with the Party, the people, the economy, and political organizations,” and, during the campaign to suppress counterrevolutionaries, had focused on “gathering weapons, opposing local tyrants, constructing local militia and other important anti-bandit policies.” Coming from Mao, this was high praise for a “policy carried out very well.”
However, work was hardly complete in the region. Many difficult areas remained unconsolidated near the city of Nanning, and on 9 January, Mao followed up by demanding that the areas have “all the bandits cleaned out before March.” If the Northwest Bureau could spare anti-bandit troops, they should be sent to Guangxi, he said. [Nianpu, Vol. 1, p. 278-279]
Tao Zhu received high accolades from Mao and was rewarded with a series of high Party and Army posts in Guangdong in the mid-1950s. He became entangled in the Gao-Rao affair in 1954, but seemed to emerge unscathed. In 1966 he was among the most rapid beneficiaries of the Cultural Revolution; Mao elevated him to chair national propaganda efforts after Lu Dingyi fell from grace. But in 1967, Tao himself was ousted, struggled against by Red Guards, and died in 1969. The bandit hunter had become the hunted, and Chairman Mao was, it seems, in no mood to protect him from the forces which he had unleashed.
*All references are from Mao Zedong Nianpu, 1949-1976 [Chronology of Mao Zedong, 1949-1976], Vol. 1 (Beijing: Zhonggong zhongyang wenxian chubanshe, 2013).
Image: A criticism session for a man accused of embezzlement in the Southwest region of China in 1951; photo by 葛新德 (Ge Xinde), via a remarkable collection of anti-corruption Party history photos.