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Mao Zedong was born on December 26, 1893, in Shaoshan, Hunan Province, China. His father was poor but became a prosperous farmer and grain dealer. At age 8, Mr. Mao began studying at the village primary school, but left school at 13 to work on his family farm. He later left the farm to continue his studies at a secondary school in Changsha, the Hunan province capital. When the Xinhai Revolution against the Qing Dynasty broke out in 1911 he joined the Revolutionary Army in Hunan. In the spring of 1912 the war ended, the Republic of China was founded and Mao left the army. He eventually returned to school, and in 1918 graduated from the First Provincial Normal School of Hunan.
It is believed that Mao Zedong traveled with Professor Yang Changji, his future father-in-law and college professor, to Beijing in 1919 following his graduation. As Professor Yang held a faculty position at Peking University and at his recommendation, Mao worked as an assistant librarian at the University Library under the curatorship of Li Dazhao, who would come to greatly influence Mao's future thought, prior to Professor Yang's death in 1920.
Mao then registered as a part-time student at Beijing University and attended a few lectures and seminars by intellectual. During his stay in Shanghai, he read as much as possible about Communist theories. Thereafter, he married Yang Kaihui, Professor Yang's daughter and a fellow student, despite an existing marriage with Luo Yixiu arranged by his father at home, which Mao never acknowledged. In October 1930, the Kuomintang (KMT) captured Yang Kaihui as well as her son, Anying. The KMT imprisoned them both, and Anying was later sent to his relatives after the KMT killed his mother. At this time, Mao was living with He Zizhen, a co-worker and 17 year old girl from Yongxing, Jiangxi. Likely due to poor language skills (Mao never learned to speak Mandarin, having lived in a Xiang-speaking community), he turned down an opportunity to study in France.
On July 23, 1921, Mao attended the first session of the National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Shanghai at age 27. He was elected as one of the five commissars of the Central Committee of the Party during the third Congress session two years later. Later that year, Mao returned to Hunan at the instruction of the CPC Central Committee and the Kuomintang Central Committee to organize the Hunan branch of the Kuomintang. In 1924, he was a delegate to the first National Conference of the Kuomintang, where he was elected an Alternate Executive of the Central Committee. In 1924, he became an Executive of the Shanghai branch of the Kuomintang and Secretary of the Organization Department.
For a while, Mao remained in Shanghai, an important city that the CPC emphasized for the Revolution. However, the Party encountered major difficulties organizing labor union movements and building a relationship with its nationalist ally, the KMT. The Party had become poor, and Mao became disillusioned with the revolution and moved back to Shaoshan. During his stay at home, Mao's interest in the revolution was rekindled after hearing of the 1925 uprisings in Shanghai and Guangzhou. His political ambitions returned, and he then went to Guangdong, the base of the Kuomintang, to take part in the preparations for the second session of the National Congress of Kuomintang. In October 1925, Mao became acting Propaganda Director of the Kuomintang.
In early 1927, Mao returned to Hunan where, in an urgent meeting held by the Communist Party, he made a report based on his investigations of the peasant uprisings in the wake of the Northern Expedition. His "Report on the Peasant Movement in Hunan" is considered the initial and decisive step towards the successful application of Mao's revolutionary theories.
After graduating from Hunan Normal School, the highest level of schooling available in his province, Mao spent six months studying independently. Mao was first introduced to communism while working at Peking University, and in 1921 he attended the organizational meeting of the Communist Party of China (or CPC). He first encountered Marxism while he worked as a library assistant at Peking University.
Other important influences on Mao were the Russian revolution and, according to some scholars, the Chinese literary works: Outlaws of the Marsh and Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Mao sought to subvert the alliance of imperialism and feudalism in China. He thought the KMT to be both economically and politically vulnerable and thus that the revolution could not be steered by Nationalists.
Throughout the 1920s, Mao led several labour struggles based upon his studies of the propagation and organization of the contemporary labour movements. However, these struggles were successfully subdued by the government, and Mao fled from Changsha, Hunan after he was labeled a radical activist. He pondered these failures and finally realized that industrial workers were unable to lead the revolution because they made up only a small portion of China's population, and unarmed labour struggles could not resolve the problems of imperial and feudal suppression.
Mao began to depend on Chinese peasants who later became staunch supporters of his theory of violent revolution. This dependence on the rural rather than the urban proletariat to instigate violent revolution distinguished Mao from his predecessors and contemporaries. Mao himself was from a peasant family, and thus he cultivated his reputation among the farmers and peasants and introduced them to Marxism.
His two 1937 essays, 'On Contradiction' and 'On Practice', are concerned with the practical strategies of a revolutionary movement and stress the importance of practical, grass-roots knowledge, obtained through experience.
Both essays reflect the guerilla roots of Maoism in the need to build up support in the countryside against a Japanese occupying force and emphasise the need to win over hearts and minds through 'education'. The essays, excerpts of which appear in the 'Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong', warn against the behaviour of the blindfolded man trying to catch sparrows, and the 'Imperial envoy' descending from his carriage to 'spout opinions.'