Mao Zedong’s “Sinification of Marxism” 1985
Nick Knight’s essay is a philosophical study of Mao’s “theory of practice” that helps us see why Mao’s version of Marxism made sense to many Chinese as a social theory and a guide to action — not only during World War II but even today. Sinification means making something from outside China adapt or integrate into Chinese society and thought. Mao did this with Communist ideology — Marxism-Leninism — in the Yan’an period (1936–47). Knight is a senior Mao scholar among Western China specialists, and his empathetic analysis of Mao’s use of “particular laws” and “universal laws” (of nature, history, and how to wage war) reveals the reasonableness of Mao’s ideas on how to make a revolution. Knight’s chart on page 203 maps out the cycle of theory-practice-theory presented in Mao’s “Methods of Leadership” (1943, see Document 4). When the CCP carefully applied this method, it was often quite successful — both in gaining power and in improving the lives of most people in a given locality. The tragedy is that Mao and the CCP soon abandoned this time-consuming method in favor of the simple and disastrous method of dictatorship. Even so, Mao’s call to combine theory and practice in the search for social justice remains a compelling ideal that still attracts some Chinese and many revolutionaries elsewhere in the world today.
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