The Life and Times of Mao Ze Dong (毛澤東/Ma Tse Tung)
ln modern Chinese history no character is more controversial, or more recognizable, than Chairman Mao (毛主席/Mao Chu Hsi). Born in relative obscurity in the province of Hunan, 1893, Mao would come to personally shape the course of Chinese history in the 20th century. His early life saw him as a student-cum-revolutionary who hid in the mountains with a small but growing cadre of Communists. With the onset of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), the two Chinese factions, one Communist and lead by Mao, one Nationalist and lead by Chiang Kai Shek, were pitted against a common enemy. The defeat of the Japanese, however, was only one hurdle that China would face in its emergence as a modern state. Almost immediately, the Nationalist and Communist factions set about to determine which would rule China. In the end, Mao and his Communists were successful, forcing the Nationalists out of mainland China; they fled to Taiwan.
With the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, Mao became the official leader of all China. He has been severely criticized by Western scholars and officials for extremely harsh treatment of the population of China. However in much of China, and some decades after his death, Mao continues to be a cult figure of massive proportions within China. His forceful yet charismatic personality, and his own tragic personal history make him, in some sense, a perfect symbol for the troubled modern history of China.
The Calligraphy of Mao Ze Dong (毛澤東/Ma Tse Tung)
Part and parcel of Mao’s popular appeal in China is his standing as a modern literary and artistic figure. From his early student days, he regularly corresponded with friends and colleagues in verse, always using a brush pen. Propaganda images have frequently shown Mao holding the calligrapher’s brush. Indeed, the hold that the brush pen has had on Chinese literary, visual and even political culture has only been effectively challenged by modern technologies in the last few decades. During the turbulent times at the beginning of the last century and even after the Second World War, political documents were frequently executed not by typewriter, but by hand, using traditional ink and brush. Examples of Mao’s calligraphy show him to be an accomplished calligrapher, comfortable writing in an expressive Cursive idiom. Viewing his works, one is often struck by the vertical extension of the characters and the inventive and improvisational rhythms he employs.
The poetry and political writings of Mao are very well known in the People’s Republic. Likewise, Mao’s handwriting is almost as well recognized as his face. In the arts academies, his style is imitated and celebrated in much the same way as the early Masters were copied and imitated in ages past. Although calligraphy was, until the end of the dynastic period, an art accessible only to the elite, rising literacy rates and the cultural campaigns of Mao himself have popularized the art form in a totally unprecedented way. Today, calligraphy is celebrated throughout China as the culmination and crystallization of the unique Chinese culture.