Who Was Mao Zedong?

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13326

The ruler known as Chairman Mao founded the People's Republic of China and ruled it with an iron hand for almost three decades. Was he a great reformer or the worst mass-murderer in history?


World, World Cultures

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Imagine being a young student and learning this song:

  • "Heaven and Earth are big,
  • but not as big as the Party's kindness.
  • Mother and Father are dear,
  • but not as dear as Chairman Mao.
  • A multitude of goodness is not as good as socialism."

Countless Chinese youngsters learned this song during the rule of Mao Zedong. They took the words as truth, which would bring tragic results.

Mao Zedong, or more properly Mao Tse-tung, established the People's Republic of China.

He also created a cult of personality that led people to reject their history and culture, their families, and even their moral judgment and do whatever Chairman Mao wished.

Early Life

Mao Zedong, 1913

Born to a rich farming family in 1893, Mao was expected to take over running the family farm and marry the young lady his parents had picked out for him.

But just as he would later urge young Chinese to rebel against their parents, he rebelled against his own, refusing the arranged marriage and leaving his hometown to pursue his education elsewhere.

Mao began studying revolutionary ideas and served in a revolutionary army for six months. He later went to Peking University, working to pay his tuition, and got involved in a revolutionary group called the May the 4th Movement.

Thousands of students rallied for China to be independent (Japan took over parts of China after World War I) and for China to reject the ways of the past and the values of their parents and grandparents.

*protestors at the May Fourth Movement

This student movement is considered the beginning of the bigger revolution that was to come.

People's Republic

In 1919, Mao began a student association that joined with workers in protesting against Japan's involvement in China. He spoke of the "red flag" and the Russian Revolution, and he began to embrace Marxism.

He became a school principal and organized a Socialist Youth group there. In 1921, the Communist Party was organized in China, and Mao became one of its leaders.

Mao Zedong, 1925

Around the same time, another party became popular in China. The Nationalist Party — also called the Kuomintang, KMT, or GMD —was led by a man named Chiang Kai-shek. The two parties began a 20-year battle for control of the country.

Watch the video below to learn how the Communists came out on top.

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Mao's Rule

  • What happened in China during the 30-year reign of Mao Zedong, and how was he able to control the country for so long?

As you watch the next video below, write down the definitions for the following.

  • Great Leap Forward
  • Cultural Revolution
  • Red Guards
  • Little Red Book

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Tragic Consequences

  • What about those children mentioned at the beginning of the lesson, who were taught to love Mao more than their mother and father?

Watch the following video to hear one man's story.

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As sad as these stories are, they're important to learn from and share.

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

~ George Santayana, Reason in Common Sense

Now that you've learned about this period of Chinese history move on to the Got It? section to test your knowledge and create a wanted poster for Chairman Mao!

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