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The pellets of instant wisdom scattered through Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung are by far the most celebrated of Mao’s writings. Distributed in more than a billion copies, the so-called Little Red Book remains the fundamental vade mecum of every citizen of the Chinese People’s Republic. It is also an inspiration to an assortment of would-be revolutionaries, guerrillas and new leftists around the world. Among the most famous quotations: “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun,” and “Just because we have won victory, we must never relax our vigilance against the frenzied plots for revenge by the imperialists and their running dogs.”

As the Little Red Book amply demonstrates, Mao was the most readable of Marxist theoreticians. But in other speeches, poems and letters, Mao displayed even more strikingly than in the book a command of pungent metaphor, as well as occasional flights of lyricism. A sampler:

ON REVOLUTION. A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection by which one class overthrows another. (1927)

ON EXECUTING ENEMIES. A head isn’t like a leek. It doesn’t grow again once it’s been cut. If you cut it off wrongly, then even if you want to correct your error, there’s no way of doing it. (1956)

ON CHINA’S FUTURE. When I say that there will soon be a high tide of revolution in China, I am emphatically not speaking of something illusory, unattainable . . . It is like a ship far out at sea whose masthead can already be seen from the shore; it is like the morning sun in the east whose shimmering rays are visible from a high mountaintop; it is like a child about to be born moving restlessly in its mother’s womb. (1930)

ON CHINA’S FRIENDS. There are so-called friends, self-styled friends of the Chinese people . . . with “honey on their lips and murder in their hearts.” They are the imperialists . . . Stalin is the true friend of the cause of liberation of the Chinese people. No attempt to sow dissension, no lies and calumnies, can affect the Chinese people’s wholehearted love and respect for Stalin and our genuine respect for the Soviet Union. (1939)

ON CHINA’S ENEMIES. The revisionist leading clique of the Soviet Union and all the other leading cliques of renegades and scabs of various shades are mere dust heaps while you [the Albanian Communist Party] are a lofty mountain, tower to the skies. They are slaves and accomplices of imperialism . . . The U.S. imperialists and all other such harmful insects have already created their own gravediggers; the day of their burial cannot be far off. (1966)

ON EDUCATION. It is reported that penicillin was invented by a laundryman in a dyer’s shop. Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity, though he began as a newspaper boy. What learning did Jesus have? . . . It is always those with less learning who overthrow those with more learning. (1958)

ON IGNORANCE. It is to the advantage of despots to keep people ignorant; it is to our advantage to make them intelligent. We must lead all of them gradually from ignorance. (1966)

ON NUCLEAR WAR. It is said that if worse came to worst and half of mankind died, the other half would remain, while imperialism would be razed to the ground, and the whole world would become socialist; in a number of years there would be 2.7 billion people again. (1957)


Successors must be Marxist-Leninists, they must serve the interest of the majority of the people, they must unite the majority, they must display the democratic style, and they must conduct selfcriticism. What I have in mind is not complete . . . You must not always think that you alone will do and that everything done by others is no good, as without you the world would not turn and there would be no party . . . There is no need to fear for the death of anyone. Whose death would be a great loss? Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, are they not all dead? The revolution must still go on . . . We must be prepared at all times to leave our posts and we must always be ready with successors. (1964)

ON DEATH. Living is transformed into dying, lifeless matter is transformed into living beings. I propose that when people over the age of 50 die, a party should be held to celebrate, for it is inevitable that men should die—this is a natural law. (1958)

ON THE LEGACY OF MAO AND CHOU ENLAI. Loyal parents who sacrificed so much for the nation/ Never feared the ultimate fate/ Now that our country has become red/ Who will be its guardian? Our mission, unfinished/ May take a thousand years. The struggle tires us, and our hair is gray/ You and I, old friends, can we just watch our efforts be washed away? (Last poem, 1975)

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