Primary Source 20.2

Document 20.2

Mao Zedong: US Imperialism is a Paper Tiger

During the time period (1950’s) the United States had a lot of military influence and control in the smaller nations bordering China (Taiwan, Korea).  They were attempting to liberate these small countries and keep them from falling into communism that was being spread by the Chinese. Mao Zedong, a major advocate of Chinese Communism obviously had a negative view of the United States and their imperialist intentions. He saw US attempts at liberation as aggression, and believed the United States wanted nothing but war. In his article, his dislike for the United States is quite clear, as he immediately starts out his piece by bashing the US hard, claiming we owe debts everywhere, and that all other countries disagree with our actions. He even claims that even the American people are dissatisfied with their own government.

It is important to keep in mind the circumstances under which Mao’s article was written to understand why expresses such a strong opinion towards the US. This article was published in a PLA training manual (given out soldiers in training) during a time when the Chinese felt that the United States was their biggest threat/competition. When Mao claims that the United States is a “Paper Tiger” what he actually means is that although US actions may seem threatening to China statistically, in reality they would be ineffective when it came to facing any real challenges. Knowing that this article was published in a military training manual, it raises the question of whether or not Mao truly believed in what he was saying, or if he was just telling his people what they needed to hear in order to instill confidence and energy in them. He obviously knew his audience well, and it is clear that he was trying to eliminate any fear that they may have had of the United States. He puts a lot of emphasis on the point that the strong must (and always do) give way to the weak. He uses the fall of the Qing Dynasty as an example for this point, stating that the Great Qing Dynasty fell to the forces of Sun Yat-sen combined with the support of the people, because they failed to take him seriously. He compares the current state of China to Sun Yat-sen and the people, and the United States to the Qing dynasty, to show how China can defeat the United States as long as they can work together as a people and support their government.

The message that Mao is really trying to get across to his people is that with their support, the Chinese are better equipped to weather the storm of  United States aggression because they do not have that same support behind them. Hence, if China can unite as a people and persevere, they can pick apart the “Paper Tiger”.

With all of this in mind the question is still up for debate as to whether or not Mao believed in what he was saying, or if it was just propaganda to gain confidence and support from his people. If he truly wasn’t afraid of the United States presence in Asia, would such an article even be necessary?


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