Richard LEVY

Mao’s Little Red Book. A portrait of Mao Zedong is embossed on the front. PHOTO BY PAUL AND BERNICE NOLL.

Known in the West as “The Little Red Book,” Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong ????? is a thirty-three-chapter collection of 427 quotes from Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong. It was a linchpin in the early stages of China’s Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), representing the essence of Mao’s ideas, officially known as “Mao Zedong Thought.”

Hundreds of millions of copies and numerous versions of Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong were printed and were almost ubiquitous in China during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), to use the era’s official name. Students, soldiers, workers, and peasants read from and discussed the book—its thirty-three chapters brimming with 427 of Mao’s quotations—at frequent study meetings where they could share their ideas about how to apply Mao’s teachings to daily life. Such groups allowed even the illiterate access to Mao’s thought and writings.

The Little Red Book was originally printed, distributed, and studied within the People’s Liberation Army in 1964 under Defense Minister Lin Biao, Mao’s strongest ally during the early period of the Cultural Revolution. Its purpose was to provide a shortcut to understanding the works of Mao, thus helping China to avoid the errors that had undermined socialism in the Soviet Union, errors that were seen as severely influencing the very nature of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) itself. As Lin Biao’s star rose, the cult of Mao, including not only The Little Red Book but also much more, spread throughout China. Lin was later rightly accused of encouraging the cult for his own purposes. Although in 1970 Mao criticized the cult as excessive, he, too, saw it as useful. During this period the book, most frequently with an opening inscription in Lin Biao’s handwriting, became both an icon to be waved and a beacon of correctness to be applied in daily life.

Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong highlights Maoist concepts, including the necessity of the leadership of the Communist Party, the importance and duration of class struggle, why U.S. imperialism was a paper tiger, the need to ceaselessly and selflessly struggle to overcome all obstacles to serve the needs of the people, towing the mass line (that is, taking the unsystematic ideas of the masses, having the Communist Party make them into systematic policies that are then returned to and carried out by the masses), and his attitudes toward self-reliance, equality (but not feminism) for women, criticism, and self-criticism.

Mao Zedong Thought, the CCP’s name for Mao’s ideas, has been criticized primarily for overemphasizing class struggle, particularly for not having clear definitions of the classes and ignoring objective factors in favor of the ability of human will to overcome all obstacles. But the Little Red Book had additional flaws. It resulted from and perpetuated a view that complex problems can be solved with simplistic answers. While Mao’s Thought did provide an underlying unity throughout China, this simplification allowed conflicting groups to use different quotes to support different positions, a practice known as “waving the Red Flag to fight the Red Flag.”

After Lin died in 1971, discredited by allegations that he led a coup attempt against Mao, the Little Red Book began to be downplayed. After the 1981 party verdict that pronounced the Cultural Revolution to have been an error, the book faded intro obscurity. Subsequently it was commoditized into Cultural Revolution memorabilia. Today originals and reproductions in various languages are available for sale in gift shops around Beijing and elsewhere.

Further Reading

Morning sun: A film and website about the Cultural Revolution. (2008). Retrieved August 8, 2008 from

Quotations from Chairman Mao. (2008). Retrieved August 8, 2008 from

Source: Levy, Richard. (2009). Little Red Book (Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong). In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 1338–1339. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Little Red Book (Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong) (Máo Zh?xí Y?lù ?????)|Máo Zh?xí Y?lù ????? (Little Red Book (Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong))

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