One of the most prominent Communist theoreticians, Mao's ideas on revolutionary struggle and guerrilla warfare were extremely influential, especially among Third World revolutionaries.
Of Hunanese peasant stock, Mao was trained in Chinese classics and later received a modern education. As a young man he observed oppressive social conditions, becoming one of the original members of the Chinese Communist party. He organized (1920s) Kuomintang-sponsored peasant and industrial unions and directed (1926) the Kuomintang's Peasant Movement Training Institute. After the Kuomintang-Communist split (1927), Mao led the disastrous “Autumn Harvest Uprising” in Hunan, leading to his ouster from the central committee of the party.
From 1928 until 1931 Mao, with Zhu De and others, established rural soviets in the hinterlands, and built the Red Army. In 1931 he was elected chairman of the newly established Soviet Republic of China, based in Jiangxi province. After withstanding five encirclement campaigns launched by Chiang Kai-shek, Mao led (1934–35) the Red Army on the long march (6,000 mi/9,656 km) from Jiangxi north to Yan'an in Shaanxi province, emerging as the most important Communist leader. During the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–45) the Communists and the Kuomintang continued their civil war while both were battling the Japanese invaders.
The civil war continued after war with Japan had ended, and in 1949, after the Communists had taken almost all of mainland China, Mao became chairman of the central government council of the newly established People's Republic of China; he was reelected to the post, the most powerful in China, in 1954. In an attempt to break with the Russian model of Communism and to imbue the Chinese people with renewed revolutionary vigor, Mao launched (1958) the Great Leap Forward. The program was a failure, 20 million people starved, and Mao withdrew temporarily from public view.
The failure of this program also resulted in a break with the Soviet Union, which cut off aid. Mao accused Soviet leaders of betraying Marxism. In 1959 Liu Shaoqi, an opponent of the Great Leap Forward, replaced Mao as chairman of the central government council, but Mao retained his chairmanship of the Communist party politburo.
A campaign to re-establish Mao's ideological line culminated in the Cultural Revolution (1966–76). Mass mobilization, begun and led by Mao and his wife, Jiang Qing, was directed against the party leadership. Liu and others were removed from power in 1968. In 1969 Mao reasserted his party leadership by serving as chairman of the Ninth Communist Party Congress, and in 1970 he was named supreme commander of the nation and army. The cultural revolution group continued its campaigns until Mao's death in Sept., 1976. A month later its leaders were purged and Mao's surviving opponents, led by Deng Xiaoping, slowly regained power, pushing aside Mao's successor, Hua Guofeng, and erasing the cult surrounding Mao.