Although primarily notable for having led China for nearly thirty years, Mao Zedong (1893-1976) also wrote many poems in his life. His poems are all in the traditional Chinese verse style. Though Mao may not be one of the best Chinese poets, his poems are generally considered well written and of high literature quality.

As did most Chinese intellectuals of his generation, Mao received rigorous education in Chinese classical literature, and thus his skill in poetry is of little surprise. His style was deeply influenced by the great Tang Dynasty poets Li Bai and Li He. He is considered to be a romantic poet, in constrast to the realist poets represented by Du Fu.

Many of Mao's poems are still very popular in China. They are frequently quoted in popular culture, literature and daily conversations. Some of his most well-known poems are: Changsha (1925), The Double Ninth (1929.10), Loushan Pass (1935), The Long March (1935), Snow (1936.02), The PLA Captures Nanjing (1949.04), Reply to Li Shuyi (1957.05.11), and Ode to the Plum Blossom (1961.12). General consensus is that his pre-1949 works are better.

Annotation of Mao's poems[edit | edit source]

For complete translation of Mao's poems, please follow the link to Wikisource. Template:Wikisourcepar

Changsha (1925)[edit | edit source]

This poem is usually considered one of Mao's best.

Line 2: On the tip of Orange Island

Orange Island is an island in the middle of Xiang River, near Changsha, the capital of Hunan province. Mao attended Hunan First Normal University around 1912-1917 in Changsha.

Yellow Crane Tower (1927)[edit | edit source]

Yellow Crane Tower, a building at the bank of Yangtze River in Wuhan, is very famous in Chinese history and literary tradition. It is one of the Four Great Towers in China. It's fame mainly comes from a poem written by Cui Hao in early Tang Dynasty, part of which is :

The yellow crane has long since gone away,<br\> All that here remains is Yellow Crane Tower.<br\> The yellow crane once gone does not return,<br\> White clouds drift slowly for a thousand years.<br\>

Mao later discussed the historical context of this poem's writing: "At that time (1927), the Great Revolution failed, I was very depressed and didn't know what to do, so I wrote this poem".

Jinggang Mountain (1928)[edit | edit source]

This poem was written in Jinggang Mountains, where Mao organized a Red Army to fight KMT forces after 1927. Jinggang Mountains is a mountain area at the border of Jiangxi province and Hunan province. It's there Mao began to experiment his theory of guerrilla war. He was quoted as:"When we can beat the enemy, we fight. When we can't beat them, we run".

Line 5: From Huangyanggai roars the thunder of cannon,

Huangyanggai is the place where the Red Army beat KMT army after a fierce battle.

The Warlords Clash (1929)[edit | edit source]

In 1929, Mao's Red Army left Jinggang Mountains and marched eastward to the western part of Fujian province and built their base there.

Line 3-4:<br\> The warlords are clashing anew --<br\> Yet another Millet Dream.<br\>

In 1929 Jiang Jieshi's KMT army began war with Feng Yuxiang and Yan Xishan's armies in north China. That's why Mao said "the warlords are clashing anew", and "Millet Dream" meant Jiang, Feng and Yan's ambitions were just dreams. And Mao thought he could take this opportunity to his advantage when most of KMT army went to fight elsewhere.

Line 5-6 : Ting River is a river in Fujian, both Longyan and Shanghang are cities in Fujian.

The Double Ninth (1929.10)[edit | edit source]

Double Ninth, also called Chongyang, is a Chinese holiday. By tradition on September 9th (Chinese Lunar Calendar) each year, Chinese people would climb to the peaks of nearby mountains, looking far away, thinking about their family members who are travelling in other places.

New Year's Day (1930.01)[edit | edit source]

Line 1: Ninghua, Qingliu, Guihua are all places in Fujian

Line 4: Wuyi Mountain is a mountain in Fujian.

On the Guangchang Road (1930.02)[edit | edit source]

Title: Guangchang is a city in Jiangxi, it was called the "North Gate" of CPC's Jiangxi Soviet.

Line 6: Gan River is a river flowing through Jiangxi.

Line 8: Ji'an is a city in Jiangxi.

March from Tingzhou to Changsha (1930.07)[edit | edit source]

Title: Tingzhou is a city in Fujian province, Changsha is the capital of Hunan province. At that time Red Army tried to take Changsha, but they failed. Fujian is at the east, Hunan is at west, so Mao's army marched westward.

Huang Gonglyue was an important military leader of Red Army, he was killed a few years later in battle.

Against the First "Encirclement" Campaign (1931)[edit | edit source]

During 1931-1934 Jiang Jieshi's KMT government organized five so-called "Encirclement" campaigns on CPC's Jiangxi Soviet in Southeastern China. The first four all failed. Mao led the Red Army beating the first three campaigns, then he was relieved of leadership due to internal power struggles of the CPC. Zhou Enlai and Zhu De led the Red Army to beat the fouth campaign, but they failed the fifth time, and was forced to leave their base and began Long March.

Line 5: Zhang Huizan, the KMT general who led the first "Encirclement" Campaign. He was killed after being captured by the Red Army.

Line 10: Buzhou Mountain, a legendary mountain in Chinese forklore. It is said Buzhou Mountain was one of the four pillars supporting the sky. A giant called Gong Gong quarreled with the gods. He was very angry and banged his head against Buzhou Mountain. Buzhou Mountain was broken, thus the sky tilted and water poured from heaven, causing a huge flood on earth. Here Mao expressed his appreciation for Gong Gong's rebellious spirit.

Against the Second "Encirclement" Campaign (1931)[edit | edit source]

Dabodi (1933)[edit | edit source]

Dabodi is the site of a battle which actually took place at the beginning of 1929. The background: at that time, Mao's Red Army had left Jinggang Mountains to look for a new base. Red Army was beaten several time by the pursuing KMT army. They used up all amunitions and were starved. Then on the New Year of 1929 they fought a desperate fight in the snow at Dabodi, using stones and bare hands, and beat their enemy. Mao revisited this place several years later and wrote this poem.

Huichang (1934)[edit | edit source]

Loushan Pass (1935)[edit | edit source]

This is a famous poem written during Long March. Loushan Pass is a place in Guizhou, where a fierce battle took place.

Three Short Poems (1934-35)[edit | edit source]

Again this poem was written during Long March.

The Long March (1935)[edit | edit source]

This poem was written toward the end of 1935 when the Long March was almost finished. In it Mao listed some places Red Army had travelled through. Five Ridges and Wumeng are both big mountains in southwestern China. Jinsha is actually another name for certain parts of Yangtze River. Dadu River is at the west part of Sichuan, here in a heroic fight, 22 volunteers carried out a suicide attack on the KMT garrison across the iron-chained Luding Bridge and saved the Red Army from being destroyed. Min Mountain is a mountain at northwestern part of China and is already at the end of Long March's route. To get rid of the pursuing KMT army, the Red Army had to climb over its 13000 foot peak and many froze to death on it.

The last line: The three Armies march on, each face glowing.

Actually, the Long March was done by three CPC armies separately. One was Mao's 1st Red Army from Jiangxi Soviet, another was Zhang Guotao's 4th Red Army from Hubei soviet, the third one was He Long's 2nd Red Army from west part of Hubei. Here, Mao was glad all three Red Armies were together.

Kunlun (1935.10)[edit | edit source]

Kunlun mountain is a huge snow mountain in Northwestern China. In Chinese legendary it's resided by some gods.

Mount Liupan (1935.10)[edit | edit source]

"Mount Liupan" was written in late 1935 after the Red Army almost finised the famous Long March. Mount Liupan is a mountain in northwestern China.

Line 3: If we fail to reach the Great Wall we are not men,

This famous quote of Mao inspires millions of tourists visiting the Great Wall each year.

Snow (1936.02)[edit | edit source]

This poem is almost certainly the most famous poem by Mao. It was written in 1936, but was not published until Mao went to Chongqing in 1945 to hold peace talks with Jiang Jieshi. It caused quite a stir among Chinese intellectuals at that time.

In the first half Mao praised the grandeur beauty of northern China in the winter. The more interesting part is the second half, where Mao listed some of the greatest Emperors in China, include Qin Shihuang, the first Emperor of China; Han Wudi, the great Han emperor who defeated Huns; Tang Taizong(Li Shimin), the second Emperor of Tang Dynasty; Emperor Taizu of Song, the Emperor who started Song Dynasty; and Genghis Khan. Here Mao hints he aspires to be even greater than these emperors.

The PLA Captures Nanjing (1949.04)[edit | edit source]

In late April 1949, the communist PLA (People's Liberation Army) crossed Yangtze River and captured the capital of KMT government: Nanjing. Mao wrote this poem to celebrate this historical event.

Line 1: Over Zhong Mountain swept a storm, headlong,

Zhong Mountain is a hill at the suburb of Nanjing.

Line 2: Great River means Yangtze River

Line 3-4: The city, a tiger crouching, a dragon curling, outshining its ancient glory;

Nanjing, a great city, had been the capital of six dynasties in Chinese history. Strategiests said this city was like a "crouching tiger", and a "curling dragon".

Line 7: And not ape Xiang Yu the conqueror seeking idle fame.

Xiang Yu is the hero who lead the uprising that toppled Qin Dynasty. After winning the war against Qin dynasty, Xiang Yu fought against Liu Bang for the control of China. Xiang Xu was defeated and killed himself. His tragic story was immortalized in the famous Beijing Opera: Farewell My Concubine.

Reply to Mr. Liu Yazi (1950.10)[edit | edit source]

Line 1: "Crimson Land", similar to " Divine Land ", is another way Chinese people call their own country.

Line 5: "Yutian", a place in Xinjiang, here means far away places.

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