The Printing Revolution of Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book

Raymond Pun Graduate Student, School of Library and Information Sciences

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The Cultural Revolution was a political movement initiated by the Chinese government from 1966-1976 to eliminate any of the “four olds”; these were ideas, culture, customs, and habits that had stifled the country’s economic and political success. These four old ideas encompassed religious customs, wedding and funeral practices, and superstitions; the ancient foot-binding tradition was also banned during the Revolution. One of the major initiatives to transform the country during this time was the creation and dissemination of a little red book called Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong. In this piece, I examine the impact of Quotations on the six hundred million lives affected by the Cultural Revolution.

This tiny book holds four hundred and twenty seven famous quotes from Mao Zedong, leader of the Revolution. For nearly a decade, it was circulated to all levels of society and became standard reading material for every sector in China. The book is divided into thirty three chapters and each chapter has a topic headline along with a list of relevant quotes, which range from Mao’s great speeches in rural communities to his views on the Chinese educational systems and western ideologies such as democracy and capitalism.

From 1964 to 1976, there were over six billion copies printed. By August 1976, there had been “1,820 state-owned printing factories that printed 6.5 billion volumes of Quotations, 840 million sets of Selections of Mao Zedong’s Works, 400 million volumes of Chairman Mao’s Poems, and 2.2 billion sheets of Mao’s standard photo portraits” scattered throughout China.i Quotations is one of the most printed books in human history. The book was more than a propaganda tool; it was perceived as the Bible and exemplified the way to righteous living for every Chinese person. Millions of people studied, recited and obeyed the creeds in this iconic book. People who didn’t read the book were labeled as traitors or capitalists and they were persecuted by the government.  The spreading of Mao’s gospel also gave birth to multiple cults that were entirely devoted to disseminating the little red book, destroying non-Marxist books, preventing people from reading anything else, and persecuting any members of the intellectual community who might pose a political threat to Maoism or the Revolution itself.

The production of the book continued until the end of the Revolution, and Mao’s death on September 1976 also deemphasized the importance of Quotations. The aftermath of the Revolution was a period of recovery for the people of China. The reading of the little red book faded away as people began to acquire and read other foreign and classical literature that had been banned for nearly a decade.

The impact of the little red book to six hundred million people was enormous; the book transformed many lives into embracing Maoism and identifying Mao as their personal savior. His book invoked a new spiritual and cultural awakening among the masses for a short period of time, yet the book is largely belittled, ignored, or forgotten in China today.

Mao Zedong, Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong (Peking, China: Foreign Languages Press, 1972).

i Zhengyuan Fu, Autocratic Tradition and Chinese Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 186.

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