From the very beginning, the Communist Party of China (CPC) used Marxism and Leninism to guide its struggle in the Chinese revolution. For many years the Party in its inexperience simply applied the tenets of the proletarian revolution and imitated the Russian experience of the October Revolution, launching armed uprisings in Chinese cities which failed to make any progress.

In search of a new solution, many Chinese Communists, principally represented by Mao Zedong (1893-1976), tried to apply the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism to the Chinese context. Based on a summary of the unique experience gained in their long endeavor in revolution, they established a set of scientific guiding ideas that were more applicable to China’s situation: Mao Zedong Thought.

Mao Zedong Thought took shape in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Based on an in-depth analysis of China’s society and class structure, Mao and his colleagues developed a theory on establishing and consolidating a revolutionary regime, encircling the cities from the countryside, and seizing power by armed force. They also formulated a number of principles regarding how to build the Party and an army under its leadership, all based on China’s own conditions. Throughout his fight against the erroneous “leftist” tendency to focus on ideology and Soviet dogma, Mao Zedong always followed the principle of integrating Marxism with the revolutionary situation in China. One of his best-known axioms – “No investigation, no right to speak” – was coined during this period.

Mao’s leadership over the whole Party was established at the Zunyi Meeting held in January 1935. The thought named after him matured after much reflection in theory and exposure to practice between the late Agrarian Revolution and during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression. During this period, Mao led the whole Party in studying Marxist theories and conducting a party-wide rectification campaign to free their minds. They reviewed the experience and lessons of the Chinese revolution and gained a full understanding of the dynamics of the democratic revolution, which resulted in a complete set of views on philosophy, the military, the united front and the Party development. Mao Zedong, in particular, conducted a systematic and comprehensive analysis of the basic theory, guidelines and program for the new democratic revolution, and of the policies and strategies the CPC should adopt.

The Seventh CPC National Congress in 1945 established Mao Zedong Thought as a guiding thought and incorporated it into the CPC’s Constitution.

Mao Zedong Thought continued to develop during the War of Liberation (1946-1949) and after the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was founded in 1949. In addition to enriching the theory on the new democratic revolution, there was new content such as a summary of China’s experience in socialist revolution and development. It included theories on socialist transformation, on people’s democratic dictatorship, on distinguishing contradictions among the people from those between ourselves and the enemy and on the correct handling of contradictions among the people, on exploring a path of economic development suitable to the actual conditions in China, on reinforcing the CPC as the governing party, and on foreign policies of independence and peaceful coexistence.

After the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee in late 1978, the Party, under the guidance of Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997), made a correct appraisal of Mao Zedong’s historical status and of Mao Zedong Thought, and established the correct path toward socialist modernization based on China’s new conditions. The solution of these two interconnected issues set a correct direction for the Party and the country.

The soul of Mao Zedong Thought refers to its stances, viewpoints and methods, which are crystallized in three basic tenets – seeking truth from facts, the mass line and independence.

Seeking truth from facts is a basic tenet of Marxism and a basic requirement for the CPC to understand and change the world. It explains how the Party thinks, works, and leads: It has to proceed from reality in everything its does, integrate theory with practice, and test and develop truth in practice.

The mass line is the CPC’s lifeline and a basic principle for all its work. This tradition enables the Party to maintain its vitality and combat capability. Pursuing the mass line means that the CPC goes to the grassroots, finds out what ordinary people need and want, and structures its policies accordingly, which become their conscious actions in the governance of the country.

Independence is the natural path followed by the CPC based on China’s realities and through the process of revolution, development and reform by relying on itself and the Chinese people. It is an important principle for building the CPC and the PRC. Sticking to this principle, the Party has prioritized development of the country and nation, safeguarded national dignity and confidence, and followed a path of its own.

These stances, viewpoints and methods have enabled the CPC to develop Marxism in a creative way and push Chinese society forward.

Mao Zedong Thought is a summary of the unique Chinese experience and the fruit of the collective wisdom of the CPC. Many outstanding Communists contributed to it, and many of the works authored by Mao Zedong reflected it. It represents the first historic step in adapting Marxism to China’s conditions, and proves invaluable to the CPC and the Chinese people. It provides scientific guidance to China’s revolution and development, and ideological support to the Chinese nation.

Original writeup by The Academy of Contemporary China and World Studies for The Centenary of the CPC Special Edition,