Mao Zedong’s “Sinification of Marxism” 1985

  • Nick Knight
Part of the The Bedford Series in History and Culture book series (BSHC)


Nick Knight’s essay is a philosophical study of Mao’s “theory of practice” that helps us see why Mao’s version of Marxism made sense to many Chinese as a social theory and a guide to action — not only during World War II but even today. Sinification means making something from outside China adapt or integrate into Chinese society and thought. Mao did this with Communist ideology — Marxism-Leninism — in the Yan’an period (1936–47). Knight is a senior Mao scholar among Western China specialists, and his empathetic analysis of Mao’s use of “particular laws” and “universal laws” (of nature, history, and how to wage war) reveals the reasonableness of Mao’s ideas on how to make a revolution. Knight’s chart on page 203 maps out the cycle of theory-practice-theory presented in Mao’s “Methods of Leadership” (1943, see Document 4). When the CCP carefully applied this method, it was often quite successful — both in gaining power and in improving the lives of most people in a given locality. The tragedy is that Mao and the CCP soon abandoned this time-consuming method in favor of the simple and disastrous method of dictatorship. Even so, Mao’s call to combine theory and practice in the search for social justice remains a compelling ideal that still attracts some Chinese and many revolutionaries elsewhere in the world today.


Chinese Society Chinese Communist Party Chinese Context Chinese History Class Struggle 
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  1. Nick Knight, “Mao Zedong and the Sinification of ‘Marxism’” in Marxism in Asia, ed. Colin Mackerras and Nick Knight (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985), 83–90.Google Scholar
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    Stuart Schram, The Political Thought of Mao Tse-tung, rev. ed. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969), 172.Google Scholar
  3. †.
    Robert C. North, Moscow and Chinese Communists (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1953 & 1963), 193.Google Scholar
  4. *.
    Raymond Wylie, The Emergence of Maoism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1980), 52.Google Scholar
  5. †.
    Boyd Compton, trans., Mao’s China: Party Reform Documents, 1942–44 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1952), 21–22.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Bedford/St. Martin’s 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nick Knight

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