Jesus and Engels, etc.--What about Mao's "God" ?

Charlotte S. Wellen cwellen at
Wed Sep 4 00:23:02 MDT 1996


Comradely Greetings from Wei En Lin

Jesus, Marx, Engels, Buddha, etc.--
What about Mao's references to God?

Many times Mao made reference to
"the time when he would see God"
(i.e. after his death).  In Mao's poetry
there are many references to God,
gods, spirits, and so forth.  Mao,
of course, roundly condemns
organized  religious priesthoods and
non-religious priesthoods (such as
are found in Confucianism).

Nevertheless, the notion of God
itself is not alien to his thought,
nor is it explicitly condemned.
In fact the divine is something
admirable in Mao's thought.

Dialectical materialism is seen
by Western Marxists, Leninists
and so forth, as the negation
of any belief in the Spirit.
But many Western Marxists
do not understand  Chinese
and other Eastern philosophical
traditions, and mistakenly
try to criticize Eastern philosophical
thought as if it were identical to
Western Thought in virtually
every way.  They wrongly refer to
Eastern doctrines as 'Mystical'
which is a western term which
implies 'secret knowledge'

The fact is that while Leninist
critiques of Mysticism may apply
to Blavatsky, Hegel, Rasputin,
Russian Orthodox Mystics, etc.,
they do not necessarily apply to
Chinese Schools of Thought.
There is nothing inconsistent,
to most Chinese (and East Asians)
in embracing Dialectical Materialism
and Taoism, Buddhism, or another
belief at the same time.  This is
not due to fuzzy thinking as some
allege.  Western Thought has
been plagued by rigid dualism
since the time of Descartes, a dualism
which forces one to choose between
spirit and matter as if they were
opposed and distinct.

In China, matter and spirit are not
traditionally separated, as in Western
Philosophy.  Nor are God and the World
thought of as rigidly distinct as in
Western Theology.

The Chinese language has many
words for God or Spirit which do
not correspond to the senses of these
words in English (or to Dieu and esprit,
in French; or to Dios and espiritu, in
Spanish).  Chinese has the phrase
Shang Di (High Lord), an ancient
term, not much used now, but which
is close to the Western sense of the
word.   The Word, 'Tao,' is like 'God,'
but it is something which is untranslatable,
neither personal, nor impersonal; neither
masculine nor feminine,  neither identical
with the World, nor distinct from it;
neither manifest nor unmanifest.

Chinese thought is not plagued by the problem
of Fideism versus Atheism versus Agnosticism.
Western Theologians are often talking about 'Faith'
in an Unseen God.  Atheists deny God, calling  him a
projection, or a fantasy.  Agnostics say God cannot
be known.

Marxism asserts that all things can be known
and so denies agnosticism and the need for faith.
Chinese Thought also rejects agnosticism.  A
Taoist, for instance would never say "One cannot
know the Tao."  He would say, a given person does
not know the Tao, in a certain moment.  He can
know it.  Thus faith (fideism)) and ignorance
(agnosticism) are rejected.  This is because
the Chinese have always had confidence that one
can gain knowledge of all things through study
and the acquisition of knowledge, and through
reflection and insight.  The knowable World
is not absolutely distinct from the Spirit, as
in the Thought of Plato, Augustine, or even
as in the Thought of Locke and Rousseau.

Thus even during the period of the Cultural
Revolution we read,

"The Chinese Communist Party must persevere
and work unceasingly, and we too, will touch God's
heart.  Our God is none other than the masses of the
Chinese People."

[This is from "The Foolish Old Man Who Removed
Mountains, one of the Three Texts, which Mao
most often urged people to read, from 1966
onwards.  Found in Mao's "Selected Works"
Vol. III, 321-322]

If Mao could say that he was "going to see God"
when his life ended [Interview with Edgar Snow,
9 Jan. 1965], then clearly he had some concept
of God.  This concept contradicts Western
Logic, and narrowly thinking Marxists who
are unaccustomed to the harmonization
of Marxism and Chinese philosophical traditions.

Thus God can, in Chinese Thought, be the destination
after life is finished, the World, the People, the
Spirit of the People, the Source of all, and many
more things besides.  For the Chinese Marxist there
is nothing threatening about this type of thinking,
on the part of the masses, intellectuals, workers,
peasants or soldiers.   What is threatening is the
priestly hierarchy of humanistic systems like
Confucianism.  Therefore during the Cultural Revolution
a thorough-going criticism of Confucianism
was launched.

God is associated with Priesthoods
and feudal oppressions in the West.  Humanism
has been associated with progress and liberation.
in China it has been 'Humanistic' Confucianism
which has been most closely associated with
the oppressing bureaucracy.

--Wei En Lin


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