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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 6 February 10, 2024

Jairus Banaji’s Comment on the 1990 English Translation of Report from Xunwu by Mao Zedong

Friday 9 February 2024, by Jairus Banaji



Report from Xunwu
by Mao Zedong
Translated, with an Introduction and Notes, by Roger R. Thompson

Stanford University Press
292 pages

A lost manuscript of Mao Zedong and the extraordinary role played by rural indebtedness in the analysis. The photo shows Roger Thompson’s edition of a work that was hurriedly written up in May 1930 against the impending background of the Jiangxi Soviet, scheduled for publication in 1937, reported lost in 1941, rediscovered in 1950 but finally published only in 1982 when Deng Xiaoping decided he could use it to his advantage in struggles within the party because he saw it as a perfect example of Mao’s method of ‘seeking truth from facts’ (𝑠ℎ𝑖𝑠ℎ𝑖 𝑞𝑖𝑢𝑠ℎ𝑖). Thompson’s English translation appeared soon after that, in 1990, with the title 𝑅𝑒𝑝𝑜𝑟𝑡 𝑓𝑟𝑜𝑚 𝑋𝑢𝑛𝑤𝑢. It is a remarkable document on several counts. It is the most detailed of the numerous rural investigations Mao engaged in from 1927 into the early 1930s. (The English text runs into 168 pages.) It devotes considerable space to commerce (67 pages), merchant’s capital and money lending. It advocates a strongly 𝑎𝑛𝑡𝑖-rich peasant line, defining rich peasants more as ‘self-cultivating’ households who have ‘surplus grain and capital for loans’ than those peasants who get rich from farming or from small businesses only to become small landlords. It discusses the three main groups of landlords as well as rich and poor peasants in a subtle and nuanced way, dividing the smaller landlords into two very different groups and the poor peasants into no fewer than four distinct ‘strata’. It underscores the ways in which ‘capitalist culture’ was contributing to modernizing traditional classes and attitudes. And it ends with a close-to-feminist approach to issues of divorce and extra-marital affairs.

For example, when the Xunwu County Revolutionary Committee passed a resolution upholding fidelity in marriage (‘Married men and women are prohibited from having sexual intercourse with a third party’), Mao goes on to point out, ‘On 2 May [1930] we [the Xunwu Red Army battalion] took over Xunwu City. At the same time, the Fourth Red Army had taken over the reactionary northern part of the county… In this situation, on 6 May, 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑓𝑖𝑟𝑠𝑡 𝑠𝑜𝑣𝑖𝑒𝑡 𝑐𝑜𝑛𝑔𝑟𝑒𝑠𝑠 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑤ℎ𝑜𝑙𝑒 𝑐𝑜𝑢𝑛𝑡𝑦 𝑤𝑖𝑡ℎ𝑑𝑟𝑒𝑤 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑓𝑖𝑑𝑒𝑙𝑖𝑡𝑦 𝑟𝑒𝑠𝑜𝑙𝑢𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛. And even though the congress did not clearly forbid people to catch others in adultery, it no longer talked about ‘whoever engages in illicit intercourse will be punished with severity.’ However, within one month, a soviet congress in a third area adopted a totally different resolution on the lover and divorce issues. Its slogan was ‘𝐴𝑏𝑠𝑜𝑙𝑢𝑡𝑒 𝑓𝑟𝑒𝑒𝑑𝑜𝑚 𝑖𝑛 𝑑𝑖𝑣𝑜𝑟𝑐𝑒 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑚𝑎𝑟𝑟𝑖𝑎𝑔𝑒’. Naturally, the result is to forbid efforts to catch people in adultery and to ensure the freedom to have lovers. The district that approved this is the district that has had the longest period of struggle in all of Xunwu County (from 1928 to the present) and is also the district that first had capitalism…’.

Mao describes the majority of men as ‘very opinionated’. He notes that 90% of recent divorce cases were filed by women, whereas ‘[m]en were firmly opposed to divorce’. And he points out that poor peasants oppose the right to divorce because ‘They worry that they will lose their wife’s labor and will not be able to farm if their wife runs away’. By contrast, the attitudes of rich peasants and small landlords embodies a stronger form of male chauvinism. ‘Their expressed desire to kill their wives if the latter ask for a divorce shows their tendency toward counterrevolutionary attitudes.’

(Comment Author: Jairus Banaji, is a historian and is associated with the Department of Development Studies, SOAS, University of London. His most recent book is called Wanting Something Completely Different (Rab-Rab, Helsinki, 2023))

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