If such a debased capitalist phenomenon as a list of literary best-sellers were to be published in the press of the People's Republic of China, "The Selected Military Writings of Mao Tse-tung" would perennially appear at the top, for it is a conservative conjecture that since 1959 some 40,000,000 copies of the Chairman's martial essays have been circulated on the Mainland. This unparalleled popularity cannot be ascribed to such literary qualities as simplicity of expression or felicity of style. Frequently Mao's essays reveal the professional pedagogue at his worst: dogmatic, conceited and repetitious. Nevertheless, his military writings are basic study material in all ranks of the Peoples' Liberation Army (P.L.A.), the "hard core" Basic Militia and the Youth League.
It must have been something of a blow to the author's amour-propre to learn that, as of 1961, many of his soldiers were not sufficiently literate to read the essays, that some who could read them did not comprehend them, and that of those who comprehended them a large proportion promptly forgot what was in them.[i] However, these unpalatable revelations did not influence the members of the Party's Military Affairs Commission, or of the General Political Department of the P.L.A., to withdraw the Chairman's inspirational works from required reading lists. In fact, the Mainland press reveals that a nation-wide campaign to promote further intensive study of the martial canon according to Mao Tse-tung continues without respite.
It must be admitted that the Niagara of exhortations which flows through the Party organs is not entirely lacking in metaphorical originality. In one lengthy exposition, the Chairman's words are said to be as refreshing as "morning dew"; in another, as "brilliant as rays of sunshine" (Mao is frequently compared to the sun). Elsewhere they are more conservatively described as "glorious beacons" (illuminating the path for those straying in ideological darkness); "arrows" (which, one infers, speed unerringly to the target, Truth); "compasses" (to guide those whose courses tend to deviate from that set by
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