Note before starting: you can down the full length film at the end of this article, with English subtitles.
This Chinese film culture and history installment discusses the 2009 movie, The Founding of a Republic. It concerns the period of time from the end of World War II (1945), until China’s communist liberation (1949).
The original Chinese title is 建 国 大 业 (Pinyin: Jian4 Guo2 Da4 Ye4).
Literally, it means The Grand Endeavor of Establishing a Nation.
So, The Founding of a Republic is a satisfactory equivalent for the English translation.
The film covers the period from 1945 to 1949 and lasts 2 hours 14 minutes.
This movie was premiered in Mainland China on September 16, 2009. It was posted on YouTube in February 2010, but without English subtitles. It had been commissioned by China’s film regulator and made by the publicly funded China Film Group (CFG) to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. Note that a Chinese century does not last 100 years, but 60 years, according to the traditional sexagesimal cycle calendar. So, it was the celebration of the first Chinese century of the People’s Republic of China.
The film was co-directed by Huang Jianxin and China Film Group Chairman Han Sanping.
The star-studded cast includes Andy Lau, Ge You, Hu Jun, Leon Lai, Zhang Ziyi, Donnie Yen, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Zhao Wei, Zhang Guoli and Tang Guoqiang playing the role of Mao Zedong. Most of them waived their fees, so the budget was maintained at a modest US$10 million.
When speaking of such giant historical figures, it is obvious that my modest capsule will offer nothing really encompassing, but only a certain perspective viewed from a specific angle I chose.
I would like to draw your attention to a number of similarities and differences. Do not expect a sharp documented historical presentation, nor flawless precise biographical details from me. My remarks are at the level of metaphor and poetry.
I suggest watching at least the first 10 minutes of The Founding of a Republic, especially the scene where MAO ZEDONG (Mao2 Ze2 Dong1) (born 26-12-1893 died 9-9-1976) and Chiang Kai-Shek, in Pinyin JIANG JIESHI (Jiang3 Jie4 Shi2) (born 31-10-1887 died 5-4-1975) are shaking hands (at 3’45”) under a giant portrait of Sun Yat-Sen, aka SUN WEN (Sun1 Wen2) (born 12-11-1866 died 12-3-1925), aka SUN YIXIAN (Sun1 Yi4 Xian1). Sun Wen is also known as Zhongshan Xiansheng (Mr. Zhongshan).
The time is August 28, 1945. Mao Zedong flew from Yan’an, his revolutionary base, to Chongqing, the provisional capital of the Republic of China, in order to meet his archrival for leadership over China, Jiang Jieshi.
Thus, we have the three defining players in China’s long march from the downfall of the Qing Dynasty, in 1911-1912 through the country’s communist liberation in 1949.
The Great Helmsman, aka MAO ZEDONG.
aka THE LOFTY PROGENITOR OF BABA BEIJING.
aka 爸爸 北 京 高 祖: Baba Bei3 Jing1 Gao1Zu3.
aka THE LOFTY PROGENITOR OF THE RED DYNASTY.
aka 大 红 高 祖: Da4 Hong2 Gao1 Zu3.
Before I elaborate on Chairman Mao Zedong,
A word on SUN WEN, the Founding FATHER of the Chinese Republic.
By training, he was a Western-educated physician.
He is respected both by the Nationalists and the Communists.
He elaborated THE PLAN for China’s short-term and long-term development, inspired by Abraham Lincoln (born 1809 died 1869) and Henry Carey (born 1793 died 1879).
Carey was the leading XIX century economist of the American School and chief economic adviser to US President Abraham Lincoln.
What is being accomplished now by the CPC (Communist Party of China) and President Xi Jinping (born on June 15, 1953) is the concrete realization of a plan created by Sun Wen a century ago, including the immense railway network.
Sun fled China in 1895, after the failed coup that year to overthrow the Qing Dynasty, only to return 11 years later. Needless to say, he was not idle during that decade when he was abroad, as he worked tirelessly to expand the Chinese Revolutionary Network. He was the first President of the Chinese Republic proclaimed on January First, 1912. He was also the first leader of the GUO MIN DANG (Guo2 Min2 Dang3), aka KMT, aka National People’s Party.
Sun’s chief legacy (inspired by Lincoln) is his political philosophy THE THREE PRINCIPLES OF THE PEOPLE: 三 民 主 义: San1 Min2 Zhu3 Yi4
1-民 族 主 义: min2 zu2 zhu3 yi4
Nationalism, but I prefer National Sovereignty.
It means independence from foreign domination.
2-民 权 主 义: min2 quan2 zhu3 yi4
The Rights of the People.
3-民 生 主 义: min2 sheng1 zhu3 yi4
The People’s Livelihood.
Everything the CPC and Xi Jinping are doing now is a direct consequence of these Three Principles.
Now a word on the three Soong sisters, daughters of the wealthy businessman Charlie Soong (born 1861 died 1918), who helped Sun Wen tremendously. The two men met in 1894 and saw they were kindred spirits. Sun Wen was five years younger than Charlie Soong.
Soong Qingling (born 1893 died 1981) married Sun Wen in 1915, despite a big age difference.
Soong Meiling (born 1898 died 2003) married Jiang Jieshi in 1927.
Soong Ailing (born 1888 died 1973), married to Kong Xiangxi, aka Dr. H. H. Kung (born 1881 died 1967) in 1914. Kung was a banker, from a banking family, the richest man in the early XX century Republic of China, and 75th generation descendant of Confucius, therefore a scion of the Shangyin Royal House.
He served as Premier of the Republic of China from 1-1-1938 to 20-11-1939. Kung then served as Vice-Premier of the Executive from 1939 to 1945. Kung served as China’s chief delegate to the International Monetary and Financial Conference in 1944, where he signed the Bretton Woods Accord. He was an early supporter of Sun Wen, aka Sun Yat-Sen.
Zhongshan is Sun Wen’s social name also called courtesy name, an extremely old language habit going back to ancient times, when the members of the gentry and the nobility were called in polite society only by their social names. The members of the Chinese upper class and some of the middle class kept that habit alive until 1949. In some families living in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Southeast Asia and the West, it has survived.
Be informed that people of lower social origins might also have a sobriquet, an equivalent to the social name of the big wigs and semi-big wigs.
The proper name of what is called a Mao suit in the West is Zhongshan suit (Zhong1 Shan1 Fu2), because it was Mr. Zhongshan who gave his instructions to a tailor to create that specific design, each element representing symbolically, a virtue needed for good governance. Note that the translation given by the movie’s subtitles is debatable, but can be seen as a third possibility: Mandarin suit.
There is a certain bittersweet irony that a feudal language habit served to name a jacket symbolizing revolutionary virtue. But why not?
老 天 爷 是 开 玩 笑 最 高 手
Lao3 Tian1 Ye2 Shi4 Kai1 Wan2 Xiao4 Zui4 Gao1 Shou3
God (or Heaven) is the best joker.
They were trying to reach a middle-ground during the summer of 1945; history tells us that the attempt failed and four years later, the leader of the GUO MIN DANG, Jiang Jieshi fled to Taiwan, probably hoping to return one day (but we know that never happened), and Mao Zedong became the ruler of China, as the leader of the ZHONG GUO GONG CHAN DANG (Zhong1 Guo2 Gong4 Chan3 Dang3 / CPC, The Communist Party of China) or the variant by Kishore Mabhubani, the CCP: THE CHINESE CIVILIZATION PARTY.
Here we also have a victor (Mao Zedong) and a vanquished (Jiang Jieshi). As there was a social difference between the Peasant Son of Heaven Liu Bang (born 256 BCE died 195 BCE), aka Lofty Progenitor of the Han Dynasty (Han Gaozu) and the one he vanquished, Ziying, scion of the Ying Noble House; there is also a social difference between the Peasant Son of Heaven, Mao Zedong and the one vanquished by him, Jiang Jieshi, who was from the gentry.
But what is more meaningful about this latter pair is that they both shared the same spiritual father, SUN WEN, and like in all good family tragedies, both claimed to have accomplished the ideals and desires of their spiritual father Sun Wen, while denying such feat to his opponent and brother.
And more importantly, as with Liu Bang and Ziying, Mao Zedong and Jiang Jieshi are forever together in the minds and hearts of the Chinese people.
When Liu Bang accepted Ziying’s surrender and his Dynastic Seal at the side of Chi Road, at the end of November 207 BCE, a new world order came into being. When Mao declared from the heights of The Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen) the founding of the People’s Republic of China, on October first, 1949, a new world order came into being too.
Know that THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA is a wishy-washy translation of 中 华 人 民 共 和 国 (Zhong1 Hua2 Ren2 Min2 Gong4 He2 Guo2). I much prefer the following translation: THE COMMONWEALTH OF THE PEOPLES OF THE SPLENDID CENTRAL CIVILIZATION.
Mao Zedong was born on December 26, 1893 in Shaoshan, east of Xiangtan City, Hunan Province. He grew up under the strict supervision of an old-fashioned peasant, his biological father, who died in 1920 when the Great Helmsman was 26 years old. Mao remembered him as being authoritarian and not willing to let him go to school. His mother was a devout Buddhist, called Wen Qimei (Qimei: seventh sister) who was willing to let her son go in the direction of his heart’s desires. He had two younger brothers. Their mother died in October 1919 and there is a moving photo of the four together, taken some time before her death.
I talked about Mao’s spiritual father, Mr. Zhongshan, aka Sun Yat-Sen. Now let’s talk about three of Mao’s mentors:
1- ZHENG GUANYING (born 1842 died 1922) (Pinyin: Zheng4 Guan1 Ying4).
While working on his father’s farm, Mao read voraciously and from Zheng’s booklets developed a clear image of China’s setbacks in the modern world and the need for reforms. Zheng was in favor of women’s rights.
2- YANG CHANGJI (born 1871 died 1920) (Pinyin: Yang2 Chang1 Ji4).
3- CHEN DUXIU (born 1879 died 1942) (Pinyin: Chen2 Du2 Xiu4).
Mao desired to become a teacher and enrolled at the Fourth Normal School of Changsha (the Capital City of Hunan Province), which soon merged with the First Normal School of Changsha, widely seen as the best in Hunan. He began his curriculum in 1912 and when he graduated in 1919, he was the third of his promotion.
During those years, he actively participated in the social, intellectual and local political life of Changsha and Beijing. He visited Shanghai too. Professor Yang Changji befriended him and introduced him to a radical newspaper called 新 青 年 (Xin1 Qing1 Nian2), New Youth, supervised by CHEN DUXIU).
Chen Duxiu co-founded the Communist Party of China (CPC) in July 1921 with Li Dazhao (Li3 Da4 Zhao1) (born 1889 died 1927). Li Dazhao helped build a united front between the CPC and Sun Yat-Sen’s Nationalist Party in early 1924. Mao Zedong was invited to be part of the founding members of the CPC in July 1921, when he was 27 years old. Chen Duxiu was the first General Secretary of the CPC between 1921 and 1927.
Professor Yang Changji was considered one of the best philosophers of his generation, before his premature death at 48. In 1917, when Yang had taken a job at Beijing University (Beida), Mao also moved to Beijing. Yang was a vital source for Mao, with his peasant background, to gain self-confidence and entry into the world. Yang thought Mao exceptionally intelligent and handsome. Yang secured for Mao a position of assistant librarian at Beida. The pay was low, but Beijing was dazzling and Mao had a new world to discover. He was snubbed by the children of the big wigs and semi-big wigs, because of his Hunanese accent and his rural upbringing, but he also met open-minded people, so his sojourn in Beijing was an absolute boon for his training.
At the end of 1919, he even went to Shanghai to say farewell to friends leaving for Europe.
Mao was forced to marry Luo Yixiu (born 1889 died 1911) by his father, when he was 14. The marriage was never consummated, and Luo died of dysentery.
Professor Yang Changji gave him his daughter, Yang Kaihui (born 1901 died 1930). They married in 1920 and Kaihui became a member of the CPC in 1922.
In October 1930, the local KMT warlord He Jian captured Yang Kaihui and her son Mao Anying. Her captors wanted her to publicly renounce Mao Zedong and the CPC, but she refused to do so. Even under torture, she was reputed to have told her captors that:
YOU CAN KILL ME AS YOU LIKE, BUT YOU WILL NEVER GET ANYTHING FROM MY MOUTH.
CHOPPING OFF SOMEONE’S HEAD IS LIKE THE PASSING OF WIND, DEATH COULD FRIGHTEN COWARDS, BUT NOT US COMMUNISTS.
EVEN IF THE SEAS RUN DRY AND THE ROCKS CRUMBLE, I WOULD NEVER BREAK OFF RELATIONS WITH MAO ZEDONG.
I PREFER TO DIE FOR THE SUCCESS OF MAO’S REVOLUTIONARY CAREER.
Yang Kaihui was executed in Changsha on November 14, 1930 at the age of 29. Her children with Mao Zedong were effectively orphaned and were rediscovered years later.
Mao Anying (Mao2 An4 Ying1) (born 1922 died 1950). He died fighting in the Korean War.
Mao Anqing (Mao2 An4 Qing1) (born 1924 died 2007). He worked as a researcher at the Academy of Military Sciences and the Publicity Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.
Mao would have relations with other women, but Yang Kaihui had a special place in his heart.
The infamous Madame Mao of the Gang of Four, aka Jiang Qing (born 1914 died 1991) (Pinyin: Jiang1 Qing1) was Mao’s last wife.
There is an obvious common factor in the formative years of the three famous Peasant Sons of Heaven, each founding a Great Dynasty. Each of them met people recognizing there was something unique in them, thus giving them the education and refinement they lacked, while introducing them to the world; boosting their self-confidence and confirming their sense of mission, by naming their identity as A SON OF HEAVEN.
LIU BANG (born 256 BCE died 195 BCE) (Liu2 Bang1)
aka The Lofty Progenitor of the Han Dynasty.
aka Han Gaozu (Han4 Gao1 Zu3).
There were many, but one was Lü Wen (Lü3 Wen2). The first time he met Liu Bang, he was so impressed that he gave him his daughter Lü Zhi (born 241BCE died 180 BCE), the future Empress.
ZHU YUANZHANG (born 1328 died 1398) (Pinyin: Zhu1 Yuan2 Zhang1)
aka The Supreme Progenitor of the Ming Dynasty.
aka Ming Taizu (Ming2 Tai4 Zu3).
There were also many, but one was Marshall Guo Zixing, who died in 1355. Zhu Yuanzhang met Marshall Guo in 1352. Within a year, he married Guo’s adopted daughter, the future Empress Ma (born 1332 died 1382).
I want to add Li Shanchang (born 1314 died 1390) (Pinyin: Li3 Shan1 Chang2), a Confucian Scholar.
The two met when the future emperor was 25, in 1353. Li gave Zhu a summary of Chinese history and told the young man he had the qualities of a former Peasant Son of Heaven, who lived 1,600 years before, Han Gaozu, who was the Son of Heaven in his day.
This young man, Zhu kicked the Mongols out of China in 1368, 15 years after the interview with Li.
MAO ZEDONG (born 1893 died 1976) (Pinyin: Mao2 Ze2 Dong1)
aka THE LOFTY PROGENITOR OF BABA BEIJING.
aka Baba Beijing Gaozu.
aka 爸爸 北 京 高 祖.
We already know that one was Professor Yang Changji, who gave him Yang Kaihui, his daughter, and that she was martyred for him and for a better China.
Mao Zedong was given an appraisal by Baba Beijing when Deng Xiaoping (born 1904 died 1997) was the paramount leader. It was announced at the XII Party Congress (1982): Mao was 70% correct in his leadership and 30% for demerits. That year, the Chinese population reached a billion, a quarter of the human population at the time. When Mao entered Beijing in 1949, the Chinese population was around 550 million.
In one generation, it practically doubled.
In 1949, the average life expectancy was somewhere between 35 and 40. It was 65 when Mao died and now it’s 77.
The literacy rate was around 20% in 1949. Six years after the death of Mao in 1982, it was about 62% and now it is practically 100% in the cities and above 90% in the countryside, for a national average in 2018 of 96.84%.
Here I need to disagree with Baba Beijing. 70% correct is quite unfair to the Great Helmsman, taking into account not only the above numbers, but many other criteria.
I suggest four questions to assess a leader: 30% for each of the questions 1, 2 and 3 and only 10% for question four.
Those four questions pertain to The Past, The Present (meaning the time he ruled), The Future and on his Personality.
Q #1-Did he make a difference compared to the past of his country (the last 5,000 years in this case)?
Q #2- What is the appraisal for the time he ruled (1949-1976)?
Q #3- Did he manage to transfer power to someone not only worthy, but outstanding?
Q #4- Did he manifest the Personality of a Leader?
A #1- Mao Zedong opened the doors for a completely new order, after 22 centuries of Empire and 40 centuries of Monarchy. True, the Revolution of 1912 already began the work, but the Revolution of 1949 uplifted it to a new level. Under the guidance of the teachings of Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism, the overthrown hereditary monarchy was probably less detestable most of the time in China than elsewhere; but it’s still a form of domination, even if the meritocratic system of the Imperial Exams made it less obnoxious, still…
For this undeniable breakthrough, I give him 30/30!
A #2- For the time he ruled (1949-1976), I simply invite you to look again at the numbers I gave above concerning population growth, literacy rate and life expectancy. However, he caused some significant sufferings with The Great Leap Forward (1958-1960) and The Cultural Revolution (1966-1977) that I cannot ignore.
So, I give him 20/30 for this question.
A #3- Just by transferring power to Deng Xiaoping, he deserves 30/30 on this one. Deng had been exiled during the Cultural Revolution and recalled to Beijing by Mao in 1973. We all know that Hua Guofeng (born 1921 died 2008) had been granted the titles of Premier Vice Chairman of the CPC Central Committee and Premier of the State Council (Prime Minister) during the last months of Mao’s life, but really, let’s be serious, Deng had been well protected from harm before Mao died. And let’s not forget Deng’s towering and unrivaled prestige in the PLA (People’s Liberation Army). Don’t be fooled by Deng’s diminutive physique, he was quite a strategist and recognized as such by the PLA, as he played a vital commanding role for the Huai Army in the years 1945-1949, during the heroic communist conquest of Mainland China.
As was expected, a week or so after giving the eulogy speech for the late Premier Zhou Enlai (born 5-3-1898 died 8-1-1976), Deng left for safe abode in the southern city of Guangzhou, near Hong Kong. In April 1976, during the Qing Ming festival (a moment of family gathering to commemorate ancestors and sweep their tombs), there was a clash between many Beijing citizens, wishing to pay tribute to late Premier Zhou Enlai, who had died three months earlier, and government officials. Deng was scapegoated for inciting the fight from afar (les absents ont toujours tort) and stripped of all his titles. It was part of the conspiracy of the Gang of Four to eliminate him. At Mao’s behest, Deng retained his membership in the CPC, his last asset on the eventual road to return to power. Here, I have to say that for a reader of Chinese history, all those shenanigans, court cabals, displacements of persons and removal of titles are absolutely pathognomonic of a dying leader trying to protect HIS TRUE HEIR, in the midst of conjurations of OPPOSING FACTIONS, that he can no longer control, because of his weakness.
Mao recognized Deng Xiaoping as HIS TRUE HEIR, because he saw Deng as worthy and truly outstanding.
A coalition of Mao/Deng Loyalists put an end to the Gang of Four. These loyalists were:
Hua Guofeng himself.
Marshall Ye Jianying (born 1897 died 1986).
The technocrat Li Xiannian (born 1909 died 1992).
Along with the courageous, unswerving and skillful assistance of the forever faithful Wang Dongxing (born 1916 died 2015), Commander of the elite 8341 Special Regiment, aka The Central Guard Regiment, aka The Central Bureau of Guards.
On October 6, 1976, three of the Gang of Four were arrested in Huai Ren Tang (Hall of Cherished Compassion) (Pinyin: Huai2 Ren2 Tang2), which is still a meeting place of the Politburo of the CPC and an alternate meeting place for the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the CHINESE CIVILIZATION PARTY (the small group of 5-10 men at the top of China’s ruling group).
Huai Ren Tang is part of Zhong Nan Hai, formerly part of the Forbidden City, on its west side which, during olden times was formerly devoted to meditation, boating and leisure. Since 1949, Zhong Nan Hai has been the Chinese government leadership compound in Beijing.
The three arrested in Huai Ren Tang were:
Wang Hongwen (born 1935 died 1992).
Yao Wenyuan (born 1931 died 2005).
Zhang Chunqiao (born 1917 died 2005).
Madame Mao, aka Jiang Qing was arrested at her Residence, 17 Diaoyutai, during the evening of the same day, by a chosen unit of the elite 8341 Special Regiment.
The 11th National Congress happened August 12-18, 1977 and declared officially and staunchly the end of the nefarious influence of the Gang of Four and the end of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1977), even if most of the tumultuous events were between 1966 and 1969.
Between October 1976 and December 1978, Hua Guofeng remained Number One in the Chinese government, but with the Army, some technocrats and many powerful political men Beijing favoring Deng as the true paramount leader, it was only a mere, a simple, a basic question of time before Hua was invited to accept ceremonial positions, and afterwards a golden retirement. And that was what really happened. Mr. Hua died on August 10, 2008 at age 87, 11 years after Deng Xiaoping, and had the pleasure to see China’s utter, radical and dazzling transformation.
A #4- The answer is obvious, if Mao did not display the Personality of a Leader, he would not have been recognized as such by the Chinese, unless the Chinese were idiots – but trust me – most Chinese are not morons. However, I want to stress that Mao corresponds to the ideal of a Chinese leader and probably to the ideal of a leader of any nation on Earth:
He was really charismatic, contrary to Chiang Kai-Shek.
Mao was a scholar of Chinese history, writing poetry, was energetic and capable of physical action. He was good in strategy in the battlefield and was able to write war manuals too. He was tall enough (let’s not forget he was a southern Chinese) and handsome in his young age; those things matter.
But above all, he was the living embodiment of the rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation, he believed in his people (contrary to certain petit-bourgeois intellectuals brainwashed by the western oligarchical machine) and was able to choose the right subordinates (a paramount, vital, non-negotiable quality for a leader). It was not the case for Jiang Jieshi, aka Chiang Kai-Shek whose government was full of moles, traitors and prevaricators. The Long March from the end of 1934 to the end of 1935 established Mao as the undisputed leader of the CPC.
Over time, Mao showed a strong proclivity for authoritarian behavior; he strongly identified himself with the first Emperor of China and to the Lofty Progenitor of the Han Dynasty, his model figures, so to speak, living two millennia before him. And he was absolutely right, LIKE THEM, HE WAS A SON OF HEAVEN, and why shouldn’t he claim his belonging to this group of heavenly brothers?
Needless to say, his spiritual father, SUN WEN was also A SON OF HEAVEN.
The Mausoleum the Chinese built for SUN WEN in Nanjing irresistibly evokes an Imperial Tomb.
So, I give Mao 10/10 for this criterion.
So, 30/30 + 20/30 + 30/30 + 10/10 = 90/100
FINAL SCORE FOR THE PEASANT SON OF HEAVEN MAO ZEDONG: 90%.
Because the Great Helmsman, Mao Zedong lived his life,
The Little Helmsman, Deng Xiaoping was able to do his part,
And the Younger Helmsman, Xi Jinping, now has what he needs to secure wealth and power (福 强 fu3 qiang1), for THE COMMONWEALTH OF THE PEOPLES OF THE SPLENDID CENTRAL CIVILIZATION.
The next 20 years will see many changes in the world. We’re living in dangerous and exciting times.
Download the full-length English-subtitled “The Founding of a Republic” right here for FREE, from my extensive Chinese film collection! Use VLC video player to easily see the subtitles,
And a fashion show extra just for you,
A short video clip and photo of Jeff and his colleague, Allen at their school in Shenzhen (when Jeff was a classroom teacher 2008-2018), participating in the annual fashion show. All the Chinese staff, students and parents went totally crazy. The Western staff not so much! Notice we are wearing Chinese medals of honor from the Korean War,