Mao Zedong's writings from the 1930s, before the Communists took power,
highlight the theme of "borrowing but preserving" from a different
perspective. Mao (1893-1976) was an arch-critic of traditional Chinese
culture, but in applying the thoughts of Marx and Lenin (which are Western)
to China he still cautioned that the Chinese Communists must not forget
their own history, and that Communist ideology must have Chinese characteristics.
In the speech excerpted below, Mao is scolding those in the Party who
are blindly following the ideas of Marx and Lenin without adapting it to
the Chinese situation, which Mao thought would be made "better" by
a revolution to wipe out the old ways and establish new ones.
... [T]ake the study of history. Although a few Party members and sympathizers
have undertaken this work, it has not been done in an organized way.
Many Party members are still in a fog about Chinese history, whether
of the last hundred years or of ancient times. There are many Marxist-Leninist
scholars who cannot open their mouths without citing ancient Greece;
but as for their own ancestors — sorry, they have been forgotten. There
is no climate of serious study either of current conditions or of past
Third, take the study of international revolutionary experience, the
study of the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism. Many comrades seem
to study Marxism-Leninism not to meet the needs of revolutionary practice,
but purely for the sake of study. Consequently, though they read, they
cannot digest. They can only cite odd quotations from Marx, Engels, Lenin
and Stalin in a one-sided manner, but are unable to apply the stand,
viewpoint and method of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin to the concrete
study of China's present conditions and her history or to the concrete
analysis and solution of the problems of the Chinese revolution. Such
an attitude towards Marxism-Leninism does a great deal of harm, particularly
among cadres of the middle and higher ranks.
The three aspects I have just mentioned, neglect of the study of current
conditions, neglect of the study of history, and neglect of the application
of Marxism-Leninism, all constitute an extremely bad style of work. Its
spread has harmed many of our comrades.
There are some who are proud, instead of ashamed, of knowing nothing
or very little of our own history. What is particularly significant is
that very few really know the history of the Communist Party of China
and the history of China in the hundred years since the Opium War. Hardly
anyone has seriously taken up the study of the economic, political, military,
and cultural history of the last hundred years. Ignorant of their own
country, some people can only relate tales of ancient Greece and other
foreign lands, and even this knowledge is quite pathetic, consisting
of odds and ends from old foreign books.
For several decades, many of the returned students from abroad have
suffered from this malady. Coming home from Europe, America, or Japan,
they can only parrot things foreign. They become gramophones and forget
their duty to understand and create new things. This malady has also
infected the Communist Party.
From Selected Works of Mao, Beijing Foreign Languages Press, 1971.