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Talking Strategy

Apr 11, 2023

Professor Steve Tsang joins Beatrice and Paul to discuss the founding father of the Chinese People’s Republic, Mao Zedong. Mao was both a Leninist strategic theorist and the leader of the Chinese Communists in their fight to overthrow the Chinese nationalists – while not exerting themselves too much in the battle against Japanese occupation.

There is a considerable gulf between Mao’s theoretical writings on strategies for insurgency and civil war, and the practices he followed, Professor Tsang explains. Nevertheless, his three-stage concept for a successful guerrilla movement has inspired other Communist revolutionary movements the world over.

Another disciple of Clausewitz, Mao used the tenet that war is a continuation of politics by other means to argue, famously, that peace is also a time of fighting – even if the tools are not those of war. He made this his main argument for breaking with the Stalinist tradition that sought to rely only on Communist strategic thinkers, and with Soviet tutelage. For Mao, ‘Fighting in times of peace is politics, war is also politics, even if it uses special means’. This doctrine perfectly captured the spirit of the Cold War.

Professor Steve Tsang is the Director of the SOAS China Institute. Previously, he was the Head of the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham, and before that a Professorial Fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford. He is also an Associate Fellow of Chatham House and an Emeritus Fellow of St Antony’s College.