The early 1920s was a time of change and upheaval in China. Only a few years ago had the centuries old Qing Dynasty fallen, ending an Imperial system which stemmed back millenia. As the new Republic of China experienced turmoil and division, its population turned to all kinds of radical ideologies in a bid to rediscover their country’s place in the world again. At this point in time, a former library assistant at Peking University, hailing from rural Hunan province, got together with likeminded people and in 1921, founded the Communist Party of China in Shanghai. His name was Mao Zedong. We don’t need to explain to you who he was or for that matter, what happened next. Rather, we are focusing on someone close to him. For around this time, he and his wife Yang Kanghui had a son in 1922. That son’s name was Mao Anying, but just who was he? And how is he important on the subject of North Korea?
Mao the younger was for most of his life, distant albeit not estranged from his father. With the elder Mao busy being a revolutionary, waging an insurgency the ruling Guomindang party, it wasn’t the greatest environment to be a father. Mao Anying was left behind in Hunan province, the rural farmlands where his father was born. Yet this did not shield him from the turbulence. The ruling government were prepared to enact violent purges against communists and in 1930, at only his 8 years old, his mother was slaughtered. Mao Anying was forced to flee to Shanghai with his brother, where he was brought up in an underground community of communist party sympathizers. As this was ongoing, his father had established the famous Jiangxi Soviet, which declared a provisional Chinese Soviet Republic. Reunification with his son was not any closer, as the Guomindang forces would later attack, forcing the Communists on a dramatic evacuation thousands of miles Northwards by foot, otherwise known as the “long march“.
With China in turmoil as neighbouring Japan proceeded to occupy swathes of the country and unleash war, Mao Zedong eventually decided to send his son away. He sent him westwards to the USSR, where he was schooled in Moscow. Here, he would learn Russian. During World War II, he would join the Red Army and battle on the European Eastern front against Nazism, this involved participation right up until the closing stages of the War, whereby the Soviets ended Hitler’s occupation of Poland. This military experience would put him in pole position for what came next. In the coming years, following the defeat of Japan, his father would succeed in a Communist conquest of all mainland China, forcing the Guomindang to retreat to Taiwan. In its place, was proclaimed the People’s Republic of China, a new regime which would now be subjected to Mao’s revolutionary politics. Only a year previously to the North East, had the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea been proclaimed. The Korean peninsula had previously been defeated and the new state now sat conveniently on China’s border. But the peace wasn’t about to last…
The new leader of the DPRK, Kim Il Sung, visited Beijing and lobbied Mao hard for his support in what would become an attempted conquest of South Korea. Kim’s bids had been turned down in Moscow, with Josef Stalin having tactfully delegated “approval” for Kim’s plans down to Mao, primarily on the goal of creating a distraction for America in Asia which would divert attention from Europe. Mao thus felt obligated to give approval as a nod to the USSR, feeling that Stalin was testing his credibility. Thus in 1950, the Korean War broke out. It did not, however, go to plan. A timely intervention by the United States saw North Korea go from the verge of victory to total defeat. Douglas McArthur, determined to stop communist expansion in Asia, saw fit not just to reverse Kim’s invasion of South Korea, but to outright destroy the DPRK and reunify the peninsula under Seoul’s rule. As US and allied forces occupied Pyongyang, the alarm bells ringing in Beijing.
China had been very clear in their warnings to the United States not to progress North of the 38th parralel. Thus, under the name of the “People’s Volunteer Army“, Mao made the decisive decision to intervene and preserve China’s periphery. Mao’s very own son, Anying, was subsequently enlisted at 30 years old. Of course, as the leader’s son, he would not just be any frontline soldier but rather served as a secretary for Peng Dehuai, a key commander in the conflict. However, this was not enough to keep him safe. This was the age of American bombing. The United States relentlessly bombed the DPRK and also used Napalm, a predecessor for Vietnam. Mao Anying, situated in a temporary PVA base, was caught in one of those attacks by A-26 invader bombers. What he was doing at the time was unclear, but he nevertheless perished. Whilst an overwhelming number of Chinese would die in this conflict, Mao would be personally struck by the loss of his own son. Indeed, in a war he had effectively started.
What would happen to Mao Anying’s body? The Korean war would ultimately forge an alliance between North Korea and China whereby they would commemorate each’s support in their struggle against the United States. This would in turn, create many monuments and sites of devotion throughout the country. For the Chinese soldiers who died in the conflict, this led to the creation of the “Cemetery for the Heroes of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army” . This is located in Hoechang, North Pyong’an province, some 2-3 hours north of Pyongyang. North Korean tour groups have the opportunity to visit this site and to witness his grave. We will be doing it this year under our 2019 Political Insights of the DPRK tour
So that marks the story of Mao Anying, son of the Chinese leader. Throughout his short life, he witnessed an unstable world whereby Asia moved dramatically from one conflict, to the next. From the Communist-Guomindang civil war, to the war against Japan, to the Korean War, life was never certain. Indeed, the dramatic reshaping of Asia would eventually claim him itself. Now he rests in North Korea, a legacy to the millions of lives which that conflict took.