With almost thirty years between the start of their dictatorships, it seems unlikely that Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin would hold many similarities. Stalin was hostile to the peasantry, while Zedong saw himself as an ally. Zedong tried to improve China’s culture, while Stalin had bloody purges. Nonetheless, they have both been regarded as having bloody regimes. Stalin has been called “one of the bloodiest tyrants in the history of the world” because of his purges (Daily History), and Zedong “the greatest mass murderer in world history” because of the millions of deaths that occured during his regime (Akbar). However, looking at their individual rises to power,  the similarities become more evident. Even their individual upbringings were different, but somehow lead to similarities in their leadership. Joseph Stalin was born in 1879 to a poor family in Gori, Russia. He later proceeded to become dictator of the Soviet Union from the 1920s to his death in 1953, where he was responsible for upwards of twenty million deaths through his purges (Biography in Context). Mao Zedong was born fourteen years after Stalin, in Shaoshan, China. He then lead the Chinese Communist Party from 1949 to 1976, the year of his death. Through the changes the pushed to China’s culture, he caused the death of about forty-five people (World History in Context). Zedong and Stalin may have differences in their actions, but these actions stem from similar reasons that show their similar rise to power.Zedong and Stalin both strayed away from the expectations set by their beliefs. Conventional communism dictates that communism is a government system “based on the holding of all property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state” (Dictionary.com), meaning that every decision that is made for the state is decided as a whole community, and all resources are shared equally within the population. Both Zedong and Stalin lead their respective states under a Communist structure. Stalin gained these ideals when he sided with the Bolsheviks after Russian Marxist movement split into two parties (Encyclopedia of World Biography), and Zedong gained them through the chief librarian that he worked under during his work at Peking University (Encyclopedia of World Biography). However, both Zedong and Stalin lead their respective governments as dictators, going against the basic fundamentals of communism (Tart). Looking deeper, their eventual leadership position may have been from existing rankings in their political parties. After his climb through the ranks of the communist party, Stalin came to a point where, after Lenin died, he inherited the position of dictatorship (Daily History). Zedong, on the other hand, eventually became chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, which eventually came to control China, and no change came to his role as a leader (Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War). Their positions as dictators may have been influenced by the similar states of China and the Soviet Union at the time of their rule. At the time, both countries were under threat of attack, both were populated by an unhappy peasantry, and both had recently faced civil wars. The Soviet Union had a civil war from 1917 to 1922, and China had one from 1927 to 1950 (Tart). Their similar divergence from the status quo of communism lead to the two acting similar during their leadership.The parallel rise to power and political leaning of Stalin and Zedong eventually lead to similar actions while in power. Their leadership has been remembered as bloody because of the deaths from Stalin’s purges and Zedong’s “Great Leap Forward”.  During his purges, Stalin targeted anyone he could suspect for anything, he first “came for the old Bolsheviks. Then it was time for the government officials and military officers”, with millions arrested and 681,692 officially recorded deaths, although some believe that the actual count is double (Budanovic). Stalin’s purges could be written off as paranoia, but Zedong’s simply created harsher punishment for the smallest of things in order to lessen crime. In his “Great Leap Forward”, where he attempted to catch China up to the economy of the Western world, around 45 million were killed because of punishments for little things, “tiny thefts, such as stealing a potato, even by a child, would include being tied up and thrown into a pond” (Akbar). Although Stalin caused a small fraction of the deaths Zedong caused, the parallels of the imprisonment and execution were founded from paranoia. Fear of being opposed in the case of Stalin, and fear of crime in Zedong’s. To ease fear of opposition, most dictators use force and propaganda in their favor. During Stalin’s regime, posters were published of him and Lenin side by side, implying that he had a more influential role in the revolution, while he only played a minor role (Daily History). Zedong used a large variety of propaganda, from television to posters, to his famous “Little Red Book” which “contained his own statements/ideology about what he knew/felt was the ‘right’ thing was in everyday life” (Ngai). Both used propaganda through media to promote their image and to scare potential opposers. This propaganda, like all their actions was different, reflecting their different countries and upbringings. Although Stalin and Zedong had comparable actions and beliefs, upon taking a closer look, discrepancies exist. Individually, they focused on very different changes they felt needed to be made. Stalin focused on making changes to the Soviet Union’s economic and agricultural flaws, and Zedong focused on pushing China’s culture to new heights (Uahsibhistory). However, these focuses stem from the negative aspects of their respective childhoods. Stalin was born to a poor family, so as leader, he focused on improving the Soviet Union’s economic state (Encyclopedia of World Biography). Zedong rebelled against his culture, refusing an arranged marriage set by his parents (Encyclopedia of World Biography). Before they even made it into power, there were great differences in becoming dictators. Both climbed the political ladder of their parties, but when Stalin reached the head of the communist party, after Lenin’s death, he was already leading the country. Zedong reached the top of his party, but his party didn’t have a hold on the China, like Stalin’s party had on the USSR. However, “Although Stalin was already a member of a party in power by the time of Lenin’s death, the regime was by no means secure within the country” (Tart).  So like Zedong, Stalin had to fight to have a secure position of leadership in the USSR. The rise to power of Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong are “easily comparable” on a broad, basic level (Tart). Looking at the most basic facts of their leadership, like their climb to the top of their party, the deaths caused during their reign, or even the propaganda they released, similarities are. The larger of those parallels likely stem from the similar disrepair of their country at the time, forcing them to make decisions that mirror the others in their attempts to improve their country. Looking closer, in the words of Russel Tart, “it is clear that the conditions faced by Stalin and Mao were broadly similar, but that the policies they adopted could not have been more different.” they made very different choices, and that would seem to set them apart. However, looking at the reasons why these differences exist, more parallels form from these differences and their childhood. Zedong and Stalin had a similar rise that eventually lead to their parallels, the main differences deriving from differences in China and the USSR, existing before they were able to do anything as lawyer.


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