On a Mama’s Boy

No one questioned that he was a mama’s boy. That much was obvious even to the most casual observer because the boy and his mother were inseparable. Some commented that the umbilical cord was still attached between the two.

Soon after his birth, the mother took the boy to several monasteries to receive blessings from the monks there. She wanted to ensure that he would be raised with all the love and spirituality that she could muster. That attitude differed from that of the boy’s dad.

The father, a small landholder, saw in the boy security for himself in old age, and he rode the lad hard to be disciplined and educated. The mother protected him from the father. To counter this, the boy was sent away at age 8 in part to sever this strong bond. Later, he would say that he saw this phase of his early life as a competition between him and his mother against his dad. As an old man, he remarked that, if he could, he would have tortured his father.

But the dad argued that it was practical for the boy to get an education to learn how to manage the estate so that, when they retired, he could care for them. The boy, unsurprisingly, rebelled at being sent away from his beloved mother. At school, he developed a reputation for getting into fights. When the mother heard this, she was greatly disappointed. She was a Buddhist by religion and therefore was a pacifist. The son, learning of his mother’s disappointment, repented in tears to her and vowed to behave. He did not want to disappoint her ever again.

It is therefore a foregone conclusion that the boy loved his mother with such a white-hot intensity that he showed towards no one else in his life. Her tolerance and the gentle way she dealt with him—she never hit him and often indulged him—was something he carried with him his entire life. It was understandable in one sense because the lad looked like her side of the family, from the shape of his mouth to his eyes and the shape of his head. Others saw nothing of the dad in the boy’s features.

In his own words, he told listeners in his old age that he “worshipped my mother … Wherever my mother went, I would follow … going to temple fairs, burning incense and paper money, doing obeisance to Buddha … Because my mother believed in Buddha, so did I.” But that changed. His mother died when he was 26, and he was devastated. The enmity between him and his father plus the death of his mother (and also that of his first wife) threw the young man into a spiral of sadness and melancholy. He increasingly turned to political activity, a subject that had piqued his interest in school. In fact, he would go on to lead a major revolution in the world’s largest nation.

You know him as Mao Zedong.

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