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Digital Archive International History Declassified

March 31, 1954

FROM THE JOURNAL OF AMBASSADOR PAVEL YUDIN: MEMORANDUM OF CONVERSATION WITH MAO ZEDONG, 26 MARCH 1954

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    Chairman Mao and Soviet Ambassador Pavel Yudin discuss the "Gao Gang affair." Mao recounts Gao Gang's scheming within the ranks of the CCP, and how he tried to use Mao's name to attack Liu Shaoqi and Zhou Enlai.
    "From the Journal of Ambassador Pavel Yudin: Memorandum of Conversation with Mao Zedong, 26 March 1954," March 31, 1954, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, AVP RF, f. 06, op. 13a, papka 39, d. 227, ll. 1-5. Obtained by Paul Wingrove and translated by Paul Wingrove. https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/111360
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31 March 1954

No. 284

Top Secret Memorandum of Conversation between P. F. Yudin and [Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Chairman] Cde. Mao Zedong, 26 March 1954[1]

In accordance with instructions from Moscow [Tsentr], I visited Mao Zedong on the matter of bringing together leading figures in the CCP, Democratic People's Republic of Korea [DPRK] and [the Democratic Republic of] Vietnam at the CPSU CC in connection with the imminent Geneva Conference and simultaneously imparted to him the content of Comrade [Mikhail] Suslov's letter. The memorandum of conversation on both these questions has been produced separately.

After the conclusion of discussion on both the aforementioned questions, I was about to leave, but Mao asked me to stay and said that he wanted to have a chat with me as we used to do, as comrades, as we often did on my previous visits to China.

1.) He said that during his stay in Hangzhou he had managed to get a good rest and felt well. In the last thirty-five days of his holiday he had walked in the mountains a lot. "During my absence," said Mao Zedong, "they began to spread fabrications abroad concerning my serious ill-health, that I was seriously ill from tuberculosis according to one version, and that I had heart disease according to another. And they were spreading rumors that in the event of my death, Gao Gang would take over my position. But, as you see, I am in fine health and not about to die."

Continuing this train of thought, begun in connection with the aforementioned Gao Gang, Mao said that for a long time it was felt that both within the party and outside it something had not been right. There was a feeling as if an earthquake was taking place, with tremors breaking out sometimes here, sometimes there, but it was impossible to say where the epicenter was located. This became particularly evident in June-July of last year, when the CCP CC convened a conference on financial and economic matters. Then, from July to December of 1953, it became more strongly felt that two centers existed within the party, one being the party's Central Committee, but the other invisible and underground. The tremors began to be felt even more strongly in the party. After 24 December, when this question was discussed in the Politburo, many things became clearer. Now we know where this was all coming from. However, that does not mean that an earthquake cannot occur in another place.

Elaborating some of the details of this "Gao Gang affair," Mao Zedong informed me that after the February Plenum of the CCP CC, two commissions worked for two weeks and managed to clarify a good deal. An especially noteworthy fact was that Gao Gang and Rao Shushi had both been arrested in the past. Some parts of that period of their biographies were previously unclear, but now this has become a little clearer. In his personal life Gao Gang was a sordid individual. He had a lot of women, some of whom, as had become clear, were hostile elements. Now, in a number of ways, the CC was trying to establish whether Gao Gang was connected with imperialists. Much valuable material exposing the activities of Gao Gang was provided by his secretaries.

After Gao Gang's return from Moscow, where he had flown in connection with the Beria affair, continued Mao Zedong, Gao became particularly active. An especially revealing fact was that, having returned from Moscow, he talked to no one about the two extremely important aspects of the decision of the CC of the CPSU, namely the damage of the propaganda of the cult of personality and the necessity for collective leadership of the party. Typical was this: having returned from Moscow Gao Gang did not go home, but immediately headed for the Beijing Hotel, where party workers who had come from the provinces on business were staying, and began to work on them. The Gao Gang-Rao Shushi anti-party group adopted this tactic for its underground activity: to avow support for Mao Zedong and Lin Biao, but struggling in the first instance against Liu Shaoqi and then against Zhou Enlai. "But of course," Mao remarked, "it's not a matter of names, but of the party and its unity." To my response that this was the usual tactic of factionalists, that to act openly against Mao was beyond their power, Mao replied that by hiding behind his name the factionalists had deceived many comrades and that was precisely why he (Mao Zedong) must swiftly and clearly state his point of view and show where he stood, otherwise "an epidemic of factionalism would quickly spread inside the party."

When the Gao Gang affair was revealed, the majority of party members correctly understood the actions of the CC, but some of them could fairly charge it with sluggishness. In this connection Mao Zedong, half in jest, said, "Mao Zedong proposed Gao Gang for membership in the Politburo, and he named him as deputy chairman of the central government. Now the comrades are having to approve all sorts of measures in relation to the Gao Gang affair, and they are asking why the CC overlooked this matter. Mao replies that evidently it was because he was blind. Then the comrades ask how Mao can work if he has gone blind – to which Mao replies that he has now recovered his sight." In this regard, Mao noted that he felt poorly at the end of last year. Knowing the verdict of the USSR procurator on the Beria affair helped CCP CC in finding the right way to expose the anti-party activity of Gao Gang. At that time he suspected Gao Gang of anti-party activity but was not absolutely sure, and that is why he was guarded in his relations with him. To my remark that it was understandable that at our meeting in Hangzhou that Mao, when asking to be allowed to familiarize members of the Politburo with the verdict on Beria, did not refer to Gao Gang, Mao Zedong said that at that time the CC still did not know everything. They thought it would not be necessary to convene a plenum, but later they decided it was necessary. He remarked that he [Mao] now feels better, since all this has helped to produce a healthier situation. Now additional material on Gao Gang is coming to light which clarifies many details. The final decision will be put to the next plenum of the Central Committee. Drawing on the words of Lenin, that a party strengthens itself when it cleanses itself of its enemies, I said that in the present circumstances the CCP was going through a process of strengthening itself. Mao remarked that this did not preclude the possibility of the appearance of "factionalists" in the future. In reply to my rejoinder that if there are classes then there is class struggle, even within the party, Mao Zedong said: when outwardly all seems well in the party, that does not mean that in fact all is well inside the party.

Then, having remarked that Gao Gang was a friend of Kovalev, Mao asked me if I had seen Kovalev's letter to Stalin. I replied that I had not seen the letter, but that Comrade Stalin had told me about it. Mao Zedong said that in this letter, which had been kept and which he could show to me, everything had been suggested by Gao Gang. The basic content of the letter was that apart from Gao Gang himself, there wasn't a single good comrade in the Central Committee. Of course, Gao Gang was leading Kovalev when he characterized some members of the CC as pro-American in inclination and the others as anti-Soviet. It is clear that Gao Gang has had intentions of that sort for a long time.

In reply to Mao's question about where Kovalev was now working, I said that I had heard he was a railwayman who had become involved in politics–I don't know. He was an unimportant figure in China. (Mao's translator Shi Zhe, present at the conversation, remarked that he thought he was working as deputy minister for the coal industry).

2.) Then Mao Zedong told me about the organization of work in the CC. He informed me that at present he is little occupied with current problems, but that [he] delegates their handling to other members of the Politburo, who consult with him in the process of preparing the most important decisions. This has been done so that, on the one hand, it raises the activity of each member of the CC, and, on the other, to give himself [Mao] the opportunity to study and prepare the most important decisions and problems. Experience has shown that such an organization of work gives the best results. "The last two months in Hangzhou," Mao commented, "I did quite a lot more than I would have done if I had been preoccupied with current problems here in Beijing." Mao Zedong said that in that time he had composed or edited the following documents: (1.) A document about the work of the CCP CC; (2.) The decision of the February Plenum of the CC concerning the unity of the party; (3.) Zhou Enlai's theses on the Gao Gang affair; (4.) An announcement for the press regarding the February Plenum of the CC;  (5.) The draft constitution of the PRC [People's Republic of China]; and other things. Recently, continued Mao, a practice in the CC was developed whereby a document created by Mao or some other member of the Politburo might be considered jointly by a group of leading comrades from the CC. This method of working gives the best results and has met with the approval of members of the Politburo. Continuing this reflection on organizational work Mao, laughing, said, "we have put younger members of the CC into the front line of day-to-day work, while I am as it were, in the second rank. It's like in war: if the enemy breaks through the first line, then the second line steps forward to take up the fight."

[...]

[1] The document bears a blank RF Foreign Policy Archive stamp and the faded, illegible signatures of two officials who read the document.

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