D.卡尔顿 罗西
D. Carlton Rossi

Signature of Mao




The Signature of Mao Tse-Tung

If you are Chinese then you will recognize the signature of Mao Tze Tung who was a master calligrapher. His signature is based on a unique style of calligraphy which dances and flows across the page. It is sheer rhythm expressing vivid images which are panoramic, operatic and poetic. Classically, he paints through words the beauty and strength of nature; although, as a modern poet and revolutionary using both lu (regulated verse of late Tang dynasty and ci (irregular verse of Song Dynasty), he manifests the majesty and power of human nature. This essay will primarily examine the poetic aspect of his signature in terms of three critical military campaigns and will touch on embedded images of weapons, fish(ing) and English script.


                                          Mao Tse Tung

It may be there are three campaigns represented in his full signature. First, there was the Against The Third Annihilation Campaign which began on July 2,1931. Second, was the well-known Long March (which began in October 1934). Finally, there was the Huaihai Campaign 淮海戰役 in the north-east between 1948-1949 with the Battle of Xu-Beng being the decisive military action of the Chinese Civil War. It was the poet and writer Robert Payne who in 1946 interviewed Mao Tse Tung about his poems. However, Mao was rather reticent to talk about his poems. In fact, his lieutenants related to Payne how Mao used to toss them on the floor as if they had little importance. They were picked up by his lieutenants as lost treasure mainly for their calligraphic value.


                           Tung  (Third Annihilation Campaign)

However, one should not underestimate the brilliance of Mao's poems. He wrote in a classical style of lu or ci and relied on mythical allusion. The New York Times said "Mao [is] a poet of originality and masterful strength." Payne commented that "perhaps it is no accident that part of his signature closely resembles the serpentine curve shown in the map of the The Third Annihilation Campaign." The poet believes the "curve" refers to the third character or Tung. The movement of the army is north-west from Juichin to Hsingkuo, north-east past Tungku, east to Kwangchun, looping to the west and then over to Tungu. On the character of the signature, the city of Kwangchun would be at the base of the triangle. It is interesting to see that the character is Tung while a major battle is fought at Tungku.                

In his description of guerrilla strategy, Mao said "Our policy for dealing with the enemy's first, second, third and fourth "encirclement and suppression campaigns" was war of annihilation. The forces annihilated in each campaign constituted only part of his total strength and yet all these "encirclement and suppression campaigns" were smashed." Routing an enemy is secondary to annihilating an enemy in battle or in the campaign. There is not a poem of the third siege. However, lines of poems from the first and second siege will have to suffice to give an impression of it. The following lines come from The First Siege written in January or the spring of 1931.

We woke a million workers and peasants to have one heart.

Below the mountain of Buzhou an anarchy of red flags.

The following couplet express the images of The Second Siege.

In fifteen days a forced march of two hundred miles through gray Gan waters and Min mountains of jade.

We sweep away their troops easily, like rolling up a mat. 


                           (Against) Third Annihilation Campaign

The Third Annihilation Campaign is described by Payne. A patrol of the Red Army discovered a fifteen mile gap between a division in the north and an army of 100,000 in the south.They fled at night encountering two divisions under commander Shankuan therein defeating them in a forty-eight hour battle. After marching for three days they defeated another division and then another army a few days later. The Red Army took Kwangchang and then suffered heavy losses at Tungku when encircled by the 19th Route Army, but found a gap to escape. The campaign was decisive because the Red Army broke or defeated seventeen of the enemy's thirty-three divisions.


                                  Tse  (The Long March)

The Long March which began in October 1934 may be seen as a strategic retreat of the Red Army. It prevented an attack or encirclement by the enemy. The march lasted 368 days. It covered 3700 miles and crossed 24 rivers and 18 mountain ranges. It marked the emergence of Mao Tse Tung as undisputed leader of the Chinese Communists.

The Long March was written in October 1934.

None in the Red Army feared the distresses of the Long March.
We looked lightly on the ten thousand peaks and ten thousand rivers.

However, there is another poem that comes to mind when one thinks of the campaign of The Long March. It is called The Yellow Crane Tower 黄鹤楼 (1927) which alludes to a poem written by Cui Hao in the Tang Dynasty.

The yellow crane is gone, who knows whither?

Only this tower remains a haunt for visitors.


                                    Legendary Yellow Crane

While the yellow crane does not return; nevertheless, its majestic power surfaces in an age of revolutionary struggle. It promises long life and prosperity. It is the quintessence of immortality. The crane represents the Red Army, the route of the retreat and is personfied as Mao Tse Tung himself. For Mao it is a reminder of past battles described in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the retreats and famous generals


                                   The Long March as Crane

Poetically speaking, a map of The Long March in the Yunnan, Szechuan and Sikang regions may be imaginatively construed as a giant crane. The second army splits into two parts and meet again at Kantzu. This forms the beak and head of the crane. The fourth army above Luting makes up the body of the crane.


                                            Crane's Leg

Most importantly, the first army under Mao turns north at Chiaoche and walks past Anshunchang. This is the leg of the crane. Consider the second character in the middle of Mao's signature. Its size is immense which stresses its importance. The crane is balanced on one leg. The leg itself resembles another, smaller crane whose wing appears like an arm. This crane is joined to the main crane. Mao resolves the apparent contradictions of large crane (army) and small crane soldier), large rifle (leg) and small pistol (hummingbird), large snake (rod of Asclepius) and small frog and finally Mao himself as a large general and as a common, foot soldier. Harmony is established.

                           Huaihua    Long March   Third Siege

As the reader can see we are moving right to left in terms of the Chinese characters of the signature. The year 1931 begins the sequence through to 1934-35 and finally to 1948-49. It covers a period of eighteen years. The campaigns covered respectively are Against The Third Annihilation, The Long March and the Huaihua Campaign: (淮海戰役) or Battle of Hsupeng (徐蚌会战), and also Battle of Xu-Beng was a military action during 1948 and 1949 that was the decisive battle of the Chinese Civil War.The campaign began on November 6, 1948 and ended on January 10, 1949. It was one of the few conventional battles of the war. 550,000 troops of the Republic of China (led by Kuomintang) were surrounded in Xuzhou (Hsuchow) and destroyed by the communist People's Liberation Army (PLA).

                         Huaihua Campaign: (淮海戰役) 1948-1949


                                            MAO  (Huaihua)

The third character of the signature is Mao or the chairman's family name. It may be that the three horizontal lines represent the attack of the PLA's third army under Chen, the first army under He and the second army under Liu. They began the encirclement and destruction of the Huang's 12th army of the Nationalists and the three armies under the Suppression General Headquarters of Xuzhou Garrison. Notice the loop in the Chinese character which symbolizes the process of encirclement. The campaign was over when the 6th and 8th armies of ROC retreated to south of the Huai River.

Marxism was attractive to revolutionaries in China because it was restructed to fit the "multi-dimentional historical situation". According to Erik Dirlik in Marxisim in the Chinese Revolution there were three critical factors in this restructure of Marxism in China; namely, counteracting capitalism, viewing socialism as an alternative to capitalist hegemony and national self-discovery of a society that capitalism threatened to consume. Chinese Marxism was articulated in Mao's essay in 1940 called "On New Democracy". "We must evaluate it [history] from Confucius to Sun Zhongshan, assume this precious legacy, and derive from it a method to guide the present movement.... "


Is it any wonder that the dominant image in the character of the family name of Mao in his signature is a hammer and sickle of Chinese Marxism? It symbolizes the struggle against capitalism. In other words, Chinese Marxism as interpreted by Mao is undertaking an encirclement of capitalism on a national basis, among Third World countries and on the international stage.


                                               PLA Soldier

It is time for the reader to be acquainted with poetic, embedded images in the signature. The weapon of choice at long distance for the common soldier of the PLA was the rifle (mauser usually captured from the enemy). The Tung character may be construed to be a soldier wearing a hat who carries a rifle. Ironically, it is pointed at the crane which represents long life. It should also be noted that when the character Tung is viewed from a side angle it portrays the soldier's horse. The leg of the horse metamorphoses into a rifle.



Mountain (1934-35)

I whip my quick horse and don't dismount and look back in wonder.

The sky is three feet away.


                                             PLA Rifle

In the Tse character of the signature, the rifle is also evident. Previously it had been described as a person, but now it appears as both the leg of the crane and a long rifle. In other words, just as the rifle of the soldier's horse becomes the leg of the horse, so, too, does the rifle of the soldier's crane become the leg of the crane. One can also poetically imagine that a tired soldier might use a rifle butt as a crutch in his long march. However, a guerilla soldier also needs a hand gun or pistol. It is used for close fighting. The bill, head and and body of the crane metamorphose into a hummingbird which may double as a flower from which it seeks nectar. Both then transform into a hand gun. 


                                        Pistol or Handgun

Another weapon evident in the Tse character is the handgun. It is used for close fighting. In terms of perspective though it is the same size as the rifle. The handgun is both a dynamic (active) weapon when firing and a static (passive) weapon in the holster.


                                     Hummingbird and Flower

In a sense, the pistol or handgun used to shoot the enemy mirrors the relationship of hummingbird to flower in the process of pollination. Both are natural acts expressing freedom according to Mao. The hummingbird is active when it seeks nectar and pollinates the passive flower whose colors attract the bird. The small bird transfers grains of pollen containing reproductive cells between male and female flower parts. The hummingbird and flower become one until the bird goes on to the next flower.

In the Mao character, one might construe the hammer as a rifle. However, it seems more likely that the net is the weapon or tool of choice here. It does not single out a fish as does a rifle, but rather scoops up fish through an encircling movement. In the "Problems of Strategy in the Guerilla War against Japan" written in 1938, Mao says "as a frequent change of position is necessary in fishing, so a frequent shift of position is necessary for a guerrilla unit".

The next type of embedded image to be discovered are fish and fishing. It has been said that the Tung character carries a rifle. One can imagine though that it may be a fishing rod. In the author's childhood, he used a collapsible, bamboo fishing rod from China. It was light, strong and flexible. It may not be surprising therefore that the image of the rifle in guerilla warfare is flexible enough to bend as a bamboo fishing rod. The aim is to catch a single fish. The soldier and fisherman use their tools for survival. The fish symbol is found overlapping the hat of the soldier and the soldier's nose. 


                                     Red-Crowned Crane

In the Tse character a crane is portrayed. It may not be The Yellow Crane of immortal fame with yellow under its wings, but rather a red-capped crane. Perhaps the red star on the cap of a soldier resembles the crane's crown.



The crane may be viewed as a fisherman. It scoops up small fish in its long beak. It also targets. amphibians like frogs. In the poem Ode to the Frog, compares the frog to a crouching tiger which he emulates or becomes. "Sitting alone by the pond like a tiger who squats". A frog image may be seen to be embedded at the top of the crane. It is clear that the frog here is the hunter and not the hunted.


                           Guilin where author had honeymoon

The Mao character may be viewed as a fisherman at the tiller of his shallow boat. The horizontal line at the top represents his bamboo hat. The fishman casts his net of encirclement (ie. the semi-circle shape of the boat) at a school of fish as a general encircles the enemy in a war of annnihilation.

Perhaps the most controversial images in the signature are those of English script. It is a mystery wrapped in a maze. However, it is not the purpose of this essay to analyse why English is used in the signature of a Chinese name and especially the Chinese name of Mao Tse Tung. The scripts are found in both family and given names.




In conclusion, Mao's signature is a masterpiece of calligraphy. It expresses powerful images reflecting the revolutionary struggle of the Chinese people against oppressive forces culminating in the foundation of the People's Republic of China. There is no doubt that the calligraphic signature is a poem of the highest calibre. "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun".

D.卡尔顿 罗西


Erik Dirlic, Marxism in the Chinese Revolution, Roman and Littlefield: New York, 2005.

Mao Tse-Tung Ruler of China, Robert Payne, H. Wolff: New York, 1950

Mao Tse-Tung: The Man and the Myth, Eric Chou,Cassell Ltd: Toronto, 1982.

Selected Military Writings of Mao Tse-tung, Mao Tse-Tung, Praetorian Press: New York, 2011.

The signature of Mao used in this essay was taken from the jacket of Mao Tse-Tung: The Man and the Myth. It may be said though that Chou does not think highly of Mao's calligraphy.