"Serve the People" or "Service for the People" () is a political slogan which first appeared in Mao-era China. It originates from the title of a speech by Mao Zedong, delivered on September 8, 1944. The slogan was also widely used in the United States by students and youth during the Asian American movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. The slogan was very popular due to the strong Maoist influence on the New Left, considerably amongst the Red Guard Party, the Black Panther Party, and the Yellow Brotherhood of West Los Angeles.
Mao Zedong wrote this speech to commemorate the death of a PLA Soldier, Zhang Side, a participant in the Long March who died in the collapse of a kiln. In the speech he quoted a phrase written by the famous Han Dynasty historian Sima Qian, "Though death befalls all men alike, it may be weightier than Mount Tai or lighter than a feather." ( ). Mao continued: "To die for the people is weightier than Mount Tai, but to work for the fascists and die for the exploiters and oppressors is lighter than a feather. Comrade Zhang Side died for the people, and his death is indeed weightier than Mount Tai."
The concept of "Serving the People", together with other slogans such as "Never benefit oneself, always benefit others" and "Tireless struggle" became core principles of the Communist Party of China
Role During Cultural Revolution
During the Cultural Revolution, the speech was widely read. Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai was frequently seen wearing a pin emblazoned with the slogan "Serve the People" next to a portrait of Mao Zedong.
Roles in Modern Society
Although less often used in China today, the slogan still plays some important ceremonial roles. It is inscribed on the screen wall facing the front entrance of the Zhongnanhai compound, which houses the headquarters of the Central People's Government and the Communist Party of China.
During inspection of troops in the People's Liberation Army, the following ceremonial exchange is carried out:
- Inspecting official: "Greetings, Comrades!" ( t ng zh men h o)
- Troops: "Greetings, Leader!" ( sh u zh ng h o)
- Inspecting official: "Comrades [you] have worked hard." ( t ng zh men x n k le)
- Troops: "Serving the people!" ( w i r n m n f w )
Today, In some parts of the West, the slogan is often seen in fashion accessories like Mao-era style schoolbags. But for other countries, the slogan is a reminder of struggles with Maoist insurgencies. In 2007, actress Cameron Diaz caused a minor controversy by carrying a bag with the "Serve the People" slogan in Chinese on a tour of Peru. Peruvians, who were terrorized by the Shining Path Movement in the 1980s and early 1990s, felt the bag to be show of support for the Maoist movement.
Writer Yan Lianke wrote a satirical novel set during the Cultural Revolution titled Serve the People about an affair between the wife of a military officer and a peasant soldier.
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