Friday Song: Mao Zedong said ‘Change must come through the barrel of a gun’

Society & Culture

Mao Zedong didn’t say that, of course. He said “枪杆子里面出政权” (qiānggǎnzi lǐmiàn chū zhèngquán) — Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun — during his speech “Problems on War and Strategy” at a plenary session on November 6, 1938. “Whoever wants to seize and retain state power must have a strong army,” he said — a quote cited by those who oppose gun control (in contemporary America, mostly).

Jim Jones, the cult leader behind the Jonestown Massacre, bungled both the quote and the meaning behind it in rants and rallies that survive today, in audio form, thanks to the FBI. The English rock/blues/country/electronic band Alabama 3 samples Jones in the song above, “Mao Tse Tung Said.” Here’s how it starts:

[Jim Jones speaking] Don’t ever say hate is your enemy. Love has practically caused me to just get you destroyed. If I had hated a little more, just a little more, we would have had a little less trouble. Sure you got love. Principles! But don’t say “hate is my enemy,” what’d they say, what’s that words? “Hate is my enemy and I’ve got to fight it day and night” and “what else is death” is the line. Love is the only weapon, SHIT. BULLSHIT! Martin Luther King died with love! Kennedy died talking about something he couldn’t even understand, some kind of generalized love, and he never even backed it up! He was shot down! Bullshit, “Love is the only weapon with which I got to fight.” I’ve got a hell of a lot of weapons to fight! I got my claws, I got cutlasses, I got guns, I got dynamite, I got a hell of a lot of fight! I’ll fight! I’ll fight! I will fight! I will fight! I will fight! I will fight! Let them hear it in the night! Yes, we’ll fight! They’re listening. Let the night roar! Let the night roar, because they can hear us, they know we mean it. We’ll kill them if they come!

Perhaps of interest to China nerds, Jim Jones returns later in the song in an interrogation of “Millie,” who is probably Millie Stearn Cunningham, a 73-year-old black woman in Jonestown:

Jim Jones: “Okay, what was the basic premise of Mao? … Mao Tse Tung said there’s only one way a revolution can come. Do you know, Millie? … How did Mao Tse Tung say the only way you could bring a revolution and keep it?”

Millie: “Well… The only way I think you can keep it by being peace and being honorable.”

Jim Jones: “Oh, shit, I… Well. Being at peace? Mao Tse Tung said that? No, no, no, no. He’s the head of China, he’s the head of the revolution of China. He marched 6,000 people over, on a long march.”

Millie: “I had my mind on something else.”

Jim Jones: “Okay. Well, what did he say? If there’s only one way to bring about a revolution for people.”

Millie: “Only way, only way you can bring it on that by, is by killing.”

Jim Jones: “Well, what if, that’s okay, I’m gonna let you pass, but what did he say? He had a nice little phrase that everybody should know. Change only comes — look, Senior’s got it. Change comes through…”

Millie: “Through — by barrel of a gun.”

Jim Jones: “That’s right, Senior. That’s good. Cause you, by rights, would have every reason to forget something. Change must come through the barrel of a gun, said Mao Tse Tung. This place would be a paradise tomorrow if every department had a supervisor with a submachine gun.”

“Change must come through the barrel of a gun, said Mao Tse Tung,” Jim Jones said.

“Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun,” Mao actually said, and in the very next breath: “Our principle is that the Party commands the gun, and the gun must never be allowed to command the Party.”

China currently has some of the world’s strictest gun control laws.

Friday Song is SupChina’s weekly sign-off. Let us know what you thought of the week that was in the comments below, or email