‘The pen is mightier than the sword.’ Can written language really be so powerful?

Mao Zedong, the Chinese statesman, leader and hardheaded realist of Communist China, is perhaps most remembered for his belief that ‘Power flows from the barrel of the gun.’ In this one succinct quote, Mao encapsulated the derisive view which anti-intellectuals and reactionaries often display towards language and the corollary that it is power in its raw form – seen in the determinants of military power, wealth and access to other tools of intimidation and coercion – that underpin a society or nation’s route to success. Yet such a view is often opposed by those who utilize written language in its various manifestations to generate change, transformation and influence in the course of our daily, social and political interactions. For better or worse, this latter view is probably the more resonant one, given that the course of human history and societal developments have been informed to an irreversible and indelible extent by written language and the persuasive power of its visionaries.