The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (Simplified Chinese: 无产阶级文化大革命; Traditional Chinese: 無產階級文化大革命; pinyin: wú chǎn jiē jí wén huà dà gé mìng, literally "Proletarian Cultural Great Revolution"; often abbreviated to 文化大革命 wén huà dà gé mìng, literally "Great Cultural Revolution", or simply 文革 wén gé, literally "Cultural Revolution") in the People's Republic of China was a revolutionary upsurge by Chinese students and workers against the bureaucrats of the Chinese Communist Party. It was launched by Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong in 1966 to secure Maoism (known domestically as Marxism-Leninism) in China as the state's dominant ideology and eliminate political opposition. Though officially declared by Mao to have ended in 1969, most scholars consider the Cultural Revolution to have lasted until the arrest of the Gang of Four in 1976. This dating of the Cultural Revolution is significant and represented a victory for supporters of Deng Xiaoping as it allowed them to portray all of the events between 1966 and 1976 as a single movement under the leadership of the Maoist Gang of Four.
Between 1966 and 1969, Mao encouraged revolutionary committees containing Red Guards to take power from the Chinese Communist Party authorities of the state. In the chaos that ensued, many died and millions more were imprisoned. Although the period after 1969 was less chaotic, the leaders of the Cultural Revolution proper remained in power and this is now widely considered to have been a period of economic stagnation.
Great Leap Forward
Main Article: Great Leap Forward
In 1957, after China's first Five-Year Plan, Mao Zedong called for an increase in the speed of growth of "actual socialism" in China (as opposed to "dictatorial socialism"). To accomplish this goal, Mao began the Great Leap Forward, establishing special communes in the countryside through the usage of collective labor and mass mobilization . The Great Leap Forward was intended to increase the production of steel and to raise agricultural production to twice 1957 levels.
However, the Great Leap turned into an utter disaster. 1958 had excellent weather and should have been a good year for agricultural production, but as the peasants were working in urban centers on steel production, much of the crop was left unharvested. Industries went into turmoil because peasants were producing nothing but steel. Furthermore, the peasants, as farmers, were ill-equipped and ill-trained to produce steel, partially relying on such mechanisms as backyard furnaces . Meanwhile, farming implements like rakes were melted down for steel, making agricultural production impossible. This led to declines in production of everything but steel. To make matters worse, in order to avoid punishment, local authorities continually reported grossly unrealistic production numbers, which hid the problem for years, intensifying it. Having barely recovered from decades of war, the Chinese economy was headed into disaster. Steel production did show significant growth to over 14 million tons of steel a year from the previous 5.2 million. The original goal was to produce a completely unrealistic 30 million tons of steel, though that was later revised down to 20 million. However, much of the steel produced was impure and useless.
In the 1959 Lushan meeting of the Central Committee, Peng Dehuai criticized Mao's policies in the Great Leap with a private letter. Peng wrote that the Great Leap was plagued by mismanagement and "petty-bourgeois fanaticism". Although Mao made repeated self-criticisms in speeches for the Great Leap and called for dismantling the communes in 1959, he did not want to surrender the overall evaluation that the Great Leap was 70% correct. Mao formed an alliance with Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping in which he granted them day-to-day control over the country in return for framing Peng and accusing him of being a "right opportunist". The attack on Peng was also combined with an attack on the Soviet Union and the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev. This change was also a part of the deterioration of Sino-Soviet relations begun by the Korean War (see Sino-Soviet split).
Among Liu's and Deng's reforms were a partial retreat from collectivism.
Increasing conflict between Mao Zedong and Liu Shaoqi
In China, the three years begining with 1960 were known as the Three Years of Natural Disasters. Food was in desperate shortage, and production fell dramatically. By the end of the Three Years of Natural Disasters, which was the direct result of the failed Great Leap Forward campaign, an estimated 20 million people had died from widespread famine.
Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping decided to end many Leap policies such as rural communes and restore the economic policies used before the Great Leap Forward.
Because of the success of their economic reforms, Liu and Deng had won prestige in the eyes of many party members both in the central government and among the masses. Together, Liu and Deng began planning to gradually retire Mao from any real power and turn him into a figurehead. To restore his political base and to try to correct mistakes without admitting to them, Mao initiated the Social Education Movement in 1963.
Mao later admitted to some general mistakes, while strongly defending the Great Leap Forward in concept. One great irony of the Social Education Movement is that it called for grassroots action, yet was directed from Mao himself. This movement, aimed primarily at schoolchildren, did not have any immediate effect on Chinese politics, but it did influence a generation of youths upon whom Mao could draw for support in the future.
In 1963, Mao began attacking Liu Shaoqi openly, stating that the idealism of "the struggle of the classes" must always be fully understood and applied, yearly, monthly, and daily. By 1964, the Social Education Movement had become the new "Four Cleanups Movement", with the stated goal of the cleansing of politics, economics, ideas, and organization. The Movement was directed against Liu and Deng.
In early 1960, historian and Beijing Deputy Mayor Wu Han published the first version of a historical drama entitled "Hai Rui Dismissed from Office " (pinyin: Hai Rui Ba Guan). In the play, a virtuous official was dismissed by a corrupt emperor.
The story initially received praise from Mao. In 1965 Mao Zedong's wife Jiang Qing and her protégé Yao Wenyuan—who at the time was a little-known editor of a prominent newspaper in Shanghai—published an article criticising "Hai Rui Dismissed from Office". Jiang and Yao saw the play, which they labeled as "poisonous weeds", as an attack on Mao using the allegory of Mao Zedong as the corrupt emperor and Peng Dehuai as the virtuous official.
The publication of the Shanghai newspaper article received much publicity nationwide, with many other prominent newspapers asking for publication rights to the same article. Beijing Mayor Peng Zhen, a supporter of Wu Han, established a committee studying the recent publication and emphasizing that the criticism had gone too far, but denunciations, whether public or under the table, came from Jiang Qing and Lin Biao.
In May 1966 Jiang Qing and Yao Wenyuan once again published various articles with content denouncing both Wu Han and Peng Zhen. On May 16, 1966, under Jiang Qing's influence, a formal notice was issued, representing figuratively the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. In this document titled "The message from the Central Committee of CCP" Peng Zhen and his "Group of Five in Charge of the Cultural Revolution" were deeply criticized, and the "Group of Five" was disbanded. One year later, on May 18, 1967 this "Message" was called "a great historical document developed under direct management of our great leader comrade Mao Zedong" in the editorial of People's Daily.
In a later meeting of the CCP Politburo in 1966, the Group in Charge of the Cultural Revolution (GCCR) was formed. On May 18, Lin Biao said in a speech that "Chairman Mao is a genius, everything the Chairman says is greatly true; one of the Chairman's words will override the meaning of ten thousands of ours." Thus started the first phase of Mao's cult of personality led by Jiang Qing, Lin Biao, and others. At this time Jiang and Lin had already seized some actual power. On May 25, a group of students of Beijing University wrote a dazibao where the rector of the university and other professors were labeled as "the black anti-Party gangsters". Some days later Mao Zedong ordered to broadcast the text of this dazibao nationwide and called it "the first Marxist dazibao in China". On May 29, 1966, in the Middle School of Tsinghua University, the first organization of Red Guards was formed. It was aimed at eliminating intellectuals and Mao's political enemies.
On June 1, 1966, the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the CCP, stated that all "imperialists", "people with affiliations with imperialists", "imperialistic intellectuals", et al., must be purged. Soon a movement began that was aimed at purging university presidents and other prominent intellectuals. On July 28, 1966, representatives of the Red Guards wrote a formal letter to Mao, stating that mass purges and all such related social and political phenomena were justified and right. Thus began the Cultural Revolution.
The Cultural Revolution
1966: Massive purges
On August 1, 1966, the central decision-making body of the PRC passed a bill, "Decisions on the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution". This bill stated that the official position of China's government was now supportive of the purging of intellectuals and imperialists. Most of these purges were to be the work of Mao's Red Guards.
On August 16, millions of Red Guards from all over the country gathered in Beijing for a peek at the Chairman. On top of the Tiananmen Square gate, Mao and Lin Biao made frequent appearances to approximately 11 million Red Guards, receiving cheers each time. Mao praised their actions in the recent purges.
For three years, until 1969, the Red Guards expanded their areas of authority and accelerated their purges. The Red Guards began by passing out leaflets, spreading Communist propaganda, and posting the names of supposed "counterrevolutionaries" on bulletin boards. They assembled in large groups and wrote propagandistic plays. The Red Guards held public executions of supposed "counterrevolutionaries", looted their homes, tortured and at times killed their relatives.
By 1966 the Red Guards had become the foremost authority of China. People that were labeled as the "Bourgeoisie" were tortured brutally without trial. Laws were broken freely; the police were no longer an effective force. Soon, the Red Guards went even further. They set fire to temples, mosques, churches, and other religious institutions. The country fell into a state of mass chaos. By the end of 1966, the Red Guards had also started a massive campaign to destroy ancient art, artifacts, and antiques; vandalize ancient buildings, and burn ancient scrolls and books.
During this period monks, nuns and missionaries were widely criticised and purged. Some were later sent to labor camps, tortured, or killed. The Red Guards also criticised, looted, and tortured their own teachers. Seeing this situation unfold, many intellectuals were driven to mental breakdown or suicide. Many prominent politicians and former leaders were also purged and labeled as "counterrevolutionaries"; Liu Shaoqi was sent to a detention camp, a virtual prison, where he later died in 1969 due to a lack of food and other necessities of life. Deng Xiaoping, who was himself purged three times, was sent to work in an engine factory until he was brought back years later by Zhou Enlai.
The work of the Red Guards was praised by Mao Zedong. On August 22 1966, Mao issued a public notice, which stopped "all police intervention in Red Guard tactics and actions." Those in the police force who dared to defy this notice were labeled as "counterrevolutionaries".
On September 5, 1966, yet another notice was issued, encouraging all Red Guards to come to Beijing over a stretch of time. All fees, including accommodations and transportation, were to be paid by the government. On October 10, 1966, Mao's ally, General Lin Biao, publicly criticised Liu and Deng as "capitalist roaders" and "threats". Later, Peng Dehuai was brought to Beijing to be publicly displayed and ridiculed; he was then purged.
1967: Political power struggles
On January 3, 1967, Lin Biao and Jiang Qing were behind the "January Storm", in which many prominent Shanghai municipal government leaders were heavily criticised and purged. This raised Wang Hongwen into real power in the city and in the city's CCP power apparatus. In Beijing, Liu and Deng were once again the targets of criticism, but others, who were not as engaged in the CCP criticism sessions, like Chen Boda and Kang Sheng, pointed at the wrongdoings of the Vice-Premier of the State Council Tao Zhu . Thus started a political struggle among central government officials and local party cadres, who seized the Cultural Revolution as an opportunity to accuse rivals of "counterrevolutionary activity".
On January 8, Mao praised these actions through the People's Daily, urging all local governmental leaders to rise in self-criticism or criticism and purging of others. This started the massive power struggles of purge after purge among some local governments, which stopped functioning altogether. Involvement in some sort of "revolutionary" activity was the only way to avoid being purged, but it was by no means a certain way out of being purged.
At the same time, many large and prominent Red Guard organizations rose in protest against other Red Guards organizations, further complicating the situation. This led to a notice to stop all unhealthy activity within the Red Guards. On April 6, Liu Shaoqi was openly and widely denouced by a Zhongnanhai faction. This was followed by protest and mass demonstrations, most notably the one in Wuhan on July 20 which Jiang Qing openly denounced as "counterrevolutionary activity"; she later personally flew to Wuhan to criticise Chen Zaidao, the general in charge of the Wuhan area.
On July 22, Jiang Qing directed the Red Guards to replace the People's Liberation Army when needed and thereby render the existing forces powerless. After the initial praise by Jiang Qing, the Red Guards started to steal and loot from barracks and other army buildings. This activity, which could not be stopped by any army general, went on until autumn 1968.
1968: Cult of personality
In the spring of 1968, a massive campaign began that was aimed at promoting Mao Zedong to godlike status. Mao was depicted as the origin or source of life's necessities. At this time, Lin Biao began to gain power for himself.
Mao had lost basic control over the country; he could not stop anything, from local looting to huge national protests. On July 27, the Red Guards' power over the army was officially ended, and the central government sent in units to protect many areas still being targeted by Red Guards. Mao had supported this idea, and promoted it by allowing one of his "Highest Directions" to be heard by all of the people. A year later the Red Guard factions were dismantled entirely; Mao feared that the chaos they caused and could still cause might harm the very foundation of the Chinese Communist Party.
In early October, Mao decided to purge many officials. They were sent to the countryside to work in labor camps. In the same month, at the 12th Plenum of the 8th Party Congress, Liu Shaoqi was "forever expelled from the party" and Lin Biao was made the Party's Vice-Chairman, second only to Mao.
In December 1968, Mao began the "Down to the Countryside Movement ". During this Movement, which lasted for the next decade, young intellectuals were ordered to go into the country and receive "education" from "middle and poor peasants". Mao saw this disruption of ordinary social processes as a way to remove future emerging forces who could be a threat to the CCP. For many of the 'intellectuals,' most of whom were recently graduated college students, this deployment to the countryside was in effect a kind of internal exile, and the conditions under which they were forced to labor were often harsh in the extreme; many deaths from malnutrition, overwork, and disease were reported.
Time dominated by Lin Biao
Transition of the party apparatus
On April 1, 1969, at the CCP's Ninth Congress, Lin was the big winner, officially becoming China's second in charge, and also holding military power. Lin's biggest political rival, Liu Shaoqi had been purged, and Zhou Enlai's power was gradually fading.
The Ninth Congress started with Lin Biao delivering a Political Report, being critical of Liu and other "counterrevolutionaries" and continuously quoting Mao's Little Red Book. The second thing to be tackled was the new party constitution, when it was modified to officially design Lin as Mao's successor. Henceforth at all occasions Mao's name was to be linked with Lin's. Thirdly, a new Politburo was elected with Mao Zedong, Lin Biao, Chen Boda, Zhou Enlai, and Kang Sheng being the five new members of the Politburo Standing Committee. This new politburo consisted mostly of those who rose because of the Cultural Revolution, with Zhou barely keeping his status, as he ranked fourth.
Attempts at expanding power base
After being confirmed as Mao's successor, Lin's focus lay on the restoration of the State President position, which was only abolished by Mao because of Liu Shaoqi's dismissal from power. His aim was to become Vice-President with Mao holding onto the position of State President.
On August 23rd, 1970, the Second Plenum of the CCP's Ninth Congress was once again held in Lushan. Chen Boda was the first to speak, widely praising Mao, boasting of Mao's status, with the intentions of raising his own. At the same time Chen was asking for the return of the position of State President. Mao was deeply critical of the speech delivered by Chen, removing him from the position of Politburo Standing Committee member. With this event there started a series of criticism sessions across the country for people who used "deceit" for gains, calling them "Liu Shaoqi's representative for Marxism and political liars".
Chen's removal from the Politburo Standing Committee was also seen as a warning directed toward Lin Biao. After the Ninth Congress Lin continuously asked for promotions within the party and the Central Government, leading Mao to think that Lin wanted supreme power and intended to oust Mao himself. Chen's speech also added to Mao's apprehensions. If Lin were to become Vice-President, then after the President's death he would legally have supreme power and control of the country -- a clear danger to Mao's safety.
Lin's attempted military coup
Main Article: Lin Biao's Military Coup
Because of Mao's refusal to let Lin gain more prominence within the party and the government, Lin became deeply angered. Moreover, his power base was shrinking day by day within the Party apparatus; Lin decided to use the military power in his hands to try to oust Mao in a coup. Soon afterwards Lin and his son Lin Liguo and other loyal comrades founded a coup organ in Shanghai (many Chinese believe that Lin's son was solely responsible for the coup and Lin Biao didn't know anything about it until the coup failed and he was being hunted by the Chinese government), aimed solely at ousting Mao from power by the use of force. In one of the known documents, Lin stated in Shanghai that "A new power struggle has surged upon us, if indeed we could not take control of revolutionary activity, then these control powers will fall on someone else."
Lin's plan consisted mainly of aerial bombardments and the widespead use of the Air Force. If the plan were to succeed, Lin could successfully arrest all of his political rivals and gain the supreme power he wanted. But if his plan were to fail, there would be great consequences awaiting him.
Assassination attempts were made against Mao in Shanghai from September 8 to September 10, 1971. It was learned that before these attacks on Mao there was initial knowledge of Lin's activities on the part of local police, who stated that Lin Biao was coordinating a huge political plot and Lin's loyal backers were receiving special training in the military.
From these events onward came continuous allegations and reports of Mao being attacked. One of these reports suggested that en route to Beijing in his private train Mao was physically attacked, another alleged that Lin had bombed a bridge that Mao was to cross to reach Beijing, which Mao avoided because of intelligence suggesting such an incident -- causing him to change routes. In these nervous days, guards were placed every 10–20 meters on the railway tracks of Mao's route to avoid attempts of assassination.
Although these reports were conflicting and sometimes fabricated, it is known for sure that after September 11 of the same year, Lin never appeared in public again, nor did his backers, most of whom attempted to escape to Hong Kong. Most of these attempts failed, and around twenty army generals were arrested.
It was also learned that on September 13, 1971, Lin Biao and his family travelled by plane to the Soviet Union. En route, Lin's plane crashed in Mongolia, killing all on board. On the same day, the CCP Politburo met in an emergency session to discuss matters pertaining to Lin Biao. Only on September 30 was the information of Lin's death confirmed in Beijing, which led to the cancellation of the National Day celebration events that had been scheduled for the following day.
The exact cause of the plane crash remains a mystery, although it is widely believed that Lin's plane ran out of fuel or that there was an abrupt engine failure. There was also speculation that the plane was shot down by Chinese. It could also have been the Soviet forces who later claimed the bodies of those on board. Nonetheless, Lin's attempted coup had failed and it led to the complete destruction of his image in the CCP and China.
Times of the "Gang of Four"
Developments and Pi-Lin Pi-Kong Campaign
After Lin Biao's death in 1971, Mao, age 78, was busy trying to find a new successor. In September 1972, Shanghaiese Wang Hongwen was transferred to work in Beijing for the Central Government, becoming the Party Vice-Chairman in the subsequent year.
At the same time, under the influence of Premier Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping was transferred back to Beijing. In the preceding time, Mao was already shaken deeply by the Lin Biao plot and had to rely on Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping again. Compared to Extreme Leftism , Mao was still no great enthusiast of the Right.
In 1974, a campaign that appears absurd in retrospect was started by Jiang Qing and several backers (later to be known as the Gang of Four): the Pi-Lin Pi-Kong campaign, or literally "Criticize Lin Biao, Criticize Confucius". This widely publicised campaign was aimed at Premier Zhou Enlai, for he allegedly possessed "unhealthy" ideas related to Lin and to Confucius, but Zhou's name was never mentioned throughout the campaign. Since the death of Lin Biao, Zhou had become the main political rival of the Gang of Four for the succession to power. But the weary population was tired the many campaigns that had proved useless or devastating, and had little interest in this one. This campaign failed to achieve its goals.
In October, Premier Zhou Enlai became gravely ill and was admitted into day-to-day hospital care. Deng Xiaoping was named First Vice-Premier and was the actual one in charge of the daily business of the State Council. Deng continued to further expand Zhou's Four Modernizations idea for a better China. In September 1975, Mao himself was also admitted into hospital with a grave illness.
1976: Cultural Revolution's end
1976 became a very important year in the Cultural Revolution. On January 8, Zhou Enlai died of bladder cancer. The subsequent day Beijing's Monument of the Martyrs already started filling up with wreaths expressing the people's mourning for the beloved Premier. The event was unprecedented. On January 15, Zhou's funeral was held, and events commemorating Zhou across the country were held. Deng Xiaoping delivered Zhou's official eulogy.
In February, the rival Gang of Four had started to criticise the only one left to oppose them, Deng Xiaoping. With permission from Mao, Deng was once again demoted. But after Zhou's death, Mao did not select a member of the Gang of Four to become premier, but the relatively unknown Hua Guofeng.
April 5 was China's Qing Ming Festival, a traditional day of mourning for those who passed away. People had already gathered since late March in Tiananmen Square, mourning the death of Zhou Enlai. At the same time the people were also signaling an expression of anger towards the Gang of Four. Gradually, more and more people began writing and posting messages of hatred against the Gang of Four. On April 5, around 2 million people were gathered in and around Tiananmen Square, turning the assembly into a form of protest against the Gang of Four. The Gang of Four had ordered police to enter the area, clear the wreaths and messages of hate, and disperse the crowds. The Gang of Four pointed to Deng Xiaoping as the planner of this expression of public dissatisfaction. This incident was later politically rehabilitated in the winter of 1978, and became known as the Qingming Tiananmen Square incident (not to be confused with the Tiananmen Massacre).
On September 9, 1976, Mao Zedong died. Before dying Mao had written a message on a piece of paper stating "With you in charge, I'm at ease" to Hua Guofeng. Hence Hua became the Party's Chairman. (Although there has been controversy as to what the message really meant.) Before this event, Hua had been widely considered to be one without too much political skill or urge, and as posing no threat to the Gang of Four in the power succession. But under the influence of prominent generals like Ye Jianying, and partly under influence of Deng Xiaoping, and with the support of the Army, Hua ordered the arrest of the Gang of Four following Mao's death. By October 10, the 8341 Special Regiment had all members of the Gang of Four arrested. Thus ended the Cultural Revolution.
After the Revolution
Even though Hua Guofeng publicly denounced and arrested the Gang of Four in 1976
, he continued to invoke Mao to justify his policies. Hua opened what was known as the Two Whatevers
, saying "Whatever policy originated from Chairman Mao, we must continue to support," and "Whatever directions were given to us from Chairman Mao, we must continue to work on their basis." Like Deng, Hua's goal was to reverse the damage of the Cultural Revolution, but unlike Deng, who was not against new economic models for China, Hua intended to move the Chinese economic and political system to resemble Soviet-style planning of the early 1950's.
Soon afterwards Hua found that without Deng Xiaoping, it was hard for him to continue on daily affairs of the state. On October 10th, Deng Xiaoping personally wrote a letter to Hua, asking to be transferred back to state and party affairs. Also, unconfirmed information allegedly stated that Politburo Standing Committee member Ye Jianying would resign if Deng was not allowed back into the Central Government. With increasing pressure from all sides, Hua decided to bring Deng back into regular state affairs, first naming him Vice-Premier of the State Council in July 1977 and various other positions. In actuality Deng had already become China's number two figure. In August, the Party's Eleventh Congress was held in Beijing, officially naming (in order ranking) Hua Guofeng, Deng Xiaoping, Ye Jianying, Li Xiannian, and Wang Dongxing as the latest members of the Politburo Standing Committee.
In May, 1978, Deng seized an opportunity for protégé Hu Yaobang to be elevated into further power. Later Hu published an article on the Bright Daily Newspaper to cleverly use Mao's quotations while expanding Deng's power base. After reading this widely publicized article, almost everyone supported Hu and thus became Deng's supporters. On July 1st, Deng publicized Mao's self-criticism report of 1962 regarding the Great Leap Forward. With an expanding power base, in September 1978 Deng had already started to openly attack Hua Guofeng's "Two Whatevers."
On December 18th, 1978, the Third Plenum of the Eleventh CCP Congress was held. Deng stated that "a liberation of thoughts" and "an accurate view leads to accurate results" was needed within the party. Hua Guofeng gave self-criticisms, stating his own "Two Whatevers" was wrong. Wang Dongxing, formerly Mao's trusted supporter, was also criticised. At the Plenum, the Qingming Tiananmen Square incident was also politically rehabilitated. Liu Shaoqi was allowed a belated state funeral.
In the Fifth Plenum of the Eleventh CCP Congress held in 1980 Peng Zhen and many others purged during the cultural revolution were politically rehabilitated. Hu Yaobang was named General-Secretary of the CCP and Zhao Ziyang, another of Deng's protégés, was named into the Central governing apparatus. In September, Hua Guofeng resigned, with Zhao Ziyang named the new Premier. Deng was the Chairman of the Central Military Commission. By this time, Deng was the foremost and paramount figure in Chinese politics.
The effects of the Cultural Revolution directly or indirectly touched all of China's populace. During the Cultural Revolution most economic activity was halted, with "revolution" being the only objective. The start of the Cultural Revolution brought huge numbers of Red Guards to Beijing, with all of their expenses paid by the government, and the railway system was in turmoil. Countless ancient buildings, artifacts, antiques, books, and paintings were destroyed by Red Guards. By December 1967, 350 million copies of Mao's Quotations had been printed.
Elsewhere, the ten years of Cultural Revolution also brought the education system to a halt. The university entrance exams were cancelled during this period, only restored by Deng Xiaoping in 1977. Many intellectuals were shipped to rural labor camps. It seems that everyone with skills over that of the average person was the target of political struggle in some way. According to most Western observers and followers of Deng Xiaoping, this led to almost a generation of inadequately educated individuals.
Mao Zedong Thought had become the central operative guide to all things in China. The authority of the Red Guards surpassed that of the army, local police authorities, and the law in general. China's traditional arts and ideas were ignored, and Mao praised for doing so. People were encouraged to criticize cultural institutions and question their parents and teachers, which had been strictly forbidden in Confucian culture. This was emphasized even more during the Anti-Lin Biao; Anti-Confucius Campaign.
The Cultural Revolution also brought to the forefront numerous internal power struggles within the Communist party, many of which had little to do with the larger battles between Party leaders but resulted instead from local factionalism and petty rivalries. Members of different factions often fought on the streets, and political assassination, particularly in the more rural provinces, was common. One example, given by the writer Patrick French in his book Tibet, Tibet, is of the 'Big' and 'Small' factions in the Wuxuan county of the Guangxi Zhang Autonomous Region, which fought gun battles and threw bombs on the streets. The leader of the Small Faction, Zhou Weian, was eventually murdered in 1968, and his eight-month pregnant widow, Wei Shulan, forced to kneel under his dismembered body and denounce him; a typical example of the climate of the times.
There was devastating damage done to China's historical reserves, artifacts and sites of interest, as these were thought to cause old ways of thinking. Many artifacts were seized from private homes, and often destroyed on the spot. There are no records of exactly how much was destroyed. Western observers suggest that much of China's five thousand years of dynamic history was in effect destroyed in a short period of ten years, and such destruction of historical artifacts cannot be matched anywhere else in the world at any time. Religious persecution, in particular, intensified during this period, particularly in Tibet. However, attacks on religious institutions, priests, and monks were a constant feature of the PRC from the beginning. Some temples, however, such as the Longxing temple near Shijiazhuang, survived because of the protection of local party members, who sometimes sent units of the PLA to protect them from mobs of Red Guards.
The Cultural Revolution also caused external effects. Workers in Hong Kong went on strike, Quotes from Chairman Mao was published in many languages to be circulated in many African and other third-world countries, and China's image was considerably damaged in the West. 'Revolutionary' movements in several African countries, often resulting in considerable damage, were inspired by the Cultural Revolution; it was also one of the models for Cambodia's Year Zero under Pol Pot
Millions in China had their human rights casually discarded during the Cultural Revolution. Forced displacement of millions of people occurred. During the Cultural Revolution, young people from the cities were moved to the countryside. Once there, they were forced to abandon all forms of normal education for the propaganda teachings of the Chinese Communist Party. Nearly a generation of China's youth, scientists and other useful intellectuals were brainwashed.
Crimes against the government were brutally and publically punished. People were forced to walk through the streets naked, were flogged publically, or forced to sit in the jetliner position for hours. Many deaths occurred in police custody, although they were often covered up as suicides. People had to carry two or more copies of Mao's Little Red Book to avoid being accused of not supporting Mao. Numerous individuals were accused, often on the flimsiest of grounds, of being foreign spies; to have, or have had, any contact with the world outside of China could be extremely dangerous. Accusations were often based on 'symbolic' language or gestures, such as the omittance of certain strokes from a written character or the placing of a picture of Mao in a subordinate position in a room. This paranoia may in part have derived from the tradition of Chinese revolutionaries using code-words and symbolic gestures in communication.
Some commentators argue that the Cultural Revolution years saw the Chinese people leave behind many uncritical habits of conformist and authoritarian thinking. This can be seen in the words of some of the student leaders of Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. According to student leader Shen Tong in his book, Almost a Revolution, the trigger for the famous hunger-strikes of 1989 was a "dazibao", the big-character poster (leaflet) brought to fame in the Cultural Revolution as a means of public political discussion and outlawed after the Cultural Revolution. When students organized demonstrations in their millions not seen since the Cultural Revolution, youth from outside Beijing rode the trains in to Beijing and relied on the hospitality of the train workers and Beijing residents just as their counterparts rode the trains freely in the Cultural Revolution. Also as in the Cultural Revolution, students formed factions with names similar to those of Red Guard factions, using the term "Headquarters" for instance, and according to Shen Tong, these factions even went to the extent of kidnapping members of other factions, just as they did in the Cultural Revolution. Finally, in some small minority of cases, some of the student leaders of 1989 had been youth activists in high school during the Cultural Revolution. It was as a result of the Cultural Revolution that criticism of high-level authority in public became more thinkable than ever in the PRC, although criticism of Mao Zedong still remained entirely off-limits.
Estimates of the death toll, civilians and Red Guards, from various Western and Eastern sources are about 500,000 in the true chaos years of 1966–1969. However, these figures are increasingly being challenged, since many deaths went unreported or were actively covered up by the police or local authorities. The true death toll may be in the low millions, but the state of Chinese demographics at the time, combined with the reluctance of the PRC to allow serious research into the period, means that the real figures are unlikely ever to be known.
Today the Cultural Revolution is seen by most people inside and outside of China, including the Communist Party of China and Chinese democracy movement supporters, as an unmitigated disaster and as an event to be avoided in the future. There are no politically significant groups within China that defend the Cultural Revolution. However, there are many workers and peasants in China who, left behind by economic liberalization and the widening rich-poor gap, feel nostalgia towards the Cultural Revolution (as well as the Maoist Era in general), during which the proletariat was glorified. Author Gao Mobo has written essays praising the Cultural Revolution as a golden age of urban and rural development.
Among those who condemn the Cultural Revolution, the cause and meaning of the Cultural Revolution remain highly controversial. Supporters of the Chinese democracy movement see the Cultural Revolution as an example of what happens when democracy is lacking and place responsibility for the Cultural Revolution at the hands of the Communist Party of China. Similarly human rights activists and conservatives in the West also see the Cultural Revolution as examples of the dangers of statism. Briefly put, these views of the Cultural Revolution attributes its cause to too much government and too little popular participation.
By contrast, the official view of the Communist Party of China sees the Cultural Revolution as what can happen when one person establishes a cult of personality and manipulates the public in a way to destroy party and state institutions. In the view of the Communist Party, the Cultural Revolution is an example of too much popular participation in government rather than too little and that it is an example of the dangers of anarchy rather than statism. The Communist Party also strongly deemphasises the extent of Mao's involvement in the creation of the Cultural Revolution, preferring to shift most of the blame onto the Gang of Four. The consequence of this view is the consensus among the Chinese leadership that the lesson of the Cultural Revolution is that China must be governed by a strong party institution in which decisions are made collectively and according to rule of law in which the public has only limited input.
These contradictory views of the Cultural Revolution were put into sharp relief during the Tiananmen Protests of 1989 when both the demonstrators and the government justified their actions as being necessary to avoid another Cultural Revolution.
Simon Leys (penname of Pierre Ryckmans) was one of the first analysts to describe the reality of Cultural Revolution in these four books:
- Chan, Anita. 1985. Children of Mao: Personality Development and Political Activism in the Red Guard Generation. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
- Chan, Che Po. 1991. From Idealism to Pragmatism: The Change of Political Thinking among the Red Guard Generation in China . Ph.D. diss., University of California, Santa Barbara.#Liu, Guokai. 1987. A Brief Analysis of the Cultural Revolution. edited by Anita Chan. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe.
- Yang, Guobin. 2000b. China's Red Guard Generation: The Ritual Process of Identity Transformation, 1966-1999. Ph.D. diss., New York University.
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13