Turmoil in China: Cultural Revolution: Mao Feels Insecure

 The so-called Cultural Revolution in China happened because Mao was afraid of losing his grip over China. Secondly he was genuinely worried that the country was becoming elitist. The class distinctions were growing. He felt his revolution was being diluted.

Mao was a great believer of power of women


The Cultural Revolution had a massive impact on China from 1965 to 1968. The Cultural Revolution is the name given to Mao’s attempt to reassert his beliefs in China. Mao had been less than a dynamic leader from the late 1950’s on, and feared others in the party might be taking on a leading role that weakened his power within the party and the country. This probably explains the Cultural Revolution – it was an attempt by Mao to re-impose his authority on the party and therefore the country.

An advertisement for the opera, "The Red Women's Army," a story about women from south China being organized to fight for a new and equal China.

The movement began in September 1965 with a speech by Lin Piao who urged pupils in schools and colleges to return to the basic principles of the revolutionary movement. Chinese youths were also encouraged to openly criticise the liberals in the Chinese Communist Party and those apparently influenced by Nikita Khruschev of the USSR. Educational establishments were considered to be too academic and, therefore, too elitist.

This was suppose to be heaven in Mao's China. The educated city guys and girls go to the villages and mingle.

Mao believed that the progress China had made since 1949 had lead to a privileged class developing – engineers, scientists, factory managers etc. Mao also believed that these people were acquiring too much power at his expense. Mao was concerned that a new class of mandarins was emerging in China who had no idea about the lifestyle of the normal person in China.


The market-oriented economic policies that China has followed since Deng Xiaoping came to power in the late 1970s represent a thorough repudiation of everything the Cultural Revolution stood for. Nevertheless the memory of the movement still casts an ominous shadow over Chinese politics. Deng, who was purged during the Cultural Revolution as one of China's leading “capitalist roaders,” and the other elderly leaders who made the decision to crush the Tiananmen Square protests in June 1989 feared that, left unchecked, the demonstrations would snowball into Red Guard-like chaos. After Deng's death in 1997, his successors have continued to cite the experience of the Cultural Revolution as one of the reasons China cannot risk the disorder that democracy, by challenging Party authority, might bring to the country.

Red Guards (groups of youths who banded themselves together) encouraged all the youth in China to criticise those who Mao deemed untrustworthy with regards to the direction he wanted China to take. No-one was safe from criticism: writers, economists and anyone associated with the man Mao considered his main rival – Liu Shao-chi. Anyone who was deemed to have developed a superior attitude was considered an enemy of the party and people.

Mao deliberately set out to create a cult for himself and to purge the Chinese Communist Party of anyone who did not fully support Mao. His main selling point was a desire to create a China which had peasants, workers and educated people working together – no-one was better than anyone else and all working for the good of China – a classless society.


The complex and convoluted history of the Cultural Revolution can be roughly divided into three major phases. The mass phase (1966–1969) was dominated by the Red Guards, the more than 20 million high–school and college students who responded to Mao's call to “make revolution,” and their often–vicious efforts to ferret out “class enemies” wherever they were suspected to lurk. During this stage, most of Mao's rivals in the top leadership were deposed, including China's president, Liu Shaoqi.

The military phase (1969–1971) began after the People's Liberation Army had gained ascendancy in Chinese politics by suppressing, with Mao's approval, the anarchy of the Red Guards. It ended with the alleged coup attempt in September 1971 by Mao's disgruntled heir, Defense Minister Lin Biao, who had also been one of the Chairman's main allies in launching the Cultural Revolution.

The succession phase
(1972–1976) was an intense political and ideological tug–of–war between radical ideologues and veteran cadres over whether to continue or curtail the policies of the Cultural Revolution. Underlying this conflict was a bitter struggle over which group would control the succession to the two paramount leaders of the CCP, Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou Enlai, both of whom were in deteriorating health by the early 1970s. The decisive lot in this struggle was cast when the most prominent radicals (the “Gang of Four,” which included Mao's widow, Jiang Qing) were preemptively arrested in October 1976, a month after the Chairman's death, by a coalition of more moderate leaders. The arrest of the Gang of Four is said to mark the official end of China's Cultural Revolution.

However, the enthusiasm of the Red Guards nearly pushed China into social turmoil. Schools and colleges were closed and the economy started to suffer. Groups of Red Guards fought Red Guards as each separate unit believed that it knew best how China should proceed. In some areas the activities of the Red Guard got out of hand. They turned their anger on foreigners and foreign embassies got attacked. The British Embassy was burned down completely.


The Cultural Revolution Dawns

Jealous of his successors, Mao and his coterie launched a comeback. They were in the delicate position of needing to retain Communist Party authority while overthrowing its hierarchy. Their manoeuvre was a brilliant flanking attack which, in effect, founded a parallel powerbase, outwith government control: a de facto coup which left the government nominally intact.

The initial causus belli which launched the cultural revolution was a play. Mao was fond of Chinese theatre. In early 1960, Beijing Deputy Mayor Wu Han published a historical drama, 'Hai Rui Dismissed From Office about a virtuous official who is dismissed by a corrupt emperor. While Mao initially praised the play, his wife Jiang Qing, herself a failed actress, and her protégé, Shanghai newspaper editor Yao Wenyuan, published an article decrying the play as 'poisonous weeds', claiming that it portrayed Mao himself as the corrupt emperor. Various recriminations and denunciations followed from Jiang's clique, who formed a 'Group of Five in Charge of Cultural Revolution'.

Meantime, Mao was also active. He formed the Social Education Movement to weed out 'reactionary' and 'bourgeois' elements from the Party. Within the central Party, he also began to openly attack Liu and Deng and formed an alliance with their rival, Lin Biao. A cult of personality was deliberately created around Mao, with declarations such as:

'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'.

From within the party hierarchy, the children of officials were put to work in support of their beloved Chairman, rooting out the families of officials who were believed to be loyal to the status quo. In this they were aided by well-established party mechanisms for denunciation and 'self-criticism' which were already widely used to fuel petty jealousies and settle scores. In 1966, the first units of Red Guards were formed, teenage volunteers summoned by Mao to defend Chinese socialism from 'evil forces'.

The Red Guards Advance

The Red Guards provided Mao with a powerful vigilante force which could be turned at a whim against whoever was out of favour. The targets for attacks were those who would naturally see through Mao's folly and machinations; the established party officials, intellectuals... and teachers, who often suffered brutal, physical attacks.

The teenagers of 1960s China became known as 'The Lost Generation'. In place of schooling, Red Guards were encouraged to travel long distances across China to places of pilgrimage associated with Mao, such as his birthplace, and especially to Beijing where they might hope to get a glimpse of their Chairman at one of the many mass parades and rallies in Tiananmen Square. The transport system was in chaos as it struggled to convey these pilgrims. Agricultural resources were diverted towards providing free meals at accommodation sites run by volunteers. In all towns and cities, crowds of frenzied youths could be seen, dressed in 'peasant like' garb of Peoples' Army cast-offs, holding aloft their Little Red Books6 in uniform postures as they yelled its slogans.

Red Guards were whipped up into a frenzy of zealotry and excess. If no intellectuals could be found to purge, they might turn on random households for carelessly discarding a copy of The Peoples' Daily showing Mao's picture, or on each other for not owning a second set of his complete works. Beatings were commonplace. Miscreants might be paraded naked through the town, made to kneel on broken glass or forced for several hours to adopt the 'jetliner' posture - kneeling and bent forward with the arms swept back. It was a time of intense suspicion and paranoia when every move was under scrutiny and positions might be reversed at any minute.

It was also a time of lawlessness and cultural destruction. The police lost all authority. Temples, mosques and churches were looted and destroyed, as were many of China's other glorious and ancient monuments and works of art. Even flowers were declared to be bourgeois. Gardens were destroyed and even grass; a typical Red Guard punishment involved pulling out lawns on one's hands and knees.

The Revolution Intensifies: "Imperialism and all reactionaries are paper tigers!"

By 1966, the Red Guards were the leading force in China. Mao was able to start purges against his political enemies, who were declared to be 'counterrevolutionaries' and 'capitalist roaders'. Liu Shaoqui was sent to a detention camp where he died of starvation. Deng Xiaping was sent to work in an engine factory. Countless officials and petty-officials were imprisoned or sent into forced labour. Many committed suicide or suffered mental breakdowns.

Then, in 1967, the heat was turned up a notch further. Lin Biao and Jiang Qing launched the 'January Storm', in which many prominent Shanghai municipal government leaders were heavily criticised and purged. Purges spread to other areas, and in Beijing rivalries began to show between competing political factions. Mao declared that the only way to avoid purge was to engage in some sort of 'political activity'.

Yet as the same time, splits developed amongst the Red Guards. Mao had created a monster which became increasingly difficult to direct or control. Fairly early on, the Guards had themselves distinguished between the 'loyalists' - children from good party families loyal to the established leadership of Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, and 'blacks' whose families were suspected of less than perfect political histories. As purges intensified, loyalties were further divided as 'radicals' emerged, loyal to Jiang Qing. With Jiang's endorsement, the rebels started to accept members from 'bad' backgrounds. But such was the anarchist fervour that the rebels themselves split into pro-Jiang and anti-Jiang factions, some of the latter even denouncing Mao as a 'red capitalist'.

The monster had to be tamed. In 1968, Mao instituted the 'Down to the Countryside' movement. For the next decade, young intellectuals would be dispersed into rural areas to gain 're-education' by working alongside peasants. This disruption to normal life essentially neutralised the possibility of an opposition emerging as the political classes were, in effect, sent into internal exile. Over this period, many intellectuals died from malnutrition, disease or from simple over-work. The Red Guards were disbanded in 1969.

The Rise and Fall of Lin Biao

As the disruption receded, Mao consolidated his power. Previously he had been held in check by premier Zhou Enlai. But now a Party Congress7 anointed Lin Biao as Mao's chosen successor. A new Politburo8 was formed, still with Zhou in a weaker position, but packed with and led by Mao loyalists, Lin Biao, Chen Boda, and Kang Sheng, all of whom had risen during the Cultural Revolution.

However, political tensions were still present. The post of President had been abolished with Liu Shaoqi's purge. A split emerged first between Lin, who aimed to make Mao president and himself Vice-President, and Chen, who Mao suspected of wanting the presidency for himself. As Mao denounced Chen, Lin was the clear winner. But Mao became suspicious of the ambitious Lin, who repeatedly asked for further promotion. He also feared for his safety, given that Lin as Vice-President would gain supreme power after the President's death.

Lin was angered by Mao's refusal to advance him. As his power waned, he decided to act by using his military power9 to stage a putsch against Mao. However, assassination attempts against Mao failed. Members of the coup were arrested or escaped to Hong Kong. On 13 September, 1971, Lin and his family were killed when, attempting to flee to the Soviet Union, their plane crashed in Mongolia.

The End of the Revolution: Down with The Gang of Four

By now, Mao's invincibility had been dented, and he was aging physically. Under Zhou Enlai's influence, Deng Xiaping was brought back from exile. A Maoist faction, later to be named 'The Gang of Four'10 led by Jiang Qing continued their machinations. Nevertheless, as Zhou Enlai became gravely ill, Deng was appointed in charge of daily government business as Zhou's deputy. A semblance of normality was maintained. With Mao out of the picture, rumours of his death occasionally surfaced, and these would be countered by filmed publicity stunts showing a vigorous Mao swimming the Yangtze-Kiang river.

In 1976, all was overturned. Premier Zhou Enlai died of bladder cancer on 8 January. His eulogy - a very important event for Communist Party members, amounting to an official political verdict - was delivered by Deng Xiaoping. Mao demoted Deng following criticism by the Gang of Four, but did not appoint one of their members to replace Zhou, preferring the relatively unknown Hua Guofeng. In the following months, protests emerged against the Gang of Four. On 5 April, two million people gathered in Beijing's Tiananmen Square and were dispersed on the Gang's orders11.

Then, on 9 September, 1976, Mao Tse-Tung died, possibly from Motor Neurone Disease. Before dying he was said to have written a message to Hua Guofeng saying 'With you in charge, I am at ease.' Although this was thought by some to mean that the inexperienced Hua would pose no barrier to the Gang of Four, nevertheless under the influence of Deng and the military leaders, the Gang was arrested. The Cultural Revolution was at an end.

Mao's legacy: '70% good, 30% bad'

Hua denounced the Gang of Four. Deng rose increasingly to power, becoming the prominent figure in Chinese government until the early 1990s and instituting many economic reforms. Nevertheless, the Communist Party recognised the importance of stability and unity. Mao had been the leading government figure, and to denigrate him would be to admit the Party's failure. Mao remains a revered figure, entombed in prominent position on Tiananmen Square. The official verdict on him remains that he was '70% good, 30% bad' - a phrase first used to describe The Great Leap Forward which killed twenty million for no significant gain.

Debate remains over whether Mao can be held entirely responsible for the full excesses of the Cultural Revolution, stoked as it was by other members of his coterie. However, the whole aim was to deliver supreme power to Mao in the face of rivalry and opposition. In the course of this, individual lives were adversely affected across the whole of Chinese society. The upheaval also stunted China's industrial and economic growth, and the mindsets of paranoia and rigid compliance it engendered continue to infect parts of the Chinese body politic. Perhaps the greatest legacy of the Cultural Revolution is as an object lesson in the political use of mass delusion and hysteria.
The looming chaos was only checked when Zhou Enlai urged for a return to normality. He had been one of the leading members of the Chinese Communist Party to encourage all party members to submit themselves to criticism but he quickly realised that the experiment that was the Cultural Revolution had got out of hand and was spiralling out of control.

In October 1968, Liu Shao-chi was expelled from the party and this is generally seen by historians as the end of the Cultural Revolution. Mao had witnessed the removal of a potential rival in the party and therefore saw no need for the Cultural Revolution to continue.


* May 1966: Articles in Communist Party newspapers introduce the concept of a Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

* August 1966: Mao officially launches the Cultural Revolution with a speech at Central Committee of the Communist Party.

* August 1966: At a mass meeting in Tiananmen Square Mao puts on a red armband, the emblem of the Red Guards. He decrees that Red Guards can travel for free on public transportation.

* October 1966: At mass meeting in Tiananmen Square for National Day Mao calls for the Red Guards to destroy the Four Olds: old ideas, old behavior etc.

* Fall 1966: Mao closes schools and calls for the formation of the Red Guards to challenge Party officials and to attack anything bourgeois. Millions heed his call. Officials, intellectuals and generally older people in positions of power and influence are attacked verbally and physically by the Red Guards. Mao leaves Beijing, leaving Liu Shaoqi and other top leaders with the problem of dealing with the Red Guards and the social turmoil that had been created. Mao later returns to Beijing after a much publicized swim in the Chang Jiang (Yangtze River). Mao deems Liu Shaoqi a counter-revolutionary. Later Liu's wife is publically humiliated at mass meeting. She and Liu are arrested and imprisoned. Liu is beaten and tortured and dies.

* January 1967: Red Guards achieve the overthrow of provincial party committee officials and replace them with radicals.

* February 1967: Party officials call for an end to the Cultural Revolution but Mao continues to support the Cultural Revolution.

* July 1967: The Wuhan Incident: Red Guards attack the political leadership of the city of Wuhan. The city administration and supporters militarily resist the Red Guards. The Incident has the aspects of a full fledged civil war. Zhou Enlai personally intercedes to resolve the situation. The city administrators are arrested but Zhou sees that the radicalism of the Red Guards must be curbed.

* Summer 1967: Rival factions of Red Guards and Rebel groups fight each other. Armed battles involving thousands and tens of thousands of people take place. Mao ultimately orders Lin Biao to use the Army to bring order to the Red Guards movement. The attempt to unify the factions of the Red Guards fails. Mao replaces the pre-Cultural Revolution party officials with radicals who support the Cultural Revolution.

* 1968: The disorder caused by the Cultural Revolution results in a 12 percent decline in industrial production in 1968 compared to 1966. The Army takes control of government offices, schools and factories. Millions of young people are sent to the countryside to "learn from the peasants."

* April 1969: Border clashes with the Soviets leads to a declaration of martial law under Lin Biao, Minister of Defense. Communist Party and its Central Committee become dominated by military people. Lin Biao is declared the official successor to Mao.

Liu's wife, Wang Guangmei, was lured by trickery out of her home and taken to a mass meeting and publically humiliated. Her captors dressed her in a skirt split up to hip level to imply she was a whore.

* April 1969: Mao decides to open talks with the U.S. to form a relationship to counter the threat of the Soviet Union.

* 1970-71: Jiang Qing and other radicals begin to oppose Lin Biao as successor to Mao.

* August 1971: Chen Boda, a supporter of Lin Biao, is arrested and disappears.

* September 1971: Lin Biao is killed in a plane crash in Mongolia attempting to flee China. Lin is accused of plotting to kidnap or kill Mao and take control of China himself.

* Late 1971-mid 1973: Zhou Enlai tries to organize a recovery of China from the Cultural Revolution. Mao has a stroke and Zhou finds he has cancer.

* February 1972: President Richard Nixon visits China. The Shanghai Communique is issued which defines a new relationship between the United States and the People's Republic of China.

* Early 1973: Deng Xiaoping is rehabilitated and brought back to organize the recovery.

* mid 1973 to mid 1974: Jiang Qing and her radicals are dominant in the government.

* July 1974: Mao shifts support to Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping.

* Fall 1975: Mao shifts support back to Jiang Qing and her radicals. Deng Xiaoping formally removed from power.

* January 1976: Zhou Enlai dies.

* February 1976: Hua Guofeng is appointed as acting Premier.

* April 1976: There are public tributes to Zhou Enlai in Tiananmen Square which Jiang Qing get Mao to declare to be counter-revolutionary. Authorities use the military to break up the public demonstrations.

* July 1976: A major earthquake devastates North China. Hundreds of thousands die. Beijing government turns down outside aid.

* September 1976: Mao Zedong dies. Hua Guofeng was made Party Chairman but did not long wield much power.

* October 1976: Armed forces arrest Jiang Qing and her radical associates. They are called The Gang of Four to emphasize that they represent only a small cabal of radicals.

* 1977: Deng Xiaoping emerges as paramount leader of the People's Republic of China. Deng had been dropped from the leadership roles after the April 1976 demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. In July 1977 he returned to his official positions and in addition he was the chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army. Deng's leadership was not a result of the formal offices he held but instead from a concensus among the top leaders to follow his lead, although it did not hurt for him to have control of the army. In the power struggle between Deng Xiaoping and Hua Guofeng, Hua had the offices of Premiership and Party Chairmanship but Deng had the PLA.

* November 1980-January 1981: Jiang Qing and the other members of the Gang of Four are put on trial. Jiang Qing is sentenced to death but with a two year reprieve. The death sentence is never carried out.

* 1991: Jiang Qing commits suicide in prison, thus bringing the Cultural Revolution Era to its final, final close.

* The leadership of Deng Xiaoping continued until his death in 1997 even when he held no formal office in the Chinese government.

Share this PostPin ThisShare on TumblrShare on Google PlusEmail This

Popular Articles On This Site



Quotes about war....

"War grows out of the desire of the individual to gain advantage at the expense of his fellow man."
--Napoleon Hill

"We have failed to grasp the fact that mankind is becoming a single unit, and that for a unit to fight against itself is suicide."
--Havelock Ellis

'Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed."
--Mao Tse-Tung (1893 - 1976)

"I'm fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in."
--George McGovern

"The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic."
--Joseph Stalin

It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.
--Voltaire, War

In war, truth is the first casualty.
-- Aeschylus

"The ability and inclination to use physical strength is no indication of bravery or tenacity to life. The greatest cowards are often the greatest bullies. Nothing is cheaper and more common than physical bravery."
--Clarence Darrow, Resist Not Evil

"The victor will never be asked if he told the truth."
--Adolf Hitler

"To walk through the ruined cities of Germany is to feel an actual doubt about the continuity of civilization."
--George Orwell

"Patriots always talk of dying for their country and never of killing for their country."
--Bertrand Russell

Men are at war with each other because each man is at war with himself.
--Francis Meehan

Snippets From History

German Soldiers in Russia: Part 1

Hubert Menzel was a major in the General Operations Department of the OKH (the Oberkommando des Heers, the German Army headquarters), and for him the idea of invading the Soviet Union in 1941 had the smack of cold, clear logic to it: 'We knew that in two years' time, that is by the end of 1942, beginning of 1943, the English would be ready, the Americans would be ready, the Russians would be ready too, and then we would have to deal with all three of them at the same time.... We had to try to remove the greatest threat from the East.... At the time it seemed possible.'

Battle for Berlin, 1945

'We started to fire at the masses,' says one former German machine gunner. 'They weren't human beings for us. It was a wall of attacking beasts who were trying to kill us. You yourself were no longer human.'


Berlin after it fell to the Russians, 1945

"Vladlen Anchishkin, a Soviet battery commander on the 1st Ukrainian Front, sums up the horror of the whole event, when he tells how he took personal revenge on German soldiers: 'I can admit it now, I was in such a state, I was in such a frenzy. I said, 'Bring them here for an interrogation' and I had a knife, and I cut him. I cut a lot of them. I thought, 'You wanted to kill me, now it's your turn.'
Read More


Dramatic Pictures: Battle For Stalingrad
"...Effective command no longer possible... further defense senseless. Collapse inevitable. Army requests immediate permission to surrender in order to save lives of remaining troops."
General Paulus' radio message to Hitler on January 24, 1943

"...Capitulation is impossible. The 6th Army will do its historic duty at Stalingrad until the last man, the last bullet..."

Hitler's response to General Friedrich Paulus' request to withdraw from the city


Points To Ponder....

The fall of France was shocking. It reduced France to virtually a non-player in the Second World War. The efforts of Charles de Gualle were more symbolic than material. But the martial instincts of the French must never be doubted. Under Napoleon they were a formidable military power. The French definitely have more iron in their blood then say, the Italians [I do not mean it in a derogatory sense. War never makes sense]


Bias Of Western Historians

Soviet resistance made possible a successful Allied invasion of France, and ensured the final Allied victory over Germany.

It can hardly be called mere 'resistance'! If it hadn't been for the Russians, Hitler would have made mincemeat of British forces in Africa and landed on British shores in no time. Hitler attacked Russia first because it had more land and resources than Britain. It is as simple as that.

Eastern Front: Bias Of Western Historians