Cultural Revolution

Dafato Team | Jun 4, 2022

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The Chinese Cultural Revolution (Chinese 無產階級文化大革命

An exact number of people killed by the Cultural Revolution is not known. Available estimates (some politically motivated) vary widely, ranging from hundreds of thousands to 20 million dead across China. Massacres such as the Guangxi Massacre (and cannibalism), the Inner Mongolia Purge, the Guangdong Massacre, the Zhao Jianmin Espionage Case, the Daoxian Massacre, the Shadian Incident, and the Red August of Beijing occurred during the Cultural Revolution. In addition, many millions of people were subjected to torture and other physical and psychological abuse, were arrested, and ended up in prisons and labor camps. An even larger number were exiled to remote areas of the country. Beginning with the Red August of Beijing, the movement to destroy the "Four Olds" was carried out. This meant old ways of thinking, cultures, habits and customs. During the Cultural Revolution, the Banqiao Dam and other 61 dams in Henan Province collapsed in 1975, becoming one of the greatest technological disasters in history. While Mao declared the Cultural Revolution over in 1969 after fundamental (but ultimately not lasting) upheavals in society and government, its end is more commonly attributed to Lin's death in 1971 or Mao's death in 1976. In October 1976, the initiators of the Cultural Revolution, the "Gang of Four," were arrested, putting an end to the Cultural Revolution.

By successive Chinese governments, especially in Deng Xiaoping's assessment, the Cultural Revolution since 1981 has been regarded as a serious mistake and the biggest step backward in the country's history, but apart from the official account of 1981, it is hardly taken into account in the culture of remembrance. In the late 1970s, Deng Xiaoping launched the "Boluan Fanzheng" program to correct the mistakes of the Cultural Revolution. In December 1978, Deng became China's new supreme leader and launched the "Reform and Opening Up" that ushered in a new phase of China. But Mao's responsibility is considered rather minor and isolated from his other vaunted activities and cult of personality.

The Cultural Revolution consisted of a series of mass campaigns that alternated and sometimes contradicted each other. Originally, the Cultural Revolution was supposed to last only half a year, but then it was prolonged for ten years, until Mao's death. While Mao was still able to inspire substantial parts of the population with enthusiasm for the Cultural Revolution at the beginning, the mass movements ordered in the last years became listlessly held compulsory rituals.

The Cultural Revolution is often divided into three phases: the Red Guard period (May 1966 to 1968), the Lin Biao period (1968 to August 1971), and the Zhou Enlai period (August 1971 to October 1976).

Unlike the Great Leap Forward campaign, the economy and agriculture were largely exempted from the Cultural Revolution. It had been learned that production had to continue as undisturbed as possible. The campaigns focused on politics, culture, public opinion, schools and universities, but there the Cultural Revolution initially raged with sometimes boundless cruelty. Several professors were beaten to death. The universities ceased their work at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, and normal university operations, with entrance and final examinations and qualified certificates, were not reintroduced until 1978. Numerous cultural monuments were destroyed by revolutionaries.

This division of labor between the Cultural Revolution and production also existed among the leading politicians. Under Mao's guidance, politicians such as Jiang Qing and Lin Biao were responsible for the Cultural Revolution; politicians such as Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping were responsible for the economy, which Mao knew little about and left to others.

In the 1960s, China, in Mao's view, was on the road to revisionism, as the USSR had been before. In the USSR, in Mao's view, a new bureaucratic class had taken power, aloof from the mass of the population. Mao pointed out that class struggles had to be the guiding principle of politics and that the class struggle had to be carried out "daily, monthly and annually." In China, however, Mao saw a solidification in the achieved state with a bureaucrat class that cemented its position, detached from the masses of the people.

Therefore, Mao called for a new socialist revolution in the field of political, social as well as cultural superstructure - the Cultural Revolution. The reason for the proclamation of the Cultural Revolution was not only the overthrow of some politicians of the "pragmatic line" like Liu Shaoqi or Deng Xiaoping. Their ousting had already been accomplished at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in May 1966, when a large majority in the new Politburo turned against them. They were able to continue working in economic and day-to-day politics, but they had lost their support in the Politburo. Mao had a larger social goal in mind. The whole society and the party were to be proletarianly renewed and another step toward ideal socialism was to be accomplished.

In contrast to the ideas of Liu Shaoqi's politicians, Mao was concerned that the necessary renewals would be brought about not within and by the Communist Party, but by the masses. He believed that by relying on the onslaught of the popular masses, a change in the overall social situation could be brought about and thus a true socialist society could be created. Hence Mao's expression: "With chaos on earth, one achieves great order in the country".

Mao hoped to become the father and leader of the world socialist revolution by means of the Cultural Revolution and therefore regarded the Cultural Revolution as a decisive event in human history. In 1967, he wrote in the magazine Rote Fahne:

Combined with the daily personality cult around Mao, Mao's proclamation in the direction of the Chinese youth to open a new chapter in the history of mankind towards an ideal world with the Cultural Revolution gave the movement enthusiasm, fanaticism as well as brutality, hatred and destructiveness against the alleged enemies.

An essential feature of the Cultural Revolution was its indeterminacy. It was intended to expose "capitalist rulers" and "revisionists" who were taking the "wrong road," but nowhere was it specified what these terms meant. At the same time, the sentences passed were absolute. In the case of a person who was accused of being on the wrong path, everything was wrong; in the case of persons who "were on the right path," everything was right. This was often followed by senseless brutality against old, deserving comrades and fighters in the civil war who had allegedly "left the right path". Even between the drivers of the Cultural Revolution, violent conflicts were not uncommon.

Cultural life and higher education came to an almost complete standstill. Universities did not hold normal educational sessions from 1966 to 1978. Avoiding the emergence of a new educational class and propagating the class struggle appeared more important than imparting knowledge.

The exclusion of the economy from the Cultural Revolution made it possible for Deng Xiaoping, who had been attacked as a particularly nasty "revisionist" during the Cultural Revolution, to be politically active in a leading position for five of the ten years of the Cultural Revolution, from 1966 to 1968 as general secretary of the party and from 1973 to 1976 as deputy and later successor to Zhou Enlai. On the other hand, the grip in the field of culture was extensive. For example, Jiang Qing arbitrarily selected works in which proletarian heroes and their exploits were presented as exemplary. The performance of traditional operas was banned.

Shortly before his death, Mao once again received his successor Hua Guofeng and his most important comrades-in-arms for the Cultural Revolution, the later Gang of Four Wang Hongwen, Zhang Chunqiao, Jiang Qing and Yao Wenyuan, and gave the following verdict on his life's work:

Four weeks after Mao's death, Wang Hongwen, Zhang Chunqiao, Jiang Qing, and Yao Wenyuan were arrested as a gang of four, and a year after Mao's death, Deng Xiaoping was reinstated to his former posts. The Cultural Revolution, which Mao had fought for for ten years, was over.

Since the founding of the People's Republic of China, two groups with strongly divergent positions had essentially opposed each other in the CCP. Mao emphasized that even after the victory in the civil war, the class struggle had not ceased and that the revolutionary consciousness of the masses had to be promoted. Liu Shaoqi's politicians focused on building the country quickly and achieving high economic growth.

At the 8th Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (1956), China's leadership was reorganized. After Mao, who remained number one in the political hierarchy as party chairman, Liu became number two. As state president, he was officially installed as Mao's successor. Deng Xiaoping was also given an important position in the party as general secretary. The changes were in line with Mao's ideas, who wanted to withdraw somewhat from day-to-day politics and work more on the broad lines. At Mao's suggestion, the Central Committee was divided into two fronts. On the first front were Liu Shaoqi, Zhou Enlai, Zhu De, Chen Yun and Deng Xiaoping. Officially, Mao resigned to the second front, but was still active on the first front as well. Later, Deng made the following statement about the relationship with Mao at that time:

After 1957, Mao developed the "leftist theory of class struggle," which took up more and more space in the party. Through it, it is argued that a "new exploiting class" was developing in China on a "political and ideological level". According to Mao, this new exploiting class included functionaries, administrators, technicians, intellectuals, etc., who had lost "contact with the masses.

After the disaster of the Great Leap Forward, the dispute over direction intensified. The economic stimulus method Liu used to revive the economy was branded revisionist by Mao. Although the economy recovered and the supply situation improved, the strong growth was achieved in part by reintroducing piecework wages, bonus systems and short-time work. At the same time, many of the business enterprises, health care and educational institutions built up in the countryside during the Great Leap Forward were closed. The urban-rural divide, which had declined during the Great Leap Forward, rose sharply again. With the influx of large numbers of rural residents, unemployment in the cities increased, and social tensions arose between permanent workers in the industrial enterprises and those who could be laid off at any time.

However, there were other significant differences between Liu's and Mao's conception.

Disagreements between Mao and Liu

Liu described the position of the Party and individual Party members as follows:

Liu presented his views in his book On the Self-Cultivation of a Communist Party Member, which reached a circulation of twenty million copies by 1962.

Mao's idea of the party and society looked different:

Liu was an apostle of organization, for whom the road to socialism led not through mass movements but through a well-organized elite communist party, credible by its practice. Mao was an apostle of the masses, without whose control the party would take the revisionist road.

In the economic sphere, Mao called for a planned economy, while Liu sought more of a market economy. Only key strategic positions were to be strictly planned.

Prehistory of the Cultural Revolution

In the first half of the 1950s, the old feudalist China was to be transformed into a socialist country. Industry and handicrafts were gradually nationalized. Now the question was how to proceed further.

Beginning in 1956, Mao began to criticize the Soviet Union's socialist model of construction and became increasingly dissatisfied with the work of the "First Front" Party Committee (especially Liu and Deng). Mao wanted to prevent the Soviet pattern of "peaceful evolution" (of agrarian relations and industry) from spreading to China after the end of the class struggle. In the autumn of 1957, during the 3rd Plenum of the 8th CPC Central Committee, Mao proclaimed: "The contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, between the socialist road and the capitalist road, is undoubtedly the main contradiction in our country's society at present."

In 1957, following the Let 100 Flowers Bloom campaign, the "Fight Against the Right Wing" was launched. Within the framework of this campaign, over 500,000 people were assigned to the right wing, with which there were antagonistic, irreconcilable contradictions.

After the disaster of the Great Leap Forward, the political line around President Liu Shaoqi became dominant. Liu's policies achieved much-needed economic growth. The creation of a new man with socialist consciousness, as Mao desired, fell by the wayside. Mao, however, remained supreme political leader within the party with high ideological authority. His views on socialism simultaneously represented the party line, even if day-to-day politics then took a markedly different course. Mao now feared that the Chinese socialist revolution would ultimately accomplish nothing other than replacing the old class of landowners and urban bourgeoisie with a new exploiting class, the functionaries of the communist party and administrative bureaucracy. Mao sought a society of low division of labor, autarky, unified incomes with a bridging of social differences. It was a variant of Mao's attempt to build people's communes in the Great Leap Forward.

To rekindle the revolutionary momentum, Mao relied on mass campaigns. Thus, in 1962, the campaigns for "socialist education," for "educating millions of successors to the proletarian revolution," and for "learning from the People's Liberation Army" were launched.

In 1962, Mao identified the opponents of socialist society in the Communist Party itself, criticizing those party officials who wanted to follow the "capitalist" path. He denounced the state and party bureaucracy as a new class, distinguished from ordinary citizens by the privileges conferred by the party - classified according to precise rank distinctions. Mao's criticism of the "privileged functionaries" won him approval within the Party as well. At the 10th Plenum of the 8th CPC Central Committee in September 1962, Mao's views on class struggle were adopted by the Party. They said that class struggle prevailed throughout the transition from capitalism to communism. Socialist education, he said, must therefore be carried out under the guiding principle of extending class thought.

At the February 1963 meeting of the CCP Central Committee, there were again complaints that a "privileged class" and a "bureaucratic class" ruled within the CCP. Leading cadres were described as "capitalist elements," and Mao issued the slogan: "Master every task with the class struggle."

In July 1964, at Mao Zedong's request, a small committee was set up to prepare a Cultural Revolution: the so-called Group of Five. This committee included Peng Zhen (mayor of Beijing, member of the party secretariat), Lu Dingyi (party propaganda chief), Kang Sheng (deputy party secretary), Zhou Yang (deputy propaganda chief), and Wu Lengxi (head of the Xinhua news agency). Of these five, however, only one, Kang Sheng, can be counted as a close ally of Mao, and their ideas about a cultural revolution were very unclear and varied. Politicians such as Peng Zhen envisioned a Cultural Revolution more as a review of the administration and party for corruption and nepotism under the leadership of the CCP rather than a mass movement.

In 1965, Mao and the CCP Central Committee issued a critical assessment of the country's situation. According to this assessment, one-third of political power was already no longer in the hands of the CCP, Marxists and workers had lost their influence in the management levels of enterprises, schools were controlled by the bourgeoisie and intellectuals, and circles of scholars and artists were on the verge of revisionism. The country was ruled by "workers' bloodsucking" bureaucratic classes and in the party by "rulers who have taken the capitalist road." Thus, while the government under Liu continued to pursue its market- and meritocratic economic policies, Mao, the legendary party leader and subject of the personality cult, pitted the population against substantial sections of the Communist Party.

Indeed, Mao had strong arguments for his call for a new class struggle of the masses against their oppressors. At the beginning of the People's Republic, class relations in the countryside had been turned upside down. The new leading class was the "poor peasants. Behind them came the "middle peasants." Only these two classes had a say in the village. The former "Rich Peasants" were usually allotted poorer soils, while the former larger landowners were lucky if they were allowed to survive at all with poor soils. In any case, they were stigmatized as black elements.

When Mao now compared the situation in the mid-1960s with that at the beginning of the People's Republic's existence, he saw that class relations had again reversed. A new class of rich peasants and wealthy merchants had emerged. Not only could the proceeds of good performance remain with the individual, but good performance was also strongly supported by the state. Families that were able to increase their production were rewarded with additional government supplies and expanded credit opportunities. In addition, the privately farmed area was expanded far beyond the five percent that was actually stipulated. A successful family could increase its cultivated area, hire poor peasants as farm laborers, and one or another family member went into the intermediate trade to sell its own and other peasants' products in the village's free markets. The rich peasants and traders were supported by local cadres, who offered further support from the state and administration in return for "reasonable tributes." Mao spoke of the local cadres being corrupted by the rural bourgeoisie. The cadres were able to take advantage of the fact that there were hardly any regulations or laws in the young People's Republic that they had to follow. There was still much truth in the saying of the old empire that the emperor's power ends at the village hedge. What was expected of the cadre was acceptance by his immediate boss and economic success. In addition, he could pose as the new village emperor.

On the eve of the Cultural Revolution, the local party, administrative cadres and the wealthy section of the peasantry had come together to form a close-knit community of interests that had set itself apart from the rest of the peasantry, gained mutual advantages and dominated the countryside.

Mao, who emphasized that all peasant uprisings in China's past so far had broken with the bureaucratic tradition of China's long history, had never shared the optimism of other Chinese leaders that with the elimination of the rich landowners and the coming to power of a Communist government, the problem of class struggle was settled. Mao considered it only normal that a new ruling class had emerged after fifteen years without class struggle, and demanded that the popular masses confront this newly established class structure while there was still time, even if members of this new ruling class were Communist Party functionaries. On the contrary, precisely because substantial parts of the Communist cadre were part of the new exploiting class, the party alone could no longer lead the class struggle. Without a new class struggle by the masses, Mao said, China would slowly but surely return to the long history of the old class and exploitative structure.

In September 1965, Mao made a motion to intensify the class struggle again. The Politburo rejected this motion. Mao realized that he currently had no further options in Beijing against the inner-party opposition around Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping and the Beijing Municipal Committee under Peng Zhen. He then traveled to Shanghai, South China, and East China and, with the support of the Shanghai Municipal Committee, launched a publicity campaign against the intellectual opposition. He wanted to create a climate in which he could get the backing of the majority of the Politburo, which honored him as a politician of great merit but did not want to trade Liu's course of "regulated market economy" for new mass campaigns. Therefore, Mao did not attack Liu directly at first, but referred to what he saw as a newly created exploiting class that needed to be eliminated.

Mao evades to Shanghai

Before the Cultural Revolution, Mao was very weakened in terms of power politics. He did not have a majority in the Politburo with his views, and the local party leadership in Beijing had coldcocked him. Thus, his essays and appeals were printed in Shanghai and in the army newspaper, but not in the Beijing media. Mao had therefore left Beijing and stayed mainly in southern China. Despite this cold treatment by the state apparatus, Mao was still the object of the personality cult, which was pushed ever further, especially by Lin Biao. As a result, Mao continued to be revered as the leading figure of the new China by the broad mass of the population and also by substantial sections of the party.

Mao regains power in Beijing

Mao's strategy of overthrowing the previous rulers consisted of three parts. First, the threat of counterrevolution was invoked, with key Beijing politicians as particularly dangerous figures. After these dangerous figures had hatched coup plans, the military intervened and occupied Beijing. The military, with Lin Biao, who was loyal to Mao, in command, took over the function of the force of order. With the help of the military, the mass media, which continued to report on the terrible coup plans of "right-wing elements," could for the first time be brought into line with Mao. Mao brought his later Red Guards into position and was able to use the military and Red Guards to either intimidate or immediately imprison his critics. On July 18 and 19, 1966, soldiers sealed off the CCP Central Committee buildings and the residential district of members of the top leadership. Two weeks later, Mao convened the 11th Plenum of the Central Committees. Many regular members had already been persecuted by this time and were unable to attend the meetings, so only 80 of the 173 Central Committee members were present. Mao had the places of the absent CC members filled with young rebels. Thus Mao had the Central Committee he liked in Beijing, which was dominated by his military. The events leading up to the convening of the Central Committee in August 1966 are described in more detail below.

Mao's first move was to criticize Wu Han, the vice mayor of Beijing. Wu Han was one of Beijing's high officials who blocked Mao's political activities in Beijing. Mao spoke of the "Independent Kingdom of Beijing," which was so dense that no mist, no drop of water could penetrate. Wu Han had formerly been a college professor and had made a name for himself as the author of two historical plays. In 1961, his play Hai Rui is Deprived of His Office was premiered. Based on this play, Wu Han was now to be publicly paraded and overthrown.

On November 10, Wu Han was sharply attacked in the Shanghai newspaper Wenhui Bao. Officially, the editor Yao Wenyuan acted as author, but the article came from Mao himself. Wu Han was accused of serious ideological errors. He propagated a feudal personality and ignored the class struggle of the people against the rulers. In late December, the commentary was also printed in the Beijing newspaper Beijing Ribao, the army newspaper Jiefangjun Bao, and the People's Daily. According to the rulers in Beijing - Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping and Peng Zhen - the whole dispute in the cultural sector should be understood as a purely academic debate, a variant of the "Contest of the Hundred Schools." Mao, however, was concerned with something quite different: the political opponent was to be personally discredited and the danger of counterrevolution painted on the wall. It was the first step in preparing Mao's seizure of power with the help of the military.

In addition to the public theatrical thunder surrounding Wu Han, a central event took place more covertly. Luo Ruiqing, the secretary general of the military commission, was ousted. Luo Ruiqing was a close confidant of Deng and had been appointed as a counterweight to Lin Biao, the representative of the left around Mao. In early December 1965, he was summoned to Shanghai for a meeting. He arrived in Shanghai on December 8 and was immediately arrested by Lin Biao and taken to an unknown location. It took seven days for Luo to sign the "self-criticism" given to him. Luo was stripped of all his posts as a "counterrevolutionary," and Lin Biao, as Mao's representative, no longer had anyone beside him. Mao had the military in his hands.

In February 1966, it was rumored that Peng Zhen, Lu Dingyi, and other officials were plotting a coup against Mao, so the Beijing authorities put the Beijing military on alert. Defense Minister Lin Biao even claimed that Deng Xiaoping himself was involved in the plot, referring to it as the "February Mutiny." Red Guards stepped up and demanded the death penalty for the alleged coup plotters. Seemingly placating them, Mao added fuel to the fire: "Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping have always worked in public and not in secret. They are different from Peng Zhen."

In March 1966, the time had come. Ostensibly to secure the state, 33,000 men of the 38th Army marched into Beijing. The military leadership took control of the state system as the "protecting power," and the Beijing city leadership was stripped of its power. Mao had the mass media brought into line, and opposition figures were threatened with personal consequences. The political balance had been reversed; Mao's political opponents could no longer reach the public and were helpless in the face of Mao's public attacks.

Removal of Mao's critics from the Politburo

In May 1966, Mao went on the open attack. At the "Extended Meeting of the Politburo," four Politburo members and seven of the thirteen Secretariat members, all of whom belonged to the Liuist wing, were dismissed at once. Among them were Beijing Mayor Peng Zhen and Chief of Staff of the People's Liberation Army Luo Ruiqing, Lin Biao's rival. Mao had had a Politburo elected that suited him. On the one hand, there was the nimbus of Mao, on the other the threat of personal consequences.

At the same meeting, the Cultural Revolution Group was established at the CC under the leadership of Maoists Jiang Qing, Chen Boda, Zhang Chunqiao and Kang Sheng, and the old Revolutionary Committee was abolished.

The "Communication of May 16" published by the Politburo took stock of the situation. It was claimed that leadership in a wide variety of fields, such as science, education, literature, art, and news and publishing, was no longer in the hands of the proletarian class. The members of the intellectual opposition were declared to be a "bunch of anti-communist, anti-people counter-revolutionaries" with whom a "struggle to the death" had to be waged. The "representatives of capital" had infiltrated the party, the government and the army, forming a faction of rulers within the party who took the capitalist road. They would have contaminated newspapers, radio broadcasts, magazines, books, teaching materials, speeches, literary works, films, operas, plays, art, music and dance with their capitalist thoughts, so it was necessary to expose and destroy such capitalist thoughts in all fields of intellectual and political life. In the first period, the victims of the Cultural Revolution were mainly intellectuals.

It was also found that a large part of the leading cadres at all administrative levels represented capitalist interests and acted against the party and socialism. They were declared counterrevolutionary, revisionist elements.

In China, calls by the party for mass movements were the form of presenting the party's political line. With the "May 16 Messages," Mao called on the population to expose and eradicate grievances within the party and society. Subsequently, genuine proletarian successor organizations were to be built.

On the one hand, the expansion of the class struggle aroused fear and rejection, but on the other hand, many young people heeded this call for socialist revolution in the realm of China's political superstructure, the call for the Cultural Revolution.

Deng Xiaoping later explained about this period, which was characterized by the concentration of power on and the personality cult around Mao:

Demotion of Liu Shaoqi in the Central Committee

Although there were always disagreements between the leading politicians, an image of the peaceful and conflict-free CCP was presented to the population as well as to party members until 1966. When Mao brought the ideological dispute with the official president Liu Shaoqi to the public, Liu had nothing to counter it with. Mao dominated the media. Liu had no way to present his views or defend himself in the media or before the people. Mao, on the other hand, could always publish his new directives on how to fight Liu. Eventually, Liu was reviled by party members as well as the people as the "supreme party ruler taking the capitalist road." In the newly elected Politburo, Liu Shaoqi dropped from 2nd to 8th in the hierarchy. The new number two became defense minister Lin Biao. In the new standing committee, the Maoists now had nine of the eleven seats. The dispute over direction between Liu and Mao was thus settled.

In August 1966, Mao himself wrote a wall paper titled Bombing the Bourgeois Headquarters, in which he directly opposed Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping.

The initiators of the Cultural Revolution emphasized that the incipient uprising among the schoolchildren and students had begun spontaneously, without outside influence. From today's perspective, however, this is highly unlikely. It is inconceivable in China at the time that students would have organized themselves and risen up against their teachers without the guidance of authoritative outside forces. Today, it is assumed that the Cultural Revolutionary Committee sent the appropriate people into the schools and universities to activate and organize pupils and students in accordance with the new political line, the guidelines of the cultically revered Mao.

Turmoil in Beijing's schools and universities

On May 25, 1966, the first wall poster (大字报, dàzibào, literally "the Great Sign Poster") appeared at Peking University. The poster was written by Nie Yuanzi, the Party Secretary of the Philosophy Institute. She was encouraged to do so by Kang Sheng, a member of the Cultural Revolution Group at the CC. Nie Yuanzi accused the university's rector, Lu Ping, and some of his colleagues of sabotaging the Cultural Revolution. On June 1, the content of the poster, in a form modified by Mao himself, was published on the radio and on June 2 in the Party organ Renmin Ribao. Among other things, the poster called for "holding high the great red flag of Mao Zedong Thought, uniting around the Party and Chairman Mao, and destroying all subversion plans of the revisionists."

Groups of high school students and college students then formed at the 55 higher educational institutions in Beijing. Posters similar to Nie Yuanzi's appeared at all schools in the city. One of these posters was signed "Red Guard." The name later became popular everywhere, although rebel groups with all kinds of names were formed in the early stages of the Cultural Revolution. These groups were by no means homogeneous. The reasons why students joined the groups ranged from belief in the revolutionary ideals propagated by Mao, to academic or social interests, to a simple "desire to rebel" against unloved teachers. Some 6000 students and teachers who had been forcibly sent to the countryside the year before flocked back to Peking University, describing their depressing situation. The university turned into a political fair with dozens of different groups.

The party leadership led by Liu Shaoqi, in an attempt to keep the turmoil under control and, above all, hidden from public view, dispatched party groups to work with the Red Guards beginning on June 5. The primary goal was to protect the party apparatus and its privileged members, whom Mao wanted to attack, from the Red Guards. It was also intended to isolate the rebel groups from each other, but this did not succeed. The party's working groups were very unpopular with the rebels and were expelled from some Beijing universities just a few days later. Nevertheless, energies were directed toward intellectuals and fellow students with negative class backgrounds. On June 18, in the first "Struggle and Criticism Session," some 60 senior university teachers were humiliated by beatings, kicks, and other physical violence, then herded through the streets with large self-accusing placards. The action was soon stopped by Party working groups and condemned by both the Mao faction and the Liu faction within the Party. A hunt began throughout the country for the perceived enemies of working-class development. In view of the rebellion in universities and schools, university entrance examinations were suspended on June 18.

Those students who officially came from "revolutionary" backgrounds, i.e., were privileged in the existing society, were suddenly interested in preserving the existing system and therefore became conservative forces in the Cultural Revolution. In contrast, students with fewer privileges, for example because they came from a former landowning family, often became very radical because they expected advantages for their later advancement.

Time of the Red Guards

The events leading up to the Cultural Revolution, such as education in class struggle, the glorification of a revolutionary ideal, the personality cult around Mao, the atmosphere in schools and universities, and the belief that they were participating in a decisive action for world history, made many students receptive to the calls for revolution and the establishment of a "new world". As a result, the first group of Red Guards was formed at Qinghua University on May 29, 1966, and quickly spread thereafter. In a letter to the Red Guards of Qinghua University High School, Mao wrote that it was "justified to rebel against the reactionary elements" and that he supported the movement. The letter was immediately published. Red Guards then formed throughout the country. This is considered the birth of the Red Guards. The "Oath of the Red Guards" read:

The motive for the Red Guards' movement was initially primarily to "destroy the four relics" (so-called old thoughts, old culture, old customs and old habits), but they quickly expanded their actions. Due to the encouragement of Lin Biao and Mao's wife Jiang Qing, the Red Guards went out in public throughout the country to paste up wall newspapers, distribute leaflets, and make speeches. The military helped with transportation, lodging and food, the use of the railroad was free for the Red Guards, there were special rides to major events, and the state gave the Red Guards subsistence allowances. Those declared by the Red Guards to be class enemies were fought, beaten, ridiculed and their property confiscated. Items that the Red Guards considered feudalist, capitalist, or revisionist were destroyed. By the end of September 1966, over 30,000 households in Beijing had been searched by the Red Guards and "cleansed" of books, pictures, unproletarian clothing, fake dishes, and even lipstick.

However, such visits could also take a very different course. In her book "Wild Swans," Jung Chang reports how her Red Guard group visited a woman who had been accused by a neighbor of having a portrait of the anti-communist and former military dictator Chiang Kai-shek in her apartment. About the "interrogation" Jung Chang writes:

Jung Chang's interpretation of these events is that the Red Guard generation was brought up on the principle of judging right and wrong according to the principles of class struggle and showing no mercy to the class enemy.

Mao's statement, "With chaos on earth, you achieve order in the country," prompted the Red Guards to make their combat mission even more radical. The Red Guards did not tolerate dissent. They often did not even stop at their own families. The constantly repeated slogan "Love for mother and father is not like love for Mao Zedong" prompted countless Red Guards to denounce their parents as "counterrevolutionaries" - just as the Cultural Revolution was a heyday of denunciation in general.

However, since it was not determined who was to be fought and which opinion was the wrong one, factions quickly formed within the Red Guards and beat each other up.

Mao Zedong first met with the Red Guards in Tian'anmen Square on August 18, 1966. Since then, he received more than eleven million teachers, students as well as middle school students from all over the country a total of eight times until the end of November. The deployment of millions of Red Guards in the fall of 1966, however, belied the fact that the Red Guard movement was splintering and visibly losing its insurgent power. The movement originally emanated from Beijing universities, and students, due to the difficult entrance exams, were drawn preferentially from the urban middle class and upper cadre families. The students allowed themselves to be briefly boosted by Mao, but did not forget that they actually wanted to make a career within the existing system, and as students at Peking University they had the best starting conditions for this. Outwardly radical, their representatives soon established contacts with the university leadership, ostensibly to control it. By the end of the year, reconciliation and compromise between the students' representatives and the old authorities had reached the point where the term "Red Guard" no longer had revolutionary content. The situation was different for those who had returned to Beijing after being forcibly sent to the countryside. They were threatened with deportation to the countryside again after the end of the uprising. From the fall of 1966, the uprising was carried on and expanded by another group, and the era of the "revolutionary rebels" began.

Party resistance

Beginning in March 1966, Mao had, with the help of the military, razed one bastion after another of his internal party opponents in Beijing. By August 1966, he had ousted his direct opponent Liu Shaoqi, and Red Guards raged undisturbed on the Beijing streets, making life difficult for "revisionists." Many cadres were insulted, publicly humiliated or even beaten.

But despite Mao's apparent triumph against cadres who were "on the wrong track," things looked different outside Beijing. Since the great decentralization of the late 1950s, the regions had received a considerable increase in authority, which the provincial governors were now playing out. Already at the 11th Plenum in August 1966, Mao foreboded trouble when he said, "Now they agree, but what will they do once they return?"

Sichuan, with its 100 million inhabitants, consistently eluded Maoist influence. Actions by leftist forces were immediately suppressed, and reinforcements that Jiang Qing tried to bring in were intercepted at railroad stations and arrested. Other provinces followed suit. As a rule, local party superiors had no interest in sedition and "cultural revolution." Calls from Beijing headquarters were simply not passed on. In September and October 1966, Red Guards swarmed into the provinces as emissaries, primarily to introduce the lower cadres to the new political line of insurrection against "pro-capitalist elements."

However, the incitement of the Red Guards usually failed to achieve its goal. The police and coercive apparatus stood behind the party authorities, the military commanders were equally unwilling to hear of sedition, and the Red Guards did not have the same clout in the foreign environment as they did in their cities of origin. Moreover, there was a detailed personnel file on each cadre, and with so many political swings, each would have had statements that could have been used to show them up as a "pro-capitalist element" in a public show trial. Mao could rant a lot about these "independent empires"; in the provinces, he could not get anywhere with the Red Guards and the lower local cadres against the local leaderships. However, "losers" of the current liuist order increasingly gathered around the Red Guards. A new potential for sedition emerged. The era of the Revolutionary Rebels began.

Revolutionary rebels

In the course of 1966, the students, who, despite all the turmoil, were tinkering not with a revolution but with their careers, were replaced by other groups that were on the losing side of the developments of recent years.

These were, on the one hand, the "labor service providers," mostly young Chinese who had been forcibly relocated from the cities to the countryside. The background to this was the problem that, since the founding of the People's Republic, the urban population to be supplied by the farmers had been growing rapidly, faster than the employment opportunities. From the beginning of the 1960s, workers as well as school leavers who could not find employment were forcibly resettled in the countryside. A saying went, "The best go to college, the good go to factory or office, the rest are rejects and are shunted off to the countryside." This was a bad thing for those concerned, because in the countryside they usually lived isolated from their surroundings, they were often little respected by the peasants as arrogant townspeople, and the local cadres feared competition. Moreover, they were often accused of working less than the skilled peasants but eating the same amount. The following letter of complaint provides an illustrative example:

This was the reality of life for those who had been forcibly relocated and who knew how permanent workers in state-owned enterprises in the city were socially protected and courted.

Another group of the revolutionary rebels were the "contract workers". The permanent workers of the state-owned enterprises had both good pay and stable social security ("iron rice bowl"). To relieve the factories financially, after the failure of the "Great Leap Forward," it was decided that the factories should reduce the number of permanent workers by thirty percent and replace them with contract workers. The contract workers had a much lower salary, no benefits, and could be fired at any time. If a permanent worker became ill, he received treatment and continued to be paid his salary indefinitely. However, if a contract worker became seriously ill, he was simply dismissed without compensation. If he did not have the status of a city resident, he was deported back to his home village.

Among the losers were young workers. Many of them were employed only as contract workers or, if they did not find work, were sent straight to the countryside. Only a few had a chance for advancement.

In the countryside, it was the newly impoverished "poor peasants" who joined the cultural revolutionary organizations. The decisions of 1962 created a new layer of rich peasants, merchants and functionaries in the countryside who supported each other, sometimes legally, sometimes illegally, while other peasants sank to day laborers. Mao spoke of a corrupting of the cadres by a new bourgeoisie in the countryside.

Finally, there was the group of demobilized soldiers. They were mostly politically trained, but not professionally prepared for a middle-class job and found it very difficult to find a job.

Unlike the Red Guards, who, with a career in mind, did not want any principled change and had much to lose themselves, the above groups had a different view. They interpreted Mao's slogan that destruction must come before construction, and also the slogan "rebellion is reasonable" according to the reality of their lives, but no longer according to Mao's ideas, who merely wanted to bring the socially detached leadership bodies closer to the masses again. The revolutionary rebels saw themselves treated unfairly, demanded general "equality" and referred to Mao's idea of grassroots democratic communes. Mao's slogan "Rebellion is reasonable!" did not, however, refer to the economic sphere. In early August 1966, at the 11th Plenum of the Central Committee, Mao did support the Red Guards' stirrings. "You are too impatient! You claim that the situation is out of control. But the masses are already on the right path. Let people criticize for only a few months, then we can take stock." However, when Shanghai labor rebels paralyzed production in September 1966, Chen Boda, as chairman of the KRG (Cultural Revolutionary Group of the Politburo), sent a telegram clarifying, "As workers, your main task is to work. Therefore, you must return to your workplace." In November, the Beijing People's Daily clarified, "It is possible to close schools to carry out the Cultural Revolution, but factories, communes and offices must not stop their activities under any circumstances The discipline of work must be strictly observed." In 1966, the workers' rebels still adhered to the exhortations; in January 1967, confrontation ensued.

January storm and February movement

On January 6, 1967, workers' rebels in Shanghai stormed key positions in the city. After two days of fighting, they were able to announce victory over the previous party elite and the formation of a Shanghai Commune. The action was explicitly praised by Mao as a "Revolutionary Storm," and so similar power grabs by organized workers rebels quickly unfolded throughout the country.

This approach generated resistance among the materially well-off salaried workers. Supported by the party elite, they countered the revolutionary rebels with their own fighting forces, the so-called Scarlet Guards.

The consequence of these struggles was a massive disruption of the economy. Work ceased in many factories. In the countryside, where leftist groups had deposed heads of communes and brigades, vital spring planting was threatened. Then the army intervened. On January 23, the People's Liberation Army (VBA) was authorized to intervene to "protect the leftists." However, almost all military commanders fought down the leftist rebels and formed "Military Administrative Committees" with the workers' protection forces and the old cadres.

End of the rebel movement

Jiang Qing's group would have supported a military operation against the chaos; however, it opposed the complete elimination of the "revolutionary rebels." After all, it had a strong position in the General Political Department of the Army as well as in the Military Department of the Central Committee, and Mao had publicly endorsed the Shanghai riot.

On April 6, the Military Department of the Central Committee issued a decree prohibiting all commanders from dissolving rebel organizations. Detained rebels were released. As a result, fighting continued. In Canton, fighting lasted for weeks in July and August. On August 20, local military commander Huang Yongsheng intervened with his army on his own authority. The leftist rebels were disarmed. Other military commanders in other provinces followed suit. At a meeting with local military commanders in September 1967, Mao and Lin Biao relented. The danger of serious economic damage was too great; the disaster of the "Great Leap" was still in their bones. A joint action by the party and the army against the Leftist rebels was decided. Mao was disappointed with the Red Guards and the rebels. He said, "Moreover, the Red Guards are splitting incessantly; in the summer (1966) they were revolutionary, in the winter (1967) they have become counterrevolutionary . Now anarchism is spreading, everything is being doubted, everything is being overturned, the result is that it is falling back on themselves, it doesn't work that way."

Formation of revolutionary committees

While in Shanghai rebel organizations seized control of the municipal government, an opposite development took place in Shanxi Province. On January 12, 1967, a so-called Revolutionary Committee was formed under the leadership of the army commander together with representatives of the organizations of the labor aristocracy and old leadership cadres, excluding the "revolutionary rebels." Several provinces followed suit. After the agreement between the army commanders, Mao and Lin Biao in September 1967, the form of the revolutionary committees was sought in all provinces. However, it took another twelve months for revolutionary committees to be installed in all provinces, the last being in Tibet and Xinjiang on September 5, 1968. The radical revolutionary phase was over. The revolutionary rebels still tried to disrupt, but they no longer had a future. The party, the army and the vast majority of the population, who only wanted stability, peace and some prosperity, were against them.

End of the Red Guards

From January 1967 to September 1968, so-called revolutionary committees took over local power in the provinces after local power struggles. The Red Guards were no longer needed. From October 1967, schools began to hold classes again. The schools were run by workers - their lessons consisted of students studying Mao's works and critiquing old textbooks. Real teaching did not yet get off the ground.

On July 28, 1968, Mao Zedong, Lin Biao and Zhou Enlai received leaders of the Beijing Red Guards. Mao clarified:

The leaders of the Red Guards had to realize that their mission was over. At the end of 1968, Mao Zedong called on intellectual youth to "go out into the wide world." Ten million middle school students were sent to the countryside to "learn from the peasants." They now left the cities where they had made history as Red Guards.

Ninth Party Congress

At the beginning of 1969, the situation had stabilized to such an extent that the 9th Party Congress could be held in April 1969. Its task was to initiate a phase of reconstruction. 1512 delegates met, who had emerged from the various revolutionary committees. The Party Congress decided to reintroduce the clause of the primacy of Mao Zedong's ideas, which had been deleted in 1956. Lin Biao was honored as "the Chairman's closest comrade in arms" and introduced as Mao's successor. Particular importance was attached to rebuilding party organizations. The party's provincial committees were to be reinstalled and the great mass of denigrated cadres rehabilitated and reinstated. Lin Biao also referred to the special importance of the task of healing the wounds of the three-year civil war and regaining unity.

Clouding of Lin Biao's Relationship with Mao

With the use of the VBA to build the revolutionary committees, the army's influence rapidly expanded throughout China, and its leader, Defense Minister Lin Biao, also gained political clout. A large proportion of the leaders in the 29 provinces and autonomous regions were now army officers. In this situation, Mao needed Lin to stabilize the state. Lin filled more and more posts in the army with his confidants.

At the 9th Party Congress of the CCP in April 1969, Lin Biao was appointed as the sole vice chairman - there had been five until 1966 - replacing Liu Shaoqi as the number two in the party and as Mao's successor in the party statute. Lin Biao now also laid claim to the office of state president, which the ousted Liu had previously held. Mao refused and argued that the office should be left vacant for the time being. Lin Biao insisted on his claim and made the issue public. In early 1970, after The Mao Bible, Lin published another little red book, Important Documents of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, in which he elevated his own statements to cult status. While Lin wanted to cement his position as Mao's successor, Mao distanced himself from Lin and increasingly distrusted him. In any case, Lin, with his military following, had become expendable to Mao when calm and order were restored after the chaotic start of the Cultural Revolution. The situation came to a head. Mao did not yet attack Lin Biao personally, but he did attack Chen Boda, Lin's "mouthpiece," and demanded his dismissal.

Reconstruction of the party committees

Since the 9th Party Congress, articles were published in the Beijing People's Daily and the Red Banner pointing out the primacy of the Party over the military and recommending that soldiers behave accordingly. This transitioned in 1970 to a reform campaign emphasizing the Party's political leadership role. However, Lin Biao, as defense minister and chairman of the Central Committee's Military Department, sabotaged this reconstruction of party organs. It was easy to turn the officers, who had grown accustomed to their civilian power, against the recivilization of the country. The arrogance and complacency of the officers, which many cadres in the revolutionary committees complained about, persisted.

On the civilian side, Lin had a willing helper in Chen Boda. Chen was charged with reorganizing the local party apparatuses after the 11th Plenum on April 28, 1969, but he blocked rather than pushed the construction. Between April 1969 and November 1970, not a single provincial committee could be established. Mao suspected Lin of being mainly responsible for the blockade.

Lin's opposition to the new party committees had two reasons. First, building party organizations had to limit the influence of the military, but there were also ideological reasons. Lin had always identified with Mao's mass line and the anti-bureaucratic struggle. The military and the old party cadres now dominated the formation of the new party committees. The representatives of the left mass organizations did not make the transition to the party committees. For Lin, Mao's behavior was a betrayal of the Cultural Revolution. Mao could not attack Lin directly, but he could attack his aide Chen Boda. After Chen Boda's fall, all 26 provincial and three city committees were established by August 1971.

After the party committees were formed, it became apparent that the local military, the old cadres and the central government under Zhou Enlai were getting along well. Lin Biao, who did not like the whole direction of booting out the local left forces and rehabilitating the old cadres, was sidelined.

Attempt to assassinate Mao

Mao increasingly withdrew his trust in Lin and relied on the later "Gang of Four" around his wife Jiang Qing and on Premier Zhou. Lin, for whom a normal takeover of power thus became increasingly impossible, did not want to back down, but attempted to assassinate Mao on September 12, 1971. Mao was to be assassinated during a trip to Shanghai. However, the plans became known. When Mao's train arrived in Hangzhou and Shanghai, Mao received the regional leadership cadres only in his train compartment. He said to the provincial leaders:

Shortly thereafter, Mao headed back to Beijing without the train making a stop. On the afternoon of September 12, 1971, the train arrived at the station in the Beijing suburb of Fengtai. There, Mao ordered the heads of the Beijing municipal government and the Beijing army unit, Wu De and Wu Zhong, to join him and had a long talk with them about how to proceed. In the evening, the train arrived back at the Beijing railroad station.

Lin realized that the assassination attempt had failed and fled by plane at 1:50 a.m. on September 13. It crashed due to lack of fuel near the city of Öndörchaan in the Mongolian People's Republic. Lin's death was not announced by the Chinese government until four months later. Many of Lin Biao's supporters in the armed forces were dismissed, and generals removed at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution resumed their positions.

Time after Lin Biao's fall

In the period from September 1971 until Mao's death in September 1976, there were two currents. On the economic and foreign policy level, long-time Premier Zhou Enlai, who after Lin's death now also became vice chairman and thus Mao's designated successor, had a firm grip on the helm; the ideological and cultural level, as well as the media, were dominated by the later Gang of Four around Jiang Qing. Wang Hongwen of the Group of Four became deputy party chairman in 1973 and number three in the party hierarchy behind Mao and Zhou.

In 1972 and 1973, the pragmatists gradually returned to their posts. Scientists and scholars were rehabilitated, and the old cadres resumed their former posts. Deng Xiaoping was reinstated to the post of vice premier. Since Zhou Enlai was in the hospital, Deng took over the day-to-day affairs of the government; from 1975 Deng also represented Zhou Enlai in the State Council.

Deng initiated a comprehensive reorganization of the economy, appointed numerous old cadres back to their posts and achieved recognizable economic successes. However, Mao, who was by then seriously ill, viewed the developments with concern. Mao did approve of Deng's leadership of the State Council, but with the expectation that Deng would boost the economy as part of the Cultural Revolution. From Deng's point of view, however, development of the national economy was impossible as long as the mistakes of the Cultural Revolution were not corrected.

While Zhou and Deng advanced the country's economic situation, the "left faction" under Jiang Qing tried to weaken Zhou and Deng's position. On the other hand, Zhou often pointed out that the ideological currents of the extreme left would lead nowhere and lapse into extremes. The orientation of political movements should not be at odds with economic production, he said.

In contrast, the Left under Jiang Qing, with Mao's support, launched the campaign to "criticize Lin Biao and Confucius," which was directed against Zhou as a "modern Confucius." For the group of four, the ultimate goal was to eliminate Zhou in order to take the lead in the expected post-Mao succession struggle. Mao, on the other hand, did not believe in the group's ability to rule the country and always stuck to Zhou as the man for the economy. In 1974, Mao was diagnosed with an incurable, fatal disease.

In November 1975, the Politburo convened a conference on Mao's instructions, noting that some people still opposed the Cultural Revolution. A call was made for the whole country and the entire Party to launch "an attack against the revision of the right-wing dissenters." On February 25, 1976, the Central Committee transmitted Chairman Mao's "important instructions," which included a sharp criticism of Deng Xiaoping. Mao wrote:

Many of Mao's old comrades-in-arms could no longer understand Mao's renewed attacks against Deng as a right-wing deviant. Through them, Mao had the Central Committee state:

Mao tried anew to mobilize the people and proclaimed the "Movement to Criticize Deng Xiaoping and Attack the Revision of the Dissenters from the Right." Popular support was moderate, but economic consolidation was affected.

On January 8, 1976, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai died. The great sympathy of the people of Beijing was also a criticism of Zhou's and Deng's opponents, that is, a criticism of the carriers of the Cultural Revolution. Jiang Qing and her supporters therefore instructed the media not to report on the funeral ceremonies for Zhou Enlai. On March 30, 1976, a funeral oration honoring Zhou Enlai was placed in Beijing's Tian'anmen Square, which included direct attacks on the Gang of Four. Rallies developed in the square - by April 4, two million people had participated in events in the square. The demonstrations in Tian'anmen Square were the first mass demonstrations against the party leadership since the founding of the People's Republic.

On April 5, the square was cleared by the military, and Deng was held responsible for the "anti-party riot." On April 7, Deng was stripped of all political posts. The widely unknown Hua Guofeng was appointed prime minister and first vice chairman of the Central Committee as Mao's new and final designated successor. Mao Zedong died on September 9, 1976.

Arrest of the gang of four

After Mao's death, the Group of Four armed its supporters. In Shanghai and Anhui provinces alone, 50,000 rifles were procured and plans were made to assemble regiments loyal to the Party Left. An order by Mao's nephew, Mao Yuanxin, to move an armored division to Beijing was canceled by Marshal Ye Jianying, who in turn was planning a coup. Wang Hongwen, hitherto the official number two in the state behind Mao, claimed that 400,000 armed militiamen were ready in Shanghai to go to war. He said he was ready to lead the command and take charge of the country.

On September 29, 1976, Jiang Qing officially posed the succession question at a Politburo conference. Wang Hongwen and Zhang Chunqiao proposed that Jiang Qing take over leadership duties until further notice. However, a decision was postponed. This also opened up the struggle within the Politburo over Mao's succession. Subsequently, an article by the Party Left appeared in all the major newspapers in the country with the title "Act Eternally According to Chairman Mao's Established Guidelines." The Party Left, through the mass media it controlled, attempted to assert Jiang Qing's claim to the party leadership.

On the other hand, the opponents of the Group of Four had been making preparations on their part for months. Since the reshuffles after Lin Biao's fall, the armed forces had been a bulwark for stability through all of Mao's swings in government formation and very reserved about the "fluff" of the party left. Marshal Ye Jianying, the defense minister, had built a network for a coup against the Group of Four, based on senior military leaders. It included, among others, three vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission, the defense minister and his deputy, the chief of general staff, and four leading generals from the navy and air force. Key figures from the Party and government were also part of the network. After Mao's death, Hua Guofeng was also inducted and joined the group.

On October 6, the group of four was arrested along with other important supporters. The military occupied important political positions, such as the official news agency and radio stations. The party left thus lost control of the mass media. The uprising in support of the Four that the party left had hoped for did not take place.

The following day, Hua was elected to succeed Mao as party chairman and chairman of the Central Military Commission. At the 3rd Plenum of the 10th CPC Central Committee in 1977, Wang Hongwen, Zhang Chunqiao, Jiang Qing, and Yao Wenyuan were expelled from the Party, while Deng Xiaoping, the favorite of the October 1976 coup plotters, was reinstated to all positions. The Cultural Revolution thus came to an end.

Invalidate the Cultural Revolution

After the Cultural Revolution, Hua Guofeng succeeded Mao Zedong and largely continued Mao's policies. Hua proposed the "Two Whatever (两个凡是)": We will resolutely abide by all the political decisions made by Chairman Mao and steadfastly follow Chairman Mao's instructions. On the other hand, Deng Xiaoping first proposed the idea of "Boluan Fanzheng" in 1977 to correct the mistakes of the Cultural Revolution. In December 1978, Deng Xiaoping, with the support of his allies, became the new supreme leader of China and launched the "reform and opening-up".

In June 1981, the Chinese Communist Party unanimously passed a resolution (关于建国以来党的若干历史问题的决议), drafted by Deng and others, comprehensively invalidating the Cultural Revolution. According to the resolution, it was "a domestic chaos falsely launched by the leader (Mao Zedong) and exploited by the counterrevolutionary gangs (Lin Biao and the Gang of Four)." In addition, it said that the Cultural Revolution "was responsible for the most serious setback and losses suffered by the Party, the country and the people since the founding of the People's Republic of China."

Number of fatalities

Estimates of the death toll in the Cultural Revolution vary widely, ranging from hundreds of thousands to 20 million. In addition, the "Banqiao Dam Collapse," considered by some to be the world's greatest technological disaster, occurred in August 1975 in the Zhumadian region of Henan Province, resulting in a death toll of 85,600 to 240,000.

Beginning with the Beijing "Red August," massacres took place in mainland China, including the Guangxi Massacre, the Inner Mongolia Purge, the Guangdong Massacre, the Zhao Jianmin Espionage Case, the Daoxian Massacre, and the Shadian Incident. Chinese scholars have pointed out that at least 300,000 people died in massacres. Most of the victims were members of the "Five Black Categories" and their families, members of religious groups, and members of "rebel groups (造反派)."

Violent fights or wudou (武鬥

At the same time, millions of people were persecuted, many of whom were sent to the "fight and criticize" sessions. Some people could not bear the torture and committed suicide. Researchers have indicated that at least 100,000-200,000 people committed suicide during the early Cultural Revolution.

Academics and education

Academics and intellectuals were widely persecuted during the Cultural Revolution. Well-known academics, scholars and educators who died due to the Cultural Revolution were Xiong Qinglai, Jian Bozan, Lao She, Tian Han, Fu Lei, Wu Han, Yao Tongbin and Zhao Jiuzhang. Beginning in 1968, of the 171 high-ranking members at the headquarters of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, 131 were persecuted, and among all academy members throughout the country, 229 were put to death. By September 1971, more than 4000 employees of the Chinese Atomic Center in Qinghai had been persecuted: 40 of them committed suicide, five were executed, and 310 were crippled for life.

During the Cultural Revolution, higher education in China no longer functioned and the college entrance examination (Gao Kao) was canceled for 10 years. In the "Up to the Mountains and Down to the Villages (上山下乡运动)", over 10 million educated young people were sent to the countryside to receive education from the farmers.

Power struggle

The Cultural Revolution ultimately failed to achieve all its goals. The Maoists lost the directional struggle all along the line. If before the Cultural Revolution Mao's and Liu Shaoqi's lines were still fighting for power, after Mao's death the leading Cultural Revolutionaries were arrested without any further popular uproar. The "struggle of the two lines" was over, the "Gang of Four" was in prison, and Deng Xiaoping returned to Beijing.

The struggle against usurpation of office, bureaucratism and party cadre privileges also came to nothing, especially since the "leftists" did not want to have their own privileges challenged. An example of this was Jiang Qing, Mao's wife, who outwardly always invoked "solidarity with the masses" and appeared in a crudely cut uniform, but behind the scenes led a luxurious life.

Social structure

Own shopping facilities, service centers, own residential districts and recreation homes, special hospitals and schools - things that had been frowned upon in the early years of the People's Republic - remained as goals for the Cultural Revolutionaries. The common people, in turn, behaved in a mirror image. Appearances were kept up on the outside, but relationships were important so that one could go through the "right back doors." Going through the back door became the motto of the little man. Relationships were what mattered, if necessary by means of mudslinging and corruption. The masses, who had originally been appointed the bearers of progress and called upon to "liberate themselves," became the object of a spectacle decreed from above. On cue, the little red book was waved or incredible new achievements were "enthusiastically" hailed. The masses cheered when Deng was overthrown, they cheered when Deng was reinstated, and they cheered again when Deng was overthrown again. In reality, the people had been tired of all these campaigns for a long time, but it was not profitable not to join in - better to keep up appearances and think about the "back doors" to their own lives. Political life had degenerated into a spectacle. An entire generation had grown up against a backdrop of deep contempt for knowledge and skill, education and professional ethics by the leading cultural revolutionaries. Millions of young people found it difficult to regain their footing after the Cultural Revolution.

In the countryside - where the vast majority of Chinese lived - there were, of course, also positive results. The communal facilities in the people's communes, which at that time had been greatly reduced in their tasks, were expanded again. For example, rural health services were established and semi-professional barefoot doctors were trained as part of the "Patriotic Health Campaigns." Agricultural mechanization was advanced, and schooling for workers and peasants was improved. Led by the "Learning from Dazhai" campaign, community work such as clearing hills to reclaim new arable land, repairing dikes and roads, and building new houses was carried out by peasants in the people's communes on their own. The establishment of kindergartens and commune staff contributed to the emancipation of women, who were now better able to participate within the commune and were credited with their own labor points. Nevertheless, the majority of peasants wanted to get away from the collectives and farm their own land again when the opportunity finally arose.

Relationship with foreign countries

During the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese Communist Party exported the "communist revolution" as well as communist ideology to several countries in Southeast Asia, supporting communist parties in Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, and especially the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, which carried out genocide in Cambodia.

Among the more than 40 countries that had established diplomatic or semi-diplomatic relations with China at that time, about 30 countries got into diplomatic disputes with China. Some countries, including Central Africa, Ghana and Indonesia, even severed diplomatic relations with China. Several foreign guests were ordered to stand in front of the statue of Mao Zedong, deliver "Chairman Mao Zedong's words," and "report back" to Mao, as other Chinese citizens did.

May 16, 2016 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Cultural Revolution. As in previous years, there were no official commemorative events for the victims. On May 17, the Renmin Ribao (the "People's Newspaper" is considered the main newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party) called the Cultural Revolution a mistake in theory and practice. It warned against forgetting the historical lessons of the disaster. China will never allow the Cultural Revolution to be repeated, it said. The newspaper urged Chinese to accept the conclusion about the period formulated in 1980 by then-leader and later reformer Deng Xiaoping that the Cultural Revolution had created chaos in the party, the country and among people of all ethnicities.

in the order of appearance


  1. Cultural Revolution
  2. Kulturrevolution

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