CULTURAL REVOLUTION--THE END
Anti-Gang-0f-Four poster In the summer of 1968, Mao called in the People's Liberation Army to restore order after chaos and upheaval had escalated to such a point the economy was on the verge of collapse.
The main chaos had subsided by 1971. After order was reasonably restored, Mao's propagandists tried to save Mao's skin by blaming the Cultural Revolution on the "Gang of Four." The Cultural Revolution didn't officially end until the Gang of Four was arrested in October 1976, which occurred shortly after Mao’s death. The ban on the playing of Beethoven music lasted until March, 1977.
At the time of the Tangshan earthquake in 1976, the Chinese government was in the last stages of the Cultural Revolution, before Chairman Mao’s death, and was widely criticized for its insufficient mobilization immediately following the earthquake.
The Sixth Plenum of the Eleventh National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 1977 passed the ‘Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party Since the Founding of the People's Republic of China,’ which noted: ‘The Cultural Revolution...was responsible for the most severe setback and the heaviest losses suffered by the Party, the state and the people since the founding of the People's Republic. . . .History has shown that the Cultural revolution, initiated by a leader laboring under a misapprehension and capitalized on by counter-revolutionary cliques, led to domestic turmoil and brought catastrophe to the Party, the state and the whole people.’
Books About the Cultural Revolution
Books on the Cultural Revolution: Wild Swans by Jung Chang, an international bestseller; Ten Years of Madness: Oral Histories of the Cultural Revolution and One Hundred People's Ten Years by Feng Jicai. The Execution of Mayor Yin and Other Stories from the Great Cultural Revolution by Chen Jo-his; Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Chang; Enemies of the People by Anne F. Thurston.
Colors of the Mountain by Da Chen (Random House, 2000) is a coming-of-age set in the Cultural Revolution. It was described by Newsweek as "surprisingly free of cynicism or bitterness...all the more poignant by the wonder and vulnerability in the voice of their child narrator." The Lily Theater: A Novel of Modern China by Lulu Wang is an entertaining and interesting depiction of the Cultural Revolution originally written in Dutch by a Chinese woman with a strong, eccentric voice.
Voice from the Whirlwind by Feng Jicai is a collection of oral histories from the Cultural Revolution. Also worth a look is My Name is Number 4: A True Story of the Cultural revolution by Ting-Xing Ye (Thomas Dunne, 2008)
Websites and Resources
Current Premier Wen Jiabao in the Mao era Good Websites and Sources: Virtual Museum of the Cultural Revolution cnd.org ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Morning Sun morningsun.org ; History of Cultural Revolution Think Quest ; Student Attacks of Teachers cnd.org ; Red Guards and Cannibals New York Times ; Cultural Revolution Website http://difangwenge.org/, developed by Prof. Yiching Wu and his team at University of Toronto: The website aims to collect sources about the Chinese Cultural Revolution such as memoirs, newspaper articles, photos, oral history and so on, and is a great resource for scholars and students who study contemporary Chinese history.
Death Under Mao: Uncounted Millions, Washington Post article ncafe.com ; Death Tolls erols.com ; People’s Republic of China : Timeline china-profile.com ; ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Cold War International Project wilsoncenter.org ; China Essay Series mtholyoke.edu ; Chaos Group of the University of Maryland a
Websites on Mao Zedong Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Chinese Mao.com chinesemao.com ; Mao Internet Library marx2mao.com ; Paul Noll Mao site paulnoll.com/China/Mao ; Spartacus Education spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk ; Mao Quotations art-bin.com ; Mao Video biography.com ; Marxist.org marxists.org ; Propaganda Paintings of Mao artchina.free.fr ; New York Times topics.nytimes.com ; Oxford Reference oxfordreference.com ; Mao Book: Mao: the Unknown Story (Knopf. 2005) by Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans, and her husband John Halliday, a British historian, portrays Mao as villain on the level of Hitler and Stalin. The book was read by U.S. President George Bush and embraced by the American right as a condemnation of Communism. It characterizes Mao as cruel, materialistic, self-centered and a leader who used terror with the aim of ruling the world. There is also a Mao biography by Jonathon Spence.
Links in this Website: MAO, HIS EARLY LIFE, TACTICS AND REVOLUTION Factsanddetails.com/China ; COMMUNISTS TAKE OVER CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; EARLY COMMUNIST RULE UNDER MAO Factsanddetails.com/China ; COMMUNES IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; LEADERSHIP AND PROPAGANDA UNDER MAO Factsanddetails.com/China ; MAO'S PRIVATE LIFE Factsanddetails.com/China ; JIANG QING, LIN BIAO, ZHOU ENLAI Factsanddetails.com/China ; DEATH, REPRESSION AND LIFE UNDER MAO Factsanddetails.com/China ; GREAT LEAP FORWARD Factsanddetails.com/China ; CULTURAL REVOLUTION Factsanddetails.com/China ; CULTURAL REVOLUTION --ENEMIES AND HORRORS Factsanddetails.com/China ; CULTURAL REVOLUTION--THE END Factsanddetails.com/China ; MAO MEETS NIXON Factsanddetails.com/China ; MAO DIES Factsanddetails.com/China ;
After the Activist Phase of the Cultural Revolution
The activist phase of the Cultural Revolution--considered to be the first in a series of cultural revolutions--was brought to an end in April 1969. This end was formally signaled at the CCP's Ninth National Party Congress, which convened under the dominance of the Maoist group. Mao was confirmed as the supreme leader. Lin Biao was promoted to the post of CCP vice chairman and was named as Mao's successor. Others who had risen to power by means of Cultural Revolution machinations were rewarded with positions on the Political Bureau; a significant number of military commanders were appointed to the Central Committee. The party congress also marked the rising influence of two opposing forces, Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, and Premier Zhou Enlai. [Ibid]
“The general emphasis after 1969 was on reconstruction through rebuilding of the party, economic stabilization, and greater sensitivity to foreign affairs. Pragmatism gained momentum as a central theme of the years following the Ninth National Party Congress, but this tendency was paralleled by efforts of the radical group to reassert itself. The radical group--Kang Sheng, Xie Fuzhi, Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen--no longer had Mao's unqualified support. By 1970 Mao viewed his role more as that of the supreme elder statesman than of an activist in the policy-making process. This was probably the result as much of his declining health as of his view that a stabilizing influence should be brought to bear on a divided nation. As Mao saw it, China needed both pragmatism and revolutionary enthusiasm, each acting as a check on the other. Factional infighting would continue unabated through the mid-1970s, although an uneasy coexistence was maintained while Mao was alive. [Ibid]
“The rebuilding of the CCP got under way in 1969. The process was difficult, however, given the pervasiveness of factional tensions and the discord carried over from the Cultural Revolution years. Differences persisted among the military, the party, and left-dominated mass organizations over a wide range of policy issues, to say nothing of the radical-moderate rivalry. It was not until December 1970 that a party committee could be reestablished at the provincial level. In political reconstruction two developments were noteworthy. As the only institution of power for the most part left unscathed by the Cultural Revolution, the PLA was particularly important in the politics of transition and reconstruction. The PLA was, however, not a homogeneous body. In 1970-71 Zhou Enlai was able to forge a centrist-rightist alliance with a group of PLA regional military commanders who had taken exception to certain of Lin Biao's policies. This coalition paved the way for a more moderate party and government leadership in the late 1970s and 1980s. [Ibid]
“The PLA was divided largely on policy issues. On one side of the infighting was the Lin Biao faction, which continued to exhort the need for "politics in command" and for an unremitting struggle against both the Soviet Union and the United States. On the other side was a majority of the regional military commanders, who had become concerned about the effect Lin Biao's political ambitions would have on military modernization and economic development. These commanders' views generally were in tune with the positions taken by Zhou Enlai and his moderate associates. Specifically, the moderate groups within the civilian bureaucracy and the armed forces spoke for more material incentives for the peasantry, efficient economic planning, and a thorough reassessment of the Cultural Revolution. They also advocated improved relations with the West in general and the United States in particular--if for no other reason than to counter the perceived expansionist aims of the Soviet Union. Generally, the radicals' objection notwithstanding, the Chinese political tide shifted steadily toward the right of center. Among the notable achievements of the early 1970s was China's decision to seek rapprochement with the United States, as dramatized by President Richard M. Nixon's visit in February 1972. In September 1972 diplomatic relations were established with Japan. [Ibid]
“Without question, the turning point in the decade of the Cultural Revolution was Lin Biao's abortive coup attempt and his subsequent death in a plane crash as he fled China in September 1971. The immediate consequence was a steady erosion of the fundamentalist influence of the left-wing radicals. Lin Biao's closest supporters were purged systematically. Efforts to depoliticize and promote professionalism were intensified within the PLA. These were also accompanied by the rehabilitation of those persons who had been persecuted or fallen into disgrace in 1966-68. [Ibid]
Violence Tapers Off After 1971 as Mao Becomes Involved in Party Power Struggles
After 1971, the large scale of mass killings gradually subsided, partly due to the government’s effort to restore some order from the chaos after the bloody suppression. Another contributing factor was a new wave of inter-elite struggles that burst out in the Party Central between Mao and his lieutenants during the last four years of the Cultural Revolution. As a result, Mao was in no position to focus attention on new movements against imagined “class enemies” at the grass-root level, which usually led to mass killings.
The first internal power struggle was between Mao and his hand-picked successor, Lin Biao, because Lin’s power in the army as well as in the Party leadership had apparently become too strong in Mao’s view. This inter-power struggle had a dramatic result, in which Lin Biao and some of his family members fled in panic and died in a plane crash in Mongolia on September 13, 1971. All of Lin’s associates in the military and the Party were subsequently arrested. The second internal conflict was between Mao and Deng Xiaoping/Zhou Enlai. The Lin Biao incident was a heavy blow to Mao, leaving Premier Zhou Enlai as the second leader next only to Mao.
In order to balance the power in the Party Central, Mao made a series of concessions with the veteran leaders he had formerly denounced. In particular, he recalled Deng Xiaoping, Liu Shaoqi’s main assistant, back to office from exile in 1973. However, despite having promised Mao that he would never reverse the verdicts of the Cultural Revolution, Deng, sharing Zhou’s unvoiced critical view of the Cultural Revolution, took a much more aggressive approach in his effort to combat Mao’s close associates such as Jiang Qing and Zhang Chunqiao.
To ensure the continuation of his Cultural Revolution legacy, Mao finally decided to purge Deng from the central leadership again in November 1975, one year before his own death in 1976. However, this period did not witness a peaceful ending of mass killings. First, the political campaigns before 1972, such as the campaigns of “Cleanse the Class Ranks,” “One Strike and Three Antis” and “Investigation on the May 16 Counterrevolutionary Clique,” had not been officially concluded. Second, the new purges of the internal power struggles inevitably created new political witch-hunts against other people and cadres. Third, any uprising from people to oppose the Cultural Revolution was ruthlessly suppressed by Mao and the CCP CC. Finally, armed force was used to suppress ethnic conflicts.
Violence After Cultural Revolution Violence Tapers Off After 1971
Anti-Gang of Four poster 1975; July 29 – August 18: With Mao’s approval, Deng Xiaoping, PLA’s Chief of Staff at that time, ordered military troops to attack Shadian, a Muslim hamlet in Yunnan Province. A large armed force was used, which included a division from the 14th Corps, soldiers from Mengzi military sub-district, one artillery regiment, and thousands of local militias. The whole town was razed, and more than 1,600 unarmed civilians, including 300 children, the elderly and the sick attempting to flee, were killed.
1976; April 5: The gathering of millions of people at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square during the Qingming festival season in early April 1976 was at once an outpouring of grief over the death of Premier Zhou Enlai and a mass protest against the cultural revolutionaries within the CCP leadership—namely, Mao and his inner circle. With Mao’s approval, over ten thousand soldiers, policemen and militiamen were deployed at Tiananmen Square on April 4-5 to crack down on the uprising. Since this movement was taking place simultaneously in major cities across the nation, the severe crackdown was widespread all over China. A detailed German study cited Hong Kong estimates to the effect that “millions…were drawn in nationwide,” and a Taiwan intelligence source claimed that “close to 10,000 lost their lives, nationwide.”. Formally redressed two years after the Cultural Revolution, the Tiananmen Incident, as part of a broader April Fifth Movement in urban China, not only pronounced the bankruptcy of the Cultural Revolution but also marked the first instance when ordinary citizens came together and challenged the regime.
Re-Education---Working in the Countryside in the Cultural Revolution
Current President Hu Jintao
in Guizhou In December 1968, the Cultural Revolution entered a new phase when Mao called on urban-educated youth to go to the countryside to "learn from poor and middle-level peasants." The initiatives was partly viewed as a means of diffusing the Red Guards who were sometimes rounded up with deadly force.
Under the slogan: ‘Go to work in the countryside and mountainous areas!’ Mao ordered educated youths (high school graduates) in cities to be sent to the countryside to ‘receive re-education from poor and low middle-class peasants’. From then on until the end of the Cultural Revolution, each year millions of students said good-bye to their families to go to work in the countryside. Many current Chinese officials in their mid- or late-50s, including Vice President Xi Jinping and Vice Premier Wang Qishan, belong to this ‘re-educated’ generation. [Source: Sun Wukong and Wu Zhong, Asia Times, March 3, 2009]
“Going to work in the countryside and mountain areas” was compulsory for every urban student. Over 16 million urban students were carted off to remote parts of China such the Yunnan Province to be re-educated. They were organized into companies and regiments, and lived on farms, ate in communal cafeterias and performed tasks like digging ditches, cutting bamboo and planting rice. The idea behind the campaign was that manual labor could re-install socialist values.
Intellectuals and other enemies of the Cultural Revolution were also sent to the countryside as punishment. One man told Theroux, "My family was sent for reeducation, to a remote place to plant rice. My father had been an English teacher in a middle school. The family worked on the land, learning from peasants, for six years. ...For the first year we had no house. We lived in a sort of barn—a place where grain was stored. We had no crops. We ate the local leaves and roots, living like animals."
Urban youth converted cotton fields to rice paddies with their bare hands. The acclaimed Chinese director Chen Kaige was sent away to the Yunnan Province where he spent four years cutting bamboo. He was 14 when the Cultural Revolution began. His father, a former member of Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist party, was taken away to a re-education camp.
In the countryside people lived off corn porridge and sliced radishes, and boiled mutton. They shoveled cow and sang revolutionary songs and lived a life they described a of "eating bitterness." Self-criticism was a common practice for acts that were considered wrong but were not necessarily crimes. Participants typically confessed, apologized and said they would not do it again. People were tortured and deprived of sleep until they wrote fake confessions implicating their friends.
Idea Behind Working in the Countryside in the Cultural Revolution
Wen Jiabao The idea of encouraging urban educated youths to ‘go to work in the countryside’ dates back to the early 1950s, when an idealistic Mao started to advocate that educated urban youths should go work in rural areas, seeing this a helpful measure to eventually eliminate the ‘three differences’ (between workers and peasants, urban and rural, manual labor and mental labor). In Mao's opinion, only when these ‘three differences’ were eliminated could the goal of communism be attained. “ [Ibid]
In 1955, having read some reports about a few secondary high school graduates, then still very scarce, who volunteered to return to work in their native villages, an excited Mao wrote: ‘All intellectuals who can go to work in the countryside should happily do so. The countryside is a vast expanse of heaven and earth where one's career can flourish.” [Ibid]
But such a voluntary movement became a compulsory campaign during the Cultural Revolution. The campaign was launched under heartening revolutionary slogans at that time. However, retrospectively, people now realize that the practical purpose of the campaign, despite all of its ‘revolutionary’ colors, was to curb urban unemployment. Under Mao's socialism, the government was responsible for providing jobs for people of working age. “ [Ibid]
With the Chinese economy on the verge of bankruptcy, there was no way for the government to create new opportunities to meet the growing needs of its people, as those who were born in the baby boom years in the early 1950s began to reach working age. Universities had not begun to enroll new high school graduates until the late-1970s. Had the universities enrolled new students, it would not have helped with the situation much anyhow as the tertiary educational institutions at that time could only take a very small proportion of high school graduates. “ [Ibid]
1976, a Big Year in China
The year 1976 saw the deaths of the three most senior officials in the CCP and the state apparatus: Zhou Enlai in January, Zhu De (then chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress and de jure head of state) in July, and Mao Zedong in September. In April of the same year, masses of demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in Beijing memorialized Zhou Enlai and criticized Mao's closest associates, Zhou's opponents. In June the government announced that Mao would no longer receive foreign visitors. In July an earthquake devastated the city of Tangshan in Hebei Province (See Earthquakes). These events, added to the deaths of the three Communist leaders, contributed to a popular sense that the "mandate of heaven" had been withdrawn from the ruling party. At best the nation was in a state of serious political uncertainty. [Source: The Library of Congress]
“Deng Xiaoping, the logical successor as premier, received a temporary setback after Zhou's death, when radicals launched a major counterassault against him. In April 1976 Deng was once more removed from all his public posts, and a relative political unknown, Hua Guofeng, a Political Bureau member, vice premier, and minister of public security, was named acting premier and party first vice chairman. [Ibid]
“Even though Mao Zedong's role in political life had been sporadic and shallow in his later years, it was crucial. Despite Mao's alleged lack of mental acuity, his influence in the months before his death remained such that his orders to dismiss Deng and appoint Hua Guofeng were accepted immediately by the Political Bureau. The political system had polarized in the years before Mao's death into increasingly bitter and irreconcilable factions. While Mao was alive--and playing these factions off against each other--the contending forces were held in check. His death resolved only some of the problems inherent in the succession struggle. [Ibid]
Mao died on September 9, 1976 at the age of 82. By that time he suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease and emphysema, and had three heart attacks in the previous four months. A team of 16 of China's best doctors and 24 first-rate nurses were at Mao's side when he died at 12:10am. See Separate article on Mao's Death and Legacy.
Arrest of the Gang of Four
Trial of Gang of Four In the unprecedented April 5, 1976 demonstration in Tiananmen Square,In the dying months of the Cultural Revolution (and of Mao), protestors stood up to denounce the Gang of Four, in poems and manifestos chalked on the paving-stones or declaimed aloud. Many young Red Guards, educated by their disillusion with the Cultural Revolution, became activists in the Democracy Wall movement (1978-79) after Mao’s death. Some of them re-appeared in the Square ten years later. [Source: John Gittings, China Beat, March 31, 2010]
The radical clique most closely associated with Mao and the Cultural Revolution became vulnerable after Mao died, as Deng had been after Zhou Enlai's demise. In October, less than a month after Mao's death, Jiang Qing and her three principal associates-- denounced as the Gang of Four--were arrested with the assistance of two senior Political Bureau members, Minister of National Defense Ye Jianying (1897-1986) and Wang Dongxing, commander of the CCP's elite bodyguard. Within days it was formally announced that Hua Guofeng had assumed the positions of party chairman, chairman of the party's Central Military Commission, and premier. [Source: The Library of Congress]
The Gang of Four was arrested in a bloodless coup one month after Mao's death in September 1976, marking the end of the Cultural Revolution. They were put on trial in 1980 and convicted of "persecuting to death" 34,000 people. Although the Gang of Flour clearly had a lot to answer for they were also made scapegoats. By blaming them a lot of officials were allowed to save their own skin.
On October 6, 1976 and after: After nearly a month’s careful planning with Wang Dongxin (the head of security force for the Party Central) and Ye Jianying (Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission), Hua Guofeng, Vice-Chairman of the CCP staged a coup d’état to arrest Mao’s closest cohorts, designated the “Gang of Four,” which included Mao’s wife Jiang Qing and three other CCP Politburo members, namely, Wang Hongwen, Zhang Chunqiao and Yao Wenyuan. The Cultural Revolution ended. However, mass killings did not end peacefully in China under Mao’s shadow. Upon concluding the Cultural Revolution, the New Party Central on February 22, 1977 issued an order to kill “any counterrevolutionaries who verbally attacked Chairman Mao and Chairman Hua (Guofeng).” In less than a year, 44 famous political dissidents were executed nationwide, including Wang Shengyou in Shanghai and Li Jiulian in Jiangxi Province, all of whom were formally rehabilitated later after their death.
See Gang of Four in the first Cultural Revolution section.
Trial of the Gang of Four
One of the more spectacular political events of modern Chinese history was the month-long trial of the Gang of Four and six of Lin Biao's closest associates. A 35-judge special court was convened in November 1980 and issued a 20,000-word indictment against the defendants. The indictment came more than four years after the arrest of Jiang Qing and her associates and more than nine years after the arrests of the Lin Biao group. Beyond the trial of ten political pariahs, it appeared that the intimate involvement of Mao Zedong, current party chairman Hua Guofeng, and the CCP itself were on trial. The prosecution wisely separated political errors from actual crimes. Among the latter were the usurpation of state power and party leadership; the persecution of some 750,000 people, 34,375 of whom died during the period 1966-76; and, in the case of the Lin Biao defendants, the plotting of the assassination of Mao. [Source: The Library of Congress]
In January 1981 the court rendered guilty verdicts against the ten. Jiang Qing, despite her spirited self-vindication and defense of her late husband, received a death sentence with a two-year suspension; later, Jiang Qing's death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. So enduring was Mao's legacy that Jiang Qing appeared to be protected by it from execution. The same sentence was given to Zhang Chunqiao, while Wang Hongwen was given life and Yao Wenyuan twenty years. Chen Boda and the other Lin Biao faction members were given sentences of between sixteen and eighteen years.
In China the Gang of Four became known as the ‘Shanghai clique.’ Jiang never repented. She committed suicide in prison. Yao Wenyuan was released from jail at the age of 71 in 1996 after serving a 20 year prison sentence. The last surviving member of the Gang of Four, he died in December 2005. Zhang Chunqiao, another member, died of cancer of April 2005. Wang died in 1992.
Impact of the Trial of the Gang of Four and the Rejection of Maoism
The net effect of the trial was a further erosion of Mao's prestige and the system he created. In pre-trial meetings, the party Central Committee posthumously expelled CCP vice chairman Kang Sheng and Political Bureau member Xie Fuzhi from the party because of their participation in the "counterrevolutionary plots" of Lin Biao and Jiang Qing. The memorial speeches delivered at their funerals were also rescinded. [Source: The Library of Congress]
“There was enough adverse pre-trial testimony that Hua Guofeng reportedly offered to resign the chairmanship before the trial started. In June 1981 the Sixth Plenum of the Eleventh National Party Congress Central Committee marked a major milestone in the passing of the Maoist era. The Central Committee accepted Hua's resignation from the chairmanship and granted him the face- saving position of vice chairman. In his place, CCP secretary general Hu Yaobang became chairman. Hua also gave up his position as chairman of the party's Central Military Commission in favor of Deng Xiaoping. The plenum adopted the 35,000-word "Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party Since the Founding of the People's Republic of China." The resolution reviewed the sixty years since the founding of the CCP, emphasizing party activities since 1949. A major part of the document condemned the ten-year Cultural Revolution and assessed Mao Zedong's role in it. "Chief responsibility for the grave `Left' error of the `cultural revolution,' an error comprehensive in magnitude and protracted in duration, does indeed lie with Comrade Mao Zedong . . . . [and] far from making a correct analysis of many problems, he confused right and wrong and the people with the enemy. . . . Herein lies his tragedy." At the same time, Mao was praised for seeking to correct personal and party shortcomings throughout his life, for leading the effort that brought the demise of Lin Biao, and for having criticized Jiang Qing and her cohort. Hua too was recognized for his contributions in defeating the Gang of Four but was branded a "whateverist." Hua also was criticized for his anti-Deng Xiaoping posture in the period 1976-77. [Ibid]
“Several days after the closing of the plenum, on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the CCP, new party chairman Hu Yaobang declared that "although Comrade Mao Zedong made grave mistakes in his later years, it is clear that if we consider his life work, his contributions to the Chinese revolution far outweigh his errors. . . . His immense contributions are immortal." These remarks may have been offered in an effort to repair the extensive damage done to the Maoist legacy and by extension to the party itself. Hu went on, however, to praise the contributions of Zhou Enlai, Liu Shaoqi, Zhu De, Peng Dehuai, and a score of other erstwhile enemies of the late chairman. Thus the new party hierarchy sought to assess, and thus close the books on, the Maoist era and move on to the era of the Four Modernizations. The culmination of Deng's drive to consolidate his power and ensure the continuity of his reformist policies among his successors was the calling of the Twelfth National Party Congress in September 1982 and the Fifth Session of the Fifth National People's Congress in December 1982. [Ibid]
Powerful Victims of the Cultural Revolution
Liu Shaoqi Important Communist party members purged during the Cultural Revolution included Deng Xiaoping and Mao's right-hand man Lin Biao. In 1966, Deng was labeled as the "No. 2 Capitalist Roader" and stripped of his position as Party General Secretary. During a humiliating self criticism session Deng was accused of being a "fascist," a "traitor" and a practitioner of cat-ism (a reference to his white cat, black cat remark). During the sessions, Red Guards shouted, "Cook the dog's head in boiling oil!" When the noise became too much, Deng used to remove his hearing aid. Deng was rehabilitated in 1973. Yao Wenyuan later admitted he was behind the trumped charged against Deng.
Deng’s son, Deng Pufang, was harassed by Red Guards for refusing to "expose" his father and for being disloyal to Mao Zedong. In 1968, he wrote a suicide note, leaped from a third-floor window to escape torture, and was paralyzed from the waist down. Now he is China's most influential advocate for the disabled. Deng younger brother was driven to suicide by Red Guard attacks. Deng himself was put under house in Beijing for two years and then sent to Jiangxi province where worked in a tractor-repair factory and was confined to an infantry school, a fate that could have much worse. Later he said, "Chairman Mao protected me." Later, Mao uncharacteristically apologized to Deng for the ordeal.
Liu Shaoqi was an elite party member once declared as Mao successor but had a falling out with Mao. He and his wife, according to Mao’s doctor Dr. Li Zhisui, were "pushed and kicked and beaten by staff from the Bureau of Secretaries. Liu's shirt had been torn open, and people were jerking him by the hair. Someone held his arms behind his back while others tried to force him to bend forward from the waist in the so-called airplane position. Finally, they pushed his head until it was nearly touching the dirt, kicking him and slapping him on the face...I could not bear to watch. Liu was almost 70 years old, and he was our head of state.” Liu died in prison in 1969, deprived of food and medical treatment. His wife the highly-educated Wang Guangmei was paraded in public with a necklace made of ping pong balls. [Source: "The Private Life of Chairman Mao" by excerpts reprinted U.S. News and World Report, October 10, 1994]
Rehabilitation of Deng Xiaoping and Other Changes in the Late Mao Era
Among the most prominent of those rehabilitated was Deng Xiaoping, who was reinstated as a vice premier in April 1973, ostensibly under the aegis of Premier Zhou Enlai but certainly with the concurrence of Mao Zedong. Together, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping came to exert strong influence. Their moderate line favoring modernization of all sectors of the economy was formally confirmed at the Tenth National Party Congress in August 1973, at which time Deng Xiaoping was made a member of the party's Central Committee (but not yet of the Political Bureau). [Source: The Library of Congress]
“The radical camp fought back by building an armed urban militia, but its mass base of support was limited to Shanghai and parts of northeastern China--hardly sufficient to arrest what it denounced as "revisionist" and "capitalist" tendencies. In January 1975 Zhou Enlai, speaking before the Fourth National People's Congress, outlined a program of what has come to be known as the Four Modernizations for the four sectors of agriculture, industry, national defense, and science and technology. This program would be reaffirmed at the Eleventh National Party Congress, which convened in August 1977. Also in January 1975, Deng Xiaoping's position was solidified by his election as a vice chairman of the CCP and as a member of the Political Bureau and its Standing Committee. Deng also was installed as China's first civilian chief of PLA General Staff Department. [Ibid]
Examination 1977 After the Cultural Revolution
Wen Jiabao The national university entrance examination was reintroduced in 1977 in China after it was abolished in 1966 at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. The resumption of the national university entrance examination in 1977 is extraordinary in that it shaped the dreams and aspirations of millions ofyouth in China. However, its importance has often been overlooked. [Source: Zhang Fang Global Times, April 21 2009]
From 1972 to 1976, China's colleges started to enroll new students, and most of them were recommended by local officials based on their families' backgrounds and their own behaviors in the countryside rather than intelligence. Those who were enrolled were called worker-peasant-soldier students.” [Ibid]
In 1977, Deng Xiaoping declared that the university entrance would be based on examination scores, thus reinstituting the admissions test officially known as the National Higher Education Entrance Examination. There were more than 10 million young candidates registered for the examination in the winter of 1977. The youngest examinees were in their early teens and, the oldest in their late thirties, and this became a major turning point for the millions of people born in the 1950s. Some of the most famous people today in China—directors Zhang Yimou (known for Hero), Chen Kaige (known for Yellow Earth)— had taken the entrance exam in1977 “ [Ibid]
Cultural Revolution’s Lost Generation
Cultural Revolution restaurant About one forth of China's population lived through the Cultural Revolution as children and teenagers. Some of them look back on the period fondly because they didn't have to go school but ultimately many feel cheated because opportunities were lost. The number of people in higher education rose sharply after the end of the Cultural Revolution still "maybe only 1 percent " went to university after entrance exams were restored in 1977.
Many urban kids were brought up by their grandparents while their parents were sent to villages to work. For many the only reading material that was available was The Little Red Book. The London-based Chinese write Xiaoli Guo said that today after being brought up in his kind of environment: “My life feels independent of family. I’m more of a drifter. I don’t feel like I’m from anywhere.”
Red Guards sent to reeducation camps served an average of five years. Many felt left behind when they returned to society and felt that their sense of reason and morality had been twisted by the whole episode. Later they became members of a lost generation that never received a proper education and lost valuable years from their lives. They married late, had difficulty getting descent jobs, struggled to readjust to normal society, and are now known for their antisocial behavior.
Many Chinese stopped their formal education before reaching the 4th grade because they joined the Red Guards. "The worst ones," one Chinese man told Theroux, "are those who were about ten or fifteen at the start of the Cultural revolution. They were robbed of everything. They had no childhood, no education, no family, no training no happiness at all. They are...very angry—angry with everyone." [Source: "Riding the Iron Rooster" by Paul Theroux]
Many survivors of the Cultural Revolution say the experience also gave them a sense of purpose similar to that of Americans who lived through the 60s that is missing from the lives of many ordinary Chinese today. One Chinese social worker told the Washington Post, "This generation is a special generation. We have a mission in our lives to fulfill our own values and also to do something to contribute to society."
Remembering the the Cultural Revolution
Cultural Revolution restaurant Many of the Red Guards that took part in the Cultural Revolution are now middle-age men who "ride bicycles to the market and live next door." Some veterans feel a sense of nostalgia for the Cultural Revolution. They have formed clubs and meet at reunions. Some of them meet in Cultural-Revolution-themed restaurant that serve peasant food and are decorated with Mao memorabilia or go on Cultural Revolution vacations that recreate the re-education experience in the countryside with mare's milk drinking, cow dung shoveling, boiled mutton eting and the singing of revolutionary songs.
Some never got over their Cultural Revolution experience. Many well-educated sons of academics and elite melted into the countryside, married local women and became peasant farmers. Some of residents of Shanghai and Beijing sent to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution now can not get work permits to come back and have returned as migrant workers.
In Hangzhou, China, couples are getting married and having their wedding pictures taken while dressed up like Red Guards in green military outfits with Red Star on their hat and Mao Zedong badge pinned to their uniform, ‘It's just different from other wedding pictures. I think it's very cool, but it doesn't mean it is related to the history of the revolution’ a 24-year-old advertisement company worker who is marrying 26-year-old dancer told AP.
The idea for the special Red Guard-style wedding photos came from Zou Sigen, manager of the 9th Channel Photo Studio in Hangzhou, China, who thought they would be popular. ‘People are more open-minded, more eager to change,’ said Zou. Two or three couples come every week for Red Guard portraits, which cost 2,000 yuan ($290), about the same as regular wedding portraits. ‘I think it is fun to pose as a Red Guard. That is a special period that most young people do not know about. It definitely makes you feel different when you are in the green army uniform,’ Zou said. [Source: AP]
Legacy of the Cultural Revolution
Cultural Revolution costumes The Cultural Revolution is now known in China as the "So-Called Cultural Revolution" or "Ten Years of Turmoil." No memorials were raised and no obituaries were written when major figures of the Cultural Revolution die. While the Gang of Four was blamed and put on trial for the atrocities committed during the movement, members of the Red Guard were never really punished for what they did. Sometimes victims see their torturers on the streets of their towns every day.
Most people believe that the Cultural Revolution seriously delayed China’s development. But not everyone agrees.The dissident journalist Lui Binyan told Newsweek, "Most Chinese would probably agree that the reforms that began in 1979 under Deng Xiaoping would never have taken place without [the Cultural Revolution]...The Red Guards who had followed Mao so fanatically grew disillusioned. They became the first generation capable of independent thinking, full of insubordinate spirit. It is this generation that forms the backbone of Chinese society. Many have become influential writers, scholars, journalists and entrepreneurs as well as middle- to high-ranking officials in the government, the army and the Communist Party."
Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian, In retrospect, the movement was not just horrific but often ludicrous in its paranoia: the most "sinister" aspect of one supposed conspiracy, notes the book Mao's Last Revolution, was that even some of its core members appeared unaware of its existence. Even Communist party historians describe it as a disaster, unleashed by Mao Zedong. But their terse verdict is designed to pre-empt, rather than encourage, debate. An event that defines China to this day—hat helps to explain its fixation with political stability; its dramatic economic reforms; even, some say, its increased individualism—remains largely taboo. China's current leaders undoubtedly understand the damage; several of their parents suffered, even died. But a fuller reckoning of events—and Mao's role— would risk undermining the party's hold on power. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, February 24, 2012]
In 1990s many scholars took a fresh look at the Cultural Revolution and said some events were similar to those of the democracy demonstrations at Tiananmen Square in 1989. "Look at changing historical interpretation of the French Revolution," one scholar told Newsweek. "The Red Guards thought they were actually going to build a better China."
The Communist Party has officially declared the Cultural Revolution a "disaster." Some textbooks mention it and the Great Leap Forward but not the atrocities and millions of deaths associated with them. Any allusion or mention of the Cultural Revolution in the media is banned. Scholars who have attempted to research it have ended up in jail. For many ordinary Chinese the Cultural Revolution is something people don’t want to talk about or confront and is increasingly becoming irrelevant in their present lives.
A former Red Guard told the writer Liao Yiwu, “During the Cultural Revolution we thought we were invincible and aspired to save the whole world with Communism. I would never have imagined that I could end like this a half century later, I can’t even save myself.
In China any detailed study of the Cultural Revolution is still too sensitive to be explored publicly Today, that era has been all but obliterated from the official history of the People’s Republic, its horrors glossed over in history books and the period is simply written off as ten years of madness. While many younger Chinese know that the country passed through a period of turmoil, scholars say, few have any idea of its wild extremes. [Source: Xiyun Yang and Michael Wines, New York Times, January 25, 2010]
Image Sources: Posters, Landsberger Posters http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/; Gang of Four photo, Ohio State University; Lui picture Wikicommons, Wen and Hu pictures China.org ; restaurant and costumes; Asia Obscura http://asiaobscura.com/ ;
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated August 2012