hanging of the Gang of Four

James Griffiths of CNN wrote: “After Mao’s death, Deng Xiaoping emerged as the country's paramount leader, initiating four decades of economic development and a gradual repudiation of orthodox Marxism. Deng and his supporters oversaw the reversal of Cultural Revolution policies and the official opening up of China's economy. While Deng is often given credit for turning China from a collectivist, Communist economy into the powerhouse it would become," according to historian Frank Dikotter, "Deng's reforms were a reflection of those forced upon the country from the bottom up, by a populace alienated to and despairing of Communism. [Source: James Griffiths, CNN, May 13, 2016 /^]

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."

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.

Good Websites and Sources on the Cultural Revolution Virtual Museum of the Cultural Revolution cnd.org ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Morning Sun morningsun.org ; Red Guards and Cannibals New York Times ; The South China Morning Post 's multimedia report on the Cultural Revolution. multimedia.scmp.com. Cultural Revolution posters huntingtonarchive.org Great Leap Forward: University of Chicago Chronicle chronicle.uchicago.edu ; Mt. Holyoke China Essay Series mtholyoke.edu ; Wikipedia ; Industrial Planning Video You Tube ; Death Under Mao: Uncounted Millions, Washington Post article paulbogdanor.com ; Death Tolls erols.com ; Communist Party History Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Illustrated History of Communist Party china.org.cn ; Posters Landsberger Communist China Posters ; People’s Republic of China: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; China Essay Series mtholyoke.edu ; Everyday Life in Maoist China.org everydaylifeinmaoistchina.org; Mao Zedong Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Mao Internet Library marx2mao.com ; Paul Noll Mao site paulnoll.com/China/Mao ; Mao Quotations art-bin.com; Marxist.org marxists.org ; New York Times topics.nytimes.com

Books: “The World Turned Upside Down: a History of the Chinese Cultural Revolution” by Yang Jisheng, Translated and Edited by Stacy Mosher and Guo Jian Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020; "The Cultural Revolution: A People's History” by Frank Dikotter (Bloomsbury 2016); “The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution” by Ji Xianlin (New York Review Books, 2016); "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. The human costs of the Cultural Revolution have been best captured by Simon Leys (the pen-name of the Belgian sinologist and literary critic Pierre Ryckmans) in his books "Chinese Shadows" (1974) and "The Burning Forest" (1987). "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). Li Zhensheng’s photographs of the Cultural Revolution can be found in “Red Color News Soldier: A Chinese Photographer’s Odyssey Through the Cultural Revolution,” edited by Robert Pledge and published by Phaidon Press in 2016. "Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62" by Frank Dikotter (Walker & Co, 2010)is an excellent book. "Tombstone" by Yang Jisheng, a Xinhua reporter and Communist party member, is the first proper history of the Great Leap Forward and the famine of 1959 and 1961. "Mao; the Untold Story" by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday (Knopf. 2005). 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. Also check out "Mao's New World: Political Culture in the Early People's Republic" by Chang-tai Hung (Cornell University Press, 2011) and "The Private Life of Chairman Mao" by Dr. Li Zhisui (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. *

How the Chinese Communist Party Maintained Power After the Cultural Revolution

Gang of Four sentencing celebration in Tiananmen Square

Daniel Leese: Our present explanations are usually quite terse. Besides the threat of brute force and censorship regarding historical issues, the stimulation of economic growth is cited as the most important factor guaranteeing political and social stability. However, the legacies of the Cultural Revolution forced the party to deal with past injustices in much more detail than is commonly known. [Source: “Conversation with Denise Ho, Fabio Lanza, Yiching Wu, and Daniel Leese on the Cultural Revolution” by Alexander C. Cook, Los Angeles Review of Books, March 2, 2016 ~]

“While the trial of the Gang of Four and the resolution on party history are common knowledge, below the surface, the CCP was faced with millions of cases that did not easily fit these simplistic ways of dealing with the past. Who was to be considered victim or perpetrator and based on what standards? How were victims to be compensated for their ordeals and what about stolen property and withhold wages? Were party members or groups whose participation was important to reform to be treated differently than ordinary citizens? These questions were of fundamental importance and constitute core issues that can be considered part of what we now call “transitional justice.” Although China did not witness the fall of a dictatorial regime, and therefore seems ill-suited for the application of this concept, nevertheless there can be no denying the fact that the party consciously adopted certain elements and rhetoric associated with transitional justice, even while taking every effort at distinguishing between the Chinese situation and human rights violations in other contexts. ~

“Previous injustices were interpreted as temporary miscarriages of justice to be solved on an individual basis in a political system portrayed as generally sound. The party tried to preclude the formation of collective claims or the overburdening of local budgets. In both scope and timing, it was inevitable that case revisions saw great regional differences. Just as Yiching has turned historians’ attention to local history, our research group in Freiburg analyses how the party dealt with Maoist era legacies in different regions, ranging from the rehabilitation of former capitalists to the purge of persecutors within the party. Yet despite the political character of the “rehabilitation campaign” and the obvious continuities in the Chinese judiciary, the reversal of verdicts changed the fate of millions of people. Not least, the research leads us to rethink many aspects of what actually happened during the Cultural Revolution. ~

Examination 1977 After the Cultural Revolution

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 of youth in China. However, its importance has often been overlooked. 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.” [Source: Zhang Fang Global Times, April 21 2009]

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]

Legacy of the Cultural Revolution

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—that 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]

Professor Yiju Huang at Fordham University said: “In China, the Cultural Revolution is understood as a decade of chaos, but also there was a hasty attempt to bring a sense of closure. Although Mao’s image was tarnished, his legacy is also salvaged—‘he was misguided by the scapegoat figures of the ‘Gang of Four,’ but now that the dust has settled, we can move forward.’ From my perspective, however, there still linger a number of ghosts. The crimes that were committed in the utopian name of the greater good have not been properly worked through. [Source: Nicholas Haggerty, Commonwealth, May 9, 2016]

Zehao Zhou wrote in USA Today: “Half a century has gone by. Yet although Mao is dead and China has become an economic powerhouse, the dark legacy of the Cultural Revolution still can be felt almost everywhere. Behind the façade of apparent wealth is a people who are still harvesting the bitter fruits of the chaos sown by Mao 50 years ago — widespread cynicism, hedonism, pessimism, materialism, opportunism and ignorance. [Source: Zehao Zhou, USA Today Network, May 14, 2016 ^*^]

“The result is a curious kind of double-think: 1) Mao led the country to ruin and is responsible for more deaths than either Hitler or Stalin, but he remains the political idol of millions of ordinary Chinese. 2) The Red Guards were eventually denounced as aberrant radicals, but the ruling faction of the Chinese Communist Party is composed of a significant number of former Red Guards. 3) Communism as an actual policy is rejected, but membership in the Chinese Communist Party is at an all-time high. 4) The Chinese government's anti-corruption campaigns have been going on for years and have ostensibly achieved great successes, yet the names of Chinese political and business elites still top the Panama Papers. 5) The Dalai Lama is denounced, but the Tibetan branch of Buddhism is more popular than ever in China. 6) The Chinese education system is lauded by many in America, but Chinese students have chosen to enter American college in droves. 7) Revolutionary songs from the era of the Cultural Revolution are played everywhere in China, but the events of the Cultural Revolution itself are remembered poorly or not at all. ^*^

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."

Chinese Government Position on the Cultural Revolution

Karoline Kan wrote in Foreign Policy Magazine: In June 1981, the party passed the “Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party Since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China,” which described the Cultural Revolution as a “mistake.” That was the closest the party has ever come to apologizing. Meanwhile, the last several years have seen a wave of public and in-person apologies from individuals who used to be Red Guards, the young enforcers of Mao’s insane vision. [Source: Karoline Kan, Foreign Policy Magazine, May 16, 2016]

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.

In October 2013, the state-run Global Times complained that while Beijing had “admitted in general terms that the Cultural Revolution was a disaster for China” there had been no “official reexamination of the role of Chairman Mao.” [Source: Tom Phillips, The Telegraph, October 21, 2013]

Impact of the Cultural Revolution on Those Who Survived It

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."

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.

Chen Qigang, a composer who now lives in France, was a student at a middle school in Beijing when the movement began. He spent three years in a re-education labor camp outside the city. He told the New York Times: “If there had been no Cultural Revolution, then I would not be who I am today. People who haven’t been through it can’t appreciate how easy everything else is. It wasn’t the manual labor. That’s a different kind of hardship. This was the worst kind of bitterness. You are constantly told: “You are against the revolution, so therefore you have no right to speak. You don’t have freedom. You will have no future in this place. You will not have a good job. Everyone looks down on you.” That burden, that burden on your spirit, is very heavy. It was very different later when I went to France. I could have been criticized. I could have had a different opinion on something artistic. But for me that was nothing. It is nothing. Because it doesn’t affect my freedom. [Source: “Voices from China’s Cultural Revolution”, Chris Buckley, Didi Kirsten Tatlow, Jane Perlez and Amy Qin, New York Times, May 16, 2016 ~~]

Psychological Legacy of the Cultural Revolution

couple still happily married after their Cultural Revolution wedding

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker: “In examining the legacy of the Cultural Revolution, the most difficult measurement cannot be quantified so precisely: What effect did the Cultural Revolution have on China’s soul? This is still not a subject that can be openly debated, at least not easily. The Communist Party strictly constrains discussion of the period for fear that it will lead to a full-scale reëxamination of Mao’s legacy, and of the Party’s role in Chinese history. In March, in anticipation of the anniversary, an editorial in the Global Times, a Party tabloid, warned against “small groups” seeking to create “a totally chaotic misunderstanding of the cultural revolution.” The editorial reminded people that “discussions strictly should not depart from the party’s decided politics or thinking.” [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, May 6, 2016 ^*^]

“Nonetheless, in recent years, individuals have tried to reckon with the history and their roles in it. In January, 2014, alumni of the Experimental Middle School of Beijing Normal University apologized to their former teachers for their part in a surge of violence in August, 1966, when Bian Zhongyun, the deputy principal, was beaten to death. But such gestures are rare, and outsiders often find it hard to understand why survivors of the Cultural Revolution are loath to revisit an experience that shaped their lives so profoundly. One explanation is that the events of that period were so convoluted that many people feel the dual burdens of being both perpetrators and victims. Earlier this year, Bao Pu, a book publisher raised in Beijing and now based in Hong Kong, said, “Everyone feels he was a victim. If you look at them, you wonder, What the fuck were you doing in that situation? It was everyone else’s fault? You can’t blame everything on Mao. He was responsible, he was the mastermind, but in order to reach that level of social destruction—an entire generation has to reflect.”“ ^*^

Professor Yiju Huang at Fordham University said: We should certainly engage with the legacies—the multiple and often contending meanings—of the Cultural Revolution from theoretical, historical, political and psychological perspectives.But I am doubtful of the kind of emancipatory “spirit” that can be, or should be, salvaged from this violent period. For Alain Badiou, the Chinese Cultural Revolution echoed the Paris Commune and was a necessary political event in dissolving the centralized state apparatus and saturating the party-state. I find such total description of revolutionary stages and the massive violence it tolerates very disquieting. [Source: Nicholas Haggerty, Commonwealth, May 9, 2016. Professor Yiju Huang is author of “Tapestry of Light: Aesthetic Afterlives of the Cultural Revolution,” which examines the literature and art produced in the wake of the Cultural Revolution from the perspective of Freudian trauma theory. ^/^]

“In my view, the work of mourning should come first before one can begin to imagine the revival of an emancipatory legacy. In other words, you have to—to invoke Derrida here—introduce a psychoanalytic element to the political realm...Cultural Revolution scholars have done important work on mass politics. Yiching Wu [author of the recently published book, The Cultural Revolution at the Margins: Chinese Socialism in Crisis], for instance, is not interested in Mao or the power struggles at the top of the regime, but rather the local developments, or the gap between the intention of the leadership and grass-root mass democracy. He thinks the legacies of the Cultural Revolution are a kind of anti-bureaucratic stance that it encouraged and a greater sense of politicized agency.” ^/^

One survivor of the Cultural Revolution wrote: “To this day” Cultural Revolution survivors “share a habit that I have noticed in a lot of Chinese individuals of a certain age group. When saying something even slightly confidential or personal they cover their mouth with their hands to prevent any outside observers from reading their lips. They tend to speak the truth out of the side of their mouths.”

Shame and Adulation After the Cultural Revolution

Red Guard family

In a review of “The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution” by Ji Xianlin, Zha Jianying wrote in the New York Review of Books: Ji also seemed to suffer a survivor’s shame. Many scholars and writers committed suicide in the early part of the Cultural Revolution to avoid the indignities they faced, and he repeatedly mentioned his ambivalence about his failed attempt at suicide. This has to do with an ancient code of honor for a Confucian scholar. In the memoir, Ji recalls his first encounter after the Cultural Revolution with the senior apparatchik Zhou Yang. Zhou had supervised the persecution of many intellectuals until he himself was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution. Zhou’s first words to Ji were: “It used to be said that ‘the scholar can be killed, but he cannot be humiliated.’ But the Cultural Revolution proved that not only can the scholar be killed, he can also be humiliated.” Zhou roared with laughter, but Ji knew it was a bitter laugh. [Source: Zha Jianying, New York Review of Books, January 26, 2016 *]

“Ji Xianlin died in 2009. Two years after his death, a Peking University alumna named Zhang Manling who had been close to Ji published a piece about their friendship and made a few unusual revelations. In 1989, after the students began their hunger strike on Tiananmen Square, Ji and several other Peking University professors decided to publicly show their solidarity with the youngsters by paying them a visit. Ji, the oldest and most famous of the professors, traveled in high style: sitting on a stool on top of a flat-backed tricycle, which was fastened with a tall white banner that said “Rank One Professor Ji Xianlin,” the seventy-eight-year-old Ji was peddled by a student from the west-side campus across the city. When they finally arrived in Tiananmen Square, the students burst into delighted cheers. *\

“During the post-massacre purge, at all the faculty meetings where everyone was forced to biao tai (declare their position), Ji would only say: “Don’t ask me, or I’ll say it was a patriotic democratic movement.” Then one day, Ji walked off from his campus residence, hailed a taxi, and asked to be taken to the local public security bureau. “I’m professor Ji Xianlin of Peking University,” Ji said to the police on arrival. “I visited Tiananmen Square twice. I stirred up the students, so please lock me up together with them. I’m over seventy, and I don’t want to live anymore.” The policemen were so startled they called Peking University officials, who rushed over and forcibly brought Ji back to campus. It was, again, one of those high-pressured, terrifying and tragic moments in China’s long history. But this time, acting alone, Ji lived up to the honor of a true Confucian scholar.” *\

Cultural Revolution’s Lost Generation

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.

Young Red Guards

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]

Guilt from the Cultural Revolution and Making Amends

John Hannon wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “At 58, Zhang Hongbing is still tormented by the death of his mother more than four decades ago. She was a victim of China's Cultural Revolution, executed by firing squad during Chairman Mao Tse-tung's decadelong purge of capitalism, cultural elites and political rivals. As a 15-year-old Red Guard, Zhang denounced her to authorities. [Source: John Hannon, Los Angeles Times, March 30, 2013]

Today Zhang is a lawyer, and he is trying to make amends for his past. He has officially cleared his mother's name of the charges for which she was killed, and he has reconciled with relatives. Now he is trying to win official landmark status for her grave, hidden by a lumberyard built near the spot. "I want to use this savage, inhumane case to make all of my compatriots understand exactly what happened in our home," Zhang said in an interview recently near Guzhen, about 600 miles south of Beijing. Zhang said he feels that the story provides an important lesson for the country, especially after the recent political campaigns of the now-disgraced Bo Xilai, a former Red Guard and son of a Mao-era general.

“The circumstances of his mother's death led Zhang to choose the legal profession, he says. And he has used his legal expertise on his mother's behalf. Recently, he set out the facts of his family's history on a blog. His narrative and the supporting documents drawn from local records have not been censored.

Young Red Guards

“As time went on, the remnants of his mother's family slowly reconciled with Zhang and his father. Zhang's uncle Fang Meikai, a retired accountant, said that in 1979 he and Zhang petitioned to overturn the verdict. By then, Mao had died and the political winds had shifted. In 1980, a province-level court cleared Fang's name, declaring the case "a miscarriage of justice." "Although Zhang reported his mother, it wasn't in his control to decide his mother's fate," said Fang, 64. "It was the court."

“The Cultural Revolution remains a touchy topic in China, where the government has never published estimates of the number of victims. Zhang, meanwhile, says he has received several emailed and texted death threats, one calling him "crazy" to tell his story. But the controversy over Bo Xilai's activities inspired him to act. Bo was Communist Party secretary in Chongqing until Beijing grew alarmed over his activities and stripped him of his post in 2012. "Bo Xilai's campaign to sing 'red songs' and crack down on organized crime seemed to me like a dress rehearsal for a second Cultural Revolution," Zhang said. "So the Bo affair convinced me to work on my mother's case to the end." Bo, who had aspirations to join the Communist Party's ruling Standing Committee, is in detention. But, if anything, his fate confirmed the saying Zhang repeatedly uttered during the interview: "The revolution devours its children."

Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian, “Zhang, belatedly confronting his guilt, said he was a son "who could not even be compared to animals". Fang Meikai, though furious with his sister's family, was powerless to help her. "I wanted to see her, but I wouldn't have been allowed. I was afraid that if I went I would also be involved in the case," he said. "That was the situation back then: they could kill whomever they wanted." Fang was cleared in 1980; two years later, they erected a headstone at her grave, metres from where she was shot. At the execution ground, an acquaintance later told them, her eyes swept the crowd as if looking for faces she knew. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, March 27, 2013 ////]

“The Communist party long ago deemed the period a disaster. Even so, authorities are chary of its examination. "It's almost not dealt with at all in official history," said Michael Schoenhals, of Lund University, who co-authored Mao's Last Revolution. Yet history departments now run courses on the period and there is growing coverage online, he noted. In part, he said, the emerging discussion reflects the passing of time: "The people who were then doing some of the worst things – because they were young and stupid and enthusiastic and eager – are now pushing 70. They want to write before they go, or sometimes their children want them to write it down." ////

High Profile Former Red Guards Apologizes for Attacking Teachers

Amy Li wrote in the South China Morning Post, “The "Chinese Dream" cannot be realised until China accepts responsibility for the crimes and injustices committed during the Cultural Revolution, Chen Xiaolu, a former Red Guard and youngest son of civil war and Sino-Japanese war hero Marshal Chen Yi, said in a statement published this week. Chen Yi was also China's foreign minister and a mayor of Shanghai. Now, Chen Xiao Lu is joining other former Red Guards to express remorse for his actions during the decade-long social and political movement launched by Mao Zedong in 1966. Chen apologised this week for his behaviour as a young man when he physically attacked teachers at Beijing No. 8 middle school. At the time, he was serving as a student “revolutionary leader”. [Source: Amy Li, South China Morning Post, August 21, 2013 /*]

“In an email sent to the South China Morning Post Chen said he decided to make an official apology after noticing how little China's younger generation knew about human rights abuses during the Cultural Revolution. “As a student leader and chairman of the school’s revolutionary committee, I was directly responsible for the torture of staff, teachers, and fellow students,” Chen wrote in a tone of remorse in his statement. “And later into the movement, I - due to lack of courage - failed to save them from inhumane persecution.” “Today I’d like to sincerely apologise to them via the internet," Chen wrote, adding he would also like to apologise to former teachers and staff, personally, in a upcoming reunion. /*\

young Red Guards

“At the end of his statement, Chen denounced a recent trend he has noticed in China of trying to justify and glorify the Cultural Revolution. “I think it’s up to each individual to interpret the meaning of the Cultural Revolution, but unconstitutional behaviour and acts that infringe human rights should never be allowed to happen again in China.” he wrote. “Otherwise the ‘Chinese Dream” - national revival and people’s happiness - will be nothing but talk.” Chen also told the Post that he believed different opinions about the Cultural Revolution should be tolerated. "It’s a sign of social progress and could encourage more people to study history," he said. /*\

“Chen released his statement after Huang Jian, a fellow graduate of No 8 Middle School published several 1966 photos of student Red Guards torturing teachers on campus. Huang posted the photos on Sunday, August 18 - the 47th anniversary of the historic Tiananmen rally joined by the country’s 800,000 fervent Red Guards and famously attended by Mao himself. Huang, 65, told the South China Morning Post in a phone interview that he deliberately posted the photos to remind him and his peers that they had “supported the movement and acted as accomplices to a disaster". “Let’s bravely apologise to our teachers on such a special day,” Huang said in a post published on a blog of an alumni association for the No 8 middle school. The association represents about 800 former students who graduated from the school from 1966 to 1968. /*\

“During the Cultural Revolution, educators, targeted as “capitalist intellectuals,” were insulted, tortured, and even killed by their students - who were mobilised as members of a youth organisation widely known as Red Guards. Several former Red Guards have apologised to their victims in public in recent months - triggering heated debate in China's blogsphere. “I believe everyone who went through the Cultural Revolution have been thinking and reflecting on it, but they are either unwilling or dare not talk,” Chen said. “I hope those who were victimised during that time will discuss their feelings bravely, and those who hurt others will sincerely reflect on their misdeeds and apologise to their victims.” /*\

“Chen’s statement made headlines and went viral on China’s social media sites and forums, eliciting hundreds of thousands of posts and comments. While Chinese media noted Chen’s “princeling” background, many readers commended him for his courage, urging more former Red Guards to apologise.“How many more Red Guards who committed violent attacks remain unrepentant while leading our government?,” a microblogger wrote. “We can only force the organisation to apologise if we each start repenting,” another wrote. /*\

Elderly Man Jailed for a Cultural Revolution Killing in 2013

In April 2013, the South China Morning Post reported: “A mainland court has jailed an elderly man for a murder committed during the tumultuous 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, officials said yesterday, after a trial that sparked anger over seemingly selective justice. Qiu Riren, who is in his eighties, was on Friday condemned to three-and-a-half years in jail for the 1967 killing, said a court official in Ruian, in the eastern province of Zhejiang, declining to give further details. [Source: South China Morning Post, April 4, 2013]

“Reports said Qiu had been arrested in July. But it was unclear why his case went ahead several decades after the Cultural Revolution, a violent and chaotic period that the government has sought to move beyond without releasing a full historical account. Qiu had belonged to an "armed group" and strangled his victim - a doctor thought to be a spy - before cutting off his legs and burying him, the state-run China News Service reported. Mainland social media users decried the trial when state media announced it in February, pointing out that senior officials who stirred up the social and political upheaval had never been held accountable.” [Ibid]

Global Impact of the Cultural Revolution

Fabio Lanza told the Los Angeles Review of Books: It is difficult to generalize globally, because the Cultural Revolution was an example that was interpreted, used, and deployed differently in different circumstances. But, going back to some of the themes I highlighted previously, we can essay a provisional assessment. At the risk of being overly dramatic, I would say the Cultural Revolution (including its global repercussions throughout the 1960s and 1970s) marks the end of Communist project, at least as embodied in the form of the party-state. [Source: “Conversation with Denise Ho, Fabio Lanza, Yiching Wu, and Daniel Leese on the Cultural Revolution” by Alexander C. Cook, Los Angeles Review of Books, March 2, 2016 ~]

Yiching Wu said: “It’s also important to note...that the Chinese party-state survived the upheaval, and I would add that it has even thrived — however precariously — as the steward of “reform and opening up.” Fifty years ago Mao launched the Cultural Revolution to forestall the slide of Chinese socialism to capitalism, and the emergence of a new ruling elite which might lead China toward a class-stratified society. However, this is exactly what has happened in its aftermath. In order to understand this profound historical irony, I think that we must fundamentally rethink the conventional scheme of historical periodization, which typically portrays China’s post-Mao transformation as a radical break from the Maoist past. I argued in my book that the key to understanding China’s post-Mao shift of course lies in the late Mao era. In spite of its militancy, the Cultural Revolution attacked individual bureaucrats more than the very system of bureaucratic power. While the mass movements that it unleashed challenged the Party, the Cultural Revolution was unable to provide a viable alternative to the Leninist party-state.~

“Leaving a regime in deep disarray and tens of millions of people traumatized and exhausted, the ideological failure of late Maoism paved the way for China’s ruling stratum to reorganize its rule by resorting to market-oriented policies as forms of political appeasement and readjustment. In this view, the post-Mao reform forms part of a continuous process of ideological and political maneuvers to contain, neutralize, and displace the prevalent antagonisms that resulted from the Cultural Revolution, when the mass movements unleashed by Mao threatened to undermine the foundation of the party-state. In contrast to the conventional wisdom that views changes in post-Mao China as in opposition to Mao’s utopian “last revolution” — and dates their starting point to the late 1970s, I therefore would argue that the origins of these changes in fact can be traced to the height of the Cultural Revolution in 1968-69, when mass demobilization and restoration of party and state organizations were in full force. ~ Fabio Lanza said: “We usually think of 1989 as the iconic date and the collapse of the Berlin wall as the iconic event in the collapse of Communism. But by then, the promises of political innovation within that framework had already been exhausted. As Yiching mentioned, the Cultural Revolution configured an attack against the Communist Party itself as the crucial element in the reproduction of inequalities in a supposedly class-less Chinese society. Globally, that attack reverberated in the form of radical movements that challenged established structures and political organizations — especially those which were supposed to be representatives of the disenfranchised (trade unions, leftist parties, black leadership in the US). The ultimate failure of the Cultural Revolution, in this sense, signaled the impossibility of change within and marked the end of decades of experiments centered on that model. In this perspective, it is not surprising that, globally, by the end of the 1970s we witness a massive tectonic shift in the political horizon — what Fukuyama called “the end of history.” The result was the apparent triumph of neoliberal capitalism everywhere, including in Deng’s China.” ~

China and the Pol Pot Regime

Dan Levin of the New York Times wrote: “In Cambodia, a small band of historians has been clamoring for Beijing to acknowledge its role in one of the worst genocides in recent history. In the 1970s, Mao wanted a client state in the developing world to match the Cold War influence of the United States and the Soviet Union. He found it in neighboring Cambodia. “To regard itself as rising power, China needed that type of accessory,” Andrew Mertha, author of “Brothers in Arms: China’s Aid to the Khmer Rouge, 1975-1979,” said in an interview. [Source: Dan Levin, Sinosphere, New York Times, March 3, 2015 ***]

“According to Mr. Mertha, director of the China and Asia-Pacific Studies program at Cornell University, China provided at least 90 percent of the foreign aid given to the Khmer Rouge, from food and construction equipment to tanks, planes and artillery. Even as the government was massacring its own people, Chinese engineers and military advisers continued to train their Communist ally. “Without China’s assistance, the Khmer Rouge regime would not have lasted a week,” he said. ***

In 2010, the Chinese ambassador to Cambodia, Zhang Jinfeng, offered a rare official acknowledgment of China’s support of the Khmer Rouge, but said that Beijing donated only “food, hoes and scythes.” Citing records and testimony from former Khmer Rouge officials, Youk Chhang, a survivor of the genocide and executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, disagreed. “Chinese advisers were there with the prison guards and all the way to the top leader,” Mr. Youk said. “China has never admitted or apologized for this.” ***

Parallels Between Cultural Revolution China and Xi Jinping China

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker: China today is in the midst of another political fever, in the form of an anti-corruption crackdown and a harsh stifling of dissenting views. But it should not be mistaken for a replay of the Cultural Revolution. Even with thousands under arrest, the scale of suffering is of a different order, and shorthand comparisons run the risk of relieving the Cultural Revolution of its full horror. There are tactical differences as well: instead of unleashing the population to attack the Party, as Mao did in his call to “bombard the headquarters,” Xi Jinping has swung in the direction of tighter control, seeking to fortify the Party and his own grip on power. He has reorganized the top leadership to put himself at the center, suffocated liberal thinking and the media, and, for the first time, pursued critics of his government even when they are living outside mainland China. In recent months, Chinese security services have abducted opponents from Thailand, Myanmar, and Hong Kong. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, May 6, 2016 ^*^]

“And yet there are deeper parallels between this moment in China and the time in which Xi came of age, as a teen-ager in the Cultural Revolution, which illuminate just how enduring some of the features of Mao’s Leninist system have proved to be. Xi, in his constant moves to identify enemies and eliminate them, has revived the question that Lenin considered the most important of all: “Kto, Kovo?”—“Who, whom?” In other words, in every interaction, the question that matters is which force wins and which force loses. Mao and his generation, who grew up amid scarcity, saw no room for power-sharing or for pluralism; he called for “drawing a clear distinction between us and the enemy.” “Who are our enemies? Who are our friends?” This, Mao said, was “a question of first importance for the revolution.” China today, in many respects, bears little comparison with the world that Mao inhabited, but on that question Xi Jinping is true to his roots. ^*^

“That zero-sum view is distorting China’s relations with the outside world, including with the United States. It was easy to laugh off the news last month that China had marked “National Security Education Day” by releasing a poster that warns female government workers about the dangers of dating foreigners, who could turn out to be spies. The cartoon poster, called “Dangerous Love,” chronicled the hapless romance of Little Li, a Chinese civil servant, who falls for David, a red-headed foreign scholar, only to end up giving him secret internal documents. Other recent news has been cause for concern: in April, after years of warnings, from senior leaders, that foreign N.G.O.s might seek to pollute Chinese society with subversive Western political ideas, China passed a law to sharply control their activities. The law gives sweeping new powers to China’s police in monitoring foundations, charities, and advocacy organizations, some of which have operated in China for decades. Many N.G.O.s had warned that the law, if passed, would cripple their ability to function, and they are now considering whether they can operate under the new arrangement.” ^*^

“As China, fifty years after the Cultural Revolution, weighs the impulse to insulate itself, once again, from foreign influence, it is worth considering that the costs may be more severe than we appreciate in real time. This fall, Harvard University Press will publish a new history, “Unlikely Partners: Chinese Reformers, Western Economists, and the Making of Global China,” by Julian Gewirtz, a doctoral student at Oxford. The book tells the little-known story of how Chinese intellectuals and leaders, facing a ruined economy at the end of the Cultural Revolution, sought the help of foreign economists to rebuild. Between 1976 and 1993, in a series of exchanges, conferences, and collaborations, Western intellectuals sought not to change China but to help it change itself, and they made indispensible contributions to China’s rise as a global economic power. “China’s rulers were in charge of this process—they sought out Western ideas and did not copy them indiscriminately. But they were open to Western influence and were profoundly influenced,” Gewirtz told me. “This history should not be forgotten. And, at a moment when China’s economy and society may be teetering, a return to this openness and partnership with the West—rather than the turn toward intellectual isolation and international distrustfulness that seems to be under way—is the best means of avoiding disaster.”“ ^*^

China Under Xi: Chinese Dream or Second Cultural Revolution?

Jasmine Yin, an admitted princeling and granddaughter of one of Mao Zedong’s favorite generals, wrote in Business Insider: “The proverb tongchuang yimeng — same bed, different dreams — is increasingly being used by young Chinese to describe our opposition to the draconian political direction the new leadership is taking the country, developments many Chinese are describing as a Second Cultural Revolution. [Source: Jasmine Yin, Business Spectator, March 9, 2016. Jasmine Yin, 19, is a student at Columbia University and granddaughter of the late general Ye Jianying, Marshal of the People’s Liberation Army, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and head of state of the People’s Republic of China ^^^]

“Communist Party leader Xi Jinping came to power on a promise to fulfil “The China Dream” — rejuvenation of the nation. To his generation, born and raised with the revolution, this means a communal vision of self-sacrifice for the greater glory of the party and state. But my millennial generation has a different dream, one that more resembles the traditional American one: less political interference in our lives, more openness to the outside world, dismantling the detested Great Firewall that blocks indispensable websites such as Google, Facebook and YouTube, and more freedom and democracy like that enjoyed by our peers in Taiwan and Hong Kong. ^^^

“Xi is taking China in a frightening, reactionary, ideologically driven direction. He is creating a personality cult the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Mao and Deng Xiaoping (both of whom earned their credentials leading the revolutionary war, while Xi has never seen a battlefield). His anti-corruption campaign has terrified everyone. With even routine approval of new projects and investments arousing suspicion, the bureaucracy is paralysed. ^^^

“In China, it’s not just about what you did, but who’s in your network of relationships that matters. If your political patron gets in trouble, it doesn’t matter how clean you are, your neck is on the chopping block. In addition to ―bureaucrats, academics, human-rights lawyers, bloggers, labour activists and business leaders are also being terrorised. In universities, the government has recruited informers to denounce professors advocating liberal values. Several outspoken progressive academics have lost their jobs. Hundreds of human rights lawyers have disappeared or been arrested. Many business leaders and labour activists have gone missing, presumably detained by anti-corruption investigators. Among the highest-profile cases was that of tycoon Guo Guangchang, popularly known as “China’s Warren Buffet” and the PRC’s 11th-wealthiest person with a net worth of more than $US7 billion ($14.7bn). Guo was detained last December to “assist a judicial investigation” and then simply appeared at his company’s annual meeting a few days later with no explanation. ^^^

“I’ve come to the conclusion that what we need now is a new New Culture Movement, a new China Dream, not a Second Cultural Revolution. A dream that isn’t fuelled by fear, but instead inspired by hope and idealism. I may be a naive teenager, but even Mao said: “You young people, full of vigour and vitality, in the bloom of life, are like the morning sun. Our hope is placed on you.”

Image Sources: Photos: Everyday Life in Maoist China.org everydaylifeinmaoistchina.org, Wikimedia Commons: Posters, Landsberger Posters http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/; Gang of Four photo, Ohio State University;

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.

Last updated August 2021

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