SearchThe Cultural Revolution of China

The Cultural Revolution of China ...
1host2u.ir 16/05/1966 History

Keywords:#1host2u.ir, #Beijing, #China, #Chinese, #Communist, #Cultural_Revolution, #Deng_Xiaoping, #Hangzhou, #Kang, #Mao, #Mao_Zedong, #Marxist, #Peking, #Peking_University, #People, #Praetorian, #President, #Revolution, #Students, #University

After decades leading the Chinese Communist Party and then his nation, Mao Zedong began to worry about how he would be remembered. The 72-year-old Chairman feared too that his legacy would be under­mined by the stirrings of a counterrevolution. And so in July 1966, with an eye toward securing his grip on power, Mao took a dip in the Yangtze River to show the world that he was still in robust health. It was a propaganda coup. The image of that swim, one of the few widely circulated photos of the leader, did just what Mao hoped. Back in Beijing, Mao launched his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, rallying the masses to purge his rivals. His grip on power was tighter than ever. Mao enlisted the nation’s young people and implored these rabid Red Guards to “dare to be violent.” Insanity quickly descended on the land of 750 million, as troops clutching the Chairman’s Little Red Book smashed relics and temples and punished perceived traitors. When the Cultural Revolution finally petered out a decade later, more than a million people had perished.
The Cultural Revolution, formally the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, was a sociopolitical movement that took place in the People's Republic of China from 1966 until 1976. Set into motion by Mao Zedong, then Chairman of the Communist Party of China, its stated goal was to preserve 'true' Communist ideology in the country by purging remnants of capitalist and traditional elements from Chinese society, and to re-impose Maoist thought as the dominant ideology within the Party. The Revolution marked the return of Mao Zedong to a position of power after the Great Leap Forward. The movement paralyzed China politically and negatively affected the country's economy and society to a significant degree.
The Revolution was launched in May 1966, after Mao alleged that bourgeois elements had infiltrated the government and society at large, aiming to restore capitalism. He insisted that these "revisionists" be removed through violent class struggle. China's youth responded to Mao's appeal by forming Red Guard groups around the country. The movement spread into the military, urban workers, and the Communist Party leadership itself. It resulted in widespread factional struggles in all walks of life. In the top leadership, it led to a mass purge of senior officials, most notably Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping. During the same period Mao's personality cult grew to immense proportions.
Millions of people were persecuted in the violent struggles that ensued across the country, and suffered a wide range of abuses including public humiliation, arbitrary imprisonment, torture, sustained harassment, and seizure of property. A large segment of the population was forcibly displaced, most notably the transfer of urban youth to rural regions during the Down to the Countryside Movement. Historical relics and artifacts were destroyed. Cultural and religious sites were ransacked.
Mao officially declared the Cultural Revolution to have ended in 1969, but its active phase lasted until the death of the military leader Lin Biao in 1971. After Mao's death and the arrest of the Gang of Four in 1976, reformers led by Deng Xiaoping gradually began to dismantle the Maoist policies associated with the Cultural Revolution. In 1981, the Party declared that the Cultural Revolution was "responsible for the most severe setback and the heaviest losses suffered by the Party, the country, and the people since the founding of the People's Republic".
May 16 notification
In May 1966, an "expanded session" of the Politburo was called in Beijing. The conference, rather than being a joint discussion on policy (as per the usual norms of party operations), was essentially a campaign to mobilize the Politburo into endorsing Mao's political agenda. The conference was heavily laden with Maoist political rhetoric on class struggle, and filled with meticulously-prepared 'indictments' on the recently ousted leaders such as Peng Zhen and Luo Ruiqing. One of these documents, released on May 16, was prepared with Mao's personal supervision, and was particularly damning:
Those representatives of the bourgeoisie who have sneaked into the Party, the government, the army, and various spheres of culture are a bunch of counter-revolutionary revisionists. Once conditions are ripe, they will seize political power and turn the dictatorship of the proletariat into a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Some of them we have already seen through; others we have not. Some are still trusted by us and are being trained as our successors, persons like Khruschev for example, who are still nestling beside us.
This text, which became known as the "May 16 Notification" (Chinese: 五一六通知; pinyin: Wǔyīliù Tōngzhī), summarized Mao's ideological justification for the Cultural Revolution. Effectively it implied that there are enemies of the Communist cause within the Party itself: class enemies who "wave the red flag to oppose the red flag." The only way to identify these people was through "the telescope and microscope of Mao Zedong Thought." While the party leadership was relatively united in approving the general direction of Mao's agenda, many Politburo members were not especially enthusiastic, or simply confused about the direction of the movement. The charges against esteemed party leaders like Peng Zhen rang alarm bells in China's intellectual community and among the eight non-Communist parties.
Early mass rallies
After the purge of Peng Zhen, the Beijing Party Committee had effectively ceased to function, paving the way for disorder in the capital. On May 25, under the guidance of Cao Yi'ou – wife of Maoist henchman Kang Sheng – Nie Yuanzi, a philosophy lecturer at Peking University, authored a big-character poster (dazibao) along with other leftists and posted it to a public bulletin. Nie attacked the university's party administration and its leader Lu Ping. Nie insinuated that the university leadership, much like Peng Zhen, were trying to contain revolutionary fervour in a "sinister" attempt to oppose the party and advance revisionism.
Mao promptly endorsed Nie's dazibao as "the first Marxist big-character poster in China." Nie's call-to-arms, now sealed with Mao's personal stamp of approval, had a lasting ripple effect across all educational institutions in China. Students everywhere began to revolt against their respective schools' party establishment. Classes were promptly cancelled in Beijing primary and secondary schools, followed by a decision on June 13 to expand the class suspension nationwide. By early June, throngs of young demonstrators lined the capital's major thoroughfares holding giant portraits of Mao, beating drums, and shouting slogans against his perceived enemies.
When the dismissal of Peng Zhen and the municipal party leadership became public in early June, widespread confusion ensued. The public and foreign missions were kept in the dark on the reason for Peng Zhen's ousting. Even the top Party leadership was caught off guard by the sudden anti-establishment wave of protest, and struggled with what to do next. After seeking Mao's guidance in Hangzhou, Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping decided to send in "work teams" (工作组) – effectively 'ideological-guidance' squads of cadres – to the city's schools and People's Daily to restore some semblance of order and re-establish party control.
The work teams were hastily dispatched and had a poor understanding of student sentiment. Unlike the political movement of the 1950s that squarely targeted intellectuals, the new movement was focused on established party cadres, many of whom were part of the work teams. As a result, the work teams came under increasing suspicion for being yet another group aimed at thwarting revolutionary fervour. The party leadership subsequently became divided over whether or not work teams should remain in place. Liu Shaoqi insisted on continuing work-team involvement and suppressing the movement's most radical elements, fearing that the movement would spin out of control.
"Bombard the headquarters"
On July 16, the 72-year-old Chairman Mao took to the Yangtze River in Wuhan, with the press in tow, in what became an iconic "swim across the Yangtze" to demonstrate his battle-readiness. He subsequently returned to Beijing on a mission to criticize the party leadership for its handling of the work-teams issue. Mao accused the work teams of undermining the student movement, calling for their full withdrawal on July 24. Several days later a rally was held at the Great Hall of the People to announce the decision and set the new tone of the movement to university and high school teachers and students. At the rally, Party leaders told the masses assembled to 'not be afraid' and bravely take charge of the movement themselves, free of Party interference.
The work-teams issue marked a decisive defeat for President Liu Shaoqi politically; it also signaled that disagreement over how to handle the unfolding events of the Cultural Revolution would break Mao from the established party leadership irreversibly. On August 1, the Eleventh Plenum of the Eighth Central Committee was hastily convened to advance Mao's now decidedly radical agenda. At the plenum, Mao showed outright disdain for Liu, repeatedly interrupting Liu as he delivered his opening day speech. For several days, Mao repeatedly insinuated that the Party's leadership had contravened his revolutionary vision. Mao's line of thinking received a lukewarm reception from the conference attendees. Sensing that the largely obstructive party elite was unwilling to fully embrace his revolutionary ideology, Mao went on the offensive.
On July 28, Red Guard representatives wrote to Mao, calling for rebellion and upheaval to safeguard the revolution. Mao then responded to the letters by writing his own big-character poster entitled Bombard the Headquarters, rallying people to target the "command centre (i.e., Headquarters) of counterrevolution". Mao wrote that despite having undergone a Communist revolution, a "bourgeois" elite was still thriving in "positions of authority" in the government and Communist Party.
Although no names were mentioned, this provocative statement by Mao has been interpreted as a direct indictment of the party establishment under Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping – the purported "bourgeois headquarters" of China. The personnel changes at the Plenum reflected a radical re-design of the party's hierarchy to suit this new ideological landscape. Liu and Deng kept their seats on the Politburo Standing Committee but were in fact sidelined from day-to-day party affairs. Lin Biao was elevated to become the Party's number-two figure; Liu Shaoqi's rank went from second to eighth, and was no longer Mao's heir apparent.
Coinciding with the top leadership being thrown out of positions of power was the thorough undoing of the entire national bureaucracy of the Communist Party. The extensive Organization Department, in charge of party personnel, essentially ceased to exist. The Cultural Revolution Group (CRG), Mao's ideological 'Praetorian Guard', was catapulted to prominence to propagate his ideology and rally popular support. The top officials in the Propaganda Department were sacked, with many of its functions folding into the CRG.
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