China\'s Lost Culture

Starting in the summer of 1966 Mao Zedong, the leader of China's communist party launched what he termed "The Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution." At that point communism had been China's form of government for about 17 years (starting in 1949). Chairman Mao was alarmed by what he saw as an increasing trend towards bureaucratization. Believing that China would soon end up with a government mirroring that of the Soviet Union, Mao decided to strike out against the political machinery of China's Communist Party.

His idea was simple: to prevent China from establishing an entrenched bureaucracy he had to rid himself of what he called "the four olds:" old ideals, old customs, old culture, and old habits. After Mao issued a circular from the central committee of the Communist Party launching the cultural revolution, all regular classes in high schools and universities in china were shut down. Subsequently a group of students at Qinghua University put up a poster in support of Mao. The poster read: "Pledge to fight to the death to defend the dictatorship of the proletariat! Pledge to fight to the death to defend Mao Zedong's Thought!"

The group called themselves the "Red Guards of Mao's Thought." This was the origin of the notorious Red Guards. After Mao wrote a letter supporting the student's statement Red Guard units began springing up in schools across the country. The students were encouraged to attack their professors with "Big Character Posters" which held messages designed to denigrate and humiliate the wearers. They included labels such as "Reactionary Academic Authority," "Member of the Black Gang," and "Counterrevolutionary."

Soon chaos erupted in the streets of China's cities as the Red Guards split into factions, and began fighting each other for dominance. Throughout those three initial years Mao publicly supported the actions of the Red Guard. He held rallies in Tiananmen Square where he gathered millions of Red Guard members to praise and encourage their efforts. He gave them full authority to "learn revolution by making revolution," and even suspended police authority over actions taken by members of the Red Guard.

In 1967 Mao set up "3-in-one revolutionary committees" in every city and province giving them sole authority. The following year a cleansing class rank campaign was launched in which many were imprisoned and tortured for months and even years. The goal was to purge the political and class ranks within the government. Local government officials began accusing political rivals of being "counterrevolutionaries," leading to wave after wave of purges. Eventually the only way of not becoming a casualty was to accuse others of counterrevolutionary activity.

The chaos did not slow until December 1968 when Mao, after perceiving the cultural revolution to be a failure, attempted to reign in the actions of the Red Guard. By that point most of China's cities were embroiled in gang warfare that often utilized military-grade weapons stolen from the People's Liberation Army. The Red Guard had been given some authority over the military as well so that even the army would not oppose them.

Mao began rounding up and sending millions of students and Red Guard members into the countryside to be re-educated through exposure to the peasants and their way of life. Though the cultural revolution was declared officially over in 1969 by the communist party of China, it is not considered to have ended until the death of Mao Zedong in 1977. During this period many more campaigns were launched, some of which included imprisoning hundreds of thousands of people on charges of criticizing the Cultural Revolution and Mao Zedong. Other campaigns during this time included the promotion of "revolutionary artwork" and denunciations of Confucius.

For more information on the web see:

Wikipedia: The Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution

The Chinese Holocaust Memorial

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