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The People's Republic, The Cultural Revolution

Liu Shaoqi, Jiang Qing, Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, newspaper journalists, state of lawlessness

In mid-1966 Mao launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, known simply as the Cultural Revolution. The announced goals of the revolution were to eradicate the remains of so-called bourgeois ideas and customs and to recapture the revolutionary zeal of early Chinese Communism. Mao also wanted to increase his power over the government by discrediting or removing party leaders who had challenged his authority or disagreed with his policies. Earlier in the year, Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, and a few other Mao supporters had begun calling for attacks on cultural works that criticized Mao’s policies. Soon radical students at Beijing University, urged by Mao to denounce elitist elements of society, were agitating against university and government officials who they believed were not sufficiently revolutionary. Liu Shaoqi, a veteran revolutionary who had been designated as Mao’s successor, tried to control the students, but Mao intervened. He launched an intense public criticism of Liu and sanctioned the organization of Beijing students into militant groups known as Red Guards. Soon students all over China were responding to the call to make revolution, happy to help Mao, whom many worshiped as a godlike hero.

In June 1966 nearly all Chinese schools and universities were closed as students devoted themselves full-time to Red Guard activities. Joined by groups of workers, peasants, and demobilized soldiers, Red Guards took to the streets in pro-Maoist, sometimes violent, demonstrations. They made intellectuals, bureaucrats, party officials, and urban workers their chief targets. The central party structure was destroyed as many high officials, including Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, were removed from their positions. During 1967 and 1968 bloody fighting among various Red Guard factions claimed thousands of lives. In some areas, rebellion deteriorated into a state of lawlessness. Finally, the army was called in to restore order, and in July 1968 the Red Guards were sent back to school or to work in the countryside. In many areas, the army quickly became the dominant force.

During the early stages of the Cultural Revolution, Mao and his supporters continually promoted “class struggle” against so-called revisionists and counterrevolutionaries. To this end, educated people were singled out for persecution. College professors, middle-school teachers, newspaper journalists, musicians, party cadres, factory managers, and others who could be categorized as educated suffered a wide variety of brutal treatment. Men and women were tortured, imprisoned, starved, denied medical treatment, and forced to leave their children unsupervised when they were sent to labor camps in the countryside. Tens of thousands were killed or committed suicide.

CCP delegates to the Ninth Party Congress in April 1969 reelected Mao party chairman with a great deal of fanfare. They named Defense Minister Lin Biao, Mao's personal choice, to be Mao’s eventual successor. For several years, Lin was regularly referred to as Mao's closest comrade in arms and best student. Yet, according to the official CCP account, in 1971 Lin turned against Mao, plotted unsuccessfully to assassinate him, and then died in an airplane crash while attempting to flee to the USSR. Lin was officially condemned as a traitor.

Much of the political and social turmoil that characterized the first half of the Cultural Revolution subsided in the second half. In 1976 the government arrested a group of four revolutionaries, known as the Gang of Four, and charged them with the crimes of the Cultural Revolution. This event came to mark the official end of the campaign.

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