The Chinese Cultural Revolution: the Spirit of the People
THE CHINESE CULTURALREVOLUTION:THE SPIRIT OF THE PEOPLECHRISTOPHER LIU
PROLOGUEOn October 1, 1949, the People’s Republic of China was officially established. At its head, was the famous leader Mao Zedong. Mao Zedongwas the one who lead the revolution against the previous ruling political party of China, the Kuomintang, Mao was idolized and practicallyworshipped by his subjects. He had captured the hearts of the people with promises of a peaceful and prosperous country through communism,and therefore wielded the considerable power that was the will of the people.Yet, it wasn’t enough for him; Mao wanted more. He wanted to make China a superpower rivaling the power of the USA or the Soviet Union.To do this, though, he knew that industrialization was crucial. And so, he launched a campaign: the “Great Leap Forward”. The Great LeapForward was essentially an economic plan with the aim of accelerating the industrialization of China; some of the implemented methodsinclude merging huge amounts of peasants into large communes, sending many peasants to work on large infrastructure assignmentssuch as railways, and recommending peasants to try to create steel using their own so-called “backyard furnaces”.Unfortunately for Mao (and the rest of China), the movement was a complete failure. Not only did agricultural production plummet due tothe shift from agriculture to industry, many of the infrastructure projects eventually abandoned due to famine from said agriculturalrecession, and the backyard furnaces only producing unusable badly-produced steel (and at the expense of the heaps of tools and furnituremelted to produce the steel). In the end, all that resulted from the Great Leap Forward was among the most severe famines in recent history,and a great blow to the Party’s trust in Mao.As the failure of the Great Leap Forward was largely Mao’s fault, it caused many to start to doubt his ability. As a consequence of this, Maowas pressured into relinquishing his position as the President of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party); however, he still held on to his title asthe Chairman of the CCP.As a result of this, it is likely that Mao feared that he was slowly being edged out of the government; this may have been his motivation forstarting the Cultural Revolution (though one could also argue that his motivation for the revolution was because he genuinely wished for atrue communist state with no elite ruling party). So, what is the Cultural Revolution? The Cultural Revolution, as the name suggests, wasa great cultural upheaval characterized by the destruction of past cultural heritage, and extensive persecution of many intellectuals andParty members.This, then, is where the following journal entries are from; the age of violence and chaos known as the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Thecharacter from who’s point these entries are written is a leftist professor at Peking University. His (or her, it doesn’t particularly matter)name is not mentioned in the journal entries and is quite irrelevant, but if you must, his name is Xi Jinming.And so, let us begin on the great journey through time that these journal entries will take us. We begin just before the revolution starts...
MAY 15, 1966It’s been quite hectic the last few years, but I believe that things are finally cooling down.You know, while I love Mao Zedong, and he’s the leader that finally overthrew the tyrants of the previous era and gave us communism intheir place, I sometimes question his motives. Take, for example, the Hundred Flowers campaign about a decade ago. First, Mao encouragespeople to criticize the government and show them how to improve, then he suddenly decides to persecute all those who spoke out! While Iunderstand that such actions were able to root out numerous bourgeois citizens, it was also horribly inefficient, condemning many loyalpatriots who were merely following Mao’s suggestions. I, myself, had barely escaped unharmed!Then, after that, came what is known as the “Great Leap Forward”. A campaign to improve and accelerate China’s industrialization, itended in complete failure. Mao had too high expectations of the common peasant; not all of them were very bright! He expected them toproduce advanced commodities such as steel, when they could barely tend to their farms correctly. In fact, being blinded by zeal andexcitement for creating steel, the fools even melted their own tools to make steel! How can you expect to make anything with the steel youmade without tools! Worse, the steel that they produced was impure, and useless, so they wasted their tools to make scrap metal, and nowthey can’t even farm! You could not possibly imagine the great recession which followed. There was disease, there was famine, there wasdeath. People could barely get 1/4 of a kilogram of meat per month! We all survived on mere basic grains, and not enough of that as well.And, of course, much of that was blamed on Mao (who, admittedly, was the one who started the movement in the beginning). With thecomplete and utter failure of the Great Leap Forward, Mao was disgraced, and — these are merely rumors — essentially lost power overChina’s economy. How dare they! How dare the government abandon Mao so! Yet, I can’t help but, in some ways, agree with them.As I said, I am loyal to Mao and China. However, being an intellectual, I cannot help but ponder Mao’s true intentions behind his actions. Iknow of Mao’s blinding intellect, and I know that he would not be so foolish as to make mistakes of such a grand scale as the HundredFlowers movement, or the Great Leap Forward. After all, he’s Mao Zedong. Mao Zedong is not a fool. Mao Zedong would not do somethingwithout proper reason. So I wonder, for what reason did he start these campaigns?But, for now at least, we have peace, and we will rebuild our country to a prosperous utopia for all. May our glorious nation progress andprosper!
MAY 15, 1966“BACKYARD FURNACESWHICH PRODUCED COMPLETELYUSELESS STEELI ONCE WAS LUCKYENOUGH TO TAKE APICTURE OF MAO!
AUGUST 19, 1966It appears that I spoke too soon, that the conflict and chaos of the past few years was only the beginning to something far, far larger.Mao was indeed preparing for something. He calls it “the Cultural Revolution”. A mere day after my previous journal entry, an series ofarticles were released, claiming that there are still more bourgeois citizens in China, but this time in the Party itself. I remember it quiteclearly; the news was all across the headlines.However, for the revolution, Mao did something quite unprecedented: he called upon the students to carry out his wishes for persecution. Hisorder spread like the plague; soon, nearly every student in Peking University, where I am a professor, started banding together into groupswhich they’ve termed “Red Guards”. It was an awe-inspiring sight, to see the entire school so easily and so completely united by just a fewwords by Mao. Is this the true power which he wields? Not the power of the military and its force, nor the power of the government and itsstrategy, but the power of the people?But I digress. Interestingly enough, one of the most popular revolutionary activities which the students enjoy is writing so-called dazibao,essentially large words painted on large pieces of paper. While I find this to be juvenile, I nevertheless fully support each and every one of theRed Guards in their activities. After all, Mao himself had wrote an important dazibao himself, with a simple statement: “bombard theheadquarters”. It seems that Mao is intent on rooting out every single bit of bourgeois influence within society, and is convinced that theParty is corrupted to its roots.Here, though, is where I am slightly confused; if he tells the masses to “bombard the headquarters”, does that not also include himself aswell? Additionally, would not this turn out similar to the Hundred Flowers incident, with not only the guilty, but also the innocentpersecuted? After all, there is no definite way of truly determining if a person is not bourgeois... It’s likely that many perfectly communistcitizens will be accused of being rightist. Which raises the question: is it worth it? Is it worth it to sacrifice a few innocent to find theguilty? I do not know of the answer to this question, but I must trust Mao’s judgement. After all, he’s Mao. The genius behind this greatcountry. If I cannot trust him, who may I trust?Yes, I must trust in Mao. To do anything else would be rightist, and where would that put me? In the coming storm, I must remain vigilantin my love for Mao, lest I be blown away by the winds of conflict. May my belief never waver, my faith never fade!
AUGUST 19, 1966RED GUARDS RALLYINGAT A LOCAL SCHOOLWRITING DAZIBAO SOONBECAME RIDICULOUSLY POPULAR
JULY 14, 1968Everything went wrong.What the Cultural Revolution became was something that no one could have possibly predicted. It wasn’t a revolution, it was massacre!The Red Guards were supposed to be the enemy of the bourgeois, the savior of the people. Instead, they simply became the enemy of everyone,including each other.Let me try to recollect my memories. So much has happened, I’ve had no time to write in my journal (I’ve had no time to write at all), so by now Ican barely recall what everything was like in the beginning. Ah, yes...It started out quite normal, just with some classes being canceled in favor of revolutionary activities. Yet, slowly, more and more people becameinvolved, more and more people accused of being bourgeois, more and more people prosecuted. The Red Guards started to become violent, oftenpublicly humiliating, beating, or even killing those who are accused. Those who weren’t killed, often committed suicide afterwards. Just as anexample, a couple months into the revolution, my dear colleague, Xiao Ming, was accused of supporting counterrevolutionary parties, andsubsequently beaten; soon after, feeling depressed and dishonored by his new bourgeois status, he swallowed a cyanide-laced orange. Of all thepeople, Xiao Ming! Out of all the people I know, Ming was perhaps the most loyal to our chairman, Mao Zedong, of them all! It was he, whotaught the students to love Mao! It was he, who inspired the zeal within those very Red Guards who turned against him! The irony is sickening.I became scared, afraid that I would suffer the same fate as Xiao Ming, the same fate as so many others. And so, I fled. I went into self-imposedexile, moving to live in the solitude of the wilderness, where no one could accuse me of anything. Life there was difficult and dangerous, but notas dangerous as living in the city. Occasionally, I would come across people like me who had fled, or hear random tidbits of information whiletraveling; as such, I stayed more or less informed about the situation in the city.And, from the rumors I come across, the situation only became more and more grim, the chaos more and more prevalent. From what I’ve heard, asthe Red Guards became more and more bold, they even started factional fighting against each other! Such fools! Apparently, each and everyRed Guard sector all claim to be the most loyal to Mao, the most effective at rooting out bourgeois influence, the best of the Red Guards, andthey’re fighting to prove it so! Such children; such a petty conflict.Yet, there still may be hope for an escape from this maelstrom of fighting. I’ve gotten of some wisps of information suggesting militaryintervention. Perhaps the higher-ups finally realized the stupidity of this revolution, and the harm that it has inflicted, and put a stop to thischaos.But even if this is true, the damage has been done. The history and culture destroyed in this revolution will never be recovered. Those who havebeen hurt will forever be scarred, those who have died will always remain so. This conflict, this revolution... such a waste. May we never forgetthis era of terror, and always remember those who have perished.
JULY 14, 1968THIS MAN WHOM IUSED TO RESPECT...I NOW CONSIDER A MONSTERPEOPLE WERE HUMILIATED,BEATEN, AND EVEN KILLED!
SEPTEMBER 14, 1971It seems that the rumors were indeed true.After lurking about the wilderness for a couple weeks, just to be sure, I eventually returned to civilization (if it could be called that, after the revolution). Iwas greeted by a mess of a city. Roads were destroyed, buildings had chunks missing from them, and a generally solemn and dreary atmosphere hung lowin the city, suffocating people with its poisonous miasma.No one is really sure, but it’s said that the causalities range somewhere in the millions. So much human life, flushed down the drain. They were innocentpeople, and they were massacred!Apparently, the CCP eventually (finally) realized this fact, and quickly put a stop to the Red Guard’s activities. Yet, I somehow get the feeling that this wasnot out of concern for the citizens, but rather out of concern for the economic health of our nation as a whole. After all, the did wait until so late... And whileit may be in the interest of communism for all bourgeois influence to be eradicated, at what cost must this goal be reached? I, for one, don’t believe thatsacrificing the well-being of the people (the maintenance of which is the very purpose of communism in the first place) is worth such an achievement. And,in the end, bourgeois influence wasn’t completely wiped out (though the media says otherwise), and the suffering of the masses ultimately pointless. I’vesaid this before, but I sometimes really do question the motives and ideas of Mao, and here is one of those times; here is the time.Heh, I’m lucky the Red Guards were dismantled and dispersed. Such counterrevolutionary and anti-Maoist thoughts would have surely caused my demiseshould they still have reigned. Speaking of Red Guards, in another act of stupidity and obvious ignorance regarding the country, the CCP ordered the largemajority of Red Guards be sent to the countryside to live among peasants in the massive “Down to the Countryside” movement. They clearly have not asingle inkling on the difficulty of living off of the land (something I experienced first-hand during my exile, and let me tell you, it isn’t very nice at all).Many of the Red Guards starved, and others resorted to stealing; after all, it’s ridiculous to expect students who lived in the city their whole lives to beparticularly proficient at farming (yet the CCP did).In fact, the more I think about it, the more corrupt the government — especially Mao — seems. Take, for example, some of the more recent incidences:particularly, the ones regarding Lin Biao. Lin Biao was a prominent governmental leader, being highly respected and, up to recently, appointed to be thesuccessor of Mao. Yet, just a mere day ago, he was reportedly killed in a plane accident, fleeing from China to the Soviet Union after staging a failed coupagainst Mao. Who would believe that? Unfortunately, plenty of people, but not me. Lin Biao wouldn’t do something such as that. He was extremely close andloyal to Mao, so trying to assassinate him seems quite illogical (especially since, given Mao’s age, he probably won’t have to wait too long before he is able tosucceed Mao as leader of the country). Even if he had wanted to assassinate Mao, well, to put it simply, I don’t think that he could have messed up not one,but multiple assassination attempts (after the first one failed, there were a couple more attempts, all foiled by Mao’s bodyguards). To add on to that, even ifall of that had indeed happened, I highly doubt the story of just how he had died from the plane. According to newspapers, the plane had crashed due to nothaving packed enough fuel before lifting off. Now, as one of China’s best generals, Lin Biao would have been completely insane to have made such a stupidlethal mistake.All in all, it seems that the Cultural Revolution has been an enlightening experience for me; it’s shown me the corruption within the government which I hadpreviously so blindly trusted. May this truth forever be with me.
SEPTEMBER 14, 1971THEY HAD NO IDEA OFTHE SUFFERING THEYWOULD FACEI REALLY DO WONDERWHAT REALLY HAPPENEDWITH LIN BIAO
OCTOBER 5, 1976It’s been quite hectic the last few years, but I believe that things are finally cooling down.The Cultural Revolution was a huge blow to everyone affected, but, as they say, time can mend even the most painful of wounds.About a month ago, on September 9, Mao passed away. It’s said to have been from a combination of a stroke, heart attack, and lung infection. Aday of grief and sadness followed, with the entire Chinese population honoring the fallen Chairman. I did not join them.After all, while it was Mao who overthrew the old oppressive government, it was also Mao who persecuted all those innocent intellectuals during theHundred Flowers movement, it was also Mao who initiated the Great Leap Forward which brought widespread famine and economical regression,it was also Mao who started the Cultural Revolution which lead to the death of so many and the destruction of so much.Previously, I’ve often wondered at Mao’s motives regarding many of the poor choices he’s made; but, now, I think I’ve figured it out. Power.Everything for power. All that Mao has done, was to give himself more power.Consider the Hundred Flowers movement. While most may think it to eliminate bourgeois influence, or simply an honest mistake, I believeotherwise. You see, by prosecuting all who spoke out and criticized the government, we was able to dissuade people from criticizing thegovernment in the future as well. More power for him!Next, the Great Leap Forward. I do believe that this was indeed a mistake (as it ultimately damaged Mao’s standing within the government), butthe original purpose was still to obtain more power. By accelerating the industrialization of China, Mao would be able to extend his iron fist to theinternational community, not just China.And, of course, the Cultural Revolution. This is probably the most obvious of them all. The Great Leap Forward, as I’ve previously written, severelyweakened Mao’s hold over the country. Many governmental officials lost faith in him, due to his stupid decisions. In response, the CulturalRevolution was able to entirely remove those who are opposed to him. In fact, it practically removed all who simply could oppose him. The two maingroups of people targeted, the intellectuals and the politicians, were the groups who could cause the greatest damage to his reign. The intellectualsare able to find the corruption which lays behind the mask of patriotism and then spread this information among others (like I am right now);the politicians have the power to actually overthrow him. The Red Guards were able to deal with both, in a technical genocide.And, in the end, all of his efforts were for naught, for it was not the people that betrayed him, but his own body. He had secured himself a securesanctuary within the government, and ruled over his subjects with almost godlike power, but could not preserve his health. In fact, it may be thathis extensive efforts to strengthen his power over the country, which was undoubtedly a stressful and arduous job, was a large factor in his death.If so, then that would be the ultimate irony.The thread of fate was cut, and destiny was the one to overthrow Mao. May there never be another being like him.
OCTOBER 5, 1976MAO ZEDONG:FALLEN LEADERPICTURE OF MAO’SFUNERAL FROM ANEWSPAPER
EPILOGUE...And so ends one of the most violent and pointless revolutions in Chinese history, not with a bang, but with a whisper.The Cultural Revolution may have occurred quite a while ago, yet its influence may still be felt in Chinese society. The sheer amount ofhuman casualties in the conflict would be more than enough to cause this, but the cultural heritage that was destroyed probably has a farmore profound effect on daily life. For example, if one were to examine the behavioral habits of people before the revolution and afterwards,one would detect quite a large difference. Many different traditions were either suppressed or abolished, and large amounts of old ideasobliterated. One of the most obvious of these is in regards to gender equality; the Cultural Revolution was able to suppress many of thecustoms which favored males over females, such as household hierarchy, arranged marriages, social expectations, etc. Of course, other, moreappealing customs (though that is, of course, subjective) were also abolished, such as various rules of social etiquette; anyone living inChina would notice a noticeable lack of manners in many Chinese people, and this revolution may be considered to be one of thecontributing factors.However, not everything was changed. Interestingly, the public’s opinion on Mao Zedong has, even with all of the various mistakes hemade, remained relatively the same: extremely good. Even through all of this time, Mao Zedong is still revered as the most amazing personto ever walk in Chinese soil, as evidenced by the sheer amount of paintings and photographs of Mao you can find hanging around the city.What we may certainly be thankful for, though, is that such a revolution is unlikely to occur again. Since Mao’s time, the Chinese public’svalue in education has risen exponentially, to the point where it’s now practically how one would determine the social status of a school-kid.Indeed, in modern times, China is known for its extremely studious students; contrast this with way back in Mao’s era, where intellectualswere frowned down upon and often persecuted, and classes frequently canceled in favor of revolutionary activities. As such, we willprobably not have another Cultural Revolution, since the people are now intelligent enough to realize how pointless it would be.Yet, even among all of the turmoil, the spirit of the people has never faded. In Mao’s time, it was the enthusiasm of the people which drove therevolution; in our time, it is still the passion of the people which allows China to be among the strongest economies in the world. The Chinesehave endured through hardship, and flourished through prosperity; they are truly immortal. May their energy fuel the world.
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