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Mass rally in Tiananmen Square during the Cultural Revolution with crowd waving Chairman Mao's "Little Red Book"

You can't understand today’s China unless you try to understanding the ten catastrophic years of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, a social and political movement that Mao Zedong, Chairman of the People's Republic of China, launched in 1966 and that lasted until Mao’s death in 1976. Many Chinese people's cynicism about politics, the Communist Party's extremely cautious and anti-democratic approach to governance, the rise of “princelings” (the sons and daughters of the original generation of revolutionaries) to positions of political power and staggering wealth, the violent suppression of the Tiananmen Square student protests, Falun Gong and other non-conformist movements, the complicated transition in power taking place these days in Beijing, all have their roots, in part, in the Cultural Revolution.  The problem is that the Cultural Revolution is itself almost impossible to understand.

The Cultural Revolution has been difficult to understand for two main reasons. First, accurate information about the events of the Cultural Revolution was almost impossible to obtain inside or outside China while it was happening and for many years after, and is still fragmentary. China was one of the most closed societies on earth at the time to foreigners - almost more closed then, than North Korea is today. There was no technology to work around official statements, propaganda and news outlets. The government under Mao also suppressed information and analysis within China that did not conform to their ever increasingly fantastical and unrealistic views of reality. Fortunately, after Mao’s death and after the beginning of the reform era, the government allowed cautious exploration of the history of the Cultural Revolution, but documentary information is scattered, much is still secret, the government actively suppresses some historical investigation of sensitive topics, and the memories of victims and perpetrators are fading. According to political science professor Zhang Ming of Renmin University in China, a thorough, accurate and public accounting of the Cultural Revolution in China has not occurred and many people who didn’t live through it don’t know how terrible it was, and more frighteningly, many have become nostalgic for that era.  Fortunately, by the late 1980s, a genre of Chinese memoir and fiction about the psychic wounds left by the Cultural Revolution – often called “scar literature” – had emerged in China and in the overseas Chinese diaspora, and scholars have begun amassing histories, documentaries and data bases, although there is some resistance to accepting the dire portrayal of China in that era.

This, however, has created the second reason the Cultural Revolution is difficult to understand – namely, that the more we know about it, the crazier it seems. People in the West didn't fully understand what was going on and as information and histories emerge here, it becomes more puzzling. We didn't know how violent and anarchic it was, nor how close the Chinese government came to completely collapsing.  Even with the flowering of research and source gathering of recent years, it's difficult to understand why Mao launched such a destructive campaign against his own state and party. Also, the mass mobilization manipulated but not controlled by the government, the ideological struggles, “ultra left” politics and mind numbing violence, chaos, anarchy and disorder are very difficult to understand considering this was taking place in an otherwise tightly controlled totalitarian nation state. The Cultural Revolution was one of the most perplexing movements of the twentieth century, a convulsion of ideological fanaticism and political violence carried out by millions of young people devoted to Chairman Mao and his political theories, called "Mao Zedong Thought," who were generally organized as “Red Guards.” I’ve been immersed in reading about the Cultural Revolution for many months for personal reasons – I met a former Red Guard last summer and have had some interesting conversations with her daughter, who is a writer, researcher, translator and friend. One thing I’ve learned is that many younger Chinese people whose elders lived through the period believe that the period affected them pervasively, permanently and negatively. I don’t pretend to be an expert on China's Cultural Revolution at all, but I would like to share what I’ve learned the last few months in this series of DailyKos diaries.

If you live in the West but have some knowledge of China, your image of the Cultural Revolution is probably like mine was – it was an era when Mao held mass rallies of high school and college students, all of them grasping the “little red book” of Chairman Mao’s quotations, chanting slogans and, when not at rallies, ransacking temples, libraries, museums and other cultural institutions, to destroy the “four olds” – "old customs, old culture, old habits and old ideas - while also berating hapless “intellectuals,” bureaucrats, “capitalist-roaders” and other people deemed “counter revolutionary.” There were even people in the West who saw the Cultural Revolution as a positive development, an example of extreme democratization and egalitarianism, and it’s pretty clear that few westerners really knew what was happening other than what was promoted in Chinese propaganda. (Surprisingly, the U.S. CIA at times had a remarkably good idea of what was happening in real time, as did China’s arch enemy, the government of Taiwan, the Republic of China, but their correct information was thoroughly mixed with misinformation making analysis difficult.)

In fact, the Cultural Revolution was much, much worse and more far reaching than people in the west generally understood at the time or than most younger people in China or overseas understand today. It was so awful, that many people reject the new information about it that is coming out as either implausible or too embarrassing to acknowledge.

What Was the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution?

If I had to describe the Cultural Revolution as succinctly as possible, I would say it was Chairman Mao’s astonishing, nation wide attack on, and eventual demolition of, first the educational system, then intellectuals, Chinese culture, the very idea of expertise, and finally his own government and party.

When the Cultural Revolution was over in 1976, China was in a complete shambles.  Its economy was barely functioning and its production units were bloated with political appointees.  Its educational system had almost been destroyed and one of its leading universities closed. It had a lost generation of young people who either had not been educated, had been badly educated, or had been well educated but then "sent down to the country" to "learn from the peasants" in many cases for a decade.  China's technological and scientific advances had been reversed, its bureaucracy smashed and cadres (government and party workers) harassed, denounced, beaten and in many cases killed, scaring off young talented people from working for the government. China's politics had been poisoned by Mao's reversals, purges and political killings even of the highest officials.  Before Nixon’s famous trip in 1973, China had been diplomatically isolated even in the communist world and third world. One of the interesting criticisms of “scar literature” memoirs is that many people simply think that the horrors these books describe could not have happened, or are hyped for a western audience that wants to think the worst of China, or that certain kinds of people couldn’t have been Red Guards or couldn’t have been the victims of Red Guards. One thing I’ve learned in the last few months is that almost nothing is too far fetched to believe about what happened, and much of the worst is now very well documented by scholarly literature, and tens of thousands of primary documents and footnotes.

The mystery is why did the Chinese people, especially Chinese students, young people and children (and many were children) seem to go collectively insane? Why would the supreme leader of China declare war on his own government and party? Why was it a “Cultural” Revolution rather than a political revolution?  

Actually most of these questions have logical answers, but the answers require a lot of background.  It’s also easier to understand the Cultural Revolution by focusing on individuals -- their stories, their predicaments, their choices and the logic of their seemingly illogical behavior -- rather than on the more academic historical approach of focusing on groups, classes and interests.  So these diaries will focus on a small cast of people who I hope will become real for you – President Liu Shaoqi, his wife, the first lady of China, Madame Wang Guangmei, and their daughter Liu Tingting; a school boy Red Guard from the coastal city of Xiamen who wrote one of the first scar literature memoirs under the pseudonym, Ken Ling, and his buddies, including a Red Guard girl leader nicknamed Piggy and Ling’s girlfriend, nicknamed Meimei; an economics instructor at Beijing University, Nie Juanxi; Kuai Dafu, a leader of the Red Guard at Tsingua University; Jan Wong, a teenage Canadian-Chinese radical Maoist who became one of revolutionary China’s very few North American foreign exchange students; Song Binbin, a Red Guard at the high school attached to Beijing Teacher’s University; and of course Chairman Mao and his wife, Jiang Qing. Another reason to focus on these people is that thanks to recent research and the reach of the internet, it’s possible to sketch out the remarkable fates of those who survived – a sort of “where are they now” that is almost as unbelievable as their experiences during the Revolution.

But before the background, here is a sketch of the violent first months of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

The First Victims: The Attack on Teachers

The first seemingly inexplicable events of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution were violent attacks on teachers in the summer of 1966. The Cultural Revolution’s start is usually dated some months earlier in May (more about that in a subsequent installment), but the “Red August” of 1966 is usually considered the start of violence, and the early violence was directed mostly at teachers. Chinese culture historically placed an extremely high value on education and Chinese people generally revered teachers. Attacks against teachers were almost unthinkable. In some memoirs, students who recalled attacking their teachers could, many years later, barely understand why they had done what they did.

Researchers believe the first attacks on teachers began at elite high schools in the capital, Beijing, especially in high schools connected to Beijing’s major universities.  (In English translation, these schools are typically called “middle schools,” but given the ages of the students, they would be called “high schools” in the U.S.)  The Beijing students who started the Red Guard movement held some of the most coveted school seats in the entire country, considering how poor China still was and how under-developed its educational system outside the major cities was, and how difficult it was just to be permitted residency in Beijing. Many of the Red Guards who attacked teachers were the children of very senior members of the Communist Party, military and government who were given favoritism in admissions to the nation's best schools. Similar events unfolded at Beijing’s elite universities and colleges, and even in elementary schools. In the early summer of 1966, the central government issued orders that all schools nationwide were to cease teaching ordinary curriculum and focus exclusively on revolutionary education and “Mao Zedong Thought.”

One of the first brutal attacks on a teacher in Beijing appears to be the attack on Liu Meide, vice principal and chemistry teacher, at Beijing University’s attached middle school on July 31, 1966. Answering Mao’s call to make revolution, the students beat principal Liu, cut off her hair, stuffed dirt in her mouth and made her kneel on a table, where one student put his foot on her back, in a pose that Mao had once recommended for use against counter-revolutionary landlords – all despite the fact that she was pregnant. They then kicked the table from under her causing her to fall in such a way that killed her unborn child.

One of the first teacher killings took place a few days later at Girls Middle School attached to Beijing Teachers University on August 5, 1966. Tenth graders had identified five counter-revolutionary teachers and administrators, whom they labeled the “black gang.” The school girls forced the teachers to wear dunce caps, splashed ink on them, forced them to wear boards hung by ropes around their necks spelling out their names and crimes, poured boiling water on them, and beat the teachers with boards spiked with nails. The vice principal and highest ranking teacher, teacher Bian Zhongyun, died after three hours of torture and her body was dumped in a garbage cart.

Adding to the tragedy of her death is the fact that it came after a longer period of abuse and torture that she had informed the authorities about. She had written a letter on June 29 complaining about abuse she received at the hands of her revolutionary students during an event on June 21:

“I was forced to wear a high hat, lower my head (eventually, bending over at a ninety-degree angle), and kneel on the ground. I was beaten and kicked. My hands were tied behind my back. They hit me with a wooden rifle that was used for militia training. My mouth was filled with dirt. They spat in my face.”
The authorities never responded to her complaints and just over a month later her students had killed her.

At the middle school attached to Tsinghua University, students beat teachers with clubs, whips and belts, causing one teacher internal organ damage, another teacher to lose sight in one eye and one teacher to commit suicide.

Professor Wang Youqin of the University of Chicago has, through many years of research, tried to compile a comprehensive sample survey of violence against teachers in the early phase of the Cultural Revolution, especially in Beijing, where the violence began before spreading across the entire country, based on extensive interviews and reviews of available documents. In the 96 schools she surveyed, 27 teachers were killed.  In addition, several students identified as counter revolutionaries were killed. In all 96 schools Professor Wang has studied, teachers who weren’t killed were physically attacked, beaten, tortured, imprisoned and humiliated. If her sample is representative, that would mean that in about 1/4 to 1/3 of middle schools, at least one teacher was killed in the summer of 1966 alone, that in several schools there were multiple teacher killings, and that in almost every school teachers were physically attacked, tortured, kidnapped and imprisoned by their students.  Students in Beijing and across the country turned classrooms into makeshift prisons, called “black dens,” where they kept the condemned teachers, torturing them daily. Many teachers who weren’t killed suffered permanent physical and mental injuries, and many committed suicide. Needless to say, many teachers came to hate teaching, education and students.

Some of the earliest Red Guard were from elite Communist Party families. For example, one school girl at the Girls Middle School where vice principal Bian was killed, was Liu Tingting. She was a leader of the Red Guard in her school and the daughter of the President of China, Liu Shaoqi. She is reported to have told a friend in 1967, somewhat ambiguously, “It was glorious to beat people to death at that time. So I exaggerated and said that I had beaten three people to death.” (There was a terrible tragic irony in Liu’s statement considering what happened later to her family at the hands of Red Guards, about which there is much more in a subsequent installment.)

Another Beijing school girl, Song Binbin, daughter of General Song Renqiong, became a Red Guard icon because of one of the most famous pictures ever disseminated by China’s propaganda channels during the Cultural Revolution.

 At a mass rally in Beijing on August 18, Song Binbin presented Chairman Mao with a red armband – the insignia of the Red Guard – and Mao smilingly accepted it. In the highly symbolic political theater of the Cultural Revolution, this was taken to mean that Mao approved of the formation of the Red Guard and their violent actions. Because there had been many different kinds of revolutionary student organizations before that rally and because many organizations restyled themselves as Red Guards after Mao's approval, Song is sometimes credited with having “started” the Red Guards as the main approved type of organization, but also setting it on the path of violence. Song Binbin, herself, had been a Red Guard leader at the middle school where vice principal Bian was killed and Song had herself reported the killing to the authorities. At the rally, Chairman Mao had asked Song’s name and when she told him it was “Bingbing,” meaning “refined" or "courteous,” Mao told her, “Want violence!” The press began reporting that she had accepted the new name Mao had given her, and for propaganda purposes, she became known as “Song Yaowu” or "Song wants violence."

Chairman Mao, General Lin Biao and Red Guards, including Song Binbin

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution arrived in the coastal town of Xiamen (known in the West then as Amoy) also in early June of 1966 with a broadcast from Beijing calling for normal education to cease and for students to focus on revolutionary ideology and weeding out counter revolutionaries among the faculty. At Xiamen Eighth Middle School, where Ken Ling was a top student, after a several days of study, gathering of accusations, and writing and drawing of big posters denouncing faculty members, the violent revolution was launched with an attack on teachers and administrators who were forced to parade around the school grounds in dunce caps and with signs hanging from their necks. A vice principal was denounced for being a gay or bisexual man, while the principal was accused of having affairs with several of the young female teachers. The revolutionary students locked the principal and several other denounced teachers into a classroom that was converted into a makeshift prison, where they were forced to live full time, apart from their families, and were continuously “interrogated” and abused.

At Xiamen Eighth Middle School, students killed several teachers that summer.  One was a once beloved older teacher of Chinese language, Chen Ku-teh who students accused of having been a rightist and having said critical things about the communist government in class. Unlike other teachers, he refused to “confess” his crimes; this enraged the students and caused them to escalate the beatings. The students dragged him up several flights of stairs lined with students armed with sticks who beat him, then dragged down the stairs.  After some time undergoing this torture, teacher Chen lost control of his bowels and a student shoved a stick into his rectum, after which he lost consciousness and later died. At the same school, physics teacher Huang Zubin was beaten to death. On the first day of torture, students hung pails filled with heavy rocks around the necks of teachers causing the string to cut into their flesh. Students at Xiamen Eighth Middle School took “shifts” of beating certain imprisoned teachers day and night, and during a lull in the nightly torture when the students grew tired and went to sleep, teacher Sa Zhaochen jumped from the fourth floor, killing himself. Another teacher attempted suicide by hanging himself, but failed, and was denounced for the attempt at a public humiliation session.

Because Chairman Mao wanted to spread youthful “revolution-making,” the government issued strict decrees that the police were forbidden from interfering with the violent actions of the young Red Guard. This emboldened them to become ever more violent. Ken Ling recalled that policemen gripped their holstered guns when Red Guard were around because Red Guard youth would otherwise brazenly seize their guns. In another anecdote, Ling describes his Red Guard unit attacking a police station, beating the policemen and seizing their weapons. Hence, one factor in understanding the ultra violence of the Cultural Revolution was that very young, very impressionable people had been persuaded by the highest authorities in the country to behave in violent lawless ways, and security forces were strictly forbidden from interfering with their anarchy.

The Cultural Revolution on University Campuses

During the violent summer of 1966, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was primarily concentrated in schools and universities. It had begun, however, a few months earlier in the realm of theater. In a complicated political intrigue, a play was staged in Beijing about a dynastic emperor and a faithful official, that some people interpreted as a criticism of Mao (the emperor); under the guidance of Mao and his wife, Jiang Qing, a former actress deeply involved in cultural matters, newspapers and propaganda outlets unleashed vitriolic criticism of the play and by extension, of the Mayor of Beijing who had allowed the play to be staged, and by extension from the Mayor to the President and head of state, Liu Shaoqi.

Few people in China outside of the highest political circles and few people outside China knew that Mao had been effectively deposed from power in 1961 because of his disastrous economic policies (the Great Leap Forward) that had led to massive famine and the deaths of tens of millions of Chinese people.

Between 1961 and 1966, China was essentially being governed by three men representing the three main offices – President Liu Shaoqi , the head of state; Premier (i.e., Prime Minister) Zhou Enlai, the head of the government; and Deng Xiaoping, secretary general or head of the Communist Party – who together had brought the Chinese economy back from disaster by undoing some of Mao’s more radical collectivist vision for rural economic organization. All were able administrators who believed in the orderly development of China’s government and economy, and President Liu, in particular, was influenced by the model of the Soviet Union, where he had studied; he believed that China’s educational sector had to focus on training students in science and technology, social sciences and other technical skills that the country would need to build communism.  Yet Mao remained the figurehead and in public all Chinese leaders paid slavish devotion to “Mao Zedong Thought.” According to many sources, Mao was also brooding about the loss or revolutionary fervor that was being replaced by a growing bureaucracy, and angry that the three men running China were no longer even consulting him on major issues.  Moreover, Mao now hated the Soviet Union, its leader, Nikita Khruschev, and its economic system, which was often called “Soviet revisionism” or just “revisionism” or more pejoratively the “capitalist road,” and its adherents “capitalist roaders.” He believed that the purpose of schooling was to create revolutionaries, not technicians, and that only when communism had been fully implemented as a political system could schools turn their attention to technical matters.  (A subsequent diary will go into much more detail about the conflict among these elites.)

The Cultural Revolution on university campuses was initially somewhat less violent than on high school campuses, although this would not last. The centers for university Red Guard actions were two of China’s most elite universities in Beijing – Beijing University and Tsinghua University. While both are elite, Tsinghua is somewhat more technically oriented. (You can think of them as being somewhat analogous to Harvard and M.I.T.)  The basic conflict on university campuses was a reflection of the conflict between Chairman Mao and President Liu: Was the purpose of the university to train technically competent people using standards of academic excellence? Or was the purpose of the university to help carry out permanent revolution, primarily training students in revolutionary theory, while weeding out capitalist roaders and bourgeois holdovers from before the founding of the communist state? Should people be admitted to universities because they did the best on examinations, criteria that would tend to favor the children of the wealthy, of the bourgeoisie of the old regime, and of intellectuals? Or should the children of the favored “five red classes” –- workers, peasants, soldiers, communist party cadres and revolutionary martyrs -- receive preference under a kind of affirmative action program?  In understanding this and other conflicts in China at the time, it’s important to keep in mind that although China was ruled by the Communist Party, the vast majority of Chinese people were not members of the Communist Party, which was a very selective “vanguard” party, and that just 18 years after the communist takeover, many institutions, including universities, were still being run the way they had been run under the Nationalist government.  There were still private businesses and tradesmen especially in China’s southeast coastal economic heartland and the issue of communist transformation was a very hot topic. Universities and educational bureaucracies across China continued to maintain high academic standards through an system of examinations –- a system that ran counter to Mao’s philosophy.

Some commentators credit a young Beijing University faculty member, Nie Jianzi, for “starting” the Cultural Revolution on campuses. Sometimes she is referred to as a professor of philosophy, but a few more scholarly accounts describe her as being a faculty member of the Economics Department, as well as the secretary of the Communist Party cell of the Philosophy Department.  Professor Nie was older than most Red Guard. She was in her 40s, and was a military veteran of the wars against Japan and the Nationalists, and therefore, in the thinking of the time, she had an excellent political and class background, although it’s not clear that she had much academic training.

Throughout the 20th century in China, when the public has been mobilized to participate in political discussion, one of the ways this happens is through the writing of petitions and arguments in the form of posters – usually translated into English as “big character posters.”

On May 25, 1966, Nie Jianxi wrote a big character poster attacking several high ranking officials of the university and educational bureaucracy entitled, “Just What Are Song Shuo, Lu Ping and Peng Peyiun up to in the Cultural Revolution?” A week later, China’s radio broadcasting station praised Nie’s poster and a few days later these high ranking officials were dismissed.

Two months later, Mao Zedong himself praised Nie’s poster as “the first Chinese Marxist-Leninist big character poster.” Recent scholarship strongly suggests that high ranking officials in the Communist Party close to Mao were involved in promoting her actions and Nie became a close protege of Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, during the chaos that engulfed Beijing University and the other schools and universities of the capital. As the Cultural Revolution progressed and fragmented, students engaged in frantic production of big character posters, as well as tearing down competing groups posters. Student fights over big character posters, the various interpretations of revolutionary ideology, and mutual accusations of counter revolutionary activity eventually escalated into fist fights, and then all out paramilitary battles.

Nearby, at Tsinghua University a student rather than a faculty member took the lead in launching the Cultural Revolution on campus.

Kuai Dafu was a popular student of peasant and soldier “class background,” powerfully built, courageous and also a D.J. of the college radio station.  Kuai became known as an ultra leftist once the Cultural Revolution began, and eventually developed the charisma and aura that in the west would be associated in the 1960s with a “rock star.”  In his fiery speeches, Kuai attacked the bourgeois reverence for expertise in academics and asserted that the purpose of the university was to prepare students to continue carrying out the incomplete communist revolution.  Kuai would rise from being an engineering undergraduate to playing a major role in overthrowing the President of China, Liu Shiaoqi and the first lady, but when the Red Guard fell into faction fighting, Kuai became an ultra violent “commander” of a Red Guard battle group, armed with spears, rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails, guns and an improvised tank, a tractor fitted with armor plating.  During early "struggles" against the party bureaucracy at the university, several women party secretaries were publicly stripped naked and sexually assaulted by young men of rival factions. When the government tried to gain control of the campus by sending in troops of the People’s Liberation Army and a contingent of workers, Kuai and his battle group tried to fight them off with the results that the Tsinghua campus was littered the bodies of scores of dead and wounded students, soldiers and workers.  

By the end of the summer, the Red Guard had begun spreading outside Beijing, and in Beijing, outside of the schools. According to Professor Wang, in Beijing, Red Guard began beating, harassing, torturing and killing hundreds of people outside of their schools on the streets and in homes. Basing her conclusions on official documents, Professor Wang found that in just one week, from late August to early September, Red Guards in Beijing killed 100 to 200 people daily, and lacking guns at this point, the killings were carried out by torture and beatings. For example, official tallies showed that on August 26, they killed 126 people; on August 27, they killed 228 people; on August 28, they killed 184 people; and the tally continued on and on. For August and September, she concludes the Red Guard killed 1,772 people in Beijing alone.

Students carried out some of the violence outside of the schools and universities as an answer to Mao's call to smash and "four olds" -- old customs, old culture, old habits, and old ideas. As I'll try to explain in a subsequent diary, Chinese activists across the political spectrum -- liberals, nationalists, and communists -- had long had complicated feelings toward traditional Chinese culture, and many believed that when China was forced to open to the west in the mid to late 1800s, old culture prevented China from adapting to western technology and statecraft as Japan had done. What to get rid of and what to keep was complicated and controversial. Intellectuals developed a strong consensus that some cultural practices had held China back (like foot binding of women, arranged marriage, governance by Confucian rites instead of science) but others were more difficult to assess, like Confucian ideas about statecraft and family life. In the Red Summer of 1966, Mao and his allies encouraged young people to indiscriminately attack old culture, and in response, Red Guards ransacked libraries, burned books, destroyed temples, defaced adornments of buildings, and wrecked cemeteries.

By the fall, Red Guards began invading neighborhoods, especially better off areas, barging into homes, searching for hidden money, and destroying families' art, books, ceramics, shrines and other objects. People were forced to "confess" that they harbored objects of feudal culture. If people refused or resisted, Red Guards violently "struggled" them.

The propaganda posters produced by the government and Communist Party in the 1950s and early 1960s tended to show model peasants, workers and soldiers happily working or realistic depictions of Mao walking with people from various walks of life. Once the Cultural Revolution began, propaganda posters became increasingly abstract and violent, depicting young people destroying things.

The students at the elite Beijing area Tsinghua University Middle School published a manifesto explaining their destructive methods:

Revolutionaries are Monkey Kings, their golden rods are powerful, their supernatural powers far-reaching and their magic omnipotent, for they possess Mao Tsetung’s great invincible thought. We wield our golden rods, display our supernatural powers and use our magic to turn the old world upside down, smash it to pieces, pulverize it, create chaos and make a tremendous mess, the bigger mess the better!

Red Guard manifesto
Tsinghua University Middle School
Peking, June 24, 1966

This was just the beginning of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution’s violence, but not the beginning of its ultra violence. Ironically, the most ultra violent episodes of the Cultural would come in 1967 and 1968 as the movement fragmented and various Red Guard factions began fighting each other –- all while claiming the mantle of being “true” revolutionaries and followers of Mao Zedong Thought. At the height of the violence, Red Guard and other violent militias and factions raided Army bases and seized very heavy military weapons – machine guns, tanks, armored personnel carriers, bombs and grenades – to turn on each other. By 1968, China was experiencing regional civil wars. Factions began killing each other in the thousands, and according to contemporary news reports, the Army, unable to keep up with disposing such large numbers of bodies claimed by the “revolution-making” began dumping corpses in rivers and the ocean – for example, on July 4, 1968, 7,000 corpses had to be pulled out of the waters at Wuchow in Kwangsi, and 8,000 corpses were dumped and floating in the West River in Guangdong.  Bodies began washing up in the British colony Hong Kong – which itself was almost engulfed by the Cultural Revolution, which Maoists there sought to use to topple British rule.  And even that ultra violence could not compare to the unthinkably gruesome violence that engulfed Guangxi Province as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution spread to very remote peasant areas where people had almost no understanding of the vast political drama they were caught up in nor of the violent often metaphorical language of Mao’s increasingly fanatical directives.

After Mao died, when Gua Hafeng, Mao’s successor came to power and finally ended the Cultural Revolution, and when Deng Xiaopeng succeeded Gua, Deng used a show trial (a trial of the so-called “Gang of Four,” which included Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing) to try place blame and make some sort of accounting to the Chinese people. Yet that feeble effort concluded that about 30,000 people had been killed during the Cultural Revolution. Recent research based on primary documents, however, shows that a revolutionary faction that was in power in Guangxi Province killed over 200,000 people in the period of just July through December of 1968 alone. The academic study, “Collective Killings in Rural China during the Cultural Revolution,” estimated that 84,000 people were killed in Guangxi in just two months in 1968. Current independent estimates are very varied and range from the death toll being several million to tens of millions of people who died as a result of the Cultural Revolution, including many of the highest ranking political leaders in the country.  By some estimates, the Cultural Revolution was one of the most murderous killings of civilians during formal peacetime.

How could this happen? In the next installment, I’ll try to put the Cultural Revolution in psychological and political context and try to explain how young people could do the things they did.

Originally posted to HamdenRice on Tue Mar 26, 2013 at 12:59 PM PDT.

Also republished by Way of Dragon and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanking you in advance for what promises (18+ / 0-)

    to be a fascinating series. I've read a fair amount on the CR as I'm utterly fascinated/appalled by it.

    This is an excellent essay that ties together in a clear narrative a --as you point out-- a very tangled and still hidden history.

    Have you ever seen René Viénet's critique Peking Duck Soup. It's on UbuWeb in its entirety, and its a caustic, Situationist take on the movement. I suspect its not inaccurate either,

  •  If you look at the history in China (5+ / 0-)

    of Millenarian movements I would say that the Cultural Revolution fits right in. It was a cultural cleansing of the sort that many previous movement sought but had never managed to actually bring to fruition. With the help of the state they managed to make it happen.

    If debt were a moral issue then, lacking morals, corporations could never be in debt.

    by AoT on Tue Mar 26, 2013 at 01:35:21 PM PDT

    •  Communism as a religion is probably the (5+ / 0-)

      best explanation for a lot of the things that happened in China before Deng took power.

      •  That's a good point (3+ / 0-)

        And it seems like purging teachers first fits right in with the idea that teaching is incredibly important. If you look at Confucianism and it's virtue ethics and then transfer that over to communism then attacking teachers makes perfect sense. Those teachers couldn't be good teachers because they did not embody the communist ideal and as such they had to be purged or changed.

        Add to that the sudden power over their former teachers, who likely had a lot of power, and it starts to make a little more sense.

        If debt were a moral issue then, lacking morals, corporations could never be in debt.

        by AoT on Tue Mar 26, 2013 at 05:40:18 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Like the Boxer Rebellion and White Lotus Sect (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AoT, alain2112, Old Lefty, glorificus

      When I was in grad school, I took a course in Chinese history and the theme was counter-orthodox rebellions, essentially millenarian movements, which have either overthrown governments or caused huge chaos. This has been a long lived theme in Chinese history and is one reason why the current government is so paranoid about any movement (eg Falun Gong) that seems counter orthodox.

  •  A nightmare that you glimpse in bits and pieces (13+ / 0-)

    I grew up in Hong Kong, so I grew up hearing little bits and pieces of horribleness that had happened during the Cultural Revolution. As you said- nobody had the complete picture. It was always bits of pieces of personal collections that could not be corroborated.

    •  When Communism (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ban nock, scott5js, basquebob, mmacdDE

      fell in the Soviet Union the archives were opened.  Those archives in many instances completely changed the history of Russia and the Cold War.

      I don't think we will know the full story until Communism falls in China.

      The bitter truth of deep inequality has been disguised by an era of cheap imported goods and the anyone-can-make-it celebrity myth - Polly Toynbee

      by fladem on Tue Mar 26, 2013 at 04:27:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You're a little late for that. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        lotlizard, Old Lefty

        China's present system is 中国特色社会主义 [(market) socialism with Chinese characteristics].

        Really it is.

        Last vestiges of the Marxist Communist system were smashed with a sledge hammer during the Jiang administration.

        No more iron rice bowels to be found. Some of the gold-plated variety, but not iron.

        What about my Daughter's future?

        by koNko on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 04:06:28 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  It is still a totalitarian (0+ / 0-)

          state, and not open politically.

          The bitter truth of deep inequality has been disguised by an era of cheap imported goods and the anyone-can-make-it celebrity myth - Polly Toynbee

          by fladem on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 04:55:39 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I wouldn't call it totalitarian (7+ / 0-)

            I worked with mid level Chinese bureaucrats on an environmental project in the mid to late 1990s. On my first day there, at my first meeting my jaw was hanging open at the level of criticism I was hearing. The level of critical discourse in China is higher than in the US.

            The difference is that in China there are red lines you cannot cross. But before those red lines there is a free fire zone.

            I don't pretend to understand China, but I would just say that whatever you think you've learned about the country from the western media is wrong.

            It's hard to describe. It's its own thing -- a completely unique economic and political system that is not capitalist, not communist and not totalitarian -- but also not completely free,

            •  I cringe (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Dustin Mineau, KJG52

              when I hear democrats talk about how efficient the Chinese bureaucracy is.

              My point is still right - there has been no opening of the archives because the same party is still in power.

              The bitter truth of deep inequality has been disguised by an era of cheap imported goods and the anyone-can-make-it celebrity myth - Polly Toynbee

              by fladem on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 07:13:34 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Not sure what you mean (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Old Lefty, glorificus

                I didn't argue that China's bureaucracy was "efficient" and I'm not saying it's a democracy.

                But "totalitarian" has a very specific definition and it doesn't fit China today. I would agree it's authoritarian, and in economic matters also exactly what the government says it is, which is a socialist market economy, with comprehensive economic planning, public ownership of all land and the "commanding heights" of the economy, and a vast array of cooperatives.

                Politically it's much more open than is portrayed in the West.  In evaluating one party states, we need to look at how much democracy there is within that one party. I remember reading a NY Times article about Tanzania when it was a one party state and how more members of parliament were tossed out of office through intra-party elections than in the US Congress.

                But as I said above in terms of speech, there are red lines you cannot cross.

          •  Authoritarian, not Totalitarian. (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Bozmo2, lotlizard, Old Lefty

            In fact, the party is more fragmented than you imagine.

            The last two vestiges of the totalitarian system are the one child policy and the Hukou (home registration) system, both of which are gradually being abandoned because they are more problem than solution, but not as easy to deconstruct as to construct given the social implications.

            Politically, we have a de facto one party system but with increasing wiggle-room in local politics.

            The problem for the party is how to adopt greater democratic process without losing control, a bit of a contradiction unless you understand "Chinese characteristics" as they define it.

            In fact, the government is hyper-sensitive to public opinion which suggests a degree of fragility at the core, and this is the crack in the wall that keeps getting wider.

            Students of Chinese policy will note how the public discourse and unofficial official response factors in reform, a two steps forward, one step back proposition.

            Ultimately, we the people stand on our Constitution. Like most, it's full of useful concepts and statements that could be applied in various fashions. Devil in the details.

            I like the idea of any government being put on the spot to justify its existence; fundamentally healthy situation regardless of the name, form and rhetoric.

            What about my Daughter's future?

            by koNko on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 06:53:02 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  To restate my initial argument (0+ / 0-)

              the Communist Party is still in power, and has not and will not open the archives the way that was done after Communism fell in the Soviet Union.

              The past is not open in China.  Nor is much else.

              The bitter truth of deep inequality has been disguised by an era of cheap imported goods and the anyone-can-make-it celebrity myth - Polly Toynbee

              by fladem on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 07:12:04 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  China is more open than you think (7+ / 0-)

                And in some unexpected ways, good and bad. Things change so fast here.

                In fact, some areas of China resemble the wild-west.

                Actually, there is a lot of discussion of these issues in academic circles and society (diarist mentions this), but a lot of it is contained within bright lines or codified, and as I mentioned, often constrained with respect for the living which we tend, as a culture, to manifest as silence. In fact, we tend to believe some things you should know and not speak.

                Difficult to say what would be found in archives, particularly from the Cultural Revolution era where so much was destroyed.

                As the diarist noted, much of the history is verbal so how much gets passed down in what form will write future history, much as it always is.

                Chinese will come to terms with this eventually, on our own terms. On a personal level, many people have, myself included; I have a child to raise and can't change what happened before, just take lessons and try to raise the next generation to think differently. The most important thing I can do to change the world is be a good parent, the is my direct sphere of influence.

                And a lot of this is ancient history compared to what we are doing here and now that will more greatly impact the future, that's what my sig-line question is about. I want to ask myself that question everyday and hope others do too.

                When I look at all the foolish conflicts and stupidity that are perpetuated across generations all over the world because we can't let go of the past, sometime I wonder if we would be better off to forget history and focus more on what is in front of our eyes since the "lessons" of history never seem to stick when we need them, or we take the wrong lessons.

                "The sins of the father visited on the sons". Or the grandsons.

                If I have to look in only one direction, I chose forward. Lots of people feel that way.

                What about my Daughter's future?

                by koNko on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 09:00:53 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  I sympathize (0+ / 0-)

                  History is a long and bloody scroll, one not limited to China.

                  However, while the impulse to bury the past in the name of looking towards the future is seductive, it is illusory. Without a comprehension and appreciation of the past there is no future, merely endless repetition.

                  I would think that the experience of the GPCR would underline this point.

                  Nothing human is alien to me.

                  by WB Reeves on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 12:23:26 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Depends how you process it. (0+ / 0-)

                    The thing about history is it never goes away, even when we wish it would. Even when the weight drags us down or poisons the wells we drink from. Look at the mid-East.

                    The ideal is the so-called "truth and reconciliation" process, whether that is national and public or personal and private.

                    But it seems not to be as simple as it sounds for either and takes some time.

                    After all, a majority of Americans have difficulty processing the historical fact the US committed a nuclear holocaust purposely targeting civilians to terrorize an adversary into submission; they will even call it a humanitarian act that save thousands of hypothetical lives.

                    So is it really so strange other people and governments struggle to recognize the truth?

                    But in case you are so doubtful about China and Chinese desire to do this, you can read these two recent articles from a trusted liberal Western source:

                    Mr Zhang's regrets

                    Mr Xu's models

                    I think this is how it will be done.  We don't need great stone memorials or big proclamations, just let people do what they wish, we each find our path.

                    What about my Daughter's future?

                    by koNko on Thu Mar 28, 2013 at 11:04:53 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Your point about use of the A Bomb (0+ / 0-)

                      is well taken but too limited. The policy of terror bombing of civilian populations in both Germany and Japan preceded the A bomb and was responsible for a larger number of deaths.

                      While it's true that there are those who argue that use of the A Bomb was a military necessity and that its use prevented enormous casualties both civilian and military that an invasion of the Japanese home islands would have entailed, I've never heard it described as a "humanitarian" act. I'm not so naive as to imagine such a claim, however obscene, couldn't have been made but to my knowledge it has never been widely considered, much less accepted, as such.

                      However, one needn't look to acts in foreign wars for moral parallels with the GPCR. For that one need only consult the domestic history of the US.

                      I don't know how much you know about our history but I imagine you are aware that the economic foundations of the US were laid upon the institution of slavery, that a bloody Civil War was required exterminate that institution.

                      What, perhaps, isn't so well appreciated is that for nearly a century following the end of legal slavery a terrorist regime was imposed in the former slave states for the purpose maintaining the oppression and exploitation of the former slaves. Of necessity this regime also targeted all members of the non slave population who dissented. Consequently, this regime had many features in common with the GPCR:  The suppression of free thought, inquiry and expression by the demand for submission to a rigid social, political and economic orthodoxy, imposed by public humiliation, intimidation,demagoguery, mob violence, torture, murder and a policy of terror both official and unofficial. The number of it's victime will never be known. Particularly if we include those who were worked to death as convict labor. This regime endured not for ten years but five generations before it was effectively challenged. Even then it would not have fallen without the intervention of national authority.

                      Please excuse me for going into such detail but this is the part of the US that I come from. My ancestors owned slaves and took up arms in defense of the slave system. As for the post war period, the least that can be said is that they were complicit in the imposition and maintenance of the terrorist regime described.

                      I tell you all this to make it plain that I don't imagine that I am speaking to you from some higher moral plane. To the contrary, I view both of us as unwilling heirs to the legacy of a criminal past. Neither do I imagine that I am fit to instruct you as to the specifics of how you should deal with that legacy in the context of your own country and culture. I can only offer a caution that, sooner or later, it must be dealt with. The longer that reckoning is postponed, the less likely it is that our children, or our children's children's children, will thank us.  

                      Nothing human is alien to me.

                      by WB Reeves on Fri Mar 29, 2013 at 11:40:17 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

            •  Thank you (0+ / 0-)

              for your insightful observations. Simply fascinating to hear from personal experience.

              •  Mostly second hand (0+ / 0-)

                I was a young child then, but certainly it affected my circumstances and society as a whole, and is still unresolved in many ways.

                My eldest sister and mother, who now live together, faced a lot more than me, and this is a bond between them and something they discuss occasionally.

                Once my sister remarked to me, "There are too many secrets". I understood. Some things you can know and not say. That's OK.

                What about my Daughter's future?

                by koNko on Thu Mar 28, 2013 at 11:12:43 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

    •  Where did you live in HK? (0+ / 0-)

      I visit often and really like it, just curious about your history there.

      What about my Daughter's future?

      by koNko on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 03:55:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  We lived on Hong Kong Island (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dotsright, AoT, glorificus, koNko

        We've lived mostly in the 'Mid Level' district, just above Central. I guess my family was always just hanging onto the edges of the upper-middle class existence (ie, the car & maid class in Hong Kong). I lived there until coming to the US at age 14.  In later years, my father lived in the Kowloon Tong area as well, until he finally retired and came to the US a few years ago.
        I remember growing up reading 3 newspapers every day - a pro-mainland paper (in those days, grossly, and revoltingly pro-china), a nominally pro-taiwan (but largely even handed) chinese paper, and a quietly pro-british english newspaper (South China Morning Post). It was an exceptionally good political education for a 12 year old.

        •  That's nice. (0+ / 0-)

          In the 1990's I spent a lot of time in HK and had a part-time share flat in Kowloon City not so far the Walled City (then) and Kai Tak.

          I used to go to shopping in Kowloon Tong, Yau Yat Chuen and Shekipmei because I have a couple of friends that were/are in City U and Chinese U and they had nice flats in Kowloon Tong, it's great to be an academic in Hong Kong!

          I also have 'fond memories' of breaking my Achilles' tendon when I tripped running down some stairs in Mid-Levels around Seymour Road and Mosque Street to catch a minibus. Locals Only! LOL.

          Must have been some culture shock coming to USA at 12. Hong Kong is such a civilized place, my wife always feels embarrassed because she talks too loud compared to HK ladies. "Such Ladies". Very true. I always enjoy visiting.

          What about my Daughter's future?

          by koNko on Thu Mar 28, 2013 at 11:27:32 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Fascinating and strange that this could happen. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      randomfacts, Sky Net, glorificus

      How a populace could literally throw off its civilization like this.  What do you say to your kids when he comes home from school and says he beat his teachers to death...???  Were the kids not living at home?  Was the population that submissive?

      To any wingnut: If you pay my taxes I'll give you a job.

      by ban48 on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 06:21:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's easier to understand (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        randomfacts, lotlizard, glorificus

        If you first understand "the state of the nation" preceding the founding of the PRC and the mis-steps that pointed it backward as it was trying to move forward.

        To answer your question, it was not long until school was effectively disbanded, parents were sent down and the big kids were on their own.

        You might also ask parents how they explained their day at work to their kids.

        Difficult to imagine, I know, but so is much of human history.

        Society got turned upside-down. Messy stuff.

        What about my Daughter's future?

        by koNko on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 07:00:10 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  It is fascinating. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Old Lefty

        I think part of it is that 99% of the Chinese population were unsophisticated, illiterate country bumpkins. They didn't know the first thing about the modern world. They were a sort of blank slate. The Communist Party and Mao were the only ones who could tell them what to think. Mao was perceived to be a genius, after all he had taken a rag-tag band of persecuted guerrillas and fought of the millions-strong army of the KMT. They had fought the U.S. to a standstill. Even some Western leftists idolized him into the 1970s and later, as some of the comments here attest. For some illiterate peasants no more educated than your average Medieval serf, what were they supposed to think? If Mao said their teachers were counterrevolutionary elements, then they must be. Even the people who were accused, many of them felt they must have done something wrong even if they didn't understand what.

        I think people became a lot more cynical after the defection and death of Lin Biao in September 1971. That was the turning point. Because throughout the entire Cultural Revolution, besides Mao, no one was higher than Lin Biao. He was Mao's right hand man. He was next to Mao in propaganda posters. He was the main propagator for the Little Red Book. He could do no wrong-- and then, all of a sudden, he tried to assassinate Mao? After that, a lot of people realized I think there was something wrong with the narrative they were being fed.

        "It is, it seems, politically impossible to organize expenditure on the scale necessary to prove my case -- except in war conditions."--JM Keynes, 1940

        by randomfacts on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 09:48:59 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I disagree somewhat (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          AoT, glorificus

          The Cultural Revolution was at least initially an overwhelmingly urban phenomenon and was especially concentrated in the very top universities, high schools and among the party hierarchy. The Red Guard were among the most highly educated young people in the country.

          Lack of education simply isn't an excuse for what happened.  It was, as its title suggests, a "cultural revolution" fought out at a surprisingly high level of cultural and political theory.

          On the other hand, when it spread to rural areas among the peasants, as you call them uneducated country bumpkins, it became almost surreal in its brutality (not that the urban CR was also surreal in its brutality) but in Guangxi, tens of thousands were killed seemingly for no reason and the victors celebrated by engaging in cannibalism.

          I agree with everything you say about Lin Biao though and the effect of his betrayal on the way people thought about politics.

          •  Yeah, the diary the revolution started in the (0+ / 0-)

            schools, so it isn't that they were uneducated.  It seems more like they never really bought into what they were being taught (both in the schools and culturally at-home), so they tossed it off on a moments notice.  Or they just decided en-mass to toss it off.  It is just extremely strange, unless they were also under alot of duress.

            I know this is a fiction reference - but it kindof reminds me of the humans and cylons in the closing of Battlestar Galactica putting all their ships (and technology) an auto-pilot and steering it into the sun so they can start over with a clean slate.  They were under alot of duress though.

            As a more real example, during the fall of roman civilization people actually abandoned the cities and 'went wild' living in unsettled regions however they could because feudal roman life blew that bad.  There is also a supposition that when the Romans withdrew their legions from Britain, many of the Romans that were left-behind immediately abandoned their Roman ways and reverted to their pre-conquest identities and customs.

            So it seems, civilization can collapse....

            To any wingnut: If you pay my taxes I'll give you a job.

            by ban48 on Thu Mar 28, 2013 at 06:08:52 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  As my next installment will argue (0+ / 0-)

              the students were psychologically manipulated. According to the account of being a Red Guard by Ken Ling, although the explosion of RG activity looked spontaneous it was very much manipulated and guided by adults. In fact, it was almost a text book application of the Milgram and Zimbardo experiments.

    •  From this diary (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Old Lefty, glorificus

      I get an almost vision of 'Lord of the Flies'. How awful it must have been to live through.

      Government towards Bank of America "like overindulgent parents who refuse to believe their 40-year-old live-at-home son could possibly be responsible for those dead hookers in the backyard." Matt Taibbi

      by dotsright on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 11:31:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  So that's what a real Communist looks like? (15+ / 0-)

    Fox News had me convinced it was anyone to the left of the Tea Party.

    If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

    by Major Kong on Tue Mar 26, 2013 at 01:50:03 PM PDT

    •  There are plenty of communists who would argue (9+ / 0-)

      That Mao Zedong thought had little to do with communism as espoused by Marx or Lenin, among them the leadership of the USSR.  There's a reason communist parties around the world split over what Mao did.

      •  Lenin wasn't much better. Scale was slightly (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        demjim, Old Lefty

        smaller and he wasn't brutal simply for the sake of brutality but still. What Stalin did wasn't all that different from Mao. So this is how communism was in real life.

      •  Intentions (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Old Lefty

        I'm sure Mao, along with most other communists, genuinely wanted to put in place the kind of system that Marx and Lenin envisioned.  But when you concentrate political, economic and military power with a small, unaccountable elite, things are bound to go wrong.  So far communists haven't figured out how to make it work in practice, just in theory.

        Cynicism is what passes for insight among the mediocre.

        by Sky Net on Tue Mar 26, 2013 at 11:49:11 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Long-lasting, small-scale examples. (10+ / 0-)

          The early Christian monastics practiced a form of communism successfully enough that they became a force in medieval politics.  19th-century America set up a number of communistic societies such as the Shakers, Oneida and the Amana Colonies, all of which enjoyed at least decades of prosperity.  Oneida and Amana turned into successful corporations.  These days there are a number of intentional communities (Twin Oaks in Virginia, East Wind in Missouri, Los Horcones in Sonora are three examples) where people live in voluntary communism.  

          The problem with communism is one of scale.  Once the population exceeds the number of people who can maintain personal relationships and informal controls, such societies tend to break down.  This is not an issue just with communistic groups:  a size of 150 families was considered an ideal congregation size for American Protestant groupings.  

          Another advantage that some communistic societies of the 19th century "enjoyed" were sexual norms well out of the mainstream.  Shakers and monastics could not have sex.  Oneidans could have plenty under "complex marriage", where men and women were discouraged from forming stable relationships;  serial monogamy was the norm.  

          Yet another advantage was the self-conscious belief that they were bringing in the New Millennium, or at least preparing themselves for the Second Coming.  Kibbutzim in Israel sacrificed and labored in the cause of building a Zionist polity, later to be the State of Israel.

          The problem is scaling such societies from tens and low three digits to thousands, then millions of individuals.  In this, the development of megachurches and of communist states show their own parallels -- even if they abhor each other.  Where the megachurch has small prayer groups and prayer cells led by laity, who report to elders/pastors, who in turn report to the guy who gives speeches every Sunday, a Communist state tends to have committees at workplaces or small residential areas (the magic 150 again) led by cadres, who report to the local party, who report to the national party, who report to the guy who gives speeches every May Day.  

          The autonomy of the individual in such agglomerations is given little importance -- the megachurch may offer shunning while the Communist state offers labor camps and executions.  

          "Politics should be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and who would preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage." -- Lucille Ball

          by Yamaneko2 on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 01:30:23 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Autonomy of the individual (3+ / 0-)

            Is a very deep subject.

            Personally, I think in many respects it is an illusion to be discarded for recognition of our interdependence, and that we only really enjoy autonomy to the degree we gain advantage.

            Ideally, if the needs of the collective are met we all gain in the personal, but getting that to work is rather difficult as long a individuals recognize the opportunities for gaining advantage and take it.

            We tend to be selfish.

            What about my Daughter's future?

            by koNko on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 07:07:58 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  without autonomy there is no action (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Old Lefty

              At some level every system must have some sort of autonomy built into it or it is totalitarian and doomed to fail. The problem is developing the mechanisms to balance autonomy and group needs.

              If debt were a moral issue then, lacking morals, corporations could never be in debt.

              by AoT on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 02:41:35 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  My definition of autonomy's not philosophical. (0+ / 0-)

              To me, a person has autonomy if they can read, write, worship/not worship, travel, change residence within a nation and seek qualification and employment in the field of their choice.   The person may adopt, even revel in, all manner of self-imposed limits and have every breath scripted by a person or ideology within a free society -- that would be a voluntary surrender of some aspects of autonomy.  

              The collective, at least in the nation-state, enables some of the benefits of this autonomy.  If a mob can kill or injure people for speaking out or ransack their home, the freedom of speech is a dead letter.  The freedom of worship is a dead letter if a society can exclude/expel people for worshipping the wrong god or number of gods.

              Mao's China before the Cultural Revolution was not a free society, but there were parameters within which expression was tolerated.  When the mobs of the Red Guard decided that "Mao thought" was the only acceptable thought, freedom of conscience died in China.  

              "Politics should be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and who would preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage." -- Lucille Ball

              by Yamaneko2 on Thu Mar 28, 2013 at 09:43:23 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  Mao's main insight... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        AoT, Old Lefty

        was to apply Marxism to the countryside. Marx and Lenin theorized that communism would arise from the urban working class. Mao's great insight was that it could also arise from the exploitation of peasants by landlords in Asian rural areas. from China to Vietnam, to the Philippines.

  •  Great Diary (8+ / 0-)

    You obviously put a lot of work into it, and I learned from reading it.


  •  I usually don't believe too much... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AoT, FG, HamdenRice personalist explanations but I think there were two things about Mao that led him to this.  One is that he sensed he was getting old and this was as close as he could get to immortality--making himself the lodestar of zillions of young people and cutting out the middlemen, the whole intervening population of adults.  Closely related to this is what we now know about Mao, which is that he had an almost Beria-level thing for sexual abuse of young girls.  PJ O'Rourke once joked that student radicalism was all about getting beddable girls, and Christopher Hitchens hypothesized more broadly that male political ambition was all about the same thing, and I suspect that Mao considered the GPCR a kick-ass way to spend some depraved quality time with high school girls.  It's only massive overkill if you're not crazy.

    You know, I sometimes think if I could see, I'd be kicking a lot of ass. -Stevie Wonder at the Glastonbury Festival, 2010

    by Rich in PA on Tue Mar 26, 2013 at 03:17:50 PM PDT

  •  Great diary. Tipped, Recced, and Followed (6+ / 0-)

    for the right good reason. I am not by any means a China hand but my library on this topic is larger than average.

    Is the Lin Piao story next?

  •  Thank you in advance (4+ / 0-)

    for what promises to be an excellent series.
    One of the finest books I've ever read was "Beijing Coma" by Ma Jian.

    The figures looked more or less human. And they were engaged in religion. You could tell by the knives (it's not murder if you do it for a god).” ― Terry Pratchett, Small Gods

    by Bozmo2 on Tue Mar 26, 2013 at 03:49:47 PM PDT

  •  emphasis on education may have spurred violence (6+ / 0-)

    What comes to mind is the idea that Chinese culture's enormous emphasis on education as the path to respectability and upward mobility may have been an important factor in spurring violence against educators and the educated.  In a revolutionary atmosphere of tearing down the oppressors and the privileged, it makes a certain amount of sense that students would lash out at not just one of the most significant authority figures in their lives, but the arbiters of their fates ... as well as those who have succeeded where they might yet fail, who have mastered the system and been rewarded by it.

  •  Sorry, having huge internet connection problems (6+ / 0-)

    I would love to respond to comments, but I haven't been able to stay on line because of huge connectivity problems.

  •  The triggering event (16+ / 0-)

    centers on the play "Hai Rui Dismissed from Office".   The play tells the story of an official who honestly stands up to an evil emperor, and is dismissed from office as result.

    It is really important to remember that the Cultural Revolution toolk place shortly after the disaster that was the Great Leap Forward.  Tens of millions died from starvation as a result of the Great Leap Forward, and the disaster made Mao worry he was losing control.  He came to see the play as a metaphor, and launched the Cultural Revolution in reaction to it.  You can argue that  the Cultural Revolution was really just an attempt to keep power.  I am reading a book on Stalin and the purges, and there are similarities.  

    When I was in college a left wing professor actually praised the cultural revolution and he taught the class using a Monthly Review Book entitled "the Chinesse Road to Socialism".  In retrospect it is obvious that he had no clue what the Cultural Revolution was about.  

    Hitler committed suicide.  Yet two other monsters, Mao and Stalin, died in their bed of old age.  When they died, some American leftists actually defended them (Stalin in particular)

    I can't tell you how much it bothers me that Mao and Stalin were able to deceive men of good will, could be responsible for the deaths of tens of millions, and yet see absolutely no accountability during their lifetimes.

    The bitter truth of deep inequality has been disguised by an era of cheap imported goods and the anyone-can-make-it celebrity myth - Polly Toynbee

    by fladem on Tue Mar 26, 2013 at 04:23:24 PM PDT

    •  Yup, (9+ / 0-)

      Mao became paranoid that "Hai Rui Dismissed from Office", which he initially approved himself, was an allegory in which he was the Emperor and Peng Dehuai was Hai Rui. Peng Dehuai was the commander of the Chinese forces during the Korean War and one of the two highest ranking Chinese generals along with Lin Biao. At a party conference in 1959 at which time it had been apparent that the Great Leap Forward was a catastrophe, Peng Dehuai attempted to pass a private note to Mao criticizing the Greap Leap Forward. Mao became enraged and treated it as a personal attack, read the note aloud to the entire conference, and had Peng Dehuai purged. As a result, the Great Leap Forward was extended for much longer, and the hunger lasted until 1962 by which the disaster was so great, Mao had no choice but to allow Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping to step in. It was at this point that Deng Xiaoping had his famous quote, "it does not matter if the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice."

      By 1965 Mao was dissatisfied with being a figurehead and paranoid about the purge of Nikita Khruschev. Since all the officials in Beijing reported to Liu Shaoqi (as State President), Mao invited some intellectuals from Shanghai named Zhang Chunqiao and Yao Wenyuan to pen an article attacking "Hai Rui Dismissed from office." He sent his wife Jiang Qing in November 1965 as the secret courier to deliver his message, otherwise the men would never have dared to write such an article. Since it challenged the Beijing party hierarchy. The author of the article was a respected intellectual who was vice mayor of Beijing.

      At first, the Beijing party officials laughed off the article, they did not realize how serious the situation was. First, the author of the article got into trouble and was purged. Along with him, the mayor of Beijing who tried to protect him was purged after February 1966. During this time, Mao left Beijing and started hanging out in the south where the senior party officials could not contact him or find out his true intentions. He cultivated Lin Biao to ensure his control of the army (he finally returned to Beijing in August 1966 to oversee the massive crowds of Red Guards we see in the photos). Meanwhile the purges kept moving higher and higher in the party structure until finally it reached Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping.

      Key to the success of the cultural revolution was that the other party members did not realize at first the scale of what Mao was doing or that they would eventually be targets. There were political campaigns in China all the time back then, they thought it was just another minor campaign that would purge out a few minor officials. Had they all stood together in the beginning, they could have probably defeated Mao. But they all attempted to appease Mao until realizing there was no appeasement.

      "It is, it seems, politically impossible to organize expenditure on the scale necessary to prove my case -- except in war conditions."--JM Keynes, 1940

      by randomfacts on Tue Mar 26, 2013 at 10:04:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Remember "Uncle Joe" was an ally in WW2 (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      spacecadet1, lotlizard, KJG52, glorificus

      US wartime propaganda labored to make Joseph Stalin appear like one of the good guys.  

      (Of course, given the last 20 years in this country, I can't help wondering if Stalin's sin to American elites was not that he was a homicidal maniac with a personality cult and nukes and an enemy to any god but himself, but rather that he represented competition to laissez-faire capitalism.  Had he played ball with GM during the 1950s, would the McCarthyites have placed themselves at Stalin's service?  Our 1% seems to have no problem whatsoever dealing with Mao's successor state.)

      "Politics should be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and who would preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage." -- Lucille Ball

      by Yamaneko2 on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 01:44:15 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Excellent diary (10+ / 0-)

    I studied in China in 2007 and my undergraduate history thesis was titled "Mao's Leftism and its Role in the Instigation of the Cultural Revolution." In my research I found that the revolution was indeed almost exclusively Mao's idea. He was obviously upset at being removed from power after the disastrous Great Leap Forward and the subsequent famine, and was worried that the PRC would follow in the footsteps of the Soviet Union's economic reforms. I argued that he launched the revolution to regain control over the party apparatus with the goal of steering the PRC away from the economic and social liberalizations spearheaded by Dent et al. But of course I'm no expert and there are other theories that have been argued. I'm especially interested in the psychology behind the student's violent attacks on their teachers and authority figures. I would love to study this more in depth but I don't feel that I am qualified to do so, as my background is in history. I look forward tot he next installment!

  •  Mao took China into the Korean War in part to (7+ / 0-)

    consolidate the revolution at home against an external foe, and  to transform the country into his New China.

    I was in China a month ago.


    "Senators are a never-ending source of amusement, amazement, and discouragement" ~ Will Rogers

    by Lefty Coaster on Tue Mar 26, 2013 at 05:16:01 PM PDT

  •  I knew red former red guards when I lived in China (11+ / 0-)

    They (and I) were middle aged at the time, and I was fully aware of the anarchy and violent fighting between factions. At the time, in the part of China I was in, that sort of mindset was still in place. They were very suspicious of and hostile to foreigners.

    My best friend was a policeman, not with the regular police but with the party and gave me entre to many who had been in the Revolution in the area and in politics ever since. He (mostly) was uninhibited about discussing politics, was able to import any book he wanted into the country, and read and discussed politics with an insatiable passion.

    Regular people can do unbelievable things when in the grip of a mass movement. The khmer rouge was also inspired by Mao Zdung Thought, and they too still live in every village they used to inhabit. I understand Indonesia also went through similar not long before Obama lived there though not inspired by left wing politics.

    Headed back up to read and look forward to your series.

    How big is your personal carbon footprint?

    by ban nock on Tue Mar 26, 2013 at 05:27:05 PM PDT

  •  Situationist analysis of the "Cultural Revolution" (7+ / 0-)

    This prescient article was written in 1967, when the movement had just started and almost all Western commentators were totally clueless about what was happening: The Explosion Point of Ideology in China. (A rare exception was Simon Leys's book, The Chairman's New Clothes.)

  •  Great (and scary) stuff -- thanks. (3+ / 0-)
  •  Rule through chaos (5+ / 0-)

    In my high school days I read up on the Third Reich. I was rather confused about what different officials did, the structure of lines of authority.
    Years later I read about how it worked. Mr. Hitler created confusion, rivalries between underlings that only he could settle. Moreover, when he wanted to purge someone he would assign the task that multiple competing parties.
    So I am not surprised that Mao's Cultural Revolution would be chaotic.

    Censorship is rogue government.

    by scott5js on Tue Mar 26, 2013 at 06:41:36 PM PDT

  •  Tipped, rec'd, followed, whole nine yards :). (4+ / 0-)

    Wow.  And thank you for writing.

    I know that it's the smallest part of your piece but I had not known that Hong Kong had been nearly pulled into that horrible circle of terror.

    "The first drawback of anger is that it destroys your inner peace; the second is that it distorts your view of reality. If you come to understand that anger is really unhelpful, you can begin to distance yourself from anger." - The Dalai Lama

    by auron renouille on Tue Mar 26, 2013 at 07:11:30 PM PDT

  •  Tipped and rec'd for several things: (7+ / 0-)

    I have grown to admire the longer more in depth kind of reporting or memoir that gives the reader enough time and information to develop more nuanced thought about a subject.

    You have achieved a thorough review here. Thank you.

    I also see what I saw as a college student: it doesn't matter which end of the political spectrum a leader, group or cultural trend is from, the fanaticism and horrific methods of societal control will occur as power is concentrated. And there will be scapegoats.

    Finally a personal note: I have friends in my age demographic and luckily one couple fifteen years up. World War II vintage.

    My friends' parents and the one couple all fled communist regimes in Europe, usually on foot.

    They all became really rather rabid Republicans once US citizens in reaction to the abuses they saw at home.  I have found the subject so emotional with each one, that a discussion or review of possible options is not possible. I have learned it is better to question what happened and what are their fears. History learned first hand.

    Science is hell bent on consensus. Dr. Michael Crichton said “Let’s be clear: The work of science has nothing to do with consensus... which is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right,”

    by Regina in a Sears Kit House on Tue Mar 26, 2013 at 10:58:44 PM PDT

  •  Spasmodic radicalism always ultimately (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lonely Texan, basquebob, HamdenRice, koNko

    comes to see violence as an end in itself - the "cleansing fire" that will somehow magically rid society of its ills, but just ends up being a random slaughter by which tyrants imprint the shape of their own psyche on to a civilization.  

    When it occurs so thoroughly and completely as the Cultural Revolution, the creative heart is simply obliterated from a nation, leaving behind utterly cynical, nihilistic machinery capable of nothing more than vampirism.  Russia and China - both of whom were disfigured in this way by the 20th century - are only different in that the latter's thieving kleptocracy is more orderly, allowing it to feed on the entire world, while the former is more individualistic and prone to oligarchic feudalism.

    Business doesn't distinguish between making money and taking money.

    by Troubadour on Tue Mar 26, 2013 at 11:06:56 PM PDT

    •  I don't quite understand your statement (5+ / 0-)
      When it occurs so thoroughly and completely as the Cultural Revolution, the creative heart is simply obliterated from a nation, leaving behind utterly cynical, nihilistic machinery capable of nothing more than vampirism
      To a degree it warps the values of many people, but the opposite case is equally true, or as Kongzi once put it, "A gentleman is like bamboo, flexible and up-standing".

      And what you speak of can happen in degrees in pretty much in any socioeconomic and political system.

      That said, I personally value the merit of moderation, which is a deeply rooted Chinese cultural value.

      Bad guys gotta be bad, and good guys gotta be good!

      What about my Daughter's future?

      by koNko on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 04:28:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I don't mean that it changes the values (0+ / 0-)

        of survivors.  I mean it directly eliminates people who stand out - the bulk of the creative and insightful - and by default what remain are mediocrities, good and bad.  People who either don't have ideas, or whose ideas boil down to "let's copy the foreigner and steal their intellectual property."  

        Business doesn't distinguish between making money and taking money.

        by Troubadour on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 08:51:04 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  As a geopolitical strategy copying (0+ / 0-)

          The US in regards to our legal structure for patents, etc. Is a bad idea. The us has pushed globalization within a neoliberal framework which attempts to force other countries to respect our "intellectual property". It makes a lot more sense for other countries to steal as much of that intellectual property as possible given the advantage we derive from it monetarily. China has plenty of artists and scientists, but why waste time reinventing the wheel? Honestly, I think we could call the last decade in china "the real leap forward."

          If debt were a moral issue then, lacking morals, corporations could never be in debt.

          by AoT on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 03:01:10 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Good work. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    HamdenRice, randomfacts, lotlizard, AoT

    Western people tend to view China through the lens of what we call "The Tiananmen Incident" because, I suppose, CNN and BBC cameras were running and influenced events to some degree, so there is a sense of co-ownership and knowledge about it, and it filled a void.

    But to Chinese, this is not so great an event and pales in comparison to the effect of The Great Leap Forward, Thousand Flowers and then Cultural Revolution.

    It's quite correct that for people who loved through this period at an age of teens or beyond, this was a life-changing, scarring experience that is difficult for them to resolve and that explains why China really cannot come to terms with it in an objective sense for at least another generation.

    I know many people think "just let the truth out" and it will heal the wounds, but it's not that simple for people to process some things so quickly and move on.

    So when we do speak of it, it tends to be, respectfully, in code with us lucky ones deferring to our elders.

    Personally, I think, don't try to understand too much because unless you were they you cannot and it's a case where the weight of historical baggage may be a burden that prevents society from living in the present and moving on to make a better future.

    If people want to understand why my generation reconciled itself to incremental change and drinking bitter tea, and why so many Chinese still prefer social stability to political risk, they can study this period and realize change is an equal opportunity to do good or bad and revolution just makes it move faster than corrective measures can be applied.

    And everything has a cost.

    Quite a diary, may take more than one read so may I would comment again later.

    T+R. Peace.

    What about my Daughter's future?

    by koNko on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 03:54:00 AM PDT

    •  Correction! (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      HamdenRice, Bozmo2, lotlizard, WB Reeves, AoT

      " ... people who lived through this period ..."

      Of course, millions loved through it too.

      What about my Daughter's future?

      by koNko on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 04:37:35 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Deng is a hero to many (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      koNko, AoT, glorificus

      In the West he is thought of as the butcher of Tiananmen, but my Chinese colleagues and friends have told me that he is the man who ended political murder, lifted millions of people out of poverty and strove to make China a "normal" country.

      Deng was the anti Cultural Revolution politician and Tiananmen looked a lot like the CR to him. On the other hand, Deng "rewarded" so many children of people who had been persecuted with fantastic levels of wealth.

      •  The "Little Bottle" (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        lotlizard, AoT

        May eventually be recognized as the real revolutionary.

        Certainly he made some "serious mistakes", a term often applied to Mao with some bitter irony, but on balance, he had a positive effect.

        And lived quite an interesting life for a quiet note-taker from the back of the room.

        实事求是, rinse & repeat, every 500 years.

        And now  ...

        Mr. Deng: "Paging Mr. Xi, clean-up on aisle 8866".
        Never a dull moment.

        Appreciate the work you put into this diary and the outsider's observations.

        What about my Daughter's future?

        by koNko on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 05:37:16 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  A couple years ago a former Red Guard (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AoT, glorificus

      looked up his former teacher to apologize. It was a very touching event. I wonder if enough time has passed to allow more of this sort of thing to take place. Modern China has progressed so much in so short a time that people seemingly have no time to look back. It would be unfortunate if that generation passes without ever reconciling with the past.

  •  Great Cultural Forgetting? (8+ / 0-)

    I lived and worked in Beijing for about five years and one thing I noticed about my Chinese friends and colleagues at that time was a complete lack of interest in this sort of history. It sort of went like, "Yeah, some crazy stuff happened back then, but its over now and it won't happen again, so who cares. Nothing can be done about it, so who cares."  

    One apocryphal anecdote was when the office cleaning lady (ayi) was crying in the kitchen one day. She was sobbing about things that had happened during the CR and my Chinese colleagues who wandered into the kitchen got deer in the headlights eyes and were like, "get me the F out of here!"

    I feel like most young people in China live in such a different world, and there are vastly different and pressing things to be consumed by nowadays: making money, buying an apartment, securing their future, keeping up with the changing culture. The struggles of the CR are a million miles away and an embarrassment most people just want to go away and be forgotten.

    I thank you for this diary narrative. A concise explanation of one of man kinds biggest WTF movements. 再次感谢!扎西德烈!  

    •  Wow, heart breaking (4+ / 0-)

      The reason I got interested in this is that my friend, whose mother was in the Red Guard, had many out there stories about her mother which she thought was a result of her mother's experience in the Red Guard, the People's Liberation Army and under communism in general. Her mother btw is an unrepentant Maoist!

      •  Not surprising. (5+ / 0-)

        You would be amazed by the number of my parent's generation that are unrepentant/nostalgic/whatever, particularly in the countryside with it's unfinished business.

        In fact, my own mom is still pretty much a true believer in the principles and values if not the methods and results, and despite the many errors made, there was still a lot of progress in many respects (study China before 1949 to provide perspective) and certainly the feeling of a shared journey sometimes lacking in our modern world. "Compatriots".

        I have, stored safely, a Mao tapestry from my mother's work unit; some day I will pass it down or give it away but I'm holding it for the present, as close to a family heirloom I've got. One is enough.

        What about my Daughter's future?

        by koNko on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 06:05:22 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Have Patience (4+ / 0-)

      Sometimes people/societies need space & time, and elsewhere I comment on the burdens of history verses the way forward today, a phenomena you keenly observe.

      The objective distance you enjoy is not available to everyone.

      History can wait, it always does.

      What about my Daughter's future?

      by koNko on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 05:53:54 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Polite Suggestion (4+ / 0-)

    I don't know what you have planned and how far you will go but perhaps you should include 北京之春 (Beijing Spring) and 西单民主墙 (Xidan Democracy Wall) at the end, an interesting coda.

    Now we have "WWW".

    What about my Daughter's future?

    by koNko on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 05:09:09 AM PDT

  •  I first learned about the famine in 1979 from a (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    HamdenRice, AoT, glorificus

    Chinese colleague who inexplicably had been allowed to emigrate from Nanjing to Houston to work with other scientists in his field. In the course of our work over the next few years, we had many hours of downtime during which he somewhat impatiently informed me of events in China he felt I should have known about but didn't. He began with the rape of Nanjing which he recalled in detail with and absolute horror from his own childhood. He viewed the famine, however, as a condition of extreme poverty rather than an event. I repeated many of his astounding stories to my mother for confirmation, she being the historian in our family. Even she was surprised, suggesting that he exaggerated. I seldom wish that she were alive today to see this or that event unfold, but I do wish she were here to read your diary and participate in this discussion. If anything, it now appears that he understated the facts.

    Outstanding job, HamdenRice, which is saying a lot considering the number of excellent diaries posted here at DK. Thank you so much. I look forward to your next posting.

    •  I Knew Scientists Who Survived The Revolution (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RJDixon74135 children.  Their bodies were permanently ruined by malnutrition, and they were small and frail.  They talked about things like seeing their parents beaten with crowbars.

      There’s always free cheddar in a mousetrap, baby

      by bernardpliers on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 10:45:25 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Compare To The American Tea Party Today (0+ / 0-)

    A lot of those doofuses seem like Maoist rebels - they want a massive purge of the country, probably followed by an ill-conceived switch to an agrarian past, they hate schools, and they believe currency is worthless.

    There’s always free cheddar in a mousetrap, baby

    by bernardpliers on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 10:43:23 AM PDT

  •  Sounds like the power struggles in the USSR is 20s (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    and 30s. In China it was Mao versus the Party, in Russia it
    was Stalin versus the Party. Both times the Party lost.
    The Communist Party had a principle like the Hastert rule
    called democratic centralism which had a downside, that
    it created 'factions' that were demonized and destroyed. Both Mao and Stalin created 'Cult of Personality' in place of the party and the Party could'nt regain power while they lived.
    The Tea Party doesn't have those kind of leaders inside the GOP but it does have contradictory factions unified only by
    hatred for Obama.  

  •  Yu Hua's "Ten Words" speaks of his (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    young person's experience with the big character posters, cowing teachers, beating people trading ration coupons, and barely escaping being the next person devoured by the upheavals.  His thesis is that China continues to be in a state of revolution, where violence is regularly used.

    That's not even "gun control". It's more like "massacre control".

    by Inland on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 01:48:04 PM PDT

  •  Great diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Finally, something on Chinese politics! Thank you!

    I think it's prudent to look at the Cultural Revolution not simply in isolation, but as a culmination of the Mao era, the last in a series of disastrous ideas by Mao. Some have pointed to the failure of the Great Leap Forward and his subsequent reaction to his loss of power.

    However, I would go further back to the Hundred Flowers Campaign and the subsequent Anti-Rightist Campaign in 1956-1957 as the start of the vicious cycle. The Hundred Flowers Campaign was the rare time when criticism towards party policies were allowed, while the Anti-Rightist Campaign purged those who dared to raise those criticisms. The purged included agricultural experts and pretty much any source of opposition. The result was an ultra-concentration of power around Mao and his ensuing mistakes (to understate the point) that killed millions upon millions.

    The historical intellectual antipathy towards traditional Chinese culture is interesting. One of the sharpest breaks from this was actually not the Cultural Revolution, but rather Sun Yat-sen's 1911 revolution establishing the Republic of China. Many aspects of traditional culture were swept away in a bid to be more "Western." The most famous among these are the queue (which is Manchu, but point remains). Some other examples include traditional dress (pre-Manchu or otherwise), which if you compare to Japan, Korea, and other Asian countries, the Chinese simply just don't wear it that often or at all. Another are the days of the week. Historically, the Chinese used names that corresponded to the planets (itself a Western import from long before), with the same names currently used in Japanese and Korean. After 1911, the days of the week were renamed to simply one through six, with Sunday also renamed but kept the "sun" part. So the Cultural Revolution isn't an isolated case of sweeping away the "Four Olds"; it just took it to the illogical extreme.

    Lastly, a quibble: Mao's successor is misspelled. It's Hua Guofeng.

    23, D, pragmatic progressive (-4.50, -5.18), CA-14.

    by kurykh on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 02:28:22 PM PDT

  •  Linguistic Engineering (0+ / 0-)

    If you have not seen the book "Linguistic Engineering - Language and Politics in  Mao's China " you should.
    It talks about how the language was manipulated for the cause.
    For example changing the meaning of words and making any other definition treasonous - not unlike Hate Radio does with "liberal" of "obamacare" or "socialist"
    The author is Ji Fengyuan - a linguist - it is hard going - a lot of linguist speak - and you might want ot skip parts - but it's good.

    It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in argument.

    by GrinningLibber on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 06:34:51 PM PDT

  •  Two good personal stories about the CR (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    A Single Tear by Ningkun Wu and Feather In a Storm by Emily Wu.  Both are harrowing.'

    My wife went "to the countryside" during the CR.  Her father, who was labeled a counter revolutionary, was sent to the countryside.  Her mother, an accountant by training, ended up as a street sweeper.  They were lucky.  My wife took the national examination after the death of Mao and passed, one of 2% of the test takers who did, from what I understand.  A recent movie, Examination 1977, depicts what happened during that time, although in a sanitized way.  My wife was in tears during the movie because she said that it was her story.

  •  This is an excellent piece, and I look forward to (0+ / 0-)

    more in the series.

    *Are we humans or are we dancers?* Annie Lennox (thx Words In Action & OPOL)

    by glorificus on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 11:11:14 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for this diary (0+ / 0-)

    I was away for a few days and didn't check in.

    This will be an important series for people to read.

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