Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution



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“Little Red Book.” Lin required every soldier to read the book and emphasized adherence to the Party line and loyalty to CCP leaders in the Army. Mao praised the PLA as an example for the Chinese people, and Mao’s status and image reached new heights when all Chinese began to study his book of quotations and memorize passages of the book; Mao became a prophet-figure in the minds of many Chinese.

The Beginning of the Cultural Revolution


When Jiang Qing and her allies complained in late 1965 that various cultural productions were openly criticizing the Communist leadership, Mao decided that China needed a new revolutionary movement. Beginning in May 1966, Jiang Qing’s allies purged key figures in the cultural bureaucracy and criticized writers of articles seen as critical of Mao.
This wave of criticisms spread swiftly to high schools in Beijing. Radical members of the leadership, such as Jiang Qing, distributed armbands to squads of students and declared them to be “‘Red Guards—the front line of the new revolutionary upheaval.” 3
Mao endorsed the revolutionary discourse and the attacks on authority figures whom he believed had grown complacent, bureaucratic, and anti-revolutionary. Local Red Guards attacked anyone whom they believed lacked revolutionary credentials, and then turned on those who simply failed to wholeheartedly support their efforts. In August 1966, the Central Committee issued a directive entitled the “Decision of the Central Committee of the Chinese Party Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” (a.k.a. the Sixteen Points) in an effort to define the revolution’s goals. Later that month, Mao began to greet huge parades of Red Guards holding aloft the “Little Red Book.”
However, despite official directives and encouragement from the Party leadership, local forces were left to act according to their own definitions, and many of them ended up inflicting violence upon their communities and clashing with each other. Nobody wanted to be considered a “reactionary,” but in the absence of official guidelines for identifying “true Communists,” everyone became a target of abuse. People tried to protect themselves by attacking friends and even their own families. The result was a bewildering series of attacks and counterattacks, factional fighting, unpredictable violence, and the breakdown of authority throughout China.
Descent into Chaos
The chaos and violence increased in the autumn and winter of 1966, as schools and universities closed so that students could dedicate themselves to “revolutionary struggle.” They were encouraged to destroy the “Four Olds”—old customs, old habits, old culture, and old thinking—and in the process damaged many of China’s temples, valuable works of art, and buildings. They also began to verbally and physically attack authority figures in society, including their teachers, school administrators, Communist Party members, neighbors, and even their friends, relatives, and parents. At the same time, purges were carried out in the high ranks of the Communist Party.
Overall, the Red Guards and other groups of workers and peasants terrorized millions of Chinese during the 1966–1968 period. Intellectuals were beaten, committed suicide, or died of their injuries or privation. Thousands were imprisoned, and millions sent to work in the countryside to “reeducate” themselves by laboring among the peasants.

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