A Wild Swans Review History Essay
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
The following analysis of Jung Chang’s “Wild Swans” identifies some of the terror and coercive tactics employed by Mao in order to secure his totalitarian authority by obtaining control over the Communist Party of China, and the loyalty of millions of Chinese citizens. Prior to this analysis of “Wild Swans,” a brief summary of chapters 15 through 18 will serve in outlining some historical background of the Cultural Revolution, which was arguably the most vicious era during Mao’s leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.
Chapter 15 marks the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, which came after the famine of the early sixties. The Great Famine was caused by Mao’s arbitrary focus on steel production. Due to the lack of confidence in his leadership, Mao took a back seat to the Liberal approach of Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping. Liu and Deng’s policies were much more pragmatic in order to recover from the devastating famine. The standard of living and quality of life was slowly improving all over China. The Cultural Revolution was Mao’s reassertion of power after the liberalization of Liu and Deng’s policies. Initially, he targeted a list of thirty-nine political, academic, and cultural undesirables. Party officials were to remove these targets, but they were too satisfied with their newly liberalized lives to undertake any purge campaigns. They gently ignored Mao’s orders. Mao saw that his influence no longer carried the weight of previous years, and he looked to publicize his policies through the media in Shanghai. After some manoeuvring, he was able to secure a political arena for his Cultural Revolution, and promoted the removal of all dissident views and “capitalist-roaders,” a term used to describe those who followed the liberalizing policies that allowed for the economic recovery of post-famine China. Mao proceeded to secure control of the media by putting a loyal administrator, Chen Boda, in charge of the Party’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily. From publications in the newly controlled newspaper, Mao mobilized the majority of the population to victimize intellectuals who became known and targeted as “bourgeois intellectuals.” Mao had re-established his influence over the country by defining a broad spectrum of enemies and inciting violence against them. No one wanted to be victimized, so everyone tried very hard to remain obedient to Mao.
The establishment of Mao’s Red Guards was spontaneous. It was initially organized by a group of university students who were caught up in the campaign against “class enemies” and its propaganda. Mao saw that the students were the perfect candidates for terrorizing the Chinese population into submission and securing unilateral leadership. The Red Guards were officially given orders to victimize their teachers, the intellectuals, and destroy all the “olds” of China. Almost all evidence of China’s ancient history was vandalized and destroyed by the Red Guards. They were also sanctioned to employ methods of torture and brutality at will. Red Guard membership was sought by all students and loose organizations sprung up in every province of China. Mao denounced all forms of individualism and luxury, these things immediately became targeted by the Guards. Books were burned en masse, public beating and humiliation of “class enemies” became routine, and house raids were carried out in an attempt to discover those who may be “counterrevolutionary.” A social hierarchy among Red Guards was developed with the emergence of “reds,” “grays,” and “blacks.” “Reds” were members with proletariat and revolutionary parents. “Grays” were from “questionable” backgrounds of capitalist leanings. “Blacks” were from backgrounds considered as “rightist.” Each division carried out different functions and had different responsibilities.
Chapter 17 is more focused on the personal implications of the Cultural Revolution for the Chang family. Director Chang could see the glaring hypocrisies of the Cultural Revolution and, as a man of principle, decided to write a grievance letter to Chairman Mao. This letter was untimely because Director Chang was already being targeted as anti-Mao. He had refused to reprint Mao’s Cultural Revolution article, and also because he had written his “April Document” that argued against giving a political voice to Cultural Revolutionary ideas. Director Chang was summoned to a denunciation meeting at Sichuan University where he vilified himself among a group of enraged students who saw him as anti-Mao. He was later arrested by his own Department officials and his wife agreed to take his unfinished letter to the grievance office in Peking. She eventually received a letter from Vice-Premier Tao Zhu stating that Director Chang had not opposed the Party by voicing his grievances. With the letter, she tried to petition the authorities to free her husband, but they were adamant in detaining him until she had returned to Sichuan. She eventually acquiesced and returned home to retrieve Director Chang.
Lastly, chapter 18 demonstrates the sheer zeal with which the Cult of Mao was followed. In 1966, Jung Chang decided to make the pilgrimage to Peking to see Chairman Mao. This was the life goal for most people during the time of the Cult of Mao and the Cultural Revolution. To reach Peking, Jung Chang and a group of her friends traveled by train, in extremely cramped conditions for over 60 hours. Upon arrival, they had to wait to see Mao because they had just missed a large Red Guard rally. They stayed over a month in Peking and surrounding areas under crowded and deplorable conditions. While they were there, they were made to participate in a type of basic training conducted by air force officers. The drills were held outside during the cold winter months, they were not properly dressed, and Jung Chang developed rheumatism. On the day they were to see Chairman Mao, the group left the grounds before dawn, reached Tiananmen Square at dawn, and had to remain seated on the cold ground until noon to see Mao pass by in a motorcade. At the moment when Mao passed by, all those who had been sitting around her sprung to their feet to see him. Jung Chang was slow to rise because of her inflamed joints and missed her glimpse of Mao. She was devastated and the pilgrimage became pointless. She returned home, happy that her travels were over, but dejected that she had missed her chance to see her beloved leader.
The cruelty and ruthlessness of the Cultural Revolution is a very powerful example of coercive force used by Mao in his endeavour to gain absolute control over China. Chang outlines that the first stage of the Cultural Revolution began in 1966, during the establishment of the Red Guards.  The Guards were a force controlled by Mao’s administration and distinct from the Chinese army. Once Mao knew he had the undying loyalty of this movement, he encouraged them to carry out vicious acts of vandalism and violence. The result was innumerable atrocities committed against innocent people. This, according to Chang, was the second stage of the Cultural Revolution.  As mentioned above, Mao ensured the victimization of teachers and “bourgeois intellectuals.” However, anyone who acted in any way that could be perceived as anti-Mao was persecuted. Many innocent people were beaten to death, publicly humiliated, and tortured. Jung Chang describes the brutality of the youth in a factual tone, “In practically every school in China, teachers were abused and beaten, sometimes fatally. Some schoolchildren set up prisons in which teachers were tortured.”  She goes on to describe the resulting violence after Mao had further encouraged terrorism among his Red Guard, “Bonfires were lit to consume books. Many writers and artists committed suicide after being cruelly beaten and humiliated, and being forced to witness their work being burned to ashes.”  In most cases, no one had any concrete proof that victims were actually guilty of any dissidence at all. Many times, people meted out their personal vendettas by alerting the Red Guards to fabricated anti-Mao tendencies of their enemies. The Red Guards would unknowingly carry out the dirty work of quarrelling citizens under the guise of political righteousness.  No one could feel safe from the indiscriminate violence committed against the entire population by the entire population.
The beginning of 1967 saw the Red Guards become a more organized and legitimate coercive tool, now simply called the “Rebels.” This was the coercive force behind Mao’s newly formed Cultural Revolution Authority, which aimed to replace the Politburo and all the high-officials who were active during the years of Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping. Mao referred to the bureaucracy developed during those years of liberalization as the “bourgeois headquarters.”  He used the unquestioning loyalty of his Rebels to attack that administration and brought it under his control once again. Jung Chang outlines this progression of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, “In its first stage, with the Red Guard movement, an atmosphere of terror had been created. Now Mao turned to his major goal: to replace the ‘bourgeois headquarters’ and the existing Party hierarchy with his personal power system. Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping were formally denounced and detained, as was Tao Zhu.”  According to Chang, the progression from Red Guard groups to Rebel organizations signified the third stage of the Cultural Revolution, and denoted a very confusing time in Chinese society where nearly anyone could have been made out to be an enemy.  Survival in this new society was based on Machiavellian cruelty in order to gain notoriety from Mao’s administration and earn a position within the Cultural Revolution Authority. This was the only real insurance during the era of the Cultural Revolution. Rebels, without any real guidance by Mao, fragmented into factions which “competed to outdo each other in brutality. Much of the population colluded, driven by intimidation, conformism, devotion to Mao, desire to settle personal scores, or just the releasing of frustration.”  The largest rebel factions in Sichuan, the “26 August” and the “Red Chengdu,” fought against each other and against “loyalists” of the bourgeois headquarters in an unending display of savagery. This violence was used to induce fear and conformity which, for Mao, meant personal control over all of China.
Most of this type of violence was carried out at the grass-roots level. However, Mao did have to deal with opposition from officials who were very close to him. In February, Mao called for the army to support his Rebels. Marshals and top military officials were enraged at this very transparent move for personal power. They attempted to mount a military opposition. This attempted resistance became known as the “February Adverse Current.”  Mao reacted by mobilizing the mob violence of his Rebels against the military leaders who were promptly subdued in their homes and at denunciation meetings. Mao had the military punish the dissident military leaders. After witnessing the Mao’s propensity for brutality, the army did not hesitate in carrying out his orders. By appointing his deputy Lin Biao to head the military, Mao ensured the loyalty of the entire Chinese army. After the successful defence of his Cultural Revolution, Mao began “the total discarding-in all but name-of the Party. The Politburo was effectively replaced by the Cultural Revolution Authority. Lin Biao soon began to purge commanders loyal to the marshals, and the role of the Central Military Committee was taken over by his personal office, which he controlled through his wife.” 
The fourth stage of the Cultural Revolution, as described by Jung Chang, came about when Mao “… decided to halt the factional fighting. To bring about obedience, he spread terror to show that no one was immune. A sizeable part of the hitherto unaffected population, including some Rebels, now became victims.”  Mao now established Revolutionary Committees comprised of leader and operatives from all Rebel factions. These committees were controlled by Mao or those close to him, and set up all over China. Those former officials deemed “capitalist-roaders” had their salaries cut by these committees and were evicted from their housing compounds in order to provide housing for the new officials who held authority under the current administration. These committees were the perpetrators of more bloodshed that took place further from Sichuan, like the “Inner Mongolia People’s Party affair” that saw the torture of “some ten percent of the adult Mongolian population” and the death of at least twenty thousand people.  Autumn of 1968 saw the introduction of the “Mao Zedong Thought Propaganda Teams.” These teams were not coercive but, after so much violence and bloodshed, they did not have to be. The teams rounded up all university and middle-school students of the Cultural Revolution, forced them to perform “loyalty dances,” and study Mao’s articles. At the end of 1968, all university students were forcibly “graduated” and sent to the country to perform hard labour, indefinitely. Middle-school students were to later suffer the same fate. With this policy, Mao did not have to shed any more blood;  by sentencing the young intellectual population to hard labour, he lost the threat of potential counterrevolutionary action, and gained production from their labour.
Mao’s Cultural Revolution lasted ten years. In that time, he created division and chaos among the entire population of China in order to keep people afraid and willing to obey. Many innocent people were lost to killing, suicide, or mentally breakdown due to the inhuman and violent policies encouraged by Mao. It is baffling that his policies, as brutal as they were, continued to be supported by a great many people for so long. Jung Chang explains how Mao was able to avoid incurring blame, “… Mao would simply indicate his intentions, and some people would volunteer to carry out the tormenting and improvise the gruesome details.”  It is clear that the cult of personality allowed this type of savagery to endure. Jung Chang also points out that Mao’s encouragement of brutality, rather than his demand of it, “… enabled him to get rid of his enemies without attracting blame.”  Furthermore, his proficiency at scapegoating kept him in favour of a large number of Chinese citizens, while simultaneously causing the pain and suffering of many others. As observed by Jung Chang, Mao ruled by exploiting the evils of human nature, “This was Mao’s way: to keep ‘enemy’ figures among the people so they always had someone visible and at hand to hate.”  It was hate that kept his supporters violent, and that violence kept his enemies afraid. No matter if a citizen was devoted, afraid, or disgraced; Mao had everyone hanging on his every word.
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