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Comparison of Ideologies in the French and Chinese Revolutions

Info: 1653 words (7 pages) Essay
Published: 18th May 2020 in History

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Chinese and French Revolution Essay

An idea is something you have; an ideology is something that has you. Morris Berman

Using the above statement, evaluate the role that ideology plays in causing revolutions.

In your response, refer to the ideology of the revolution you are studying in class (Chinese Cultural Revolution and the French Revolution.

An idea is a thought or suggestion as to a possible course of action while ideology is a system of ideas and ideals. The conviction of social critic Morris Berman, “an idea is something you have; an ideology is something that has you”, is relevant in examining the Chinese Cultural and the French revolution. The statement is applicable in determining that the ideological mindset of a revolutionary group itself is a major influence on the outcome of a revolution. The roles of ideology, violence and terror and leadership play an important part in both the Chinese Cultural and French Revolution.

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Ideology played a significant role in causing the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976) and moderate in the French Revolution (1789 – 1799). While Mao Zedong was still the Chairman of the Communist Party in China, he created a campaign to destroy the ‘Four Olds’. This referred to the destruction of Old Customs, Old Habits, Old Culture and Old Ideas of China. This movement was led to transform the country from an agrarian economy into a socialist society. Ideology was also evident when totalitarianism shaped propaganda to dehumanize individuals and result in submitting to Mao’s higher ideological cause. Mao, who was known as a charismatic leader, created a ‘cult of personality’ in which he was deified. People’s daily lives were inundated with images, sounds, and ideas of Mao. For example, pictures of Mao were everywhere, and his quotations were recited religiously.

The ideas of the French Revolution were primarily drawn from the Enlightenment, influenced by the British social group, impressed by the American War of Independence and formed by local grievances. The renowned expression of revolutionary ideas was the saying liberty, equality and fraternity. It was the first significant uprising of the people against the dictatorship and it generated ideas that crossed the boundaries of France. The eminent slogan ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’ gave hope for equal rights, freedom and treatment for everyone. The full saying was often painted on house doors. Across France along with the rest of Europe, the consequences of the Revolution were colossal. There were numerous new developments, including changes in society with the rise of the middle class, the fall of the monarchy, and the growth of nationalism. For these reasons, both the Chinese and French revolutions were highly influenced by the ideology of leaders intended to create an improved social system.


The role of violence and terror in the Chinese and French revolutions were greatly impacted by ideology. After the introduction of Mao’s idea, China’s students were organized into Red Guard brigades to firmly support him. He called on the Red Guards to destroy the “Four Olds”. In Mao’s 16 points formed on August 12th, 1966, he stated, “The anti-Party, anti-socialist rightists must be fully exposed, hit hard, pulled down and completely discredited and their influence eliminated”. This shows that Mao sought the Red Guards to prove their loyalty by protecting his ideology, through the use of violence. The quote from Morris Berman, saying ‘an ideology is something that has you’, is relevant with how forceful Mao’s ideology was on the people of China. Students were permitted to attack anyone. This included teachers, factory administrators, party members, and even their parents. These attacks were initially verbal but, in some cases, escalated into actual physical violence. This rebellion resulted in schools closing after “old” buildings and “traditional” temples and works of art were destroyed. This ideology taught the youth of China to be instinctively loyal to Mau and produced a period of violence. Chinese culture and its civilizing foundations were uprooted while Mao Zedong was progressively venerated.

Violence and Terror in the French Revolution was to fight for the rights of all French citizens. Security and a stable economy that assured the citizens of getting basic needs and justice were the core issues that were solve during the time of Terror. The Reign of Terror was a period of violence during the French Revolution originating from conflicts between Girondins and Jacobins. During this time, anyone appearing against the revolution were publicly executed. Both Jacobins and Girondins sought the dissolution of the monarchy. Article 6 of ‘the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen’ states that the law is not voiced by the monarchy. This section of the Declaration reflects the ideologies of the time that swept through the nation and inspired the French revolution. This led to having to come from everyone within the nation. This period of Terror had numerous executions, which the government sought to reduce their problems. Therefore, violence and terror were introduced to China and France due to the ideologies in the lead up to the revolutions.

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The role of organisation in the Chinese revolution was greatly influenced by their leader. Mao had many approaches to keep China structured. He introduced the Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside Movement. This planned for millions of refined youths to be sent to country areas to learn from the peasantry. The print below was propaganda advertised during the Cultural revolution. It was successfully used to convince the significance of social classes learning from one another. Mao believed this would create a new society with a smaller gap between urban and rural. Another approach was The Little Red Book. It was an essential accessory of Mao’s quotations among the young. This shows that even the young did not escape Mao’s presence and Chinese communist ideology. Using the Little Red Book and other visual aids, young students were taught “Maoist thought.” As a result, organisation during the cultural revolution was fulsomely influenced by Mao.

Propaganda used by Mao’s campaign for the Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside Movement (3)

There was also a moderate influence of leaders on the French Revolution. The revolution was mainly inspired by venerated philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The academic of modern philosophers were viewed as the most influential. Rousseau’s political viewpoint influenced the French revolution for his ‘work inspired the leaders of the French Revolution and the romantic generation.’ His work affected French society immensely. Rousseau wrote that when a country had a genuine social contract it would give society “real freedom in exchange for their obedience to a self-imposed law.” His interpretation of social contractarianism highly influenced the development of Liberal, Conservative and Socialist theory and the French revolution. Another philosopher, Montesquieu, convinced people of the injustice of the Divine Right of Kings. This lead an urge for separation of powers. There were many leading philosophers like Rousseau and Montesquieu who inspired the people of France with revolutionary ideas of liberty and equality.



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