Cultural Revolution in China

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12th Jul 2017 History Reference this


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The Cultural Revolution left an imprint on China for Decades and really shaped and influenced all political things that took place in China and also to an extent left a large direct effect on China itself and a lasting legacy that resonated in mainland China and outside China that influenced many different things. This will be proven by first going through what exactly is the Cultural Revolution, because it is important to look at what the Cultural Revolution actually is. This will lead into the next part of having a look at the direct impact of the Cultural Revolution on China. Following that this essay will move onto looking at the exact legacy the Cultural Revolution has left on China by breaking it down into individual parts.

The Cultural Revolution or as it is known as the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” (Clark, 2008) was a socio political event that began in the People’s Republic of China in 1966 and ran for ten years until 1976. The Revolution was set into motion by Mao Zedong, the leader of China and the head of the Communist Party based in China. The set goal of the revolution was the reinforcement of Chinese Communism by removing all capitalist, traditional and cultural elements from the Chinese society and enforcing Maoist orthodoxy within the Communist Party. The Revolution was officially launched in May 1966 after Mao had alleged that wealthy elements in Chinese Society were infiltrating the Chinese Government and Society with the aim of restoring capitalism. He insisted that these elements be completely removed though a violent class struggle. In response to his calls, Chinese youth formed Red Guard groups around the country and began their campaign. Mao in support of this ordered the party and the army not to interfere. The movement though spread into all aspects of Chinese culture, politics and military. This resulted in wide spread factional struggles in all aspects of Chinese life. It resulted in the near decimation of the Chinese Communist Party leadership to such an extent that only four of the seventeen members of the 1956 Politburo survived to the Ninth Congress in April 1969 – Mao himself, his acolyte Lin Biao, Zhou Enlai and Li Xiannian all the rest been either imprisoned or killed. Additionally millions of people were arrested in these violent factional struggles that took place across the country. These people were subject to a wide arrange “of abuses including public humiliation, arbitrary imprisonment, torture, sustained harassment, and seizure of property.” (Johnston, 2010) As well as this a large portion of the public were forcibly displaced, most noticeable was the transfer of pretty much all urban youth in the final stages of the Cultural Revolution to the rural regions during the Down to the Countryside Movement, to learn from the peasants. On top of this sticking to the gaol of wiping out all traditional Chinese Culture numerous historical relics, artefacts were destroyed and Cultural and religious sites were either ransacked or destroyed. While Mao declared the Revolution over in 1969, its active phase lasted until 1976. From 1969 to 1976 there was a gradual return to normalcy as China really began to take the right course after realising the damage the Cultural

Revolution had caused. Following Mao’s death and the arrest of the gang of four in 1976, reformers led by Deng Xiaoping gained power and by 1978 most of the Maoist reforms that were associated with the Cultural Revolution had being abandoned and any mention or evidence of the Cultural Revolution been highly censored and hidden from the public. Since the end of the Cultural Revolution it has been treated widely as a negative phenomenon that damaged China for decades afterwards.

Essentially the Cultural Revolution directly impacted all of China’s population in one form or another. During the Revolution, all economic activity in any form was virtually halted, with the revolution been the primary objective of the country. At the beginning of the Cultural revolution large numbers of red guards were brought to Beijing with all expenses paid by the government, these large numbers resulted in the railway system been thrown into turmoil. As per the Revolutions goals countless ancient Chinese buildings, antiques, artefacts, books and paintings were destroyed by the Red Guards. In addition to the economic damage, the ten years of the Cultural Revolution brought the Chinese education system to a virtual standstill. University entrance exams were abolished in the early stages of the revolution and not restabilised until 1977 under Deng Xiaoping. Most intellectuals were viewed as a threat to the revolution and were sent to “rural labour camps and many of those who survived left China shortly after the revolution ended. Many survivors and independent observers suggest that almost anyone with skills over that of the average person was made the target of political struggle in some way.” (Dirlik, 1993) In the view of Western observers from the US and followers of Deng Xiaoping, the revolution resulted in almost an entire generation of Chinese people being inadequately educated. An example of this is when measurements of literacy resumed in the 1980s.When they did resume it painted a bleak picture of the impact the revolution had on China’s education system, “Some counties in Zhanjiang had illiteracy rates as high as 41% some 20 years after the revolution…This effect may have been less if not for the by the elimination of qualified teachers” (Johnston, 2010) Which forced many of the districts to rely solely upon chosen students to re-educate the next generation. Overall the direct impact of the Cultural Revolution was that basically everything economic stopped and there was a total breakdown of almost everything and China pretty much lost all of the intelligent workforce which meant they had no high level educated workers like doctors, teachers etc.

The first legacy the Cultural Revolution left on China was on the Chinese communist party itself. To try and make sense of Mao’s leadership of the Cultural Revolution while limiting any damage to the party and their legitimacy to remain in power, the successors that followed Mao needed to really give a historical judgement that worked in Mao’s and the communist parties favour. On June 27th 1981, the central committee released the “Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China,” an official assessment of major historical events since 1949.” (Myers, 1995) This Resolution while noting Mao’s leadership in the Revolution, stated that the “chief responsibility for the grave ‘Left’ error of the ‘Cultural Revolution,’ an error comprehensive in magnitude and protracted in duration, lies with Comrade Mao Zedong” (Myers, 1995). It lessened the blame on him by “asserting that the revolution was manipulated by the counterrevolutionary groups of both Lin Biao and Jiang Qing, who both caused worst problems and Mao never played a direct part in any of this” (Myers, 1995). This official view was primarily aimed at separating Mao’s actions during the Cultural Revolution from his activities during the Chinese Civil War. This was quite nicely summed up by Deng Xiaoping when he stated that “Mao was 70% good, 30% bad” (Kilfi, 1999)This has resulted in Mainland China, the history of this time been based solely on the Party line which manages to not solely blame Mao for any of the problems that occurred during this time. As if any of the blame for the Cultural Revolution was placed solely at the feet on Mao, it would cause questions to be asked about the Communist Party’s legitimacy to power.

The next legacy it has left on China is impacting on Contemporary China itself this legacy on Contemporary China is linked to the legacy left on the Communist party to an extent that the party line on what happened during the Cultural Revolution has spread into contemporary China. The legacy has been left to such an impact that the revolution itself has been actively covered up and any mention of it has been removed. Any sort of Public discussion on the Cultural Revolution in public is strictly limited in China. To this day the Chinese government continues to block news organisations from mentioning any details from the Cultural Revolution, and any sort of online discussions and books about the revolution are subject to high levels of scrutiny. Education materials on the Revolution continue to abide by the official view of the events, blocking younger people from learning the truth about the revolution. Almost all of the government documents from the time of the Cultural Revolution remain classified and are not open to the public or inspection by independent academics. At the national museum of China in Beijing, the Cultural Revolution is not mentioned much at all in any of its historical exhibits. The reason the government really actively tries to remove the Cultural revolution from Chinese history is the it still considers itself at least in one part or another an inheritor of its legacy . Which really means that the government is worried that continued academic probing and popular widespread discussions will eventually lead “ideological conflict and increase social instability and it may threaten the foundations of Communist rule.” (Johnston, 2010) This has led to the maintenance of Political and Social Stability been the highest priory of the Chinese government since the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, this includes the securing of the Communist party as well. This has led the government to really adopt the line that it “has no interest in re-evaluating any issue that might lead to a split in the Chinese leadership, or which might polarize the Party on ideological grounds.” (Slavicek, 2010) Overall the Legacy of the Cultural Revolution on contemporary China is that the government basically fears any knowledge of the revolution in today’s world may once again stir up trouble for the Communist


Outside of mainland China it has left a legacy of inspiring events in Hong Kong, Taiwan and other places around the world. In Hong Kong an anti-colonial pro-communist strike was launched was launched in 1967, which was directly inspired by the Cultural Revolution. In Taiwan a Chinese Cultural Renaissance was launched to counter what was considered to be a destruction of traditional Chinese values by the Communists on the mainland. Worldwide, Mao as a response of the Cultural Revolution emerged as a “symbol of the anti-establishment, grassroots populism, and self-determination. His revolutionary philosophies found adherents in the Shining Path of Peru, the U.S.-based Black Panther Party” (Slavicek, 2010) In Modern times, matters surrounding the Cultural Revolution raised again in 2007, when the Hong Kong Chief Executive remarked that the Cultural Revolution “represented the ‘dangers of democracy’, remarking “People can go to the extreme like what we saw during the Cultural Revolution […], when people take everything into their own hands, then you cannot govern the place” (Johnston, 2010) The evidence is there that the Cultural Revolution has of course left a legacy on China’s Special territories and has spread to the rest of the world as well in one aspect or another and acts as a symbol of anti-establishment around the world

Concluding the Cultural Revolution even though it happened decades ago has and will continue to leave a legacy and will continue to impact China and influence events around the world. It has also made in a way the Chinese worried of fully integrating modern democracy into China’s political system as it would cause them to come clean about the Cultural Revolution and damage Communist rule

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