Crystal skull

Crystal skull

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia and others.
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The crystal skulls are a number of human skull hardstone carvings made of clear or milky quartzrock, known in art history as “rock crystal”, claimed to be pre-Columbian Mesoamerican artifacts by their alleged finders. However, none of the specimens made available for scientific study have been authenticated as pre-Columbian in origin. The results of these studies demonstrated that those examined were manufactured in the mid-19th century or later, almost certainly in Europe.Despite some claims presented in an assortment of popularizing literature, legends of crystal skulls with mystical powers do not figure in genuine Mesoamerican or other Native Americanmythologies and spiritual accounts.

The skulls are often claimed to exhibit paranormal phenomena by some members of the New Agemovement, and have often been portrayed as such in fiction. Crystal skulls have been a popular subject appearing in numerous sci-fi television series, novels, and video games.

Crystal skull collections

A distinction has been made by some researchers between the smaller bead-sized crystal skulls, which first appear in the mid-19th century, and the larger (approximately life-sized) skulls that appear toward the end of that century.The larger crystal skulls have attracted nearly all the popular attention in recent times, and some researchers believe that all of these have been manufactured as forgeriesin Europe.

Trade in fake pre-Columbian artifacts developed during the late 19th century to the extent that in 1886, Smithsonian archaeologist William Henry Holmes wrote an article called “The Trade in Spurious Mexican Antiquities” for Science. Although museums had acquired skulls earlier, it was Eugène Boban, an antiquities dealer who opened his shop in Paris in 1870, who is most associated with 19th-century museum collections of crystal skulls. Most of Boban’s collection, including three crystal skulls, was sold to the ethnographer Alphonse Pinart, who donated the collection to the Trocadéro Museum, which later became the Musée de l’Homme.

Research into crystal skull origins

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Aztec or Mixtec mask with mosaic inlays

Many crystal skulls are claimed to be pre-Columbian, usually attributed to the Aztec or Maya civilizations. Mesoamerican art has numerous representations of skulls, but none of the skulls in museum collections come from documented excavations. Research carried out on several crystal skulls at the British Museum in 1967, 1996 and again in 2004 has shown that the indented lines marking the teeth (for these skulls had no separate jawbone, unlike the Mitchell-Hedges skull) were carved using jeweler’s equipment (rotary tools) developed in the 19th century, making a supposed pre-Columbian origin problematic.The type of crystal was determined by examination of chlorite inclusions, and is only to be found in Madagascar and Brazil, and thus unobtainable or unknown within pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. The study concluded that the skulls were crafted in the 19th century in Germany, quite likely at workshops in the town of Idar-Oberstein renowned for crafting objects made from imported Brazilian quartz at this period in the late 19th century.

It has been established that both the British Museum and Paris’s Musée de l’Homme crystal skulls were originally sold by the French antiquities dealer Eugène Boban, who was operating in Mexico City between 1860 and 1880.The British Museum crystal skull transited through New York’s Tiffany’s, whilst the Musée de l’Homme’s crystal skull was donated by Alphonse Pinart, anethnographer who had bought it from Boban.

An investigation carried out by the Smithsonian Institution in 1992 on a crystal skull provided by an anonymous source who claimed to have purchased it in Mexico City in 1960 and that it was of Aztec origin concluded that it, too, was made in recent years. According to the Smithsonian, Boban acquired the crystal skulls he sold from sources in Germany – findings that are in keeping with those of the British Museum.

A detailed study of the British Museum and Smithsonian crystal skulls was accepted for publication by the Journal of Archaeological Science in May 2008. Using electron microscopy and X-ray crystallography, a team of British and American researchers found that the British Museum skull was worked with a harsh abrasive substance such as corundum or diamond, and shaped using a rotary disc tool made from some suitable metal. The Smithsonian specimen had been worked with a different abrasive, namely the silicon-carbon compoundcarborundum which is a synthetic substance manufactured using modern industrial techniques. Since the synthesis of carborundum dates only to the 1890s and its wider availability to the 20th century, the researchers concluded “[t]he suggestion is that it was made in the 1950s or later”.

Speculations on smaller skulls

None of the skulls in museums come from documented excavations. A parallel example is provided by obsidian mirrors, ritual objects widely depicted in Aztec art. Although a few surviving obsidian mirrors come from archaeological excavations, none of the Aztec-style obsidian mirrors are so documented. Yet most authorities on Aztec material culture consider the Aztec-style obsidian mirrors as authentic pre-Columbian objects. Archaeologist Michael E. Smith reports a non peer-reviewed find of a small crystal skull at an Aztec site in the Valley of Mexico.Crystal skulls have been described as “A fascinating example of artifacts that have made their way into museums with no scientific evidence to prove their rumored pre-Columbian origins.A similar case is the “Olmec-style” face mask in jade; hardstone carvings of a face in a mask form. Curators and scholars refer to these as “Olmec-style”, as to date no example has been recovered in an archaeologically controlled Olmec context, although they appear Olmec in style. However they have been recovered from sites of other cultures, including one deliberately deposited in the ceremonial precinct of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City), which would presumably have been about 2,000 years old when the Aztecs buried it, suggesting these were as valued and collected as Roman antiquities were in Europe.

Individual skulls

Mitchell-Hedges skull

Perhaps the most famous and enigmatic skull was allegedly discovered in 1924 by Anna Le Guillon Mitchell-Hedges, adopted daughter of British adventurer and popularist author F.A. Mitchell-Hedges. It is the subject of a video documentary made in 1990, Crystal Skull of Lubaantun.It has been noted upon examination by Smithsonian researchers to be “very nearly a replica of the British Museum skull–almost exactly the same shape, but with more detailed modeling of the eyes and the teeth.Anna Hedges claimed that she found the skull buried under a collapsed altar inside a temple in Lubaantun, in British Honduras, now Belize. As far as can be ascertained, F.A. Mitchell-Hedges himself made no mention of the alleged discovery in any of his writings on Lubaantun. Also, others present at the time of the excavation have not been documented as noting either the skull’s discovery or Anna’s presence at the dig.

In a 1970 letter, Anna also stated that she was, “told by the few remaining Maya that the skull was used by the high priest to will death.For this reason, the artifact is sometimes referred to as “The Skull of Doom”. An alternative explanation is a play on ‘Skull of Dunn’ (Dunn being an associate of Mitchell-Hedges) Anna Mitchell-Hedges toured with the skull from 1967 exhibiting it on a pay-per-view basis, and she continued to give interviews about the artifact until her death in 2007.

The skull is made from a block of clear quartz about the size of a small human cranium, measuring some 5 inches (13 cm) high, 7 inches (18 cm) long and 5 inches wide. The lower jaw is detached. In the early 1970s it came under the temporary care of freelance art restorer Frank Dorland, who claimed upon inspecting it that it had been “carved” with total disregard to the natural crystal axes without the use of metal tools. Dorland reported being unable to find any tell-tale scratch marks, except for traces of mechanical grinding on the teeth, and he speculated that it was first chiseled into rough form, probably using diamonds, and the finer shaping, grinding and polishing was achieved through the use of sand over a period of 150 to 300 years. He said it could be up to 12,000 years old. Although various claims have been made over the years regarding the skull’s physical properties, such as an allegedly constant temperature of 70 °F (21 °C), Dorland reported that there was no difference in properties between it and other natural quartz crystals.

While in Dorland’s care the skull came to the attention of writer Richard Garvin, at the time working at an advertising agency where he supervised Hewlett-Packard‘s advertising account. Garvin made arrangements for the skull to be examined at HP’s crystal labs at Santa Clara, where it was subjected to several tests. The labs determined only that it was not a composite (as Dorland had supposed), but that it was fashioned from a single crystal of quartz.The lab test also established that the lower jaw had been fashioned from the same left-handed growing crystal as the rest of the skull. No investigation was made by HP as to its method of manufacture or dating.

As well as the traces of mechanical grinding on the teeth noted by Dorland, Mayanist archaeologist Norman Hammond reported that the holes (presumed to be intended for support pegs) showed signs of being made by drilling with metal. Anna Mitchell-Hedges refused subsequent requests to submit the skull for further scientific testing.

F. A. Mitchell-Hedges mentioned the skull only briefly in the first edition of his autobiography, Danger My Ally (1954), without specifying where or by whom it was found. He merely claimed that “it is at least 3,600 years old and according to legend it was used by the High Priest of the Maya when he was performing esoteric rites. It is said that when he willed death with the help of the skull, death invariably followed”.All subsequent editions of Danger My Ally omitted mention of the skull entirely.


Eugène Boban, main French dealer in pre-Columbian artifacts during the second half of the 19th century and probable source of many famous skulls

The earliest published reference to the skull is the July 1936 issue of the British anthropological journalMan, where it is described as being in the possession of Mr. Sydney Burney, a London art dealer who is said to have owned it since 1933. No mention was made of Mitchell-Hedges. There is documentary evidence that Mitchell-Hedges bought it from Burney in 1944. The skull was in the custody of Anna Mitchell-Hedges, the adopted daughter of Frederick. She steadfastly refused to let it be examined by experts (making very doubtful the claim that it was reported on by R. Stansmore Nutting in 1962). Somewhere between 1988–1990 Anna Mitchell-Hedges toured with the skull.

In her last eight years, Anna Mitchell-Hedges lived in Chesterton, Indiana, with Bill Homann, whom she married in 2002. She died on April 11, 2007. Since that time the Mitchell-Hedges Skull has been in the custody of Bill Homann. He continues to believe in its mystical properties.

British Museum skull

The British Crystal Skull.  It is currently residing in the British Museum of Man in London, England,
and has been there since 1898. It is a one piece clear quartz full size quartz crystal skull.

The crystal skull of the British Museum first appeared in 1881, in the shop of the Paris antiquarian,Eugène Boban. Its origin was not stated in his catalog of the time. He is said to have tried to sell it to Mexico’s national museum as an Aztec artifact, but was unsuccessful. Boban later moved his business to New York City, where the skull was sold to George H. Sisson. It was exhibited at the meeting of theAmerican Association for the Advancement of Science in New York City in 1887 by George F. Kunz. It was sold at auction, and bought by Tiffany and Co., who later sold it at cost to the British Museum in 1897. This skull is very similar to the Mitchell-Hedges skull, although it is less detailed and does not have a movable lower jaw.

The British Museum catalogues the skull’s provenance as “probably European, 19th century AD” and describes it as “not an authentic pre-Columbian artefact”. It has been established that this skull was made with modern tools, and that it is not authentic.

The British Crystal Skull.  It is currently residing in the British Museum of Man in London, England,
and has been there since 1898. It is a one piece clear quartz full size quartz crystal skull

Paris skull

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Crystal skull at the Musée du quai Branly, Paris

The largest of the three skulls sold by Eugène Boban to Alphonse Pinart (sometimes called the Paris Skull), about 10 cm (4 in) high, has a hole drilled vertically through its center. It is part of a collection held at the Musée du Quai Branly, and was subjected to scientific tests carried out in 2007–08 by France’s national Centre de recherche et de restauration des musées de France(Centre for Research and Restoration of the Museums in France, or C2RMF). After a series of analyses carried out over three months, C2RMF engineers concluded that it was “certainly not pre-Columbian, it shows traces of polishing and abrasion by modern tools. Particle accelerator tests also revealed occluded traces of water that were dated to the 19th century, and the Quai Branly released a statement that the tests “seem to indicate that it was made late in the 19th century.

In 2009 the C2RMF researchers published results of further investigations to establish when the Paris skull had been carved. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) analysis indicated the use oflapidary machine tools in its carving. The results of a new dating technique known as quartz hydration dating (QHD) demonstrated that the Paris skull had been carved later than a reference quartz specimen artifact, known to have been cut in 1740. The researchers conclude that the SEM and QHD results combined with the skull’s known provenance indicate it was carved in the 18th or 19th century.

Smithsonian Skull

The “Smithsonian Skull”, which is Catalogue No. A562841-0 in the collections of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, was mailed to the Smithsonian Institution anonymously in 1992, and was claimed to be an Aztec object by its donor and was purportedly from the collection of Porfirio Diaz. It is the largest of the skulls, weighing 31 pounds and is 15 inches high. It was carved using carborundum, a modern abrasive. It has been displayed as a fake at the National Museum of Natural History.

Paranormal claims and spiritual associations

Some believers in the paranormal claim that crystal skulls can produce a variety of miracles. Ann Mitchell-Hedges claimed that the skull she allegedly discovered could cause visions, cure cancer, that she once used its magical properties to kill a man, and that in another instance, she saw in it a premonition of the John F. Kennedy assassination.

In the 1931 play The Satin Slipper by Paul Claudel, King Philip II of Spain uses “a death’s head made from a single piece of rock crystal,” lit by “a ray of the setting sun,” to see the defeat of his Armada in its attack on England (day 4, scene 4, pp. 243–44).

Claims of the healing and supernatural powers of crystal skulls have no support in the scientific community, which has found no evidence of any unusual phenomena associated with the skulls nor any reason for further investigation, other than the confirmation of their provenance and method of manufacture.

Another novel and historically unfounded speculation ties in the legend of the crystal skulls with the completion of the current Maya calendarb’ak’tun-cycle on December 21, 2012, claiming the re-uniting of the thirteen mystical skulls will forestall a catastrophe allegedly predicted or implied by the ending of this calendar. An airing of this claim appeared (among an assortment of others made) in The Mystery of the Crystal Skulls, a 2008 program produced for the Sci Fi Channel in May and shown on Discovery Channel Canada in June. Interviewees includedRichard Hoagland, who attempted to link the skulls and the Maya to life on Mars, and David Hatcher Childress, proponent of lost Atlantean civilizations and anti-gravity claims.

Crystal skulls are also referenced by author Drunvalo Melchizedek in his book Serpent of Light. He writes that he came across indigenous Mayan descendants in possession of crystal skulls at ceremonies at temples in the Yucatán, which he writes contained souls of ancient Mayans who had entered the skulls to await the time when their ancient knowledge would once again be required.

The alleged associations and origins of crystal skull mythology in Native American spiritual lore, as advanced by neoshamanic writers such as Jamie Sams, are similarly discounted. Instead, as Philip Jenkins notes, crystal skull mythology may be traced back to the “baroque legends” initially spread by F.A. Mitchell-Hedges, and then afterwards taken up:

By the 1970s, the crystal skulls [had] entered New Age mythology as potent relics of ancient Atlantis, and they even acquired a canonical number: there were exactly thirteen skulls.
None of this would have anything to do with North American Indian matters, if the skulls had not attracted the attention of some of the most active New Age writers.

Joshua and Desy Shapiro (U.S. & Holland) holding their three personal crystal skulls, (from your left to right) “Portal de Luz”, “Unity”and “Moses of Peace”.
Brazilian Quartz Crystal Skull
This skull was in a warehouse in Africa for 22 years and then 7 years in storage in an import store. I found it 11 months ago today. It is human size and it has the removable jaw. It is the same dimensions as the Mitchell Hedges Skull with some added features.
This view is of an Iron Oxide Occlusion between two of the 3 total layers on skull
When examined by a Dr. Minch, 20 year head of Geology dept. at the Natural History Museum in Santa Barbara showed how the front teeth or Maxilla angles to it’s right! He felt this was one example of a hand carved Skull. “A machine made skull would have been straight.”
Rock Crystal Skull – Probably European, 19th century AD
© Trustees of the British Museum

© Marc van de Velde 

Here a group of researchers based in Belgium, using what is called a Lecher Antenna (like a dowsing rod but able to measure specific frequencies of energy) test “Portal de Luz”.
They were amazed to find that our crystal skull was broadcasting all the same frequencies as a human being: “The senses of ‘Sight’, ‘Smell’, ‘Taste’ and even ‘Hearing’ “


Voynich manuscript

Voynich manuscript

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Voynich manuscript is a mysterious work which was created in the early 15th century, probably in northern Italy. It comprises about 240 vellum pages, most with illustrations, and in many ways looks like an herbal of the time period. Although many possible authors have been proposed, the author, script, andlanguage remain unknown. It has been described as “the world’s most mysterious manuscript”.

Generally presumed to be some kind of ciphertext, the Voynich manuscript has been studied by many professional and amateurcryptographers, including American and British codebreakers from both World War I and World War II. Yet it has defied all decipherment attempts, becoming a historical cryptology cause célèbre. The mystery surrounding it has excited the popular imagination, making the manuscript a subject of both fanciful theories and novels.

The book is named after the Polish-Lithuanian-American book dealer Wilfrid M. Voynich, who acquired it in 1912. As of 2011, the Voynich manuscript is owned by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University, and is formally referred to as “Beinecke MS 408“.

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The manuscript’s quires are numbered from 1 to 20, its folios, some with unusual fold-out shapes, are numbered from 1 to 116, yielding a total (depending on how they are counted) of 240 vellumpages. From the various numbering gaps, it seems likely that the manuscript originally had at least 272 pages: the pages were already missing when Voynich acquired it in 1912. A quill penwas used for the text and figure outlines, and colored paint was applied (somewhat crudely) to the figures, possibly at a later date. There is strong evidence that many of the book’s bifolios were reordered at various points in its history, and that the original page order may well have been quite different from what we see today.

The text was clearly written from left to right, with a slightly ragged right margin. Longer sections are broken into paragraphs, sometimes with star- or flower-like “bullets” in the left margin. There is no obvious punctuation. The ductus flows smoothly, giving the impression that the symbols were not enciphered, and the writer was fluent and practiced in writing the script. However, such writing fluency could be achieved by prepared coded text from a wax tablet. There are no indications of any errors or corrections made at any place in the document.

The text consists of over 170,000 discrete glyphs, usually separated from each other by narrow gaps. Most of the glyphs are written with one or two simple pen strokes. While there is some dispute as to whether certain glyphs are distinct or not, an alphabet with 20–30 glyphs would account for virtually all of the text; the exceptions are a few dozen rarer characters that occur only once or twice each. See also European Voynich Alphabet.

Wider gaps divide the text into about 35,000 “words” of varying length. These seem to follow phonological or orthographic laws of some sort, e.g., certain characters must appear in each word (like English vowels), some characters never follow others, some may be doubled or tripled but others may not, etc.

Statistical analysis of the text reveals patterns similar to those of natural languages. For instance, the word entropy (about 10 bits per word) is similar to that of English or Latin texts. Some words occur only in certain sections, or in only a few pages; others occur throughout the manuscript. There are very few repetitions among the thousand or so “labels” attached to the illustrations. In the herbal section, the first word on each page occurs only on that page and may possibly be the name of the plant.

On the other hand, the Voynich manuscript’s “language” is quite unlike European languages in several aspects. Firstly, there are practically no words comprising more than ten glyphs, yet there are also few one- or two-letter words. The distribution of letters within words is also rather peculiar: some characters only occur at the beginning of a word, some only at the end, and some always in the middle section. WhileSemitic alphabets have many letters that are written differently depending on whether they occur at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of a word, letters of the LatinCyrillic, and Greek alphabets are generally written the same way regardless of their position within a word (with the Greek letter sigma and the medieval scribal ‘s’ being notable exceptions).

The text seems to be more repetitive than typical European languages; there are instances where the same common word appears up to three times in a row. Words that differ only by one letter also repeat with unusual frequency, causing single substitution alphabet decipherments to yield babble-like text. According to Elizebeth Friedman, such attempts are “doomed to utter frustration.

There are only a few words in the manuscript written in a seemingly Latin script. On the last page, there are four lines of writing that are written in (rather distorted) Latin letters, except for two words in the main script. The lettering resembles European alphabets of the late 14th and 15th centuries, but the words do not seem to make sense in any language. Also, a series of diagrams in the “astronomical” section has the names of ten of the months (from March to December) written in Latin script, with spelling suggestive of the medieval languages ofFrance, North West Italy or the Iberian Peninsula.  However, it is not known whether these bits of Latin script were part of the original text or were added later.


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A detail from the “biological” section of the manuscript

The illustrations of the manuscript shed little light on the precise nature of its text but imply that the book consists of six “sections”, with different styles and subject matter. Except for the last section, which contains only text, almost every page contains at least one illustration. Following are the sections and their conventional names:

Each page displays one plant (sometimes two) and a few paragraphs of text—a format typical of European herbals of the time. Some parts of these drawings are larger and cleaner copies of sketches seen in the “pharmaceutical” section (below). None of the plants depicted are unambiguously identifiable.
Contains circular diagrams, some of them with suns, moons, and stars, suggestive ofastronomy or astrology. One series of 12 diagrams depicts conventional symbols for thezodiacal constellations (two fish for Pisces, a bull for Taurus, a hunter with crossbow forSagittarius, etc.). Each of these has 30 female figures arranged in two or more concentric bands. Most of the females are at least partly naked, and each holds what appears to be a labeled star or is shown with the star attached by what could be a tether or cord of some kind to either arm. The last two pages of this section (Aquarius and Capricornus, roughly January and February) were lost, while Aries and Taurus are split into four paired diagrams with 15 women and 15 stars each. Some of these diagrams are on fold-out pages.
A dense continuous text interspersed with figures, mostly showing small naked women bathing in pools or tubs connected by an elaborate network of pipes, some of them clearly shaped like body organs. Some of the women wear crowns.
More circular diagrams, but of an obscure nature. This section also has foldouts; one of them spans six pages and contains a map or diagram, with nine “islands” connected by “causeways“, castles, and what may be a volcano.
Many labeled drawings of isolated plant parts (roots, leaves, etc.); objects resembling apothecary jars drawn along the margins; and a few text paragraphs.
Many short paragraphs, each marked with a flower- or star-like “bullet”.


The overall impression given by the surviving leaves of the manuscript is that it was meant to serve as a pharmacopoeia or to address topics in medieval or early modern medicine. However, the puzzling details of illustrations have fueled many theories about the book’s origins, the contents of its text, and the purpose for which it was intended.

The first section of the book is almost certainly herbal, but attempts to identify the plants, either with actual specimens or with the stylized drawings of contemporary herbals, have largely failed. Only two plants (including a wild pansy and the maidenhair fern) can be identified with some certainty. Those herbal pictures that match pharmacological sketches appear to be clean copies of these, except that missing parts were completed with improbable-looking details. In fact, many of the plant drawings in the herbal section seem to be composite: the roots of one species have been fastened to the leaves of another, with flowers from a third.

This three-page foldout from the manuscript includes a chart that appears astronomical.

Brumbaugh believed that one illustration depicted a New Worldsunflower, which would help date the manuscript and open up intriguing possibilities for its origin. However, the resemblance is slight, especially when compared to the original wild species; and, since the scale of the drawing is not known, the plant could be many other members of the same family, which includes thecommon daisychamomile, and many other species from all over the world.

The basins and tubes in the “biological” section may seem to indicate a connection to alchemy, which would also be relevant if the book contained instructions on the preparation of medical compounds. However, alchemical books of the period share a common pictorial language, where processes and materials are represented by specific images (such as eagle, toad, man in tomb, couple in bed) or standard textual symbols (such as circle with cross); and none of these could be convincingly identified in the Voynich manuscript.

Astrological considerations frequently played a prominent role in herb gathering, bloodletting and other medical procedures common during the likeliest dates of the manuscript (see, for instance, Nicholas Culpeper‘s books). However, apart from the obvious Zodiac symbols, and one diagram possibly showing the classical planets, no one has been able to interpret the illustrations within known astrological traditions (European or otherwise).

A circular drawing in the “astronomical” section depicts an irregularly shaped object with four curved arms, which antiquarian William Romaine Newbold interpreted as a picture of a galaxy, which could only be obtained with a telescope. Similarly, he interpreted other drawings as cells seen through a microscope. However, Newbold’s analysis has since been dismissed as overly speculative.


The history of the manuscript is still full of gaps, especially in its earliest part. The text and illustrations are all characteristically European. When Voynich first discovered the manuscript in 1912, his first impression was that it dated from the 12th century.

In 2009, University of Arizona researchers performed C14 dating on the manuscript’s vellum, which they assert (with 95% confidence) was made between 1404 and 1438.In addition, the McCrone Research Institute in Chicago found that much of the ink was added not long afterwards, confirming that the manuscript is an authentic medieval document.

Based on a 1666 letter that accompanied the manuscript when it was being sent from Johannes Marcus toAthanasius Kircher, the book once belonged to Emperor Rudolf II (1552-1612), who paid 600 gold ducats(approximately USD $80,000 in 2011) for it. The book was then given or loaned to Jacobus Horcicky de Tepenecz (died 1622), the head of Rudolf’s botanical gardens. With modern ultraviolet lighting methods, Tepenecz’s name can be seen faintly on the first page of the manuscript, and the handwriting is consistent with Tepenecz’s name in other books that he owned.

The next confirmed owner is Georg Baresch, an obscure alchemist in Prague. Baresch apparently was just as puzzled as we are today about this “Sphynx” that had been “taking up space uselessly in his library” for many years.On learning that Athanasius Kircher, a Jesuit scholar from the Collegio Romano, had published a Coptic (Ethiopic) dictionary and “deciphered” the Egyptian hieroglyphs, Baresch sent a sample copy of the script to Kircher in Rome (twice), asking for clues. His 1639 letter to Kircher is the earliest confirmed mention of the manuscript that has been found so far.

It is not known whether Kircher answered the request, but apparently, he was interested enough to try to acquire the book, which Baresch refused to yield. Upon Baresch’s death, the manuscript passed to his friend Jan Marek Marci (1595–1667) (Johannes Marcus Marci), thenrector of Charles University in Prague, who a few years later sent the book to Kircher, his longtime friend and correspondent. Marci’s 1665 cover letter was still with the manuscript in 1912.

There are no records of the book for the next 200 years, but in all likelihood it was stored with the rest of Kircher’s correspondence in the library of the Collegio Romano (now the Pontifical Gregorian University). It probably remained there until the troops of Victor Emmanuel II of Italy captured the city in 1870 and annexed the Papal States. The new Italian government decided to confiscate many properties of the Church, including the library of the Collegio. According to investigations by Xavier Ceccaldi and others, just before this happened, many books of the University’s library were hastily transferred to the personal libraries of its faculty, which were exempt from confiscation. Kircher’s correspondence was among those books—and so apparently was the Voynich manuscript, as it still bears the ex libris of Petrus Beckx, head of the Jesuit order and the University’s Rector at the time.

Beckx’s “private” library was moved to the Villa MondragoneFrascati, a large country palace near Rome that had been bought by theSociety of Jesus in 1866 and housed the headquarters of the Jesuits’ Ghislieri College.

Around 1912, the Collegio Romano was short of money and decided to discreetly sell some of its holdings. Wilfrid Voynich acquired 30 manuscripts, among them the manuscript that now bears his name. In 1930, after his death, the manuscript was inherited by his widow,Ethel Lilian Voynich (known as the author of the novel The Gadfly and daughter of famous mathematician George Boole). She died in 1960 and left the manuscript to her close friend, Miss Anne Nill. In 1961, Nill sold the book to another antique book dealer, Hans P. Kraus. Unable to find a buyer, Kraus donated the manuscript to Yale University in 1969.


Many people have been proposed as possible authors of the Voynich manuscript.

Marci’s 1665 cover letter to Kircher says that, according to his late friend Raphael Mnishovsky, the book had once been bought by Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia (1552–1612), for 600 ducats (66.42 troy ounce actual gold weight, around US$80,831.20 as of 2011). According to the letter, Mnishovsky (but not necessarily Rudolf) speculated that the author was theFranciscan friar and polymath Roger Bacon (1214–1294).

Even though Marci said that he was “suspending his judgment” about this claim, it was taken quite seriously by Wilfrid Voynich, who did his best to confirm it. His conviction strongly influenced most deciphering attempts for the next 80 years. Mnishovsky died in 1644, and the deal must have occurred before Rudolf’s abdication in 1611—at least 55 years before Marci’s letter.

The assumption that Roger Bacon was the author led Voynich to conclude that the person who sold the manuscript to Rudolf could only have been John Dee (1527–1608), a mathematician and astrologer at the court of Queen Elizabeth I, known to have owned a large collection of Bacon’s manuscripts. This theory is also conveyed by Voynich manuscript scholar Gordon Rugg. Dee and his scrier (mediumic assistantEdward Kelley lived in Bohemia for several years, where they had hoped to sell their services to the emperor. However, Dee’s meticulously kept diaries do not mention that sale and make it seem quite unlikely. If the Voynich manuscript author is not Bacon, the connection to Dee may just disappear. It is possible that Dee himself may have written it and spread the rumour that it was originally a work of Bacon’s in the hopes of later selling it.


Edward Kelley (d. 1597), a 19th century picture based on an earlier engraving

Dee’s companion in Prague, Edward Kelley, was a self-styled alchemist who claimed to be able to turncopper into gold by means of a secret powder that he had dug out of a Bishop’s tomb in Wales. As Dee’sscrier, he claimed to be able to invoke angels through a shewstone and had long conversations with them—which Dee dutifully noted down. The angel’s language was called Enochian, after Enoch, the Biblical father of Methuselah; according to legend, he had been taken on a tour of heaven by angels and had laterwritten a book about what he saw there. Several people (see below) have suggested that, Kelley could have fabricated the Voynich manuscript to swindle the emperor (who was already paying Kelley for his supposed alchemical expertise).

Fabrication by Voynich

Some suspected Voynich of having fabricated the manuscript himself.As an antique book dealer, he probably had the necessary knowledge and means, and a “lost book” by Roger Bacon would have been worth a fortune. Furthermore, Baresch’s letter (and Marci’s as well) only establish the existence of amanuscript, not that the Voynich manuscript is the same one spoken of there. In other words, these letters could possibly have been the motivation for Voynich to fabricate the manuscript (assuming he was aware of them), rather than as proofs authenticating it. However, many consider the expert internal dating of the manuscript and the recent discovery of Baresch’s letter to Kircher as having eliminated this possibility.

Other theories

photostatic reproduction of the first page of the Voynich manuscript, taken by Voynich sometime before 1921, showed some faint writing that had been erased. With the help of chemicals, the text could be read as the name “Jacobj `a Tepenece”. This is taken to be Jakub Hořčický of Tepenec, who was also known by his Latin name: Jacobus Sinapius (1575–1622). He was a specialist in herbal medicine,Rudolph II‘s personal physician, and curator of his botanical gardens. Voynich, and many other people after him, concluded from this “signature” that Jacobus owned the Voynich manuscript before Baresch and saw in that a confirmation of Mnishovsky’s story. Others have suggested that Jacobus himself could be the author.

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The manuscript continues to excite theories.

However, that writing does not match Jacobus’s signature, as found in a document located by Jan Hurych in 2003. It is possible that the writing on page f1r was added by a later owner or librarian and is only this person’s guess as to the book’s author. (In the Jesuit history books that were available to Kircher, Jesuit-educated Jacobus is the only alchemist or doctor from Rudolf’s court who deserves a full-page entry, while, for example, Tycho Brahe is barely mentioned.) Moreover, the chemicals applied by Voynich have so degraded the vellum that hardly a trace of the signature can be seen today; thus, there is also the suspicion that the signature was fabricated by Voynich in order to strengthen the Roger Bacon theory.

Jan Marci met Kircher when he led a delegation from Charles University to Rome in 1638, and over the next 27 years, the two scholars exchanged many letters on a variety of scientific subjects. Marci’s trip was part of a continuing struggle by the secularist side of the university to maintain their independence from the Jesuits, who ran the rival Clementinum college in Prague. In spite of those efforts, the two universities were merged in 1654, under Jesuit control. It has therefore been speculated that political animosity against the Jesuits led Marci to fabricate Baresch’s letters, and later the Voynich manuscript, in an attempt to expose and discredit their “star” Kircher.

Marci’s personality and knowledge appear to have been adequate for this task; and Kircher was an easy target. Indeed, Baresch’s letter bears some resemblance to a hoax that orientalist Andreas Mueller once played on Kircher. Mueller concocted an unintelligible manuscript and sent it to Kircher with a note explaining that it had come from Egypt. He asked Kircher for a translation, and Kircher, reportedly, produced one at once. The only proofs of Georg Baresch’s existence are three letters sent to Kircher: one by Baresch (1639), and two by Marci (about a year later). It is also curious that the correspondence between Marci and Kircher ends in 1665, precisely with the Voynich manuscript “cover letter”.

However, Marci’s secret grudge against the Jesuits is pure conjecture: a faithful Catholic, he himself had studied to become a Jesuit, and, shortly before his death in 1667, he was granted honorary membership in their Order.

Raphael Mnishovsky, the friend of Marci who was the reputed source of Bacon’s story, was himself a cryptographer (among many other things) and apparently invented a cipher that he claimed was uncrackable (ca. 1618). This has led to the theory that he produced the Voynich manuscript as a practical demonstration of his cipher and made poor Baresch his unwitting test subject. After Kircher published his book on Coptic, Mnishovsky (so the theory goes) may have thought that stumping him would be a much better trophy than stumping Baresch and convinced the alchemist to ask the Jesuit’s help. He would have invented the Roger Bacon story to motivate Baresch. Indeed, the disclaimer in the Voynich manuscript cover letter could mean that Marci suspected a lie. However, there is no definite evidence for this theory.

Leonell C. Strong, a cancer research scientist and amateur cryptographer, believed that the solution to the Voynich manuscript was a “peculiar double system of arithmetical progressions of a multiple alphabet”. Strong claimed that the plaintext revealed the Voynich manuscript to be written by the 16th-century English author Anthony Ascham, whose works include A Little Herbal, published in 1550. Although the Voynich manuscript does contain sections resembling A Little Herbal, the main argument against this theory is that it is unknown where Ascham would have obtained such literary and cryptographic knowledge.

In his 2006 book, Nick Pelling proposed that the Voynich manuscript was written by Antonio Averlino (also known as “Filarete”), an Italian Renaissance architect. From a 1465 letter by Francesco Filelfo, it is known that Averlino intended travelling to Constantinople: yet not long before in September 1461, the Venetian border guards in Crete had sent Matteo di Andrea de’ Pasti back to Venice in chains for carrying a copy of Roberto Valturio‘s De Re Militari on a similar journey East on behalf of Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta. Averlino (according to Pelling’s hypothesis) therefore constructed the Voynich manuscript as a way of carrying his own books of engineering and military secrets with him to the Ottoman Empire. Pelling conjectures that the manuscript was enciphered using a broad set of simple cryptographic andsteganographic components appropriate to the mid-15th century: and that these were consciously arranged in a complicated system so as to produce ciphertext resembling a medieval document in an unknown language, complete with apparent consonant-vowel pairing of letters and fake page references. He also concludes that most of the marginalia were added by the original author, but that when later owners tried to physically restore the badly faded text, their incorrect guesses at what these had originally read caused them to become unreadable.


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A plant illustration from the manuscript

The bizarre features of the Voynich manuscript text (such as the doubled and tripled words), the suspicious contents of its illustrations (such as the chimeric plants) and its lack of historical reference support the idea that the manuscript is a hoax. In other words, if no one is able to extract meaning from the book, perhaps this is because the document contains no meaningful content in the first place.

Between 1976-78 an Italian artist, Luigi Serafini proved that it is not hard to create a book like this, and created the Codex Seraphinianus, which also contains pictures of imaginary plants, and a language that has been studied by linguists for decades. In a talk at the Oxford University Society of Bibliophiles held on May 12, 2009, Serafini has stated that there is no meaning hidden behind the script of the Codex.

The argument for authenticity, on the other hand, is that the manuscript appears too sophisticated to be a hoax. While hoaxes of the period tended to be quite crude, the Voynich manuscript exhibits many subtle characteristics which show up only after careful statistical analysis. These fine touches require much more work than would have been necessary for a simple forgery, and some of the complexities are only visible with modern tools. The question then arises: why would the author employ such a complex and laborious forging algorithm in the creation of a simplistic hoax, if no one in the expected audience (that is, the creator’s contemporaries) could tell the difference?

Various hoax theories have been proposed over time:

In 2003, computer scientist Gordon Rugg showed that text with characteristics similar to the Voynich manuscript could have been produced using a table of word prefixes, stems, and suffixes, which would have been selected and combined by means of a perforated paper overlay. The latter device, known as a Cardan grille, was invented around 1550 as an encryption tool, more than 100 years after the estimated creation date of the Voynich manuscript. Some maintain that the similarity between the pseudo-texts generated in Gordon Rugg’s experiments and the Voynich manuscript is superficial, and the grille method could be used to emulate any language to a certain degree.

In April 2007, a study by Austrian researcher Andreas Schinner published in Cryptologia supported the hoax hypothesis.Schinner showed that the statistical properties of the manuscript’s text were more consistent with meaningless gibberish produced using a quasi-stochasticmethod such as the one described by Rugg, than with Latin and medieval German texts. However, this comparison is valid only for plain text in European languages, or text enciphered with a simple substitution cipher, while analysis suggests a much more complex enciphering method and/or non-European origin of the underlying text of the Voynich manuscript (see Letter-based cipher and Exotic natural languagebelow).


There are many theories about the Voynich manuscript’s “language”:


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According to the “letter-based cipher” theory, the Voynich manuscript contains a meaningful text in some European language, that was intentionally rendered obscure by mapping it to the Voynich manuscript “alphabet” through a cipher of some sort—an algorithm that operated on individual letters.

This has been the working hypothesis for most deciphering attempts in the twentieth century, including an informal team of NSA cryptographers led by William F. Friedman in the early 1950s. Simple monoalphabetic ciphers can be excluded, because they are very easy to crack; so deciphering efforts have generally focused on polyalphabetic ciphers, invented by Alberti in the 1460s. This class includes the popular Vigenère cipher, which could have been strengthened by the use of nulls and/or equivalent symbols, letter rearrangement, false word breaks and so on. Some people assumed that vowels had been deleted before encryption. There have been several claims of deciphering along these lines, but none has been widely accepted—chiefly because the proposed deciphering algorithms depended on so many guesses by the user that they could extract a meaningful text from any random string of symbols.

The main argument for this theory is that the use of a strange alphabet by a European author can hardly be explained except as an attempt to hide information. Indeed, Roger Bacon knew about ciphers, and the estimated date for the manuscript roughly coincides with the birth ofcryptography as a systematic discipline. Against this theory is the observation that a polyalphabetic cipher would normally destroy the “natural” statistical features that are seen in the Voynich manuscript. Also, although polyalphabetic ciphers were invented about 1467, variants only became popular in the 16th century, somewhat too late for the estimated date of the Voynich manuscript.

According to the “codebook cipher” theory, the Voynich manuscript “words” would actually be codes to be looked up in a “dictionary” orcodebook. The main evidence for this theory is that the internal structure and length distribution of those words are similar to those of Roman numerals—which, at the time, would be a natural choice for the codes. However, book-based ciphers are viable only for short messages, because they are very cumbersome to write and to read.


Following its 1912 rediscovery, one of the earliest efforts to unlock the book’s secrets (and the first of many premature claims of decipherment) was made in 1921 by William Newbold of the University of Pennsylvania. His singular hypothesis held that the visible text is meaningless itself, but that each apparent “letter” is in fact constructed of a series of tiny markings only discernible under magnification. These markings were supposed to be based on ancient Greek shorthand, forming a second level of script that held the real content of the writing. Newbold claimed to have used this knowledge to work out entire paragraphs proving the authorship of Bacon and recording his use of a compound microscope four hundred years before Leeuwenhoek. However, John Matthews Manly of the University of Chicago pointed out serious flaws in this theory. Each shorthand character was assumed to have multiple interpretations, with no reliable way to determine which was intended for any given case. Newbold’s method also required rearranging letters at will until intelligible Latin was produced. These factors alone ensure the system enough flexibility that nearly anything at all could be discerned from the microscopic markings. Although evidence ofmicrography using the Hebrew language can be traced as far back as the ninth century,[26] it is nowhere near as compact or complex as the shapes Newbold made out. Close study of the manuscript revealed the markings to be artifacts caused by the way ink cracks as it dries on rough vellum. Perceiving significance in these artifacts can be attributed to pareidolia. Thanks to Manly’s thorough refutation, the micrography theory is now generally disregarded.


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The text defies interpretation.

This theory holds that the text of the Voynich manuscript is mostly meaningless, but contains meaningful information hidden in inconspicuous details—e.g. the second letter of every word, or the number of letters in each line. This technique, called steganography, is very old, and was described by Johannes Trithemius in 1499. Though it has been suggested that the plain text was to be extracted by a Cardan grille of some sort, this seems somewhat unlikely because the words and letters are not arranged on anything like a regular grid. Still, steganographic claims are hard to prove or disprove, since stegotexts can be arbitrarily hard to find. An argument against steganography is that having a cipher-like cover text highlights the very existence of the secret message, which would be self-defeating: yet because the cover text no less resembles an unknown natural language, this argument is not hugely persuasive.

It has been suggested that the meaningful text could be encoded in the length or shape of certain pen strokes. There are indeed examples of steganography from about that time that use letter shape (italic vs. upright) to hide information. However, when examined at high magnification, the Voynich manuscript pen strokes seem quite natural, and substantially affected by the uneven surface of the vellum.

Exotic natural language

The linguist Jacques Guy once suggested that the Voynich manuscript text could be some exotic natural language, written in the plain with an invented alphabet. The word structure is similar to that of many language families of East and Central Asia, mainly Sino-Tibetan (Chinese,Tibetan, and Burmese), Austroasiatic (VietnameseKhmer, etc.) and possibly Tai (ThaiLao, etc.). In many of these languages, the “words” have only one syllable; and syllables have a rather rich structure, including tonal patterns.

This theory has some historical plausibility. While those languages generally had native scripts, these were notoriously difficult for Western visitors. This difficulty motivated the invention of several phonetic scripts, mostly with Latin letters but sometimes with invented alphabets. Although the known examples are much later than the Voynich manuscript, history records hundreds of explorers and missionaries who could have done it—even before Marco Polo‘s thirteenth century journey, but especially after Vasco da Gama sailed the sea route to the Orient in 1499. The Voynich manuscript author could also be a native of East Asia who lived in Europe, or who was educated at a European mission.

The main argument for this theory is that it is consistent with all statistical properties of the Voynich manuscript text which have been tested so far, including doubled and tripled words (which have been found to occur in Chinese and Vietnamese texts at roughly the same frequency as in the Voynich manuscript). It also explains the apparent lack of numerals and Western syntactic features (such as articles and copulas), and the general inscrutability of the illustrations. Another possible hint is two large red symbols on the first page, which have been compared to a Chinese-style book title, inverted and badly copied. Also, the apparent division of the year into 360 degrees (rather than 365 days), in groups of 15 and starting with Pisces, are features of the Chinese agricultural calendar (jie qi). The main argument against the theory is the fact that no one (including scholars at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing) has been able to find any clear examples of Asian symbolism or Asian science in the illustrations.

In 1976, James Child of the National Security Agency proposed that the manuscript was written in a “hitherto unknown North Germanic dialect”.

In late 2003, Zbigniew Banasik of Poland proposed that the manuscript is plaintext written in the Manchu language and gave a proposed incomplete translation of the first page of the manuscript.


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A page from the biological section showing “nymphs

In their book, Gerry Kennedy and Rob Churchill hint to the possibility that the Voynich manuscript may be a case of glossolaliachanneling or outsider art.

If this is true, then the author felt compelled to write large amounts of text in a manner which somehow resembles stream of consciousness, either due to voices heard, or due to his own urge. While in glossolalia this often takes place in an invented language (usually made up of fragments of the author’s own language), invented scripts for this purpose are rare. Kennedy and Churchill use Hildegard von Bingen‘s works to point out similarities between the illustrations she drew when she was suffering from severe bouts of migraine—which can induce a trance-like state prone to glossolalia—and the Voynich manuscript. Prominent features found in both are abundant “streams of stars”, and the repetitive nature of the “nymphs” in the biological section.

The theory is virtually impossible to prove or disprove, short of deciphering the text; Kennedy and Churchill are themselves not convinced of the hypothesis, but consider it plausible. (In the culminating chapter of their work, Kennedy states his belief that it is a hoax or forgery, whilst Churchill, acknowledging the possibility of a synthetic forgotten language, as advanced by Friedman, or forgery to be preeminent theories, concludes that if the manuscript is genuine, mental illness or delusion seems to have affected the author).

Hybrid language

In his book Solution of the Voynich Manuscript: A liturgical Manual for the Endura Rite of the Cathari Heresy, the Cult of Isis (1987), Leo Levitov declared the manuscript a plaintext transcription of a “polyglot oral tongue”.This he defined as “a literary language which would be understandable to people who did not understand Latin and to whom this language could be read.” His proposed decryption has three Voynich letters making a syllable, to produce a series of syllables that form a mixture of Middle Dutch with many borrowed Old French and Old High German words.

According to Levitov, the rite of Endura was the assisted suicide ritual for people already believed to be near death, famously associated with the Cathar faith (although the reality of this ritual is also in question). He explains that the chimerical plants are not meant to represent any species of flora, but are secret symbols of the faith. The women in the basins with elaborate plumbing represent the suicide ritual itself, which he believed involved venesection: the cutting of a vein to allow the blood to drain into a warm bath. The constellations with no celestial analogue are representative of the stars in Isis’s mantle.

This theory is questioned on several grounds. First, the Cathar faith is widely understood to have been a Christian gnosticism, and not in any way associated with Isis. Second, this theory places the book’s origins in the twelfth or thirteenth century, which is several centuries earlier than most experts believe based on internal evidence. Third, the Endura ritual involved fasting, not venesection. Levitov offered no evidence beyond his translation for this theory.

Jim Child, a linguist of Indo-European languages, asserts that he has identified in the manuscript a “skeletal syntax several elements of which are reminiscent of certain Germanic languages”, while the content itself is expressed using “a great deal of obscurity”.

Constructed language

The peculiar internal structure of Voynich manuscript “words” led William F. Friedman to conjecture that the text could be a constructed language. In 1950, Friedman asked the British army officer John Tiltman to analyze a few pages of the text, but Tiltman did not share this conclusion. In a paper in 1967, General Tiltman said, “After reading my report, Mr. Friedman disclosed to me his belief that the basis of the script was a very primitive form of synthetic universal language such as was developed in the form of a philosophical classification of ideas byBishop Wilkins in 1667 and Dalgarno a little later. It was clear that the productions of these two men were much too systematic, and anything of the kind would have been almost instantly recognisable. My analysis seemed to me to reveal a cumbersome mixture of different kinds of substitution.

The concept of an artificial language is quite old, as attested by John Wilkins‘s Philosophical Language (1668), but still postdates the generally accepted origin of the Voynich manuscript by two centuries. In most known examples, categories are subdivided by addingsuffixes; as a consequence, a text in a particular subject would have many words with similar prefixes—for example, all plant names would begin with the similar letters, and likewise for all diseases, etc. This feature could then explain the repetitious nature of the Voynich text. However, no one has been able yet to assign a plausible meaning to any prefix or suffix in the Voynich manuscript.

Cultural impact

Many books and articles have been written about the manuscript. The first facsimile edition was published in 2005, and it has also inspired several works of fiction.

Wikimedia Commons has a complete photo-series of all the surviving Voynich manuscript pages in numerical order, available here (209 images; some of the photographs show more than one manuscript page at a time).

Bog body

Bog body

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia and others.
Tollund Man lived in the 4th century BCE.

Bog bodies, which are also known as bog people, are the naturally preserved human corpses found in the sphagnum bogs in Northern Europe. Unlike most ancient human remains, bog bodies have retained their skin and internal organs due to the unusual conditions of the surrounding area. These conditions include highlyacidic water, low temperature, and a lack of oxygen, combining to preserve but severely tan their skin. Despite the fact that their skin is preserved, their bones are generally not, as the acid in the peat dissolves the calcium phosphate of bone.

The German scientist Dr. Alfred Dieck catalogued the known existence of over 1,850 northern European bog bodies in 1965, but according to the state of scientific research, many cannot be verified by documents or archaeological finds. Most, although not all, of these bodies have been dated to the Iron Age. Many show signs of having been killed and deposited in a similar manner, indicating some sort of ritualelement, which many archaeologists believe show that these were the victims ofhuman sacrifice in Iron Age Germanic paganism. Some of the most notable examples of bog bodies include Tollund Man and Grauballe Man from Denmark andLindow Man from England.

Bog chemistry

A limited number of bogs have the correct conditions for preservation of mammalian tissue. Most of these are located in the colder climes of northern Europe near bodies of salt water.[5] For example, in the area of Denmark where the Haraldskær Woman was recovered, salt air from the North Sea blows across the Jutland wetlands and provides an ideal environment for the growth of peat. As new peat replaces the old peat, the older material underneath rots and releases humic acid, also known as bog acid. The bog acids, with pH levels similar to vinegar, conserve the human bodies in the same way as fruit is preserved by pickling. In addition, peat bogs form in areas lacking drainage and hence are characterized by almost completely anaerobic conditions. This environment, highly acidic and devoid of oxygen, denies the prevalent subsurface aerobic organisms any opportunity to initiate decomposition. Researchers discovered that conservation also required the body to be placed in the bog during the winter or early spring when the water temperature is cold—i.e., less than 4 °C (40 °F). This allows the bog acids to saturate the tissues before decay can begin. Bacteria are unable to grow rapidly enough for decomposition at temperatures under 4 °C.

The bog chemistry environment involves a completely saturated acidic environment, where considerable concentrations of organic acids and aldehydes are present. Layers of sphagnum and peat assist in preserving the cadavers by enveloping the tissue in a cold immobilizing matrix, impeding water circulation and any oxygenation. An additional feature of anaerobic preservation by acidic bogs is the ability to conserve hair, clothing and leather items. Modern experimenters have been able to mimic bog conditions in the laboratory and successfully demonstrate the preservation process, albeit over shorter time frames, than the 2,500 years that Haraldskær Woman’s body has survived. Most of the bog bodies discovered had some aspects of decay or else were not properly conserved. When such specimens are exposed to the normal atmosphere, they may rapidly begin to decompose. As a result, many specimens have been effectively destroyed, such as the first bog body from Husbake. It is estimated that 53 bog bodies (the bog body from Portlaoise being the latest discovered) have survived.

Historical context

Iron Age bog bodies


Windeby I, the body of a teenaged boy, found in Schleswig, Germany

The vast majority of the bog bodies that have been discovered date from the Iron Age, a period of time when the peat bogs covered a much larger area of northern Europe than they do currently. Many of these Iron Age bodies bear a number of similarities, indicating a known cultural tradition of killing and depositing these people in a certain manner. These Pre-Roman Iron Age peoples lived in sedentary communities, who had built villages, and whose society was hierarchical. They wereagriculturalists, raising animals in captivity as well as growing crops. In some parts of northern Europe, they also hunted fish. Although independent of the Roman Empire, which dominated southern Europe at this time, the Bog People traded with the Romans.

For these people, the bogs held some sort of significance, and indeed, they placed votive offeringsinto them, often of neck-rings, wristlets or ankle-rings made of bronze or more rarely gold. The archaeologist P.V. Glob believed that these were “offerings to the gods of fertility and good fortune”, a viewpoint that is widely supported. It is therefore widely speculated that the Iron Age bog bodies were thrown into the bog for similar reasons, and that they were therefore examples ofhuman sacrifice to the gods. Nonetheless, others speculate that the bog bodies were criminals who were executed before being deposited in the bog rather than religious sacrifices.

Many bog bodies show signs of being stabbedbludgeonedhanged or strangled, or a combination of these methods. In some cases the individual had been beheaded, and in the case of the Osterby Head found at Kohlmoor, near to Osterby, Germany in 1948, the head had been deposited in the bog without its body.

Usually the corpses were naked, sometimes with some items of clothing with them, particularly headgear. In a number of cases, twigs, sticks or stones were placed on top of the body, sometimes in a cross formation, and at other times forked sticks had been driven into the peat to hold the corpse down. According to the archaeologist P.V. Glob, “this probably indicates the wish to pin the dead man firmly into the bog.Some bodies show signs of torture, such as Old Croghan Man, who had deep cuts beneath his nipples.

Some bog bodies, such as Tollund Man from Denmark, have been found with the rope used to strangle them still around their necks. Some, such as the Yde Girl in the Netherlands and bog bodies in Ireland, had the hair on one side of their heads closely cropped, although this could be due to one side of their head being exposed to oxygen for a longer period of time than the other. Some of the bog bodies seem consistently to have been members of the upper class: their fingernails are manicured, and tests on hair protein routinely record good nutrition. Strabo records that the Celts practiced auguries on the entrails of human victims: on some bog bodies, such as one of theWeerdinge Men found in southern Netherlands, the entrails have been partly drawn out through incisions.

Modern techniques of forensic analysis now suggest that some injuries, such as broken bones and crushed skulls, were not the result of torture, but rather due to the weight of the bog. For example, the fractured skull of Grauballe Man was at one time thought to have been caused by a blow to the head. However, a CT scan of Grauballe Man by Danish scientists determined his skull was fractured due to pressure from the bog long after his death.

Non-Iron-Age bog bodies

There are of course bog bodies that are exceptions in that they do not date to the Iron Age. The oldest known bog body is that of theKoelbjerg Woman who was found in Denmark, and has been dated to around 8000 BCE, during the Stone Age. Amongst the most recent, the corpse of List of bog bodies#Meenybradden Woman found in Ireland dates to the 16th century AD and was found in unhallowed ground, with evidence indicating that she committed suicide and was therefore buried in the bog rather than in the churchyard because she had committed a Christian sin. Bog bodies have also formed from the corpses of Russian and German soldiers killed fighting on theEastern Front during the First World War in the Masurian Lake District region of north-eastern Poland.

Discovery and archaeological investigation


Rendswühren Man

Ever since the Iron Age, humans have used the bogs to harvest peat, a common fuel source. On various occasions throughout history, peat diggers have come across bog bodies. Records of such finds go back as far as the 17th century, and in 1640 a bog body was discovered at Shalkholz Fen in Holstein, Germany. This was possibly the first ever such discovery to be recorded. The first more fully documented account of discovery of a bog body was at a peat bog on Drumkeragh Mountain in County DownIreland; it was written up by Lady Moira, the wife of the local landowner.Such reports continued into the 18th century: for instance, a body was reportedly found on the Danish island of Fyn in 1773, whilst the Kibbelgaarn body was discovered in the Netherlands in 1791. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, when such bodies were discovered, they were often removed from the bogs and given a Christian burial on consecrated church ground in keeping with the religious beliefs of the community who found them, who often assumed them to be relatively modern.

Tales from the Bog

Hanged with a leather cord and cast into a Danish bog 2,300 years ago, Tollund Man was probably a sacrifice. Like other bodies found preserved in Europe’s peat bogs, he poses haunting questions.

The man—or what was left of him—emerged from the Irish sod one winter day in 2003, his hair still styled the way he wore it during his last moments alive. The back was cropped short; the top, eight inches long, rose in a pompadour, stiffened with pine resin. And that was only the beginning of the mystery.

With the rise of antiquarianism in the 19th century, some people began to speculate that many of the bog bodies were not recent murder victims but were ancient in origin. In 1843, at Corselitze on Falster in Denmark, a bog body unusually buried with ornaments (seven glass beads and a bronze pin) was unearthed and subsequently given a Christian burial. By order of the Crown Prince Frederick, who was an antiquarian, the body was dug up again and sent to the National Museum of Denmark. According to the archaeologist P.V. Glob, it was “he, more than anyone else, [who] helped to arouse the wide interest in Danish antiquities” such as the bog bodies.

The oldest of the Bog Bodies dates from around 8000 BC and the youngest from early mediaeval times. The clothing found on some of these bodies is preserved perfectly with them and can tell us a lot about the clothing of their time. Scarves, hats, belts, shoes, capes and skirts have been found on the Bog Bodies. Most of them are made of woven wool or leather. Scientists have also been able to analyze the contents of some of the Bog People’s stomachs. A lot of them seem to have eaten gruel shortly before their death. This leads some to believe that they were given a last meal before they were sacrificed. Other Bog Bodies appear to have been recipients of trepanning surgery.

After the Haraldskær Woman was unearthed in Denmark, she was exhibited as having been the legendary Queen Gunhild of the early Mediaeval period. This view was disputed by the archaeologist J. J. A. Worsaae, who argued that the body was Iron Age in origin, like most bog bodies, and predated any historical persons by at least 500 years.The first bog body to be photographed was the Iron AgeRendswühren Man, discovered in 1871, at the Heidmoor Fen, near Kiel in Germany. His body was subsequently smoked as an early attempt at conservation and put on display in a museum.

Picture 4-21

With the rise of modern archaeology in the early 20th Century, the bog bodies began to be excavated and investigated more carefully and thoroughly.

Archaeological techniques

Until the mid-20th century, it was not readily apparent at the time of discovery whether a body has been buried in a bog for years, decades, or centuries. But, modern forensic and medical technologies (such as radiocarbon dating) have been developed that allow researchers to more closely determine the age of the burial, the person’s age at death, and other details. Scientists have been able to study the skin of the bog bodies, reconstruct their appearance and even determine what their last meal was from their stomach contents. Their teeth also indicate their age at death and what type of food they ate throughout their lifetime. Subsurface radar can be used by archaeologists to detect bodies and artifacts beneath the bog surface before cutting into the peat. Radio carbon dating is also common as it accurately gives the date of the find, most usually from the Iron Age.

Picture 5-17

Because the peat marsh preserves soft internal tissue, the stomach contents can be analyzed. These give a good picture of the diet of those people. Forensic facial reconstruction is one particularly impressive technique used in studying the bog bodies. Originally designed for identifying modern faces in crimes, this technique is a way of working out the facial features of a person by the shape of their skull. The face of one bog body, Yde Girl, was reconstructed in 1992 by Richard Neave of Manchester University using CT scans of her head. Yde Girl and her modern reconstruction are displayed at the Drents Museum in Assen. Such reconstructions have also been made of the heads of Lindow Man (British Museum, London, United Kingdom), Grauballe ManGirl of the Uchter MoorClonycavan Man, and Windeby I.

Picture 6-10

Notable bog bodies

Hundreds of bog bodies have been recovered and studied.The bodies have been most commonly found in the Northern Europeancountries of Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, United Kingdom and Ireland. In 1965, the German scientist Alfred Dieck cataloged more than 1,850 bog bodies, but later scholarship revealed much of the Dieck’s work was erroneous, and an exact number of discovered bodies is unknown.

Picture 7-8

Several bog bodies are notable for the high quality of their preservation and the substantial research by archaeologists and forensic scientists. These include:

For a more comprehensive list of bog body discoveries, see List of bog bodies.

Picture 8-8

Picture 10-5

10 Literary Trends that Need to Go Away

10 Literary Trends that Need to Go Away

What constitutes “literary trends that need to go away” is purely a matter of opinion, of course, and one of debatable education at that! And so, dear, sweet Internet, do try and curtail any possible combustion over subjectivities. It really is quite silly!

But yeah, these really exist as quite ghastly little numbers, poisoning beloved bookstores and libraries for far too long. Some have wreaked havoc for decades while others — if bibliophiles are lucky, anyways — might blink away as just another disposable fad. Either way though, they all deserve a giant booting so worthwhile reads can take their place.

  1. Lackluster graphic novel/comic book adaptations

    Excellent graphic novels and comics, such as the Pulitzer-winning Maus, stand on their own as classic, essential literary works. So the medium itself isn’t the problem here. Neither are lovingly-reproduced adaptations showing the utmost respect for the source material. L. Frank Baum enthusiast Eric Shanower and lively artist Skottie Young collaborated on the Eisner-winning, New York Times-bestselling comic books relaying myriad stories from the Wizard of Oz universe. All the included series preserve the novels’ and the most popular musical’s whimsy, imagination, wit, characters, atmospheres, themes and all those other lovely literary buzzwords, even if the comic creators did have to play with its progenitors to fit the medium a bit.

    The issue lay with the idea behind graphic novel and comic book cash-ins just because it’s the thing to do, paying little heed to the original story, the medium or both. Manga Shakespeare, for example, seems to exist more to bank some sweet-sweet coin off the last vestiges of America’s late-’90s, late-’00s lust for Japanese comics. While its intent to make The Bard “more accessible” deserves applause, the frequently uninspired art and cringe-worthy liberties (Hamlet set in a “cyberworld in constant dread of war”) do little to promote the author or the diverse medium. It’s as if the publishers desired to whip out some manga and added Shakespeare later to push more product. No shame comes taped to playing with the familiar stories — Throne of Blood elegantly welded samurai culture to Macbeth – but half-assing it just to make a quick buck disrespects the original author, comics themselves and (most importantly) the readers.

  2. “Self-help” guides doing more harm than good

    Fun Fact: That The Secret thing the kids were into a few years ago? The whole “law of attraction” thing essentially foists the blame of abuse and suffering onto innocent victims. What a concept! If only displaced genocide survivors knew they could prevent losing their loved ones and homes with THE POWER OF THINKING HAPPY THOUGHTS REALLY, REALLY HARD!!! Self-help guides always have been and always will be a thing, but the entire genre shouldn’t be dismissed because some of the most prominent and egregious examples do the exact opposite of what they tout.Chained to the Desk, intelligently — and with empathy — toutlines a very real psychological condition (workaholism) and offers highly accessible advice for patients, their loved ones and healthcare professionals. It’s one of the best examples of an effective self-help book doing exactly what it’s supposed to do — outline an issue, proffer solutions and back it all up with scientific (not anecdotal!) proof.

    Unfortunately, the pulp getting so heavily pushed doesn’t typically possess the same detail, research and psychological intent as Chained to the Desk. Most are relatively harmless, offering generic inspirational bromides in lieu of anything substantial, but causing about as much internal and external damage as a fluffy little down feather. Garbage like the aforementioned The Secretand the ever-so-popular depression “cures” involving nothing but positive thinking, however, pretty much wreak psychological havoc. The former and its ilk blame victims already plagued with trauma, guilt and stigmatization, while the latter refuses to acknowledge the true complexities behind a serious mental health issue. Journalist Barbara Ehrenreich published Bright-Sided to delve deeply into this unfortunate trend, which probably won’t dissolve completely anytime soon.

  3. Bandwagon-jumping:

    Twilight was crap, but at least it attempted something a little different by making its vampires sparkle. And its baffling success kicked off the most recent young adult literary trend: angsty teen fantasy-horror-romances. The list starring vampires alone contains enough titles to fill a generous library shelf. Exploiting narrative and trope trends is about as new as the Marianas Trench and probably won’t stop happening until never. While some of the shameless rip-offs might actually prove worthwhile reading, the problem here lay more with homogeneity than anything else. With so many trendy tomes crowding stores and libraries, curious readers looking for something completely different might experience a more difficult time finding something suiting their tastes. Plus, focusing too much energy on riding a contemporary’s coattails precludes an author’s own personal creativity. One wonders how many interesting, innovative stories ended up shunted to the sidelines because publishers preferred trendy opportunism rather than trying to launch their very own trends and innovations.

  4. Self-indulgent celebrity memoirs

    Every once in a while, a celebrity memoir like Steve Martin’s heavy, evocative Born Standing Up or even Bruce Campbell’s campy and fun B-movie romp If Chins Could Kill prove that the genre isn’t an entire fame-whoring waste. Unfortunately, so much of it proves absurdly formulaic and self-aggrandizing (with the requisite mock humility), savvy pop culture critic Nathan Rabin has taken to regularly reviewing and observing the phenomenon. Publishing resources that could go towards brand new, talented writers with something fresh and interesting to say instead supporting the same old “fame totally happened, oh man I lost everything, but yay, spirituality” narrative. These people get (or got) enough attention as it is, earned or not.

  5. “Revolutionary” diet plans

    The PR says “revolutionary,” the cynics say “fad,” and the medical professionals say “potentially dangerous.” Here’s the only diet plan anyone needs. Exercise regularly. Practice portion control. Eat a diet comprised primarily of nutritious foods. No book necessary.

  6. Celebrity authors who just can’t write

    So that ghastly Snooki wrote a novel, launching a thousand lazy jokes about whether or not she’s even literate in the first place. The obviously autobiographical result, A Shore Thing, proved just asvomitously cringe-inducing as one would imagine, and her name actually ended up in a larger font than the book’s title. Probably because it wasn’t really the novel being sold at all, but the Snooki brand. Lauren Conrad, another bafflingly famous “personality” who arguably doesn’t really do much of anything, pulled something similar and ended up on the bestseller list. Twice. Meanwhile, once again, real writers enjoy fewer and fewer opportunities as the marketing machine plows through their art like so many Lawnmower Men. Apparently fame in one area automatically translates to talent in another, even though both “authors” shilled efforts whining about their luxurious lives.

  7. “Women’s literature” with reductionist views of women

    Scientific studies reveal a link between romantic comedy consumption and unrealistic — if not outright unhealthy — attitudes towards relationships. So it stands to reason that their bookish equivalent known as “chick lit” might result in a similar effect. Enjoying fluffy, escapist reads carries absolutely no shame, but the problem lay with some of the disconcerting tropes. Like how “women’s literature” tends towards problems involving men and shoes, painting its protagonists as shrill, empty-headed, materialistic archetypes instead of real people. Or the fact that so many books ostensibly about the ladies always seems to involve men. Specifically, attracting, keeping and tolerating the fact that they just aren’t perfect. The Confessions of a Shopaholic series is probably the genre’s most prolific example, though nonfiction like He’s Just Not That Into You also egregiously explore similar territory. Literature aimed at a female demographic should continue being a thing, of course! But maybe someday authors concerned with writing unique, interesting, relatable characters instead of insulting their audience by essentially painting them as high-maintenance, boy-crazy bimbos. The ladies deserve much better than that. The Color Purpleconcerns women’s issues and identity, but jettisons the scary credit card debt and griping about boyfriends farting in bed.

  8. Remixing the classics

    Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was funny at first: a fresh, postmodern take on Jane Austen’s Regency classic. And then Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters happened. Followed by two more Pride and Prejudice and Zombies sequels, Little Women and WerewolvesJane Slayre,Little Vampire WomenMansfield Park and Mummies and many, many more mashups. Although this definitely falls under bandwagonning, the added element of building on popular public domain works adds an extra literary dimension. Yeah, the cheekiness definitely amuses, but the market’s become quite saturated with them. Enough already!

  9. Assuming genre fiction has nothing to say

    This article has probably expressed a rather harsh attitude towards genre fare, but the egregiously terrible and/or overtly, unabashedly derivative examples shouldn’t speak for all of them. Frequently, a ponderous work like Fahrenheit 451 or Lord of the Rings score sweet syllabus deals, but most end up ignored or outright dismissed. When it comes to science-fiction, for example, Snow Crashsays just as much about the human condition and experience as most classics with a grounding in reality — and considering its technological themes (even prediction of services such as Second Life!), eerily resonates today. Rebecca and some Sherlock Holmes books really deliver academically when it comes to mysteries, but how about The New York Trilogy? And so forth. Scratching the surface makes a great introduction to different genres, but try and find examples beyond the tried and true to really diversify the canon.

  10. Dismissing all self-published literature

    With so many celebrity tell-alls, “reality star” “authors,” dangerous dieting and dismissive self help reads taking up publishers’ time and money, it’s no wonder so many writers decide on DIY jobs. Some do it to avoid over-editing and compromising their main ideas. Others just like masturbating their ego over adding “published author” to their resumes, quality levels be damned! And even more think the process far easier than the one involving agents and marketing departments and whatnot. Out of all of these motivations, the only books anyone ever focuses on (of course!) are the narcissism-driven and/or terrible. In reality, self-published writers run the gamut from creative, thought-provoking and talented to those so genuinely frightening and outright offensive linking them here would probably cause the FBI to shut this whole site down.

    So just like books published through more traditional venues. When exploring this brave new technological world that has such diverse people in it, head over to Self-Published Review first. The minds behind the site do an excellent job of de-stigmatizing the process and offer up informed commentary on the excellent, good, bad, weird and absolutely godawful dreck available. More readers should hear them out and perhaps find their next big favorite.

Cultural Revolution In China

Cultural Revolution

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia and others
Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution
Cultural Revolution poster.jpg
Cultural Revolution propaganda poster. It depicts Mao Zedong, above a group of soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army. The caption says “The People’s Liberation Army of China is a great school for Mao Zedong Thought.”
Simplified Chinese 无产阶级文化大革命
Traditional Chinese 無產階級文化大革

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, commonly known as the Cultural Revolution (Chinese: 文化大革命, Wénhuà Dàgémìng), was a socio-political movement that took place in the People’s Republic of China from 1966 through 1976. Set into motion by Mao Zedong, then Chairman of the Communist Party of China, its stated goal was to enforce socialism in the country by removing capitalist, traditional and cultural elements from Chinese society, and to impose Maoist orthodoxy within the Party. The revolution marked the return of Mao Zedong to a position of political power, after he lost most of his political influence after his failed Great Leap Forward. The movement brought chaos, as social norms largely evaporated and the previously established political institutions disintegrated at all levels of government.

October 1966. Tiannanmen Square. School and university classes had been replaced by political meetings and parades.

The Revolution was launched in May 1966. Mao alleged that bourgeois elements were entering the government and society at large, aiming to restore capitalism. He insisted that these “revisionists” be removed through violent class struggle. China’s youth then responded to Mao’s appeal by forming Red Guard groups around the country. The movement then spread into the military, urban workers, and the Communist Party leadership itself. It resulted in widespread factional struggles in all walks of life. In the top leadership, it led to a mass purge of senior officials who were accused of deviating from the socialist path, most notably Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping. During the same period Mao’s personality cult grew to immense proportions.

Liu Shaoqi

Liu Shaoqi (pinyinLiú ShàoqíWade–Giles: Liu Shao-ch’i IPA[ljǒʊ ʂɑ̂ʊtɕʰǐ]; 24 November 1898 – 12 November 1969) was a Chinese revolutionary, statesman, and theorist. He wasChairman of the People’s Republic of China, China’s head of state, from 27 April 1959 to 31 October 1968, during which he implemented policies of economic reconstruction in China. He fell out of favour in the later 1960s during the Cultural Revolution because of his perceived ‘right-wing’ viewpoints and, it is theorised, because Mao viewed Liu as a threat to his power. He disappeared from public life in 1968 and was labelled China’s premier ‘Capitalist-roader’ and a traitor. He died under harsh treatment in late 1969, but he was posthumously rehabilitated by Deng Xiaoping‘s government in 1980 and given a state funeral.


Liu married fives times, including He Baozhen (何宝珍) and Wang Guangmei (王光美). His third wife Xie Fei (谢飞) came fromWenchang, Hainan and was one of the few women on the 1934 Long March.

This article contains Chinesetext. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbolsinstead of Chinese characters.
Liu Shaoqi
2nd Chairman of the People’s Republic of China
In office
28 April 1959 – 21 October 1968
Premier Zhou Enlai
Deputy Dong Biwu
Song Qingling
Leader Mao Zedong
(CPC Chairman)
Preceded by Mao Zedong
Succeeded by Dong Biwu and Song Qingling(acting)
Li Xiannian (President)
1st Chairman of the Standing Committee of the NPC
In office
1st National People’s Congress
In office
September 15, 1956 – April 28, 1957
Preceded by Position Created
Succeeded by Zhu De
Vice Chairman of the Communist Party of China
In office
28 September 1956 – 1 August 1966
Chairman Mao Zedong
Member of the
National People’s Congress
In office
15 September 1954 – 21 October 1968
Constituency Beijing At-large
Personal details
Born 24 November 1898
NingxiangHunanQing Dynasty
Died 12 November 1969 (aged 70)
KaifengHenanPeople’s Republic of China
Nationality Han Chinese
Political party Communist Party of China
Spouse(s) Wang Guangmei
Children Liu Yuan
Liu Ting

By the time of his arrest Liu had developed diabetes. Opponents of Mao allege that Liu, in his old age, developed pneumonia and was refused all medicine by Mao and his officials. They further claim that on the orders of Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, Liu was kept alive so that by the Ninth Party Congress, in 1969, Mao would have a ‘living target’. (No evidence of any such plot against Liu can be tangibly demonstrated.) At the Congress, Liu was denounced as a traitor and an enemy agent. Mao’s detractors allege that Liu was then allowed to die in agony.[16]

Liu was treated more harshly than some other senior leaders persecuted as “capitalist roaders”, including Deng Xiaoping. After Liu’s trial, he was abused by Red Guards and denied medicine for his diabetes and pneumonia, and he died within a month of his expulsion from the Party.[17] Several weeks after his death, Red Guards discovered Liu lying on the floor covered in diarrhea and vomit, with a foot of unkempt hair protruding from his scalp. At midnight, under secrecy, his remains were brought in a jeep to a crematorium, his legs hanging out the back, and he was cremated under the name Liu Huihuang. The cause of death was recorded as illness. Liu’s family was not informed for another three years after this date, and his death was not made public to the people in China for ten years. The ashes of his body are said to be held at Babaoshan

After Deng Xiaoping came to power in 1978, Liu was politically rehabilitated. In February 1980, over a decade after his death, Liu was given a belated state funeral.

Deng Xiaoping

This article contains Chinesetext. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbolsinstead of Chinese characters.
Deng Xiaoping
Deng Xiaoping in 1979
Chairman of the CPC Central Advisory Commission
In office
13 September 1982 – 2 November 1987
General Secretary Hu Yaobang
Zhao Ziyang
Preceded by New office
Succeeded by Chen Yun
Chairman of the CPC Central Military Commission
In office
28 June 1981 – 9 November 1989
Preceded by Hua Guofeng
Succeeded by Jiang Zemin
Chairman of the Chinese National PCC
In office
8 March 1978 – 17 June 1983
Preceded by Zhou Enlai
vacant (1976–1978)
Succeeded by Deng Yingchao
Member of the
National People’s Congress
In office
18 April 1959 – 21 December 1964
26 February 1978 – 19 February 1997
Constituency Beijing At-large (59–64,78–83)
PLA At-large (83–97)
First Vice Premier of the People’s Republic of China
In office
17 January 1975 – 18 June 1983
Premier Zhou Enlai
Hua Guofeng
Zhao Ziyang
Preceded by Lin Biao
Succeeded by Wan Li
Personal details
Born 22 August 1904
Died 19 February 1997(aged 92)
Beijing, People’s Republic of China
Nationality Chinese
Political party Communist Party of China
Spouse(s) Zhang Xiyuan (张锡瑗) (1928–1929)
Jin Weiying (金维映) (1931–1939)
Zhuo Lin (卓琳) (1939–1997)
Children Deng Lin
Deng Pufang
Deng Nan
Deng Rong
Deng Zhifang

Deng Xiaoping (IPA[tɤ̂ŋ ɕjɑ̀ʊpʰǐŋ] ( listen); 22 August 1904 – 19 February 1997) was a Chinese politician, statesman, and diplomat. As leader of the Communist Party of China, Deng was a reformer who led China towards a market economy. While Deng never held office as the head of statehead of government or General Secretary of the Communist Party of China(historically the highest position in Communist China), he nonetheless served as the paramount leader of the People’s Republic of China from 1978 to 1992.

Born into a peasant background in Guang’anSichuanChina, Deng studied and worked in France in the 1920s, where he was influenced by Marxism. He joined the Communist Party of China in 1923. Upon his return to China he worked as a political commissar in rural regions and was considered a “revolutionary veteran” of the Long March. Following the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Deng worked in Tibet and other southwestern regions to consolidate Communist control. He was also instrumental in China’s economic reconstruction following the Great Leap Forward in the early 1960s. His economic policies were at odds with the political ideologies of Chairman Mao Zedong. As a result, he was purged twice during theCultural Revolution but regained prominence in 1978 by outmaneuvering Mao’s chosen successor, Hua Guofeng.


 14th Dalai Lama (centre right) greeting Deng Xiaoping (far left), 1954
中文: zh:达赖喇嘛zh:邓小平,1954年

Inheriting a country fraught with social and institutional woes resulting from the Cultural Revolution and other mass political movements of the Mao era, Deng became the core of the “second generation” of Chinese leadership. He is considered “the architect” of a new brand of socialist thinking, having developed Socialism with Chinese characteristics and led Chinese economic reform through a synthesis of theories that became known as the “socialist market economy“. Deng opened China to foreign investment, the global market, and limited private competition. He was generally credited with developing China into one of the fastest growingeconomies in the world for over 30 years and raising the standard of living of hundreds of millions of Chinese.

The Cultural Revolution damaged the country on a great scale economically and socially. Millions of people were persecuted in the violent factional struggles that ensued across the country, and suffered a wide range of abuses including torture, rape, imprisonment, sustained harassment, and seizure of property. A large segment of the population was forcibly displaced, most notably the transfer of urban youth to rural regions during the Down to the Countryside Movement. Historical relics and artifacts were destroyed. Cultural and religious sites were ransacked.

October 1966. Beijing. Chairman Mao’s Red Book was required reading for students from primary school age upwards.

Mao officially declared the Cultural Revolution to have ended in 1969, but its active phase lasted until the death of Lin Biao in 1971. The political instability between 1971 and the arrest of the Gang of Four in 1976 are now also widely regarded as part of the Revolution. After Mao’s death in 1976, forces within the Party that opposed the Cultural Revolution, led by Deng Xiaoping, gained prominence. Most of the Maoist reforms associated with the Cultural Revolution were abandoned by 1978. The Cultural Revolution has been treated officially as a negative phenomenon ever since; in 1981, the Party assigned chief responsibility to Mao, but also laid significant blame on Lin Biao and the Gang of Four for causing its worst excesses.

December 26, 1966. HangZhou. Red Guards reading Mao’s writings in the street despite the freezing weather. It was Chairman Mao’s birthday.


Great Leap Forward

Main article: Great Leap Forward

In 1958, after China’s first Five-Year Plan, Mao called for “grassroots socialism” in order to accelerate his plans for turning China into a modern industrial state. In this spirit, Mao launched the Great Leap Forward, established People’s Communes in the countryside, and began the mass mobilization of the people. Many communities were assigned production of a single commodity—steel. Mao vowed to increase agricultural production to twice 1957 levels and to quickly transform China into an industrialized nation.

December 1966. Shanghai. Often the Long March squads would turn up in a village or town and expect to be given accommodation and food by the residents.

The Great Leap was an economic failure. Uneducated farmers attempted to produce steel on a massive scale, partially relying on backyard furnaces to achieve the production targets set by local cadres. The steel produced was low quality and largely useless. The Great Leap reduced harvest sizes and led to a decline in the production of most goods except substandard pig iron and steel. Furthermore, local authorities frequently exaggerated production numbers, hiding and intensifying the problem for several years. In the meantime, chaos in the collectives, bad weather, and exports of food necessary to secure hard currency resulted in the Great Chinese Famine. Food was in desperate shortage, and production fell dramatically. The famine caused the deaths of millions of people, particularly in poorer inland regions.

The Great Leap’s failure reduced Mao’s prestige within the Party. Forced to take major responsibility, in 1959, Mao resigned as the State Chairman, China’s head of state, and was succeeded by Liu Shaoqi. In July, senior Party leaders convened at the scenic Mount Lu to discuss policy. At the conference, Marshal Peng Dehuai, then Minister of Defence, criticized Great-Leap policies in a private letter to Mao, writing that it was plagued by mismanagement and cautioning against elevating political dogma over established laws of economics. Despite the moderate tone of Peng’s letter, Mao took it as a personal attack against his leadership. Following the Conference, Mao had Peng removed from his official posts, and accused him of being a ‘right-opportunist’. Peng was replaced by Lin Biao, another revolutionary army general who became a more staunch Mao supporter later in his career. While the Lushan Conference served as a death knell for Peng, Mao’s most vocal critic, it led to a shift of power to moderates led by Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, who took effective control of the economy following 1959.

By the early 1960s, many of the Great Leap’s economic policies were reversed by initiatives spearheaded by Liu, Deng, and Zhou Enlai. This moderate group of pragmatists were unenthusiastic about Mao’s grand vision of continuous revolutionary struggle. Owing to his loss of esteem within the party, Mao developed a decadent and eccentric lifestyle. While Zhou, Liu and Deng managed affairs of state and the economy, by 1962, Mao had effectively withdrawn himself from economic decision-making, and focused much of his time on further contemplating his contributions to Marxist-Leninist social theory, including the idea of “continuous revolution.This theory’s ultimate aim was to set the stage for Mao to restore his brand of Communism and his personal prestige within the Party.

 Sino-Soviet Split and anti-revisionism

Main article: Sino-Soviet Split

A Cultural Revolution Poster promoting relations between Albania‘s prime minister Enver Hoxha and Chairman Mao. The Caption at the bottom reads, “Long Live the great Union between the Parties of Albania and China!” Despite what the painting may suggest, the leaders only met once in 1956, before the Sino-Albanian alliance.

In the early 1950s, the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union were the two largest Communist states in the world. Whilst they had initially been mutually supportive, issues arose following the ascendancy of Nikita Khrushchev to power in the Soviet Union after the death of Joseph Stalin. In 1956, Khrushchev denounced both Stalin and his policies and subsequently set about implementing post-Stalinist economic reforms. Mao and many members of the Chinese Communist Party were opposed to these changes, believing that it would have negative repercussions for the worldwide Marxist movement, among whom Stalin was still viewed as a hero.[9] Mao also believed that Khrushchev was not adhering to Marxism-Leninism, but was instead a revisionist, altering his policies from basic Marxist concepts, something Mao feared would allow capitalists to eventually regain control of the country. Relations between the two governments subsequently soured, with the Soviets for instance refusing to support China’s case for joining the United Nations and going back on their pledge to supply China with a nuclear weapon.

Mao went on to publicly denounce revisionism in April 1960. Without pointing fingers at the Soviet Union, Mao criticized their ideological ally, the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, whilst the Soviets returned the favour by proxy via criticizing the Party of Labour of Albania, a Chinese ally. In 1963, the Communist Party began to openly denounce the Soviet Union, publishing a series of nine polemics against their Marxist revisionism, with one of them being titled On Khrushchev’s Phoney Communism and Historical Lessons for the World, where Mao charged that Khrushchev was not only revisionist but also presented a real danger for capitalist restoration.Khrushchev’s own downfall from an internal coup d’état in 1964 also contributed to Mao’s own fears of political vulnerability, particularly because of his dwindling prestige amongst his colleagues following the Great Leap foward.


General Luo Ruiqing was one of the senior Party members purged from his post prior to the Cultural Revolution.

Mao would set the scene for the Cultural Revolution by ‘cleansing’ powerful officials of questionable loyalty who were based in Beijing. His approach was less than transparent, achieving this purge through newspaper articles, internal meetings, and skillfully employing his network of political allies.

In late 1959, historian and Beijing Deputy Mayor Wu Han published a historical drama entitled Hai Rui Dismissed from Office. In the play, an honest civil servant, Hai Rui, is dismissed by a corrupt emperor. While Mao initially praised the play, in February 1965 he secretly commissioned his wife Jiang Qing and Shanghai propagandist Yao Wenyuan to publish an article criticizing it. Yao boldly alleged that Hai Rui was really an allegory attacking Mao; that is, Mao was the corrupt emperor and Peng Dehuai was the honest civil servant.

Beijing Mayor Peng Zhen, a powerful official and Wu Han’s direct superior, spearheaded a committee to refute Yao’s claims. Yao’s article was initially syndicated by several municipal dailies. Peng Zhen, aware that he would be implicated if it were established that Wu wrote an “anti-Mao” play, forbid Yao’s article from being published on the nationally distributed People’s Daily. In November, Premier Zhou Enlai urged Peng Zhen to publish the article nationally to avoid contradicting Mao’s wishes. Peng Zhen refused, instructing newspapers under his control to focus exclusively on “academic discussion,” not politics. While the ‘literary battle’ against Peng raged, Mao fired Yang Shangkun, director of the Party’s General Office, an organ that controlled internal communications, installing in his stead staunch loyalist Wang Dongxing, head of Mao’s security detail. Yang was accused of “bugging Mao’s office” among a series of other unsubstantiated charges.

Yang’s dismissal likely emboldened Mao’s allies to move against their factional rivals. In December, Defence Minister and Mao loyalist Lin Biao accused General Luo Ruiqing, the chief of staff of the People’s Liberation Army, of being anti-Mao, alleging that Luo put too much emphasis on military training rather than Maoist “political discussion.” In December, Mao called an enlarged Politburo meeting to discuss the charges against Luo. While the Politburo initially received the charges with skepticism, Mao pushed for an investigation into Luo’s conduct, after which Luo was denounced, dismissed, and forced to deliver a self-criticism. Stress from the events led Luo to attempt suicide.Luo’s removal solidified Lin’s leadership in the PLA, securing the military command’s loyalty to Mao.

Having ousted Luo and Yang, Mao reverted his attention to Peng Zhen. On February 12, 1966, Peng Zhen’s committee, the “Five Man Group“, issued a report known as the February Outline (二月提纲, Èryuè Tígāng). The Outline, sanctioned by the Party centre, defined Hai Rui as healthy “academic discussion,” and aimed to formally distance Peng Zhen from any political implications. However, Jiang Qing and Yao Wenyuan continued their denunciation of Wu Han and Peng Zhen. Meanwhile, Mao targeted Propaganda Department director Lu Dingyi, an ally of Peng Zhen who had occasionally made skeptical remarks about Mao Zedong Thought. Lu’s removal would give Maoists unrestricted access to the Press. Mao delivered his final blow to Peng Zhen by proxy through hardline supporters Kang Sheng and Chen Boda in May. At an enlarged Politburo session in Beijing, Kang and Chen accused Peng Zhen of opposing Mao, labeled the February Outline “evidence of Peng Zhen’s revisionism”, and grouped him with three other disgraced officials as part of the “Peng-Luo-Lu-Yang Anti-Party Clique. The decisions were made with the support of Zhou Enlai and Liu Shaoqi; Zhou called it a “great victory for Mao Zedong Thought.” On May 16, the Politburo formalized the decisions by releasing a party-wide notification, condemning Peng Zhen and his “anti-party allies” in the strongest terms, disbanding his “Five Man Group”, and replacing it with the Maoist Cultural Revolution Group (CRG).

Liu’s wife, Wang Guangmei, was lured by trickery out of her home and taken to a mass meeting and publically humiliated. Her captors dressed her in a skirt split up to hip level to imply she was a whore.

The complex and convoluted history of the Cultural Revolution can be roughly divided into three major phases. The mass phase (1966–1969) was dominated by the Red Guards, the more than 20 million high–school and college students who responded to Mao’s call to “make revolution,” and their often–vicious efforts to ferret out “class enemies” wherever they were suspected to lurk. During this stage, most of Mao’s rivals in the top leadership were deposed, including China’s president, Liu Shaoqi.The military phase (1969–1971) began after the People’s Liberation Army had gained ascendancy in Chinese politics by suppressing, with Mao’s approval, the anarchy of the Red Guards. It ended with the alleged coup attempt in September 1971 by Mao’s disgruntled heir, Defense Minister Lin Biao, who had also been one of the Chairman’s main allies in launching the Cultural Revolution.

The succession phase 
(1972–1976) was an intense political and ideological tug–of–war between radical ideologues and veteran cadres over whether to continue or curtail the policies of the Cultural Revolution. Underlying this conflict was a bitter struggle over which group would control the succession to the two paramount leaders of the CCP, Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou Enlai, both of whom were in deteriorating health by the early 1970s. The decisive lot in this struggle was cast when the most prominent radicals (the “Gang of Four,” which included Mao’s widow, Jiang Qing) were preemptively arrested in October 1976, a month after the Chairman’s death, by a coalition of more moderate leaders. The arrest of the Gang of Four is said to mark the official end of China’s Cultural Revolution.

 Early Stage: Mass Movement

The May 16 Notification

Kang Wenjie performing the loyalty dance

The “loyalty dance” was a fixture of China’s Cultural Revolution, and Kang Wenjie’s performance at a giant Maoist teach-in was boffo.

Li Zhensheng / Contact Press Image

On April 28, the last day of the 23-day gathering, a 5-year-old kindergartner was performing the “loyalty dance,” as it was known. In front of the soldiers in the stadium stands, she skipped in place and sang:

No matter how close our parents are to us, they are
not as close as our relationship with Mao

In early 1966, the Politburo of the Communist Party of China issued six Central Documents regarding the dismissal of Peng, Luo, Lu and Yang in which they declared that the “Great Cultural Revolution” had been launched. One of these documents, titled Zhongfa 267, contained a notification that had been prepared under Mao’s personal supervision, in which the writers condemned Peng’s “errors” of revisionist thinking. In one passage at the end of the notification, it stated that:

Those representatives of the bourgeoisie who have snuck into the Party, the government, the army, and various spheres of culture are a bunch of counter-revolutionary revisionists. Once conditions are ripe, they will seize political power and turn the dictatorship of the proletariat into a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Some of them we have already seen through; others we have not. Some are still trusted by us and are being trained as our successors, persons like Khruschev for example, who are still nestling beside us. Party committees at all levels must pay full attention to this matter.

This text, which became known as the May 16 Notification, was then put to the vote amongst the members of the Politburo on whether it should be officially adopted, and “was approved unanimously by a show of hands, without any alterations whatever to the text.”Initially it was given the second-highest level of classification then in use, meaning that only those Communist Party members of rank 17 and above could gain access to it. It would be publicly printed in the People’s Daily newspaper a year later, on 17 May 1967, where it was claimed that it had “sounded the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolutionary bugle to advance”. However, upon its initial release, there was some confusion as to what the May 16 Notification actually meant amongst Party members.

 Early mass rallies

On May 25, a young philosophy lecturer at Peking University, Nie Yuanzi, wrote a big-character poster and taped it onto a public bulletin. Nie attacked the university party administration and cadres from Beijing party authorities as “black anti-Party gangsters,” implying that there were forces at work in government and at the university who wished to betray the progress of the revolution. Several days later, Mao ordered Nie’s message to be broadcast nationwide and called it “the first Marxist big-character poster in China.” On May 29, at the High School attached to Tsinghua University, the first organization of Red Guards was formed with the aim of punishing and neutralising both intellectuals and Mao’s political enemies.

On June 1, 1966, the People’s Daily launched an attack on “reactionary” forces in the intellectual community. Subsequently, various university presidents and other prominent intellectuals were purged. On July 28, 1966, Red Guard representatives wrote to Mao, stating that mass purges and all such related social and political phenomena were justified and correct. Mao responded with his full support with his own big-character poster entitled Bombard the Headquarters. Mao wrote that despite having undergone a Communist revolution, China’s political hierarchy was still dominated by “bourgeoisie” elitist elements, capitalists, and revisionists, and that these counter-revolutionary elements were indeed still present at the top ranks of the party leadership itself. This was, in effect, an open call-to-arms against Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping, and their allies.


Chinese propaganda poster: “Destroy the old world; Forge the new world.” A worker (or possibly Red Guard) crushes the crucifix, Buddha, and classical Chinese texts with his hammer; 1967.

On August 8, 1966, the Central Committee of the CPC passed its “Decision Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” (also known as “the 16 Points”).This decision defined the GPCR as “a great revolution that touches people to their very souls and constitutes a new stage in the development of the socialist revolution in our country, a deeper and more extensive stage”:

Although the bourgeoisie has been overthrown, it is still trying to use the old ideas, culture, customs, and habits of the exploiting classes to corrupt the masses, capture their minds, and endeavour to stage a comeback. The proletariat must do just the opposite: It must meet head-on every challenge of the bourgeoisie in the ideological field and use the new ideas, culture, customs, and habits of the proletariat to change the mental outlook of the whole of society. At present, our objective is to struggle against and crush those persons in authority who are taking the capitalist road, to criticize and repudiate the reactionary bourgeois academic “authorities” and the ideology of the bourgeoisie and all other exploiting classes and to transform education, literature and art, and all other parts of the superstructure that do not correspond to the socialist economic base, so as to facilitate the consolidation and development of the socialist system.

The Decision took the already existing student movement and elevated it to the level of a nationwide mass campaign, calling on not only students but also “the masses of the workers, peasants, soldiers, revolutionary intellectuals, and revolutionary cadres” to carry out the task of “transforming the superstructure” by writing big-character posters and holding “great debates.” China, Mao felt, needed a “Cultural Revolution” to put socialism back on track.

The freedoms granted in the 16 Points were later written into the PRC constitution as “the four great rights (四大自由, Sì Dà Zìyóu)” of “great democracy (大民主, Dàmínzhǔ)”: the right to speak out freely, to air one’s views fully, to write big-character posters, and to hold great debates (大鸣dàmíng、大放dàfàng、大字报dàzìbào、大辩论dàbiànlùn – the first two are basically synonyms). (In other contexts the second was sometimes replaced by 大串联dàchuànlián – the right to “link up,” meaning for students to cut class and travel across the country to meet other young activists and propagate Mao Zedong Thought.)

Those who had anything other than a Communist background were challenged and often charged for corruption and sent to prison. These freedoms were supplemented by the right to strike, although this right was severely attenuated by the Army’s entrance onto the stage of civilian mass politics in February 1967. All of these rights were deleted from the constitution after Deng’s government suppressed the Democracy Wall movement in 1979.

On August 18, 1966, millions of Red Guards from all over the country gathered in Beijing for a peek at the Chairman. On top of the Tiananmen, Mao and Lin Biao made frequent appearances to approximately 11 million Red Guards, receiving cheers each time. Mao praised their actions in the recent campaigns to develop socialism and democracy.

Marxist-Leninist ideology was opposed to religion, and people were told to become atheists from the early days of the PRC’s existence. During the Destruction of Four Olds campaign, religious affairs of all types were discouraged by Red Guards, and practitioners persecuted. Temples, churches, mosques, monasteries, and cemeteries were closed down and sometimes converted to other uses, looted, and destroyed. Marxist propaganda depicted Buddhism as superstition, and religion was looked upon as a means of hostile foreign infiltration, as well as an instrument of the ‘ruling class’.Chinese Marxists declared ‘the death of God’, and considered religion a defilement of the Chinese communist vision. Clergy were arrested and sent to camps; many Tibetan Buddhists were forced to participate in the destruction of their monasteries at gunpoint.

‘Serve the People’ in Mao Zedong’s calligraphy

For two years, until July 1968 (and in some places for much longer), student activists such as the Red Guards expanded their areas of authority, and accelerated their efforts at socialist reconstruction. They began by passing out leaflets explaining their actions to develop and strengthen socialism, and posting the names of suspected “counter-revolutionaries” on bulletin boards. They assembled in large groups, held “great debates,” and wrote educational plays. They held public meetings to criticize and solicit self-criticisms from suspected “counter-revolutionaries.”

The world is yours, as well as ours, but in the last analysis, it is yours. You young people, full of vigor and vitality, are in the bloom of life, like the sun at eight or nine in the morning. Our hope is placed on you … The world belongs to you. China’s future belongs to you.

This was one of many quotations in the Little Red Book that the Red Guards would later follow as a guide, provided by Mao. It was the mechanism that led the Red Guards to commit to their objective as the future for China. These quotes directly from Mao led to other actions by the Red Guards in the views of other Maoist leaders. Although the 16 Points and other pronouncements of the central Maoist leaders forbade “physical struggle (武斗, wǔdòu)” in favor of “verbal struggle” (文斗, wéndòu), these struggle sessions often led to physical violence. Initially verbal struggles among activist groups became even more violent, especially when activists began to seize weapons from the Army in 1967. The central Maoist leaders limited their intervention in activist violence to verbal criticism, sometimes even appearing to encourage “physical struggle,” and only after the PLA began to intervene in 1969 did authorities begin to suppress the mass movement.

Lin and Mao

Lin (on right) with Mao Tse-tung during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s 

During the Cultural Revolution, all politicians who had any history of being anything other than dogmatically Maoist were almost immediately purged. Liu Shaoqi, once the most powerful man in China after Mao, was sent to a detention camp, where he later died in 1969. Deng Xiaoping was himself sent away for a period of re-education three times, and was eventually sent to work in an engine factory until he was brought back years later by Zhou Enlai. Many of those accused were not lucky enough to survive their persecution, and were only rehabilitated posthumously, after Deng succeeded Hua Guofeng as the paramount leader of China.

The work of the Red Guards was praised by Mao Zedong. On August 22, 1966, Mao issued a public notice, which stopped “all police intervention in Red Guard tactics and actions.” Those in the police force who dared to defy this notice were labeled “counter-revolutionaries.” Mao himself showed no scruples about the taking of human life during the Cultural Revolution, and went so far as to suggest that the sign of a true revolutionary was his desire to kill:

This man Hitler was even more ferocious. The more ferocious the better, don’t you think? The more people you kill, the more revolutionary you are.

Public security in China deteriorated rapidly as a result of central officials lifting restraints on violent behavior. Said Xie Fuzhi, national police chief:

I’ve just come back from a meeting at the center and want to say a few words: We must protect and support the Red Guards . . . Recently the number of people killed has gone up, so let us try to talk the Red Guards out of it and persuade them to act according to the Sixteen points. First support, then persuasion. The Red Guards are obedient , so talk to them and try to make friends with them. Don’t give them orders. Don’t say it is wrong of them to beat up bad persons: if in anger they beat someone to death, then so be it. If we say it’s wrong, then we’ll be supporting the bad persons. After all bad persons are bad, so if they are beaten to death it’s no big deal.

The police relayed Xie’s remarks to the Red Guards and they acted accordingly. In the course of about two weeks, the violence left some one hundred teachers, school officials, and educated cadres dead in Beijing’s western district alone. The number injured was “too large to be calculated.


Once Mao’s designated heir, Lin disappeared in 1971. The official version is he died in a plane crash while fleeing to the Soviet Union following a failed coup attempt against Mao.

The most gruesome aspects of the campaign ended up being the numerous incidents of torture and killing, and the suicides that were the final option of many who suffered beatings and humiliation. In August and September 1966, there were 1,772 people murdered in Beijing alone. In Shanghai there were 704 suicides and 534 deaths related to the Cultural Revolution in September. In Wuhan there were 62 suicides and 32 murders during September.

On September 5, 1966, another notice was issued, encouraging all Red Guards to come to Beijing over a stretch of time. All fees, including accommodation and transportation, were to be paid by the government. On October 10, 1966, Mao’s ally, General Lin Biao, publicly criticized Liu and Deng as “capitalist roaders” and “threats”. Later, Peng Dehuai was brought to Beijing to be publicly displayed and ridiculed.


On January 3, 1967, Lin Biao and Jiang Qing employed local media and cadres to generate the so-called “January Storm”, in which many prominent Shanghai municipal government leaders were heavily criticized and purged.This paved the way for Wang Hongwen to take charge of the city as leader of its Municipal Revolutionary Committee. The Municipal government was thus abolished. In Beijing, Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping were once again the targets of criticism, but others also pointed at the wrongdoings of the Vice Premier, Tao Zhu. Separate political struggles ensued among central government officials and local party cadres, who seized the Cultural Revolution as an opportunity to accuse rivals of “counter-revolutionary activity.

On January 8, Mao praised these actions through the party-run People’s Daily, urging all local government leaders to rise in self-criticism, or the criticism and purging of others suspected of “counterrevolutionary activity”. This led to massive power struggles which took the form of purge after purge among local governments, many of which stopped functioning altogether. Involvement in some sort of “revolutionary” activity was the only way to avoid being purged, but it was no guarantee.

In February, Jiang Qing and Lin Biao, with support from Mao, insisted that the “class struggles” be extended to the military. Many prominent generals of the People’s Liberation Army who were instrumental in the founding of the PRC voiced their concern and opposition to the Cultural Revolution, calling it a “mistake”. Former Foreign Minister Chen Yi, angered at a Politburo meeting, said factionalism was going to completely destroy the military, and in turn the party.

Other generals, including Nie Rongzhen and Xu Xiangqian also expressed their discontent. They were subsequently denounced on national media, controlled by Zhang Chunqiao and Yao Wenyuan, as the “February Counter-current forces” (Chinese: 二月逆流, Èryuè Nìliú). They were all eventually purged. At the same time, many large and prominent Red Guard organizations rose in protest against other Red Guard organizations who ran dissimilar revolutionary messages, further complicating the situation and exacerbating the chaos.

This led to a notice to stop all unhealthy activity within the Red Guards from Jiang Qing. On April 6, 1967, Liu Shaoqi was openly and widely denounced by a Zhongnanhai faction whose members included Jiang Qing and Kang Sheng, and ultimately, Mao himself. This was followed by a protest and mass demonstrations, most notably in Wuhan on July 20, where Jiang openly denounced any “counter-revolutionary activity”; she later personally flew to Wuhan to criticize Chen Zaidao, the general in charge of the Wuhan area.

On July 22, Jiang Qing directed the Red Guards to replace the People’s Liberation Army if necessary, and thereby to render the existing forces powerless. After the initial praise by Jiang Qing, the Red Guards began to steal and loot from barracks and other army buildings. This activity, which could not be stopped by army generals, continued until the autumn of 1968.


Elements of the Communist party and People’s Liberation Army resisted Mao’s supporters and the Red Guards with violent force. In Qinghai, a military officer toppled his commander and exterminated 200 Maoists, 100,000 people against Mao and several PLA troops smashed a Red Guard Newspaper station to pieces and an attempted assassination was plotted against the Sichuan military district deputy commander.


In the spring of 1968, a massive campaign began, aimed at promoting the already-adored Mao Zedong to god-like status. On July 27, 1968, the Red Guards’ power over the army was officially ended and the central government sent in units to protect many areas that remained targets for the Red Guards. Mao had supported and promoted the idea by allowing one of his “Highest Directions” to be heard by the masses. A year later, the Red Guard factions were dismantled entirely; Mao feared that the chaos they caused—and could still cause—might harm the very foundation of the Communist Party of China. In any case, their purpose had been largely fulfilled, and Mao had largely consolidated his political power.

In early October, Mao began a campaign to purge officials disloyal to him. They were sent to the countryside to work in labor camps. In the same month, at the 12th Plenum of the 8th Party Congress, Liu Shaoqi was “forever expelled from the Party”, and Lin Biao was made the Party’s Vice-Chairman, Mao’s “comrade-in-arms” and “designated successor”, his status and fame in the country was second only to Mao.

In December 1968, Mao began the “Down to the Countryside Movement“. During this movement, which lasted for the next decade, young intellectuals living in cities were ordered to go to the countryside. The term “intellectuals” was actually used in the broadest sense to refer to recently graduated middle school students. In the late 1970s, these “young intellectuals” were finally allowed to return to their home cities. This movement was in part a means of moving Red Guards from the cities to the countryside, where they would cause less social disruption.

 Lin Biao

Main article: Lin Biao

Graffiti with Lin Biao’s foreword to Mao’s Little Red Book, Lin’s name (lower right) was later scratched out, presumably after his death

 Transition of power in the party

The Ninth Party Congress was held in April 1969, and served as a means to ‘revitalize’ the party leadership with fresh thinking and new cadres. The institutional framework of the Party established two decades earlier had broken down almost entirely: delegates for this Congress were effectively selected by Revolutionary Committees rather than through election by party members. The Congress was meant to solidify the role of Maoism within the party psyche. Representation of the military increased by a large margin from the previous Congress, and the election of PLA members to the new Central Committee reflected this increase. Many military officers elevated to senior positions were loyal Lin supporters, opening a new factional divide between the military and civilian leadership, the latter led by Jiang Qing.

Lin delivered the keynote address at the Congress, a document drafted by hardliner leftists Yao Wenyuan and Zhang Chunqiao. The report levied criticism on Liu Shaoqi and other “counter-revolutionaries”, and drew extensively from quotations in the Little Red Book. The Congress passed the new Party constitution, which re-introduced Mao Zedong Thought as an official guiding ideology of the party and officially designated Lin as Mao’s successor. Lastly, the Congress elected a new Politburo with Mao Zedong, Lin Biao, Chen Boda, Zhou Enlai, and Kang Sheng being the five new members of the Politburo Standing Committee. Lin, Chen, and Kang were all beneficiaries of the Cultural Revolution. Zhou Enlai was demoted in rank.

 Expansion of Lin’s power base

After being confirmed as Mao’s successor, Lin’s supporters focused on the restoration of the position of State President, which had been abolished by Mao after Liu Shaoqi’s dismissal. They hoped that by allowing Lin to ease into a constitutionally sanctioned role, whether President or Vice-President, Lin’s succession would be entrenched and institutionalized. The consensus on the Politburo was that Mao should assume the office with Lin becoming Vice-President; but Mao had explicitly voiced his opposition to the recreation of the position and his assuming it.

On August 23, 1970, the Second Plenum of the CCP’s Ninth Congress was held in Lushan. Chen Boda, now aligned with the Lin camp, was the first to speak. Chen praised Mao using flowery language, but to Mao’s ire called again for the restoration of the position of State President. Moreover, Chen attacked Zhang Chunqiao, a staunch Maoist, over whether or not a line glorifying Mao should be inserted into the Party constitution. Mao was deeply critical of Chen’s speeches and removed him from the Politburo Standing Committee. This marked the beginning of a series of criticism sessions across the nation for people who used “deceit” for gains, who were called “Liu Shaoqi’s representatives for Marxism and political liars.”

In addition to the purge of Chen Boda, Mao also asked Lin’s principal generals to write a self-criticism on their political positions as a warning to Lin. Mao’s doubts about Lin’s loyalty gave Mao the determination to remove Lin from power. Mao started to take strong actions against the state’s second man, but these efforts went slowly and were noticed by Lin.

Attempted coup and Lin’s flight

Main article: Project 571 Outline

By 1971, it was clear that divergent interests between the civilian and military wings of the party leadership was beginning to create a personal rift between Mao and Lin. Mao was troubled that he was losing control of Lin and his supporters. After the removal of Chen Boda, Lin’s power base began to shrink within the Party, and his health began to suffer. Lin’s supporters plotted to use the military power still at their disposal to oust Mao Zedong in a military coup. Lin’s son, Lin Liguo, and other high-ranking military conspirators formed a coup apparatus in Shanghai aimed solely at ousting Mao from power by the use of force, and dubbed the plan Outline for Project 571, which sounds similar to “Military Uprising” in Mandarin. It is disputed whether Lin Biao was involved in this process. While official sources maintain that Lin planned and executed of the alleged coup attempt, scholars such as Jin Qiu portray Lin as a rather passive character, who was in some ways manipulated by members of his family and his supporters. Jin contests that Lin Biao was never personally involved in drafting the Outline.

The Outline revealed that Lin Liguo’s plan consisted mainly of aerial bombardments and the widespread use of the Air Force. Were the plan to succeed, his father could successfully arrest all of his political rivals and gain the supreme power that he wanted. Assassination attempts were alleged to have been made against Mao in Shanghai, from September 8 to September 10, 1971. It was learned that before these attacks upon Mao there was initial knowledge of Lin’s activities among the local police, who stated that Lin Biao had been coordinating a political plot, and that Lin’s loyal backers were receiving special training in the military. One internal report alleged that Lin had planned to bomb a bridge that Mao was to cross to reach Beijing (Mao avoided this bridge because intelligence reports caused him to change routes). In those nervous days, guards were placed every 10–20 meters on the railway tracks of Mao’s route, facing outwards from the train, to prevent attempts at assassination.

According to the official version of the events, on September 13, 1971, Lin Biao, his wife Ye Qun, his son Lin Liguo, and members of his staff attempted to fly to the Soviet Union. En route, Lin’s plane crashed in Mongolia, killing all on board. On the same day, the Politburo met in an emergency session to discuss matters pertaining to Lin Biao. Only on September 30 was Lin’s death confirmed in Beijing, which led to the cancellation of the National Day celebration events the following day. The Central Committee under Mao’s direction kept information largely under wraps, and news of Lin’s death was only released to the public two months following the incident. Many of Lin’s supporters sought refuge in Hong Kong; those who remained on the mainland were purged. The event caught the party leadership completely off guard. For several months following the incident, the party information apparatus attempted to find a “correct way” to frame the incident for public consumption. Scholars have identified some gaps in the official version of the events.

The exact cause of the plane crash remains a mystery. It is widely believed that Lin’s plane ran out of fuel or that there was a sudden engine failure. There was also speculation that the plane was shot down. It could also have been that Soviet forces caused the plane to crash. After investigating the wreckage, Soviet authorities later took possession of the bodies of those on board. There was no confirmation on the identity of the bodies.

 “Gang of Four” and their downfall

Main article: Gang of Four

 Antagonism towards Zhou and Deng

In the political aftermath of Lin Biao’s flight, another void opened with the question of succession. In the absence of fitting candidates, in September 1972, a young cadre from Shanghai, Wang Hongwen, was transferred to work in Beijing for the Central Government, and was elevated to become the Communist Party’s Vice-Chairman in the following year, seemingly groomed for succession. Jiang Qing’s position and undisputed leadership status over the radical camp was solidified following the death of Lin Biao. While Jiang Qing was at the forefront of carrying out Mao’s policies in the earlier stages of the Cultural Revolution, it was clear by 1972 that she had political ambitions of her own. She allied herself with propaganda specialists Zhang Chunqiao and Yao Wenyuan, and the politically favoured Wang Hongwen, and formed a political clique later dubbed as the “Gang of Four“.

The Gang identified Zhou Enlai as the main political threat in post-Mao era succession. In late 1973, to weaken Zhou’s political position and to distance themselves from Lin’s apparent betrayal, the “Criticize Lin, Criticize Confucius” campaign began under Jiang Qing’s leadership. Its stated goals were to eradicate China of neo-Confucianist thinking and denounce Lin Biao’s actions as traitorous and regressive. Reminiscent of the first years of the Cultural Revolution, the political battle was carried out through historical allegory, and although Zhou Enlai’s name was never mentioned during this campaign, the Premier’s historical namesake, the Duke of Zhou, was a frequent target. The public had become weary of protracted political campaigns that seemed to have no practical value, and did not participate enthusiastically. The campaign failed to achieve its goals.

With much of the moderate faction purged, and factional struggles continuing in the country’s factories, railways, and local government, the country’s economy had fallen into disarray. In October 1974, to prevent further deterioration of production in the country, Mao approved Deng Xiaoping to be transferred back to work in Beijing as Executive Vice-Premier, directing “day-to-day government affairs” while Zhou Enlai was in hospital receiving cancer treatment. Meanwhile Mao issued a series of rebukes on the Gang of Four, criticizing their ability to manage the economy. Deng’s return set the scene for a protracted factional struggle between the radical Gang of Four and moderates led by Zhou and Deng.

At the time, Jiang Qing’s clique held effective control of the media and China’s propaganda network and were antagonistic towards Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping, who held much control of government organs. On some decisions, Mao sought to mitigate the Gang’s influence, but on others, he acquiesced to their demands. The Gang of Four’s heavy hand in political and media control, however, did not prevent Deng from reinstating progressive economic policies. Deng held a clear stance against Party factionalism, and his policies were aimed at promoting unity as the first step to reimplementing effective production. Much like the post-Great Leap restructuring led by Liu Shaoqi, Deng streamlined the railway system, steel production, and other key areas of the economy. By late 1975, however, Mao saw that Deng’s economic restructuring might negate the legacy of the Cultural Revolution, and launched a campaign to oppose “rehabilitating the case for the rightists”, alluding to Deng as the country’s foremost “rightist”. Mao directed Deng to write self-criticisms in November 1975, a move lauded by the Gang of Four.

 Death of Zhou Enlai

On January 8, 1976, Zhou Enlai died of bladder cancer. On January 15 Deng Xiaoping delivered Zhou’s official eulogy in a funeral attended by all of China’s most senior leaders with the notable exception of Mao himself, who did not attend due to his spite for Zhou, and because Mao believed that his attendance would be viewed as an admission that the Cultural Revolution was a mistake (a view held privately by Zhou). Mao’s absence was officially explained as being due to illness, although Mao was not too ill to receive the president of Sao Tome and Principe two weeks earlier, or Richard Nixon several months before.Curiously, after Zhou’s death, Mao neither selected a member of the Gang of Four nor Deng Xiaoping to become Premier, instead choosing the relatively unknown Hua Guofeng.

The Gang of Four grew apprehensive that spontaneous, large-scale popular support for Zhou could turn the political tide against them. They acted through the media to impose as set of restrictions known as the “five nos”: no wearing black armbands, no mourning wreaths, no mourning halls, no memorial activities, and no handing out photos of Zhou. Years of resentment over the Cultural Revolution, the public persecution of Deng Xiaoping (who was strongly associated with Zhou in public perception), and the prohibition against publicly mourning Zhou became associated with each other shortly after Zhou’s death, leading to popular discontent against Mao and his apparent successors (notably Hua Guofeng and the Gang of Four).

Official attempts to enforce the “five nos” included removing public memorials and tearing down posters commemorating Zhou’s achievements. On March 25, 1976, a leading Shanghai newspaper, Wenhui bao, published an article stating that Zhou was “the capitalist roader inside the Party [who] wanted to help the unrepentant capitalist roader [Deng] regain his power”. This and other propaganda efforts to attack Zhou’s image only strengthened the public’s attachment to Zhou’s memory. Between March and April, 1976, a forged document circulated in Nanjing that claimed itself to be Zhou Enlai’s last will. It attacked Jiang Qing and praised Deng Xiaoping, and was met with increased propaganda efforts by the government.

 Tiananmen Incident

Main article: Tiananmen Incident

On April 4, 1976, at the eve of China’s annual Qingming Festival, in which Chinese traditionally pay homage to their deceased ancestors, thousands of people gathered around the Monument to the People’s Heroes in Tiananmen Square to commemorate Zhou Enlai. On this occasion, the people of Beijing honored Zhou by laying wreaths, banners, poems, placards, and flowers at the foot of the Monument.The most obvious purpose of this memorial was to eulogize Zhou, but Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, and Yao Wenyuan were also attacked for their actions against the Premier. A small number of slogans left at Tiananmen even attacked Mao himself, and his Cultural Revolution.

Up to two million people may have visited Tiananmen Square on April 4.First-hand observations of the events on April 4 report that all levels of society, from the poorest peasants to high-ranking PLA officers and the children of high-ranking cadres, were represented in the activities. Those who participated were motivated by a mixture of anger over the treatment of Zhou, revolt against Maoist policies, apprehension for China’s future, and defiance of those who would seek to punish the public for commemorating Zhou’s memory. The events did not appear to have coordinated leadership and was a reflection of public sentiment.

On the morning of April 5, crowds were angered to discover that their memorial items for Zhou had been removed overnight. Attempts to suppress the mourners led to a violent riot. Police cars were set on fire and a crowd of over 100,000 people forced its way into several government buildings surrounding the square. By 6:00 pm, most of the crowd had dispersed, but a small group remained until security forces entered Tiananmen Square to arrest them. Many of those arrested were later sentenced to prison work camps. Similar incidents occurred in Zhengzhou, Kunming, Taiyuan, Changchun, Shanghai, Wuhan, and Guangzhou. Jiang Qing and her allies pinned Deng as the incident’s ‘mastermind’, and issued reports on official media to that effect. Deng Xiaoping was formally stripped of all positions “inside and outside the Party” on April 7. This marked Deng’s second purge in ten years.

 Death of Mao Zedong

On September 9, 1976, Mao Zedong died. Mao’s image during the Cultural Revolution portrayed him as a larger-than-life figure who represented China’s revolutionary progress. To Mao’s supporters, his death symbolized the loss of the socialist foundation of China. When his death was announced on the afternoon of September 9, in a press release entitled “A Notice from the Central Committee, the NPC, State Council, and the CMC to the whole Party, the whole Army and to the people of all nationalities throughout the country”, the nation descended into grief and mourning, with people weeping in the streets and public institutions closing for over a week.

Before dying, Mao had allegedly scribbled a message on a piece of paper stating “With you in charge, I’m at ease”, to Hua Guofeng. This legitimized Hua as the Party’s new Chairman. Before this event, Hua had been widely considered to be lacking in political skill and ambitions, and seemingly posed no serious threat to the Gang of Four in the race for succession. However, the Gang’s radical ideas also clashed with some influential elders and a large segment of party reformers. With army backing and the support of prominent generals like Ye Jianying, on October 10 the Special Unit 8341 had all members of the Gang of Four arrested in a bloodless coup. Historically, this marked the end of the Cultural Revolution era.


Although Hua Guofeng publicly denounced the Gang of Four in 1976, he continued to invoke Mao’s name to justify Mao-era policies. Hua spearheaded what became known as the Two Whatevers, namely, “Whatever policy originated from Chairman Mao, we must continue to support,” and “Whatever directions were given to us from Chairman Mao, we must continue to follow.” Like Deng, Hua wanted to reverse the damage of the Cultural Revolution; but unlike Deng, who wanted to propose new economic models for China, Hua intended to move the Chinese economic and political system towards Soviet-style planning of the early 1950s.

It became increasingly clear to Hua that, without Deng Xiaoping, it was difficult to continue daily affairs of state. On October 10, Deng Xiaoping personally wrote a letter to Hua asking to be transferred back to state and party affairs; party elders also called for Deng’s return. With increasing pressure from all sides, Hua decided to bring Deng back into state affairs, first naming him Vice-Premier in July 1977, and later promoting him to various other positions, effectively catapulting Deng to China’s second-most powerful figure. In August, the Party’s Eleventh Congress was held in Beijing, officially naming (in ranking order) Hua Guofeng, Ye Jianying, Deng Xiaoping, Li Xiannian, and Wang Dongxing as new members of the Politburo Standing Committee.

In May 1978, Deng seized the opportunity to elevate his protégé Hu Yaobang to power. Hu published an article on Guangming Daily, making clever use of Mao’s quotations while lauding Deng’s ideas. Following this article, Hua began to shift his tone in support of Deng. On July 1, Deng publicized Mao’s self-criticism report of 1962 regarding the failure of the Great Leap Forward. With an expanding power base, in September 1978, Deng began openly attacking Hua Guofeng’s “Two Whatevers”.

On December 18, 1978, the pivotal Third Plenum of the Eleventh CCP Congress was held. During the congress Deng remarked famously that “a liberation of thoughts” was in order and the Party and country needed to “seek truth from facts“. The Plenum officially marked the beginning of the economic reform era. Hua Guofeng engaged in self-criticism, calling his “Two Whatevers” a mistake. Wang Dongxing, a trusted ally of Mao, was also criticized. At the Plenum, the Party’s verdict on the Tiananmen Incident was reversed, later leading to the rehabilitation of those arrested for their participation in the Incident. Disgraced former leader Liu Shaoqi was allowed a belated state funeral.

At the Fifth Plenum of the Eleventh CCP Congress, held in 1980, Peng Zhen, He Long and many others who had been purged during the Cultural Revolution were also politically rehabilitated. Hu Yaobang was named General-Secretary, and Zhao Ziyang, another Deng protégé, was introduced into the Central Committee. In September, Hua Guofeng resigned, and Zhao was named the new Premier. Deng remained the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, but formal power was transferred to a new generation of pragmatic reformers, who reversed Mao-era policies almost in their entirety.

 Policy and effect

The effects of the Cultural Revolution directly or indirectly touched essentially all of China’s population. During the Cultural Revolution, much economic activity was halted, with “revolution”, regardless of interpretation, being the primary objective of the country. The start of the Cultural Revolution brought huge numbers of Red Guards to Beijing, with all expenses paid by the government, and the railway system was in turmoil. Countless ancient buildings, artifacts, antiques, books, and paintings were destroyed by Red Guards. By December 1967, 350 million copies of Mao’s Quotations had been printed.

The ten years of the Cultural Revolution brought China’s education system to a virtual halt. The university entrance exams were cancelled after 1966, and were not restored until 1977 under Deng Xiaoping. Many intellectuals were sent to rural labour camps, and many of those who survived left China shortly after the revolution ended. Many survivors and observers suggest that almost anyone with skills over that of the average person was made the target of political “struggle” in some way. According to most Western observers as well as followers of Deng Xiaoping, this led to almost an entire generation of inadequately educated individuals. The impact of the Cultural Revolution on popular education varied among regions, and formal measurements of literacy did not resume until the 1980s. Some counties in Zhanjiang had illiteracy rates as high as 41% some 20 years after the revolution. The leaders of China at the time denied any illiteracy problems from the start. This effect was amplified by the elimination of qualified teachers—many of the districts were forced to rely upon chosen students to re-educate the next generation.

Mao Zedong Thought became the central operative guide to all things in China. The authority of the Red Guards surpassed that of the army, local police authorities, and the law in general. Chinese traditional arts and ideas were ignored and publicly attacked, with praise for Mao being practiced in their place. People were encouraged to criticize cultural institutions and to question their parents and teachers, which had been strictly forbidden in Confucian culture. The persecution of traditional Chinese cultural institutions was emphasized even more during the Anti-Lin Biao, Anti-Confucius Campaign. Slogans such as “Parents may love me, but not as much as Chairman Mao” were common.

The Cultural Revolution also brought to the forefront numerous internal power struggles within the Communist party, many of which had little to do with the larger battles between Party leaders, but resulted instead from local factionalism and petty rivalries that were usually unrelated to the “revolution” itself. Because of the chaotic political environment, local governments lacked organization and stability, if they existed at all. Members of different factions often fought on the streets, and political assassinations, particularly in predominantly rural provinces, were common. The masses spontaneously involved themselves in factions, and took part in open warfare against other factions. The ideology that drove these factions was vague and sometimes nonexistent, with the struggle for local authority being the only motivation for mass involvement.

Population restructuring

Members of the Down to the Countryside Movement in Shenyang, 1968.

During the Cultural Revolution, the Communist Party instituted a policy known as the Down to the Countryside Movement, in which educated youths living in the urban areas were sent to live and work in agrarian areas, in order that they might better understand the role of manual agrarian labour in Chinese society. In the initial stages of this policy, most of the youth who took part in it volunteered, although later on the government resorted to forcing many of them to move.

In the post-Mao period, many of those forcibly moved attacked the policy as a violation of their human rights. Historian Mobo Gao went as far to criticise such attitudes, suggesting that “from the perspectives of the rural residents, the educated youth had a good life. They did not have to work as hard as the local farmers and they had state and family subsidies. They would frequently go back home to visit their parents in the cities, and they had money to spend and wore fashionable clothes. Gao also claimed that during the Revolution, Mao sent his daughter, Li Na, to work on a farm in Jiangxi.

 Slogans and rhetoric

Main article: Maoist China rhetoric

Cultural Revolution era slogans on the walls of the 798 Factory, now 798 Art Zone in Beijing.

Remnants of a banner containing slogans from the Cultural Revolution in Anhui.

According to Shaorong Huang, the fact that the Cultural Revolution had such massive effects on Chinese society is the result of extensive use of political slogans. In Huang’s view, rhetoric played a central role in rallying both the Party leadership and people at large during the Cultural Revolution. For example, the slogan “to rebel is justified” (造反有理, zàofǎn yǒulǐ) became a unitary theme.

Huang asserts that political slogans were ubiquitous in every aspect of people’s lives, being printed onto ordinary items such as bus tickets, cigarette packets, and mirror tables. Workers were supposed to “grasp revolution and promote productions”, while peasants were supposed to raise more pigs because “more pigs means more manure, and more manure means more grain.” Even a casual remark by Mao, “Sweet potato tastes good; I like it” became a slogan everywhere in the countryside.

Political slogans of the time had three sources: Mao, official Party media such as People’s Daily, and the Red Guards. Mao often offered vague, yet powerful directives that led to the factionalization of the Red Guards. These directives could be interpreted to suit personal interests, in turn aiding factions’ goals in being most loyal to Mao Zedong. In particular, Red Guard slogans were the most violent in nature, such as “Strike the enemy down on the floor and step on him with a foot”, “Long live the red terror!” and “Those who are against Chairman Mao will have their dog skulls smashed into pieces”.

Sinologists Lowell Dittmer and Chen Ruoxi point out that the Chinese language had historically been defined by subtlety, delicacy, moderation, and honesty, as well as the “cultivation of a refined and elegant literary style. This changed during the Cultural Revolution. Since Mao wanted an army of bellicose people in his crusade, rhetoric at the time was reduced to militant and violent vocabulary. These slogans were a powerful and effective method of “thought reform”, mobilizing millions of people in a concerted attack upon the subjective world, “while at the same time reforming their objective world.

Dittmer and Chen argue that the emphasis on politics made language a very effective form of propaganda, but “also transformed it into a jargon of stereotypes—pompous, repetitive, and boring. To distance itself from the era, Deng Xiaoping’s government cut back heavily on the use of political slogans. The practice of sloganeering saw a mild resurgence in the late 1990s under Jiang Zemin.


Propaganda poster showing Jiang Qing, saying: “Let the new socialist performing arts occupy every stage”, 1967

During the Cultural Revolution, there was an overhaul of many of the arts, with the intention of producing new and innovative art that reflected the benefits of a socialist society. As a part of this, many artists whose work was deemed to be bourgeoise or anti-socialist were persecuted and prevented from working.

At the same time, other art forms flourished in the People’s Republic during the Revolution. One of the most notable examples of this was the Peking opera, which saw “some amazing achievements in those years” under the leadership of such figures as Yu Huiyong. One of China’s most important playwrights and directors of the late twentieth century, Zhang Guangtian, has argued that during the Cultural Revolution, the innovations that were encouraged in the Peking Opera – which primarily involved “the formalism and style of simplification and concision” – led it into one of its greatest periods.

 Historical relics

China’s historical sites, artifacts and archives suffered devastating damage as they were thought to be at the root of “old ways of thinking”. Many artifacts were seized from private homes and museums and often destroyed on the spot. There are no records of exactly how much was destroyed. Western observers suggest that much of China’s thousands of years of history was in effect destroyed or, later, smuggled abroad for sale, during the short ten years of the Cultural Revolution. Such destruction and sale of historical artifacts is unmatched at any time or place in human history. Chinese historians compare the cultural suppression during the Cultural Revolution to Qin Shihuang’s great Confucian purge. Religious persecution intensified during this period, because religion was seen as being opposed to Marxist-Leninist and Maoist thinking.

Although being undertaken by some of the Revolution’s enthusiastic followers, the destruction of historical relics was never formally sanctioned by the Communist Party, whose official policy was instead to protect such items. Indeed, on 14 May 1967, the CCP central committee issued a document entitled Several suggestions for the protection of cultural relics and books during the Cultural Revolution. Archaeological excavation and preservation also continued successfully in this period, and several major discoveries, such as that of the Terracotta Army and the Mawangdui tombs occurred during the Revolution, and were duly protected from any potential damage. The most prominent symbol of academic research in archaeology, the journal Kaogu, did not publish during the Cultural Revolution.

The status of traditional Chinese culture within China was also severely damaged as a result of the Cultural Revolution. Many traditional customs, such as fortune telling, paper art, feng shui consultations, wearing traditional Chinese dresses for weddings, the use of the traditional Chinese calendar, scholarship in classical Chinese literature and the practice of referring to the Chinese New Year as the “New Year” rather than the “Spring Festival” have been weakened in mainland China.

 Struggle sessions and purges

Main article: Struggle session

1967 mass rally in Shenyang against cadres of the Chinese Communist Party Northeast Bureau, Yu Ping (left), organization department chief, and Gu Zhuoxin, secretary of the secretariat. Yu Ping was accused of being a “capitalist roader” and Gu, a traitor to revolution. Both men survived the Cultural Revolution.

Millions of people in China were violently persecuted during the Cultural Revolution. Those identified as spies, “running dogs”, “revisionists”, or coming from a suspect class (including those related to former landlords or rich peasants) were subject to beating, imprisonment, rape, torture, sustained and systematic harassment and abuse, seizure of property, denial of medical attention, and erasure of social identity. At least hundreds of thousands of people were murdered, starved, or worked to death. Millions more were forcibly displaced. Young people from the cities were forcibly moved to the countryside, where they were forced to abandon all forms of standard education in place of the propaganda teachings of the Communist Party of China.

Estimates of the death toll, including both civilians and Red Guards, from various sources are about 500,000 between 1966 and 1969. Some people were not able to stand the torture and, losing hope for the future, committed suicide. One of the most famous cases of attempted suicide due to political persecution involved Deng Xiaoping’s son, Deng Pufang, who jumped (or was thrown) from a four-story building after being “interrogated” by Red Guards. Instead of dying, he became a paraplegic. In the trial of the so-called Gang of Four, a Chinese court stated that 729,511 people had been persecuted, of which 34,800 were said to have died.

Some of the most extreme violence took place in the southern province of Guangxi, where a Chinese journalist found a “disturbing picture of official compliance in the systematic killing and cannibalization of individuals in the name of political revolution and ‘class struggle‘. Senior party historians acknowledge, “In a few places, it even happened that ‘counterrevolutionaries‘ were beaten to death and in the most beastly fashion had their flesh and liver consumed [by their killers]. Not even the children of “enemies of the people” were spared, as more than a few were tortured and bludgeoned to death and dismembered. Some of their organs – hearts, livers, and genitals, were eaten during “human flesh banquets”. According to Mao: The Unknown Story, an estimated 100,000 people “lost their lives” in Guangxi during this period.

The true figure of those who were persecuted or died during the Cultural Revolution may never be known, since many deaths went unreported or were actively covered up by the police or local authorities. The state of Chinese demographics at the time was very poor, and the PRC has been hesitant to allow formal research into the period. In their book Mao’s Last Revolution (2006), the Sinologists Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals assert that in rural China alone some 36 million people were persecuted, of whom between 750,000 and 1.5 million were killed, with roughly the same number permanently injured. In Mao: The Unknown Story, Jung Chang and Jon Halliday claim that as many as 3 million people died in the violence of the Cultural Revolution. Sociologist Daniel Chirot claims that around 100 million people suffered and at least one million people, and perhaps as many as 20 million, died in the Cultural Revolution.

 Ethnic minorities

The Cultural Revolution wreaked much havoc on minority cultures in China. In Tibet, over 6,000 monasteries were destroyed, often with the complicity of local ethnic Tibetan Red Guards. In Inner Mongolia, some 790,000 people were persecuted. Of these, 22,900 were beaten to death and 120,000 were maimed, during a ruthless witchhunt to find members of the alleged separatist New Inner Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party. In Xinjiang, copies of the Qu’ran and other books of the Uyghur people were apparently burned. Muslim imams were reportedly paraded around with paint splashed on their bodies. In the ethnic Korean areas of northeast China, language schools were destroyed. In Yunnan Province, the palace of the Dai people‘s king was torched, and an infamous massacre of Hui Muslim people at the hands of the People’s Liberation Army in Yunnan, known as the “Shadian incident“, reportedly claimed over 1,600 lives in 1975.

Concessions given to minorities were abolished as part of the Red Guards’ attack on the “Four Olds”: old customs, old culture, old habits, and old ideas. Communes were established in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (Tibet had previously been exempt from China’s period of land reform) and reimposed in other minority areas. Despite official persecution, some local leaders and minority ethnic practices survived in remote regions.

The overall failure of the Red Guards’ and radical assimilationists’ goals was largely due to two factors. It was felt that pushing minority groups too hard would compromise China’s border defences. This was especially important as minorities make up a large percentage of the population that live along China’s borders. In the late 1960s China experienced a period of strained relations with a number of its neighbours, notably with the Soviet Union and India. Many of the Cultural Revolution’s goals in minority areas were simply too unreasonable to be implemented. The return to pluralism, and therefore the end of the worst of the affects of the Cultural Revolution to ethnic minorities in China, coincides closely with Lin Biao’s removal from power.


The central section of this wall shows the faint remnant marks of a propaganda slogan that was added during the Cultural Revolution, but has since been removed. The slogan reads “Boundless faith in Chairman Mao.”

 Mainland China

 Chinese Communist Party opinions

Under unspoken conventions, the Communist Party saw itself as the national legal authority on all modern historical issues; therefore, it was necessary to lend the Cultural Revolution an appropriate historical judgment. Among the challenges faced by the new government was the question of how to assess and assign responsibility in the events and how to treat the event in China’s complex historiography. On June 27, 1981, the Central Committee adopted the “Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party Since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China”, a document pertaining to the official historical assessment of a series of political movements since 1949.

In this document, it is stated that the “chief responsibility for the grave ‘Left’ error of the ‘Cultural Revolution,’ an error comprehensive in magnitude and protracted in duration, does indeed lie with Comrade Mao Zedong”. It is stated that the Cultural Revolution was carried out “under the mistaken leadership of Mao Zedong, which was manipulated by the counterrevolutionary groups of Lin Biao and Jiang Qing, and brought serious disaster and turmoil to the Communist Party and the Chinese people.

It was necessary in this official view, which has since become the dominant framework for the Chinese historiography of the time period, to separate the personal actions of Mao during the Cultural Revolution from his earlier revolutionary activities during the Chinese Civil War and the Second Sino-Japanese War. It also separates Mao’s personal mistakes from the correctness of the theory that he created, which remains a guiding ideology in the Party. It also aimed to continue the legitimacy in the mandate of the Communist Party and the construction of socialism.

Many interpretations on Mao’s ideology as well as the founding principles of the Party would change with the rise of what would later become known as Socialism with Chinese characteristics. The historian Mobo Gao argued that the reason why the post-Mao Chinese Communist Party government condemned the Cultural Revolution was “because they actually identify with a set of values that were different from those of the Cultural Revolution”, values that embrace market capitalism rather than the Marxist concept of class struggle.

Following the Cultural Revolution, a new genre of literature known as “scar literature” (shangen wenxue) emerged, being encouraged by the post-Mao government. Largely written by educated youths such as Liu Xinhua, Zhang Xianliang, and Liu Xinwu, scar literature depicted the Revolution from a negative viewpoint, using their own perspectives and experiences as a basis.

After the violent suppression of protesters at Tiananmen Square in 1989, both liberals and conservatives within the Party accused each other of excesses that they claimed were reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution. Li Peng, who supported and promoted the use of military force, justified the Chinese government’s position by citing the fear that the protests, if allowed to continue, would be as damaging to China as the Cultural Revolution had been. Zhao Ziyang, who was placed under indefinite house arrest after his failed attempt to prevent the government from using violence against the protesters, later accused his political opponents of illegally removing him from office by using tactics “entirely in the style of the Cultural Revolution”. According to Zhao, Cultural Revolution-style tactics used against him included “reversing black and white, exaggerating personal offenses, taking quotes out of context, issuing slander and lies… innundating the newpapers with critical articles making me out to be an enemy, and casual disregard for my personal freedoms”, all while selectively altering or disregarding state and Party procedures to facilitate Zhao’s dismissal and arrest. Zhao stated that he was surprised by these tactics, since the Party had formally opposed them after Mao’s death in an effort to prevent anything like the Cultural Revolution from ever happening again.

 Alternative opinions

Although the Chinese Communist Party officially condemns the Cultural Revolution, there are many Chinese people who hold more positive views of it, particularly amongst the working class, who benefited most from its policies. Since Deng’s ascendancy to power, the government has arrested and imprisoned figures who have taken a particularly pro-Cultural Revolution stance. For instance, in 1985, a young worker at a shoe factory put up a poster on the wall of a factory in Xianyang, Shaanxi, which declared that “The Cultural Revolution was Good” and led to achievements such as “the building of the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge, the creation of hybrid rice crops and the rise of people’s consciousness.” The factory worker was eventually sentenced to ten years in prison, where he died soon after “without any apparent cause. Independent scholarly research of the Cultural Revolution has been discouraged by the Communist Party. There is concern that as witnesses age and die, the opportunity to research the event thoroughly within China may be lost.

One of the student leaders of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, Shen Tong, author of Almost a Revolution, has a positive view of some aspects of the Cultural Revolution. According to Shen, the trigger for the famous Tiananmen hunger-strikes of 1989 was a big-character poster (dazibao), a form of public political discussion that gained prominence during the Cultural Revolution. Shen remarked that the congregation of students from across the country to Beijing on trains and the hospitality they received from residents was reminiscent of the experiences of Red Guards in the Cultural Revolution.

Since the advent of the internet, various people in both China and abroad have begun to argue online that the Cultural Revolution had many beneficial qualities for China that have been denied by both the post-Mao Chinese Communist Party and the Western media. Some hold that the Revolution ‘cleansed’ China from superstitions, religious dogma, and outdated traditions in a ‘modernist transformation’ that later made Deng’s economic reforms possible. These sentiments increased following the U.S. bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999, when a segment of the population began to associate anti-Maoist viewpoints with the United States.

Since the advent of the internet in China, Maoist apologists have become more organized. One Maoist website has collected thousands of signatures demanding punishment for those who publicly criticize Mao. Along with the call for legal action, this movement demands the establishment of agencies similar to Cultural Revolution-era “neighborhood committees”, in which “citizens” would report anti-Maoists to local public security bureaus. The recent movement in defense of Mao was sparked by an online column written by Mao Yushi, an economist, who provocatively wrote that Mao Zedong “was not a god”. The move to have Mao’s image publicly protected is correlated with the recent political career of Bo Xilai, whose term as mayor of Chongqing has been characterized by the use of Maoist propaganda not popular in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution.

 In the Chinese media

Ever since Deng Xiaoping publicly criticized the Cultural Revolution in the late 1970s as Mao’s “greatest mistake”, the CCP has restricted attempts by private individuals to discuss the Cultural Revolution publicly. The Chinese government today prohibits news organizations from mentioning details of the Cultural Revolution, and attempts to limit any understanding of the events of the Cultural Revolution in Chinese popular culture. Many government documents from the 1960s on remain classified, and are not open to formal inspection by private academics.

In 2006, on the fortieth anniversary of the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, the government declined to inform the public of the occasion in any way. On the “Today in History” column on the state-run news agancy Xinhua‘s website, the most important historic event listed was the release of a song. In the effort to prevent any discussion of the event, Chinese academics were banned from travelling overseas to participate in seminars held to discuss the events of four decades before.

Reasons for the Chinese government’s reluctance to allow the events of the Cultural Revolution to be recognized within China are due to fears that addressing this era of Chinese history may inspire ideological conflict and reduce social stability. The focus of the Chinese government on “maintaining political and social stability” has been a top priority since the bloody Tianmen crackdown on reformers on June 4, 1989, and the modern government has no interest in re-evaluating any issue that might lead to a split in the Chinese leadership, or which might polarize the CCP on ideological grounds. Hu Jintao has been noted to be an admirer of Mao, and has not been interested in encouraging any public exploration into a phase of history in which Mao might be publicly criticized. Externally, encouraging the exploration of an era in which Mao may be criticized could lead to worsening relations with North Korea, whose ruling Kim family has always regarded Mao as “a good brother and very good friend”. Because of the political risk involved, the modern Chinese government is unlikely to promote an understanding of the Cultural Revolution in China at any time in the near future.

Outside mainland China

In Hong Kong a pro-Communist anti-colonial strike inspired by the Cultural Revolution was launched in 1967. Its excesses damaged the credibility of these activists for more than a generation in the eyes of Hong Kong residents In 2007 Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang 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”. The remarks caused controversy in Hong Kong and was later retracted with an accompanying apology. In the Republic of China (Taiwan), Chiang Kai-shek initiated the Chinese Culture Renaissance Movement to counter what he regarded as destruction of traditional Chinese values by the Communists on the mainland.

Various English-language histories of the Cultural Revolution have been written and published. Virtually all of these took a highly negative attitude to the subject. Historian Anne F. Thurston wrote that the Revolution “led to loss of culture, and of spiritual values; loss of hope and ideals; loss of time, truth and of life; loss, in short, of nearly everything that gives meaning to life. Barbara Barnouin and Yu Changgen summarized the Cultural Revolution as “a political movement that produced unprecedented social divisions, mass mobilization, hysteria, upheavals, arbitrary cruelty, torture, killings, and even civil war… under the instigation and patronage of Mao Zedong, who by that time was one of the most tyrannical despots of the twentieth century. In their work Mao: The Unknown Story, Jung Chang and Jon Halliday attributed all the destruction of the Cultural Revolution to Mao personally, with more sympathetic portrayals of his loyal allies. Meanwhile, historians Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals, writing in Mao’s Last Revolution, concede that decades later, it is still difficult and premature to define the nature of the Cultural Revolution. A significant re-evaluation of the events of the Cultural Revolution occurred amongst the Western political left once the full extent of the destruction became known, thus tarnishing China’s image in the West.

Mobo Gao, a Chinese-Australian Professor and director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Adelaide, published The Battle for China’s Past: Mao and the Cultural Revolution, taking a more positive attitude towards the Revolution, arguing that whilst it was excessively violent, it benefited millions of Chinese citizens, particularly agricultural and industrial workers. Gao was critical of the work of other historians, remarking that historians such as “MacFaquhar… fails to recognize that there is a vast majority of people in China who not only remember the era of Mao as ‘the good old days’, but who also like and admire the man… It is important to hear the voice that may resonate among the vast majority of the Chinese, who cannot simply be dismissed as ignorant and brainwashed.

Gang of Four

“Decisively Throw Out the Wang-Zhang-Jiang-Yao Anti-Party Clique!”

The Gang of Four (simplified Chinese: 四人帮; traditional Chinese: 四人幫; pinyinSìrén bāng) was the name given to a political faction composed of four Chinese Communist Party officials. They came to prominence during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76) and were subsequently charged with a series of treasonous crimes. The members consisted of Jiang QingMao Zedong‘s last wife as the leading figure of the group, and her close associates Zhang ChunqiaoYao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen.

The Gang of Four effectively controlled the power organs of the Communist Party of China through the latter stages of the Cultural Revolution, although it remains unclear which major decisions were made through Mao Zedong and carried out by the Gang, and which were the result of the Gang of Four’s own planning.

The Gang of Four, together with disgraced Communist general Lin Biao, were labeled the two major “counter-revolutionary forces” of the Cultural Revolution and officially blamed by the Chinese government for the worst excesses of the societal chaos that ensued during the ten years of turmoil. Their downfall in a coup d’état on October 6, 1976, a mere month after Mao’s death, brought about major celebrations on the streets of Beijing and marked the end of a turbulent political era in China.


The group was led by Jiang Qing, and consisted of three of her close associates, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen. Two other men who were already dead in 1976, Kang Sheng and Xie Fuzhi, were named as having been part of the “Gang”. Chen Boda and Mao Yuanxin, the latter being Mao’s nephew, were also considered some of the Gang’s closer associates.

Most Western accounts consider that the actual leadership of the Cultural Revolution consisted of a wider group, referring predominantly to the members of the Central Cultural Revolution Group. Most prominent was Lin Biao, until his purported flight from China and death in a plane crash in 1971. Chen Boda is often classed as a member of Lin’s faction rather than Jiang Qing’s.


The removal of this group from power is sometimes considered to have marked the end of the Cultural Revolution, which had been launched by Mao in 1966 as part of his power struggle with leaders such as Liu ShaoqiDeng Xiaoping and Peng Zhen. Mao placed Jiang Qing, who before 1966 had not taken a public political role, in charge of the country’s cultural apparatus. Zhang, Yao and Wang were party leaders in Shanghai who had played leading roles in securing that city for Mao during the Cultural Revolution.

Around the time of the death of Lin Biao, the Cultural Revolution began to lose impetus. The new commanders of the People’s Liberation Army demanded that order be restored in light of the dangerous situation along the border with the Soviet Union (see Sino-Soviet split). The Premier, Zhou Enlai, who had accepted the Cultural Revolution but never fully supported it, regained his authority, and used it to bring Deng Xiaoping back into the Party leadership at the 10th Party Congress in 1973. Liu Shaoqi had meanwhile died in prison in 1969.

Near the end of Mao’s life, a power struggle occurred between the Gang of Four and the alliance of Deng Xiaoping, Zhou Enlai, and Ye Jianying.


It is now officially claimed by the Communist Party of China that Mao in his last year turned against Jiang Qing and her associates, and that after his death on 9 September 1976, they attempted to seize power (the same allegation made against Lin Biao in 1971). Even decades later, it is impossible to know the full truth of these events.

It does appear that their influence was in decline before Mao’s death: when Zhou Enlai died in January 1976, he was succeeded not by one of the radicals but by the unknown Hua Guofeng. In April 1976, Hua was officially appointed Premier of the State Council. Upon Mao’s death Hua was named Communist Party chairman as well.

The “Gang” had arranged for Deng Xiaoping’s purge in April 1976 (however, he would return and by 1978 become the real power of the Party). They hoped that the key military leaders Wang Dongxingand Chen Xilian would support them, but it seems that Hua won the Army over to his side. On 6 October 1976, Hua had the four leading radicals and a number of their lesser associates arrested. A massive media campaign was then launched against them, dubbing them the Gang of Four and blaming them for all the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. (The Chinese words for “four” and “death” are nearly homophones, and thus the moniker contained a second, inauspicious meaning.)

Han Suyin gives a detailed account of their overthrow:

An emergency session of the Politburo was to take place in the Great Hall of the People that evening. Their presence was required. Since Wang Dongxing had been their ally, they did not suspect him… As they passed through the swinging doors into the entrance lobby, they were apprehended and led off in handcuffs. A special 8341 unit then went to Madam Mao’s residence at No. 17 Fisherman’s Terrace and arrested her. That night Mao Yuanxin was arrested in Manchuria, and the propagandists of the Gang of Four in Peking University and in newspaper offices were taken into custody. All was done with quiet and superb efficiency. InShanghai, the Gang’s supporters received a message to come to Beijing ‘for a meeting’. They came and were arrested. Thus, without shedding a drop of blood, the plans of the Gang of Four to wield supreme power were ended.

Although not referred to as such in China because the Communist Party remained in control, this was effectively a coup d’etat. Beginning on 21 October, nationwide denunciations of the Gang began, which culminated in the December releases of files related to the Gang’s alleged crimes to the public. Celebrations were prominent and not limited to the streets of Beijing and other major cities.


Immediately after the coup d’état, Hua Guofeng, who appeared to be Mao’s designated successor, Marshall Ye Jianying, and economic czars Chen Yun and Li Xiannian formed the core of the next party leadership.These three, together with the newly rehabilitated Deng Xiaoping and bodyguard coup leader Wang Dongxing were elected party Vice Chairmen at the August 1977 11th National Party Congress. At the politburo level, the membership of all four living marshals, seven other generals and at least five others with close military ties reflected the deep concern for national stability.


In 1981, the four deposed leaders were subjected to a show trial and convicted of anti-party activities. During the trial, Jiang Qing in particular was extremely defiant, protesting loudly and bursting into tears at some points. She was the only member of the Gang of Four who bothered to argue on her behalf. The defence’s argument was that she obeyed the orders of Chairman Mao Zedong at all times. Zhang Chunqiao refused to admit any wrong as well. Yao Wenyuan and Wang Hongwen expressed repentance and confessed their alleged crimes.

The prosecution separated political errors from actual crimes. Among the latter were the usurpation of state power and party leadership; the persecution of some 750,000 people, 34,375 of whom died during the period 1966-76. The official records of the trial have not yet been released.

Jiang Qing and Zhang Chunqiao received death sentences that were later commuted to life imprisonment, while Wang Hongwen and Yao Wenyuan were given life and twenty years in prison, respectively. They were all later released. All members of the Gang of Four have since died; Jiang Qing committed suicide in 1991, Wang Hongwen died in 1992, and Zhang Chunqiao and Yao Wenyuan died in 2005.

Supporters of the Gang of Four, including Chen Boda and Mao Yuanxin, were also sentenced.

“Little Gang of Four”

In the struggle between the conservative Hua Guofeng’s clique and the one of Deng Xiaoping, a new term emerged, pointing to Hua’s four closest collaborators, Wang Dongxing, Wu De, Ji Dengkui, and Chen Xilian. In 1980, they were charged with “grave errors” in the struggle against the Gang of Four and demoted from the Political Bureau to mere Central Committee membership.

Jiang Qing

Jiāng Qīng
Spouse of the Paramount leader
In office
1 October 1949 – 9 September 1976
Succeeded by Han Zhijun (wife of Hua Guofeng)
First Lady of the PRC
In office
1 October 1949 – 27 April 1959
Succeeded by Wang Guangmei
Personal details
Born Lǐ Shūméng
20 March 1914
Republic of China ZhuchengShandong,Republic of China
Died 14 May 1991 (aged 77)
China BeijingPeople’s Republic of China
Nationality Chinese
Political party Communist Party of China
Spouse(s) Pei Minglun (m.1931)
Tang Na (m.1936)
Mao Zedong, married on 20 November 1938, widowed on 9 September 1976 (married for37 years, 294 days)
Relations Yu Qiwei (partner)
Zhang Min (partner)
Li Na (daughter)
Penalty Capital punishment (defer execution for 2 years)→Life imprisonment

Jiang Qing (pinyinJiāng QīngWade–GilesChiang Ch’ingIPA[tɕjɑ́ŋ tɕʰíŋ]; 20 March 1914  – 14 May 1991) was the pseudonym that was used by Chinese leader Mao Zedong‘s last wife and major Communist Party of China power figure. She went by the stage name Lan Ping (Chinese) during her acting career, and was known by various other names during her life. She married Mao in Yan’an in November 1938, and is sometimes referred to asMadame Mao in Western literature, serving as Communist China’s first first lady. Jiang Qing was most well known for playing a major role in the Cultural Revolution (1966–76) and for forming the radical political alliance known as the “Gang of Four“. She was named the “Great Flag-carrier of the Proletarian Culture” (无产阶级文艺伟大旗手/無產階級文藝偉大旗手).

Jiang Qing served as Mao’s personal secretary in the 1940s and was head of the Film Section of the CPC Propaganda Department in the 1950s. In the early 1960s, she made a bid for power during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), which resulted in widespread chaos within the communist party. In 1966 she was appointed deputy director of the Central Cultural Revolution Group and claimed real power over Chinese politics for the first time. She became one of the masterminds of the Cultural Revolution, and along with three others, held absolute control over all of the national institutions.

Around the time of Chairman Mao’s death, Jiang Qing and her proteges maintained control of many of China’s power institutions, including a heavy hand in the media and propaganda. However, Jiang Qing’s political success was limited. When Mao died in 1976, Jiang lost the support and justification for her political activities. She was arrested in October 1976 by Hua Guofeng and his allies, and was subsequently accused of being counter-revolutionary. Since then, Jiang Qing and Lin Biao have been branded by official historical documents in China as the “Lin Biao and Jiang Qing Counter-revolutionary Cliques” (林彪江青反革命集团/林彪江青反革命集團), to which most of the blame for the damage and devastation caused by the Cultural Revolution was assigned. The assessments of western scholars have not been as uniformly critical. Though initially sentenced to execution, her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1983, however, and in May 1991 she was released for medical treatment. Before returning to prison, she committed suicide.

Early life

Jiang Qing was born in ZhuchengShandong Province on March 20, 1914. Her birth name wasLǐ Shūméng (李淑蒙). She was the only child of Li Dewen (李德文), a carpenter, and his subsidiary wife, or concubine. Her father ran his own carpentry and cabinet making shop. After a violent argument between her parents, her mother left with the child to work as a domestic servant.[3] Some accounts claim that Jiang’s mother also worked as a prostitute.

Jiang Qing on the cover of a movie magazine

When Jiang Qing enrolled in elementary school, she took the name Lĭ Yúnhè (李云鹤), meaning “Crane in the Clouds”, by which she was known for much of her early life. Other students did not view Jiang well due to her family background, and she and her mother moved in with her maternal grandparents when she went to attend middle school. In 1926, when she was 12 years old, her father died. Her mother took her to live with her uncle in Tianjin where she worked as a child laborer in a cigarette factory for several months. In 1928, she and her mother moved to Jinan, and in the summer of the following year, she entered an experimental theater and drama school. Her talent brought her to the attention of administrators who selected her to join a drama club in Beijing where she gained more acting skills. She returned to Jinan in May 1931 and married Pei Minglun, the wealthy son of a businessman. The marriage was an unhappy one and they soon divorced.

From July 1931 to April 1933, Lĭ Yúnhè attended Qingdao University in Qingdao. She met Yu Qiwei, a biology student three years her senior, who was an underground member of the Communist Party Propaganda Department. By 1932, they had fallen in love and were living together. She joined the “Communist Cultural Front,” a circle of artists, writers, and actors, and performed in Put Down Your Whip, a renowned popular play about a woman who escapes from the Japanese-occupied northeastern China and performs in the streets to survive. In February 1933, Lĭ Yúnhè took the oath of the Chinese Communist Party with Yu Qiwei at her side, and she was appointed member of the Chinese Communist Party youth wing. Yu Qiwei was arrested in April the same year, and Lĭ Yúnhè fled to her parents’ home in Shanghai.

When she arrived in Shanghai, the Yu family did not acknowledge her. She departed, and was soon back at the drama school in Jinan where she was warmly received. Through friendships she had previously established, she received an introduction to attend Shanghai University for the summer where she also taught some general literacy classes. In October, she rejoined the Communist Youth League, and at the same time, began participating in an amateur drama troupe.

In September 1934, Jiang Qing was arrested and jailed for her political activities in Shanghai, but was released three months later, in December of the same year. She then traveled to Beijing where she reunited with Yu Qiwei who had just been released following his prison sentence, and the two began living together again.

File:1934 Jiang Qing movie shot.jpg

Jiang Qing in a 1935 film poster

Jiang Qing returned to Shanghai in March 1935, and became a professional actress, adopting the stage name “Lán Píng” (meaning “Blue Apple”, Chinese: 蓝苹). She appeared in numerous films and plays, including God of LibertyThe Scenery of CityBlood on Wolf Mountain and Old Mr. Wang. In Ibsen’s playA Doll’s House, Jiang Qing played the role of Nora.

Jiang Qing, ca. 1936

With her career established, she became involved with actor/director Tang Lun, with whom she appeared in Scenes of City Life and The Statue of Liberty. They were married in Hangzhou in March 1936, however he soon discovered she was continuing her relationship with Yu Qiwei. The scandal became public knowledge and he made two suicide attempts before their divorce became final. In 1937, Jiang Qing joined the Lianhua Film Companyand starred in the film Big Thunderstorm. She reportedly had an affair with director, Zhang Min, however she denied it in her autobiographical writings.

Flight to Yan’an

Mao and Jiang Qing working in Yan’an, 1938

After the disastrous Marco Polo Bridge Incident on July 7, 1937, followed by the Japanese occupation of Shanghai and the Japanese takeover of the Chinese movie industry, at age 23, Jiang Qing left her celebrity life on the stage behind. She went first to Xi’an, then to the Chinese Communist headquarters in Yan’an to “join the revolution” and the war to resist the Japanese invasion. In November, she enrolled in the “Anti-Japanese Military and Political University” (Marxist-Leninist Institute) for study. The Lu Xun Academy of Arts was newly founded in Yan’an on April 10, 1938, and Jiang Qing became a drama department instructor, teaching and performing in college plays and operas.

After arriving in Yan’an, Jiang began to think seriously about “hooking someone”. After several affairs, Jiang began seriously plotting the seduction of Mao Zedong, clapping ostentatiously at his lectures and inviting herself into his cave. Soon after Mao and Jiang became acquainted, Zhou Enlai discovered Mao having an affair in the wilderness with Jiang, but exercised discretion.

Other Communist leaders were more obviously scandalized by the relationship once it became public. At 45, Mao was nearly twice Jiang’s age, and Jiang had lived a highly bourgeois lifestyle before coming to Yan’an. Mao was still married to He Zizhen, a lifelong Communist who had previously completed the Long March with him, and with whom Mao had five children. Eventually, Mao arranged a compromise with the other leaders of the CCP: Mao was granted a divorce and permitted to marry Jiang (who was pregnant), but she was required to stay out of public politics for thirty years. Jiang abided by this agreement for thirty years; when these thirty years expired, at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, Jiang would later seek revenge.

The two were married in a small private ceremony on November 28, 1938 after approval by the Party’s Central Committee. Because Mao’s marriage to He Zizhen had not yet ended, Jiang Qing was reportedly made to sign a marital contract which stipulated that she would not appear in public with Mao as her escort. Jiang and Mao had one daughter Li Na who was born in 1940.

Rise to power

Entry into Chinese politics

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Mao and Jiang Qing, 1946

From the 1940s on, Mao and Jiang quarreled frequently. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Jiang became the nation’s first lady. She worked as Director of film in the Central Propaganda Department, and as a member of the Ministry of Culture steering committee for the film industry. An uproar in 1950 led the investigation of The Life of Wu Xun, a film about a 19th century beggar who raised money to educate the poor. Jiang supported criticism of the film for celebrating counter-revolutionary ideas.

Following the Great Leap Forward (1958–1961), Mao was highly criticized within the CCP, and turned to Jiang, among others, to support himself and persecute his enemies. Taking advantage of the power given to her by Mao, Jiang began by reforming the Chinese theatre and then tracked down those whom she felt had wronged her in the past. She led an initiative for reforming modern opera in 1963 that resulted in the “eight model revolutionary operas” established at Peking Opera. This intitiative and others strictly defined permitted works of drama, music, dance, and other arts, including outright bans of unapproved works.

The Cultural Revolution

Backed by her husband, she was appointed deputy director of the so-called Central Cultural Revolution Group in 1966 and emerged as a serious political figure in the summer of that year. She became a member of the Politburo in 1969. By now she has established a close political working relationship with what in due course would be known as the Gang of FourZhang ChunqiaoYao Wenyuan and Wang Hongwen. She was one of the most powerful figures in China during Mao’s last years and became a controversial figure.

During this period, Mao Zedong galvanized students and young workers as his Red Guards to attack what he termed as revisionists in the party. Mao told them the revolution was in danger and that they must do all they could to stop the emergence of a privileged class in China. He argued this is what had happened in the Soviet Union under Nikita Khrushchev.

With time, Jiang began playing an increasingly active political role in the movement. She took part in most important Party and government activities. She was supported by a radical coterie, dubbed, by Mao himself, the Gang of Four. Although a prominent member of the Central Cultural Revolution Group and a major player in Chinese politics from 1966 to 1976, she essentially remained on the sidelines.

The initial storm of the Cultural Revolution came to an end when Liu Shaoqi was forced from all his posts on October 13, 1968. Lin Biao now became Mao’s designated successor. Chairman Mao now gave his support to the Gang of Four: Jiang Qing, Wang HongwenYao Wenyuanand Zhang Chunqiao. These four radicals occupied powerful positions in the Politburo after the Tenth Party Congress of 1973.

Jiang Qing also directed operas and ballets with communist and revolutionary content as part of an effort to transform China’s culture. She dominated the Chinese arts, and in particular attempted to reform the Beijing Opera. She developed a new form of art called the Eight model plays which depicted the world in simple, binary terms: the positive characters (“good guys”) were predominantly farmers, workers and revolutionary soldiers, whilst the negative characters (“bad guys”) were landlords and anti-revolutionaries. The negative characters, in contrast to their proletarian foils who performed boldly centre stage, were identifiable by their darker make-up and relegation to the outskirts of the stage until direct conflict with a positive character. Critics would argue that her influence on art was too restrictive, because she replaced nearly all earlier works of art with revolutionary Maoist works.

Jiang Qing first collaborated with then second-in-charge Lin Biao, but after Lin Biao’s death in 1971, she turned against him publicly in theCriticize Lin, Criticize Confucius Campaign. By the mid 1970s, Jiang Qing also spearheaded the campaign against Deng Xiaoping (afterwards saying that this was inspired by Mao). The Chinese public became intensely discontented at this time and chose to blame Jiang Qing, a more accessible and easier target than Chairman Mao. By 1973, although was not reported due to it being a personal matter, Mao and his wife Jiang had separated:

“It was reported that Mao Tsetung and Chiang Ching were separated in 1973. Most people, however, did not know this. Hence Chiang Ching was still able to use her position as Mao’s wife to deceive people. Because of her relations to Mao, it was particularly difficult for the Party to deal with her.”

Jiang Qing’s hobbies included photography, playing cards, and watching foreign movies, especially Gone with the Wind. It was also revealed that Mao’s physician, Li Zhisui, had diagnosed her as a hypochondriac. When touring a troupe of young girls excelling in marksmanship, she “discovered” Joan Chen, then 14 years old, launching Joan’s career as a Chinese and then international actress.

She developed severe degrees of hypochondriasis and erratic nerves. She required two sedatives over the course of a day and three sleeping pills to fall asleep. Staff were assigned to chase away birds and cicadas from her Imperial Fishing Villa. She ordered house servants to cut down on noise by removing their shoes and avoiding clothes rustling. Mild temperature differences bothered her; thermostats were always set to 21.5°C (70.7°F) in winter and 26°C (78.8°F) in summer.

Political persecution of enemies

Jiang Qing incited radical youths organized as Red Guards against other senior political leaders and government officials, including Liu Shaoqi, the President at the time, and Deng Xiaoping, the Deputy Premier. Internally divided into factions both to the “left” and “right” of Jiang Qing and Mao, not all Red Guards were friendly to Jiang Qing.

Jiang’s persecution of those she believed had wronged her was cruel, vindictive, and harsh. At a mass rally in Beijing, Jiang directed a “struggle session” against a woman, Fan Jin, who had married Jiang’s second husband after Jiang separated from him in 1931. According to Jiang, Fan had published satirical essays portraying Mao as a megalomaniac, and Jiang herself as a “semi-prostitute”, but Fan’s real crime was her marriage. Fan was arrested and died soon afterwards.

Jiang’s rivalry with, and personal dislike of, Zhou Enlai led Jiang to hurt Zhou where he was most vulnerable. In 1968 Jiang had Zhou’s adopted son (Sun Yang) and daughter (Sun Weishi) tortured and murdered by Maoist Red Guards. Sun Yang was murdered in the basement ofRenmin University. After Sun Weishi died following seven months of torture in a secret prison (at Jiang’s direction), Jiang made sure that Sun’s body was cremated and disposed of so that no autopsy could be performed, and so that Sun’s family could not have her ashes. In 1968 Jiang forced Zhou to sign an arrest warrant for his own brother. In 1973 and 1974, Jiang directed the “Criticize Lin, Criticize Confucius” campaign against premier Zhou because Zhou was viewed as one of the Jiang’s primary political opponents. In 1975, Jiang initiated a campaign named “Criticizing Song Jiang, Evaluating the Water Margin”, which encouraged the use of Zhou as an example of a political loser. After Zhou Enlai died in 1976, Jiang initiated the “Five Nos” campaign in order to discourage and prohibit any public mourning for Zhou.

When given free rein, Jiang also wreaked vengeance on Mao’s family. Jiang confined Mao’s third wife, Jiang’s predecessor, to a mental hospital for several decades. When Mao’s eldest son was killed in the Korean War, his widow accused Jiang of feeling “immense ecstasy”. Jiang had several of Mao’s children, and/or their spouses, arrested. Jiang forced her own daughter with Mao to divorce her husband because her husband was only a farmer, causing Jiang’s daughter to go insane.

Death of Mao Zedong

Poster showing Jiang Qing promoting the fine arts during the Cultural Revolution while holding Mao’s “Little Red Book

By September 5, 1976, Mao’s condition turned critical. Upon being contacted byHua Guofeng, Jiang Qing returned from her trip and spent only a few moments in the hospital’s Building 202, where Mao was being treated. Later she returned to her own residence in the Spring Lotus Chamber.

On the afternoon of September 7, Mao took a turn for the worse. Mao had just fallen asleep and needed to rest, but Jiang Qing insisted on rubbing his back and moving his limbs, and she sprinkled powder on his body. The medical team protested that the dust from the powder was not good for his lungs, but she instructed the nurses on duty to follow her example later.

The next morning, September 8, she went again. This time she wanted the medical staff to change Mao’s sleeping position, claiming that he had been lying too long on his left side. The doctor on duty objected, knowing that he could breathe only on his left side. Jiang had him move Mao nonetheless. As a result, Mao’s breathing stopped and his face turned blue. Jiang Qing left the room while the medical staff put Mao on a respirator and performed emergency cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Eventually, Mao was revived and Hua Guofeng urged Jiang Qing not to interfere further with the doctor’s work. However, Mao’s organs failed and the Chinese government decided to disconnect Mao’s life support mechanism.

Mao’s death on September 9, 1976, sent shockwaves through the country. As the symbol of China’s revolution, Mao was held in high regard amongst the majority of the Chinese population. Mao’s chosen successor, Hua Guofeng, chaired his funeral committee. It was believed Hua was a compromise candidate between the free-marketeers and the party orthodox. Some argue this may have been due to his ambivalence and his low-key profile, particularly compared to Deng Xiaoping, the preferred candidate of the market-oriented factions. The party apparatus, under orders from Jiang Qing and Zhang Chunqiao, wrote a eulogy affirming Mao’s achievements and in order to justify their claims to power.

By this time state media was effectively under the control of the Gang of Four. State newspapers continued to denounce Deng shortly after Mao’s death. Jiang Qing was especially paranoid of Deng’s influence on national affairs, whereas she considered Hua Guofeng a mere nuisance. In numerous documents published in the 1980s it was claimed that Jiang Qing was conspiring to make herself the new Chairman of the Communist Party.

Downfall and death

1976 coup

“Decisively Throw Out the Wang-Zhang-Jiang-Yao Anti-Party Clique!”

Jiang Qing showed few signs of sorrow during the days following Mao’s death. It was uncertain who controlled the Communist Party’s central organs during this transition period. Hua Guofeng, as Mao’s designated successor, held the titular power as the acting Chairman of the Communist Party and as Premier. However, Hua was not very influential. Some sources indicate that Mao mentioned Jiang Qing before his death in a note to Hua Guofeng, telling him to “go consult her” if he runs into problems (Chinese: 有事找江青).

Jiang Qing believed that upholding the status quo, where she was one of the highest ranked members of the central authorities, would mean that she effectively held onto power. In addition, her status as Mao’s widow meant that it would be difficult to remove her. She continued to invoke Mao’s name in her major decisions, and acted as first-in-charge.

Her political ambitions and lack of respect for most of the elder revolutionaries within the Central Committee became notorious. Her support within the Central Committee was dwindling, and her public approval was dismal. Ye Jianying, a renowned general, met in private with Hua Guofeng and Wang Dongxing, commander of a secret service-like organization called the 8341 Special Regiment. They determined that Jiang Qing and her associates must be removed by force in order to restore stability.

On the morning of October 6, 1976, Jiang Qing came to Mao’s former residence in Zhongnanhai, gathered her close aides and Mao’s former personal aides in a “Study Mao’s Work” session. According to Du Xiuxian, her photographer, Jiang Qing remarked that she knew people within the Central Committee were plotting against her.

After the session, Jiang Qing took several aides to Jingshan Park to pick apples. In the evening, Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Wang Hongwen, and Yao Wenyuan were arrested and kept in the lower level of Zhongnanhai. According to Zhang Yaoci, who carried out the arrest, Jiang Qing did not say much when she was arrested. In a bloodless coup, the Gang of Four was charged with attempts to seize power by setting up militia coups in Shanghai and Beijing, subverting the government, counterrevolutionary activity, and treason.

After her arrest, Jiang Qing was sent to the Qincheng Prison and detained for five years. In both official and civilian accounts of the period, the fall of the Gang was met with celebrations all over China. Indeed, Jiang Qing’s role in the Cultural Revolution was perceived by the public to be largely negative, and the Gang of Four was a convenient scapegoat for the ten years of political and social turmoil. Her role during the Cultural Revolution is still a subject of historical debate.


Jiang Qing at her trial in 1980

In 1980, the trials of the Gang of Four began. The trials were televised nationwide. By showing the way the Gang of Four was tried, Deng Xiaoping wanted the people to realize that a new age had arrived.

Portions of the 20,000-word indictment were printed in China’s press before the trial started; they accused the defendants of a host of heinous crimes that took place during the Cultural Revolution. The charges specify that 727,420 Chinese were “persecuted” during that period, and that 34,274 died, though the often vague indictment did not specify exactly how. Among the chief victims: onetime Chief of State Liu Shaoqi, whose widow Wang Guangmei, herself imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution for 12 years, attended the trial as an observer.

The indictment described two plots by the “Jiang Qing-Lin Biao Counterrevolutionary Clique” to seize power. Jiang Qing was not accused of conspiring with Lin Biao, or with other members of the Gang of Four who allegedly planned an armed rebellion to “usurp power” in 1976, when Mao was close to death. Instead, the charges against her focused on her systematic persecution of creative artists during the Cultural Revolution. Amongst other things, she was accused of hiring 40 people in Shanghai to disguise themselves as Red Guards and ransack the homes of writers and performers. The apparent purpose was said to find and destroy letters, photos and other potentially damaging materials on Jiang Qing’s early career in Shanghai, which she wanted to keep secret.

Despite the seriousness of the accusations against her, Jiang Qing appeared unrepentant. She had not confessed her guilt, something that the Chinese press has emphasized to show her bad attitude. There had been reports that she planned to defend herself by cloaking herself in Mao’s mantle, saying that she did only what he approved. As the trial got under way, Jiang Qing dismissed her assigned lawyers, deciding instead to represent herself. During her public trials at the “Special Court”, Jiang Qing was the only member of the Gang of Four who bothered to argue on her behalf. The defense’s argument was that she obeyed the orders of Chairman Mao Zedong at all times. Jiang Qing maintained that all she had done was to defend Chairman Mao. It was at this trial that Jiang Qing made the famous quote: “I was Chairman Mao’s dog. I bit whomever he asked me to bite.” (Chinese: 我是主席的一条狗,主席要我咬谁就咬谁。). The official records of the trial have not yet been released.


Jiang Qing was sentenced to death in 1981. In 1983, her death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

While in prison, Jiang Qing was diagnosed with throat cancer, but she refused an operation. She was eventually released, on medical grounds, in 1991. At the hospital, Jiang Qing used the name Lǐ Rùnqīng (Chinese: 李润青). She was alleged to have committed suicide on May 14, 1991, aged 77, by hanging herself in a bathroom of her hospital. She reputedly wrote on her suicide note, “Chairman [Mao]! I love you! Your student and comrade is coming to see you!” (主席,我爱你!您的学生和战友来看您来了!). Her suicide occurred two days short of the 25th anniversary of the Cultural Revolution.

She wished her remains could be buried in her home province of Shandong, but in consideration of possible future vandalism to her tomb, the state decided to have her remains moved to a safer common cemetery in Beijing. Jiang Qing is buried in Fukuda Cemetery in the western hills of Beijing. Her grave is marked by a tall white stone inscribed with her school name, not the name by which she was famously known, which reads: “Tomb of Late Mother, Lǐ Yúnhè, 1914–1991” (先母李云鹤之墓,一九一四年至一九九一年).

Names of Jiang Qing

There are several reasons for Jiang Qing’s large repertoire of names. A large part of it has to do with the turbulent historical period she lived in. At the time of her birth, many female children never received given names or formal education.

Her father named her Li Jinhai because he wanted a son, but this was altered after her birth to Li Shumeng. She enrolled in school under a more dignified name, Li Yunhe, and simply changed it for convenience to Li He.

As was customary for Chinese actors during that time (and for some, until the present-day), she chose a stage name, which was used in all the plays and films that credited her roles. Lan Ping was the name she was known by within Chinese film circles and a name she came to identify with.

It is unclear when she changed her name to Jiang Qing, but it probably occurred before her arrival to Yan’an. It is believed that the character “Qing” was chosen because it related to the concept of Blue (“Lan”). There is some evidence that the name signified her status as a Communist and a severance from her “bourgeoisie” past. She also used Li Jin to pen a number of articles she wrote during the Cultural Revolution.

Eventually, to protect her identity, she used Li Runqing when she was hospitalized after being released from prison. She was buried under her tombstone which bore the name “Li Yunhe”.

  1. Birth name: Lǐ Shūméng (Chinese: 李淑蒙)
  2. Given name: Lǐ Jìnhái (simplified Chinese: 李进孩; traditional Chinese: 李進孩)
  3. School name: Lǐ Yúnhè (simplified Chinese: 李云鹤; traditional Chinese: 李雲鶴)
  4. Modified name: Lǐ Hè (simplified Chinese: 李鹤; traditional Chinese: 李鶴)
  5. Stage name: Lán Píng (Chinese: 蓝苹)
  6. Revolutionary pseudonym: Jiāng Qīng (Chinese: 江青)
  7. Pen name: Lǐ Jìn (simplified Chinese: 李进; traditional Chinese: 李進)
  8. Last used name: Lǐ Rùnqīng (simplified Chinese: 李润青; traditional Chinese: 李潤青)

9 Western name: Madame Mao

Tarim mummies

Tarim mummies

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia and others.

The Tarim mummies are a series of mummies discovered in the Tarim Basin in present-day XinjiangChina, which date from 1900 BC to 200 AD. Some of the mummies are frequently associated with the presence of the Indo-European Tocharian languages in the Tarim Basin, although the evidence is not totally conclusive.

Research into the subject has attracted controversy, due to ethnic tensions in modern day Xinjiang. There have been concerns whether DNA results could affect claims by Uyghur peoples of being indigenous to the region. In comparing the DNA of the mummies to that of modern dayUyghur peoples, Victor H. Mair‘s team found some genetic similarities with the mummies, but no direct links, stating that “modern DNA and ancient DNA show that Uighurs, KazaksKyrgyzs, the peoples of Central Asia are all mixed Caucasian and East Asian… the modern and ancient DNA tell the same story.” He concludes that the mummies are basically Caucasoid, likely speakers of an Indo-European language; that East Asian peoples “began showing up in the eastern portions of the Tarim Basin about 3,000 years ago… while the Uighur peoplesarrived after the collapse of the Orkon Uighur Kingdom, largely based in modern day Mongolia, around the year 842.

Archeological record

At the beginning of the 20th century European explorers such as Sven HedinAlbert von Le Coq and Sir Aurel Stein all recounted their discoveries of desiccated bodies in their search for antiquities in Central Asia.[4] Since then, numerous other mummies have been found and analysed, many of them now displayed in the museums of Xinjiang. Most of these mummies were found on the eastern end of the Tarim Basin (around the area of Lopnur, Subeshi near Turpan, Kroran, Kumul), or from (KhotanNiya, and Cherchen or Qiemo), along the southern edge of the Tarim Basin.

Tocharian donors

The earliest Tarim mummies, found at Qäwrighul and dated to 1800 BCE, are of a Caucasoid physical type whose closest affiliation is to theBronze Age populations of southern SiberiaKazakhstanCentral Asia, and the Lower Volga.

The cemetery at Yanbulaq contained 29 mummies which date from 1100–500 BCE, 21 of which are Mongoloid—the earliest Mongoloid mummies found in the Tarim Basin—and 8 of which are of the same Caucasoid physical type found at Qäwrighul.

The Beauty of Loulan, with artists reconstruction, age 4000 years old. She was about 40 years old at her death, and was buried with a basket of grain.

Notable mummies are the tall, red-haired “Chärchän man” or the “Ur-David” (1000 BCE); his son (1000 BCE), a small 1-year-old baby with brown hair protruding from under a red and blue felt cap, with two stones positioned over its eyes; the “Hami Mummy” (c. 1400–800 BCE), a “red-headed beauty” found in Qizilchoqa; and the “Witches of Subeshi” (4th or 3rd century BCE), who wore 2-foot-long (0.61 m) black felt conical hats with a flat brim.Also found at Subeshi was a man with traces of a surgical operation on his neck; the incision is sewn up with sutures made of horsehair.

Many of the mummies have been found in very good condition, owing to the dryness of the desert and the desiccation it produced in the corpses. The mummies share many typical Caucasoid body features (elongated bodies, angular faces, recessed eyes), and many of them have their hair physically intact, ranging in color from blond to red to deep brown, and generally long, curly and braided. It is not known whether their hair has been bleached by internment in salt. Their costumes, and especially textiles, may indicate a common origin with Indo-European neolithic clothing techniques or a common low-level textile technology. Chärchän man wore a red twill tunic and tartan leggings. Textile expert Elizabeth Wayland Barber, who examined the tartan-style cloth, discusses similarities between it and fragments recovered from salt mines associated with the Hallstatt culture.

This is Yingpin man. He was buried with a gold foil death mask, and very ornately embroidered clothes. This , together with his height being a very well fed 6’6″, means he was probably from a rich ruling family. He died about 2,000 years ago, and had a blond beard and hair.

DNA sequence data shows that the mummies happened to have haplotype characteristic of western Eurasia in the area of south Russia.

Genetic links

DNA sequence data shows that the mummies had a Haplogroup R1a (Y-DNA) characteristic of western Eurasia in the area of East-Central EuropeCentral Asia and Indus Valley.

A team of Chinese and American researchers working in Sweden tested DNA from 52 separate mummies, including the mummy denoted “Beauty of Loulan.” By genetically mapping the mummies’ origins, the researchers confirmed the theory that these mummies were of West Eurasian descent. Victor Mair, a University of Pennsylvania professor and project leader for the team that did the genetic mapping, commented that these studies were:

…extremely important because they link up eastern and western Eurasia at a formative stage of civilization (Bronze Age and early Iron Age) in a much closer way than has ever been done before.

An earlier study by Jilin University had found an mtDNA haplotype characteristic of Western Eurasian populations with Europoid genes.

In 2007 the Chinese government allowed a National Geographic team headed by Spencer Wells to examine the mummies’ DNA. Wells was able to extract undegraded DNA from the internal tissues. The scientists extracted enough material to suggest the Tarim Basin was continually inhabited from 2000 BCE to 300 BCE and preliminary results indicate the people, rather than having a single origin, originated from Europe, MesopotamiaIndus Valley and other regions yet to be determined.

This lady has red hair, and wears a kind of tartan cloth.

However, In 2009, the remains of individuals found at a site in Xiaohe were analyzed for Y-DNA and mtDNA markers. They suggest that an admixed population of both west and east origin lived in the Tarim basin since the early Bronze Age. The maternal lineages were predominantly East Eurasian haplogroup C with smaller numbers of H and K, while the paternal lines were all West Eurasian R1a1a. The geographic location of where this admixing took place is unknown, although south Siberia is likely.

It has been asserted that the textiles found with the mummies are of an early European textile type based on close similarities to fragmentary textiles found in salt mines in Austria, dating from the second millennium BCE. Anthropologist Irene Good, a specialist in early Eurasian textiles, noted the woven diagonal twill pattern indicated the use of a rather sophisticated loom and, she says, the textile is “the easternmost known example of this kind of weaving technique.”

Mair claims that “the earliest mummies in the Tarim Basin were exclusively Caucasoid, or Europoid” with east Asian migrants arriving in the eastern portions of the Tarim Basin around 3,000 years ago while the Uyghur peoples arrived around the year 842. In trying to trace the origins of these populations, Victor Mair’s team suggested that they may have arrived in the region by way of the Pamir Mountains about 5,000 years ago.

This evidence remains controversial. While it neither supports or refutes the contemporary nationalist claims of the present-day Uyghur peoples, it does show that such claims can be oversimplistic. Mair has said that, like many Central Asian peoples, modern Uyghurs are a mixture of both Caucasians and East Asians, warning against ignoring a complicated genetic and cultural history. In comparing the DNA of the mummies to that of modern day Uyghur peoples, Mair’s team found some genetic similarities with the mummies, but “no direct links”.



About the controversy Mair has claimed that:

The new finds are also forcing a reexamination of old Chinese books that describe historical or legendary figures of great height, with deep-set blue or green eyes, long noses, full beards, and red or blond hair. Scholars have traditionally scoffed at these accounts, but it now seems that they may be accurate.

Chinese scientists were initially hesitant to provide access to DNA samples because they were sensitive about the claims of the nationalist Uyghur who claim the Loulan Beauty as their symbol, and to prevent a pillaging of national monuments by foreigners.

The 3000-year-old Cherchen Man discovered with his family

Chinese historian Ji Xianlin says China “supported and admired” research by foreign experts into the mummies. “However, within China a small group of ethnic separatists have styled themselves the descendants of these ancient people“. Due to the “fear of fuelling separatist currents” the Xinjiang museum, regardless of dating, displays all their mummies both Tarim and Han, together.

Posited origins

Physical anthropologists propose the movement of at least two Caucasoid physical types into the Tarim Basin. Mallory and Mair associate these types with the Tocharian and Iranian (Saka) branches of the Indo-European language family, respectively.

An amazing discovery of 2000 year oldmummies in the Tarim basin of Western

B. E. Hemphill’s biodistance analysis of cranial metrics (as cited in Larsen 2002 and Schurr 2001) has questioned the identification of the Tarim Basin population as European, noting that the earlier population has close affinities to the Indus Valley population, and the later population with the Oxus River valley population. Because craniometry can produce results which make no sense at all (e.g. the close relationship between Neolithic populations in Ukraine and Portugal) and therefore lack any historical meaning, any putative genetic relationship must be consistent with geographical plausibility and have the support of other evidence.

Han Kangxin, who examined the skulls of 302 mummies, found the closest relatives of the earlier Tarim Basin population in the populations of the Afanasevo culture situated immediately north of the Tarim Basin and the Andronovo culture that spanned Kazakhstan and reached southwards into West Central Asia and the Altai.

The National Geographic documentary on the Tarim mummies reports on recent mtDNA work on the Tarim mummies. The program doesn’t really reveal anything new to anyone familiar with the story of these mummies, but there are some nice segments of some of them as they would have been during their lifetime. At some point, the camera shows what appear to be haplogroup assignments, although I wouldn’t vouch as to what these actually mean. or to who exactly they belong. What they do say is that they found markers from “Europe, West Eurasia, Siberia, Tibet, Mongolia, even India”. They also mention that the “Beauty of Loulan”, the “Boy” have “unexpected marks of East Asian ancestry”, and “Cherchen Man” also carries “a surprising East Asian lineage” and that the “Shaman” has a “lineage frequently seen in the Himalayas and India”.

It is the Afanasevo culture to which Mallory & Mair (2000:294–296, 314–318) trace the earliest Bronze Age settlers of the Tarim and Turpanbasins. The Afanasevo culture (c. 3500–2500 BCE) displays cultural and genetic connections with the Indo-European-associated cultures of the Eurasian Steppe yet predates the specifically Indo-Iranian-associated Andronovo culture (c. 2000–900 BCE) enough to isolate theTocharian languages from Indo-Iranian linguistic innovations like satemization.

Cherchen_Man_and Family_China

Hemphill & Mallory (2004) confirm a second Caucasoid physical type at Alwighul (700–1 BCE) and Krorän (200 CE) different from the earlier one found at Qäwrighul (1800 BCE) and Yanbulaq (1100–500 BCE):

This study confirms the assertion of Han [1998] that the occupants of Alwighul and Krorän are not derived from proto-European steppe populations, but share closest affinities with Eastern Mediterranean populations. Further, the results demonstrate that such Eastern Mediterraneans may also be found at the urban centers of the Oxus civilization located in the north Bactrian oasis to the west. Affinities are especially close between Krorän, the latest of the Xinjiang samples, and Sapalli, the earliest of the Bactrian samples, while Alwighul and later samples from Bactria exhibit more distant phenetic affinities. This pattern may reflect a possible major shift in interregional contacts in Central Asia in the early centuries of the second millennium BCE.

Mallory and Mair associate this later (700 BCE–200 CE) Caucasoid physical type with the populations who introduced the Iranian Saka language to the western part of the Tarim basin.

Mair concluded:

“From the evidence available, we have found that during the first 1,000 years after the Loulan Beauty, the only settlers in the Tarim Basin were Caucasoid. East Asian peoples only began showing up in the eastern portions of the Tarim Basin about 3,000 years ago, Mair said, while the Uighur peoples arrived after the collapse of the Orkon Uighur Kingdom, largely based in modern day Mongolia, around the year 842.

The mummies could also be of Cuman origin, since the Cumans were reported to have caucasian features, and were said to come from east of the Yellow River.

Historical records and associated texts



Tocharian man with red blond hair and visibly European features

The Indo-European Tocharian languages also have been attested in the same geographical area, and although the first known epigraphic evidence dates to the 6th century CE, the degree of differentiation between Tocharian A and Tocharian B, and the absence of Tocharian language remains beyond that area, tends to indicate that a common Tocharian language existed in the same area during the second half of the 1st millennium BCE. Although Tocharian texts have never been found in direct relation with the mummies, their identical geographical location and common non-Chinese origin suggest that the mummies were related to the Tocharians and spoke a similar Indo-European language.


Tocharian Nordic mummy found in 1989: Disfigured female with blonde hair

The Tocharians were described as having full beards, deep-set eyes and high noses and with no sign of decline as attestation in the Chinese sources for the past 1,000 years. This was first noted after the Tocharians had come under the steppe nomads and Chinese subjugation. During the 3rd to 4th century CE, the Tocharians reached their height by incorporating adjoining states.


Mummified boy, roughly one year of age, found in the same grave


Reference to the Yuezhi name in Guanzi was made around 7th century BCE by the Chinese economist Guan Zhong, though the book is generally considered to be a forgery of later generations.:115-127 The attributed author, Guan Zhong, described the Yuzhi 禺氏, or Niuzhi 牛氏, as a people from the north-west who supplied jade to the Chinese from the nearby mountains of Yuzhi 禺氏 at Gansu. A large part of the Yuezhi, vanquished by the Xiongnu, were to migrate to southern Asia in the 2nd century BCE, and later establish the Kushan Empire.

Roman accounts

Pliny the Elder (Chap XXIV “Taprobane”) reports a curious description of the Seres (in the territories of northwestern China) made by an embassy from Taprobane (Ceylon) to Emperor Claudius, saying that they “exceeded the ordinary human height, had flaxen hair, and blue eyes, and made an uncouth sort of noise by way of talking”, suggesting they may be referring to the ancient Caucasian populations of theTarim Basin:

“They also informed us that the side of their island (Taprobane) which lies opposite to India is ten thousand stadia in length, and runs in a south-easterly direction—that beyond the Emodian Mountains (Himalayas) they look towards the Serve (Seres), whose acquaintance they had also made in the pursuits of commerce; that the father of Rachias (the ambassador) had frequently visited their country, and that the Seræ always came to meet them on their arrival. These people, they said, exceeded the ordinary human height, had flaxen hair, and blue eyes, and made an uncouth sort of noise by way of talking, having no language of their own for the purpose of communicating their thoughts. The rest of their information (on the Serae) was of a similar nature to that communicated by our merchants. It was to the effect that the merchandise on sale was left by them upon the opposite bank of a river on their coast, and it was then removed by the natives, if they thought proper to deal on terms of exchange. On no grounds ought luxury with greater reason to be detested by us, than if we only transport our thoughts to these scenes, and then reflect, what are its demands, to what distant spots it sends in order to satisfy them, and for how mean and how unworthy an end!”

Arguments for the occurrence of cultural transmission from West to East

The possible presence of speakers of Indo-European languages in the Tarim Basin by about 2000 BCE could, if confirmed, be interpreted as evidence that cultural exchanges occurred among Indo-European and Chinese populations at a very early date. Mallory and Mair also note that: “Prior to c. 2000 BC, finds of metal artifacts in China are excedeedingly few, simple and, puzzlingly, already made of alloyed copper (and hence questionable).” While stressing that the argument as to whether bronze technology travelled from China to the West or that “the earliest bonze technology in China was stimulated by contacts with western steppe cultures”, is far from settled in scholarly circles, they do suggest that the evidence to date favours the latter scenario.

The Chinese official Zhang Qian, who visited Bactria and Sogdiana in 126 BCE, made the first known Chinese report on many regions to the west of China. He believed he discerned Greek influences in some of these kingdoms. He names Parthia “Ānxī” (Chinese: 安息), a transliteration of “Arsacid”, the name of the Parthian dynasty. Zhang Qian clearly identifies Parthia as an advanced urban civilization that farmed grain and grapes, and manufactured silver coins and leather goods. Zhang Qian equated Parthia’s level of advancement to the cultures of Dayuan in Ferghana and Daxia in Bactria.

The supplying of Tarim Basin jade to China from ancient times is well established, according to Liu (2001): “It is well known that ancient Chinese rulers had a strong attachment to jade. All of the jade items excavated from the tomb of Fuhao of the Shang dynasty, more than 750 pieces, were from Khotan in modern Xinjiang. As early as the mid-first millennium BCE the Yuezhi engaged in the jade trade, of which the major consumers were the rulers of agricultural China.”


Carnac stones

Carnac stones

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
File:Carnac megalith alignment 1.jpg
The Ménec alignments, the most well-known megalithic site amongst the Carnac stones

The Carnac stones are an exceptionally dense collection of megalithic sites around the French village of Carnac, in Brittany, consisting of alignmentsdolmenstumuliand single menhirs. The more than 3,000 prehistoric standing stones were hewn from local rock and erected by the pre-Celtic people of Brittany, and are the largest such collection in the world. Local tradition claims that the reason they stand in such perfectly straight lines is that they are a Roman legion turned to stone byMerlin or Saint Cornelius – Brittany has its own local versions of the Arthurian cycle. A Christian legend associated with the stones held that they were pagan soldiers in pursuit of Pope Cornelius when he turned them to stone.

Most of the stones are within the Breton village of Carnac, but some to the east are within La Trinité-sur-Mer. The stones were erected at some stage during theNeolithic period, probably around 3300 BC, but some may date to as old as 4500 BC. In recent centuries, many of the sites have been neglected, with reports of dolmens being used as sheep shelters, chicken sheds or even ovens. Even more commonly, stones have been removed to make way for roads, or as building materials. The continuing management of the sites remains a controversial topic.

File:Alignement Kerlescan Carnac.jpg

Stones in the Kerlescan alignments


View of the Menec alignment, at the western end.

There are three major groups of stone rows — MénecKermario and Kerlescan — which may have once formed a single group, but have been split up as stones were removed for other purposes.


Ménec alignment

Ménec alignments

File:Alignement Menec Carnac.jpg

Stones in the Ménec alignment

Eleven converging rows of menhirs stretching for 1,165 by 100 metres (3,822 by 330 ft). There is whatAlexander Thom considered to be the remains of stone circles at either end. According to the tourist office there is a “cromlech containing 71 stone blocks” at the western end and a very ruined cromlech at the eastern end. The largest stones, around 4 metres (13 ft) high, are at the wider, western end; the stones then become as small as 0.6 metres (2 ft 0 in) high along the length of the alignment before growing in height again toward the extreme eastern end.

Kermario (“House of the Dead″) alignment


Kermario alignment

File:Kermario Carnac.JPG
Stones in the Kermario alignment

This fan-like layout recurs a little further along to the east in the Kermario alignment. It consists of 1029 stones in ten columns, about 1,300 m (4,300 ft) in length. A stone circle to the east end, where the stones are shorter, was revealed by aerial photography.

Kerlescan alignments


Kerlescan alignment

A smaller group of 555 stones, further to the east of the other two sites. It is composed of 13 lines with a total length of about 800 metres (2,600 ft), ranging in height from 80 cm (2 ft 7 in) to 4 m (13 ft). At the extreme west, where the stones are tallest, there is a stone circle which has 39 stones. There may also be another stone circle to the north.

Petit-Ménec alignments

A much smaller group, further east again of Kerlescan, falling within the commune of La Trinité-sur-Mer. These are now set in woods, and most are covered with moss and ivy.


There are several tumuli, mounds of earth built up over a grave. In this area, they generally feature a passage leading to a central chamber which once held neolithic artefacts.

Tumulus of Saint-Michael

The tumulus of Saint-Michael was constructed between 5000 BC and 3400 BC. At its base it is 125 by 60 m (410 by 200 ft), and is 12 m (39 ft) high. It required 35,000 cubic metres (46,000 cu yd) of stone and earth. Its function was the same as that of the pyramids of Egypt: a tomb for the members of the ruling class. It contained various funerary objects, such as 15 stone chests, pottery, jewellery, most of which are currently held by the Museum of Prehistory of Carnac. It was excavated in 1862 by René Galles with a series of vertical pits, digging down 8 m (26 ft). Le Rouzic also excavated it between 1900 and 1907 discovering the tomb and the stone chests.
A chapel was built on top in 1663 but was rebuilt in 1813, before being destroyed in 1923. The current building is an identical reconstruction of the 1663 chapel, built in 1926.
Moustoir 47.6119°N 3.0608°W

Also known as Er Mané, it is a chamber tomb 85 m (279 ft) long, 35 m (115 ft) wide, and 5 m (16 ft) high. It has a dolmen at the west end, and two tombs at the east end. A small menhir, approximately 3 m (10 ft) high, is nearby.


File:Dolmen Roch-Feutet.JPG

The dolmen Er-Roc’h-Feutet. An inscription next to every standing stone formation proclaims ownership by the state of France.
File:Crucuno dolmen.jpg

The Crucuno dolmen

There are several dolmens scattered around the area. These dolmens are generally considered to have been tombs, however the acidic soil of Brittany has eroded away the bones. They were constructed with several large stones supporting a capstone, then buried under a mound of earth. In many cases, the mound is no longer present, sometimes due to archeological excavation, and only the large stones remain, in various states of ruin.

North, near the Chapelle de La Madelaine. Has a completely covered roof.
La Madelaine 47.6208°N 3.0482°W[18]
A large dolmen measuring 12 by 5 m (39 by 16 ft), with a 5 m (16 ft) long broken capstone. It is named after the nearby Chapelle de La Madelaine, which is still used.
A rare dolmen still covered by its original cairn. South of the Kermario alignments, it is 25 to 30 metres (82–98 ft) wide, 5 m (16 ft) high, and has a small menhir on top. Previously surrounded by a circle of small menhirs 4 m (13 ft) out, the main passage is 6.5 m (21 ft) long and leads to a large chamber where numerous artifacts were found, including axes, pearls, arrow heads and pottery. It was constructed around 4600 BC and used for approximately 3,000 years.
Mané Brizil
A roughly rectangular mound, with only one capstone remaining. It is aligned east-to-west, with a passage entrance to the south.
On a small hill, has two separate chambers.
Mané-Kerioned (Pixies’ mound or Grotte de Grionnec)
A group of three dolmens with layout unique in Brittany, once covered by a tumulus. Whereas most groups of dolmens are parallel, these are arranged in a horse shoe. The largest of the three is at the east, 11 metres (36 ft).
A “classic” dolmen, with a 40-tonne (44-short-ton), 7.6-metre (24 ft 11 in) tablestone resting on pillars roughly 1.8 m (5 ft 11 in) high. Prior to 1900, it was connected by a passage making it 24 m (79 ft) long.
Crucuno stone rectangle 47.625°N 3.121667°W
A classic 3, 4, 5 rectangle of 21 menhirs varying in height from 0.91 metres (3.0 ft) to 2.4 metres (7.9 ft) that is aligned along its diagonal to the midsummer sunrise. Alexander Thom suggested it measured forty by thirty of his megalithic yards.

Other formations


The Manio quadrilateral arrangement.

File:Carnac Geant du Manio.jpg

The Manio “Giant”.

There are some individual menhirs and at least one other formation which do not fit into the above categories.

Manio quadrilateral
An arrangement of stones to form the perimeter of a large rectangle. Originally a “tertre tumulus” with a central mound, it is 37 metres (121 ft) long, and aligned to east of northeast. The quadrilateral is 10 m (33 ft) wide to the east, but only 7 metres (23 ft) wide at the west.
Manio giant 47.6034°N 3.056°W

Near the quadrilateral is a single massive menhir, now known as the “Giant”. Over 6.5 m (21 ft) tall, it was re-erected around 1900 by Zacharie Le Rouzic, and overlooks the nearby Kerlescan alignment.

Excavation and analysis

File:Menec Single.JPG

Large upright in the Ménec alignment

From the 1720s various people showed increasing interest in these features. In 1796, for example, La Tour d’Auvergneattributed them to druidic gatherings. In 1805, A. Maudet de Penhoët claimed they represented stars in the sky. However, there still is a somewhat surprising lack of research done on the origins or purpose of the stones.

Miln and Le Rouzic

The first extensive excavation was performed in the 1860s by Scottish antiquary James Miln(1819–1881), who reported that fewer than 700 of the 3,000 stones were still standing. Towards 1875, Miln engaged a local boy, Zacharie Le Rouzic (1864–1939), as his assistant, and Zacharie learnt archaeology on the job. After Miln’s death, he left the results of his excavations to the town of Carnac, and the James Miln Museum was established there by his brother Robert to house the artefacts. Zacharie became the director of the Museum and, although self-taught, became an internationally recognised expert on megaliths in the region. He too left the results of his work to the town, and the museum is now named Le Musée de Préhistoire James Miln – Zacharie le Rouzic.

Other theories

File:Carnac Ménec alignments.jpg

The Ménec alignments of some 1,100 stones in 11 columns.

In 1887, H. de Cleuziou argued for a connection between the rows of stones and the directions of sunsets at the solstices.

Among more recent studies, Alexander Thom worked with his son Archie from 1970 to 1974 to carry out a detailed survey of the Carnac alignments, and produced a series of papers on theastronomical alignments of the stones as well as statistical analysis supporting his concept of the megalithic yard.

Studies by Pierre Méreaux, who spent 30 years researching the stones in field studies, are well known.[28] He generally rejects the “cult of the dead”, arguing that the dolmens were instead perhaps used as primitive seismic instruments, Brittany being the most seismically-active area of France. In particular, he argues controversially that Brittany would have been even more seismically active back then, due to the influx of water with the retreating ice. He also posits correlations between the location and orientation of menhirs, and those of seismic fault lines. He also goes so far as to claim that the balancing of large stones on delicate points would act as an effective earthquake detector: “the heavy tables of these monuments with their dizzying overhangs must have devilishly balanced on their three feet, at the slightest shock. As an earthquake observation station, we could not do better today.

There are also general theories on the use of the stones as astronomical observatories, as has been claimed for Stonehenge. According to one such theory, the massive menhir at nearby Locmariaquer was linked to the alignments for such a purpose.


File:Carnac Kerlescan sheep.jpg

Sheep grazing around the Kerlescan alignment, part of a new management strategy.

The Musée de Préhistoire James Miln – Zacharie le Rouzic is at the centre of conserving and displaying the artefacts from the area.[26] It also contains the “world’s largest collection [of] prehistoric[al] exhibits”[15] with over 6,600 prehistoric objects from 136 different sites.

The monuments themselves were listed and purchased by the State at the start of the 20th century to protect them against quarrymen, and while this was successful at the time, in the mid century redevelopment, changes to agricultural practices and increasing tourism bringing visitors to the stones led to rapid deterioration. TheMinistère de la Culture et de la Communication (Heritage Ministry) re-examined the issue from 1984, and subsequently set up the ‘Mission Carnac’ 1991 with the aim of rehabilitating and developing the alignments. This involved restricting public access, launching a series of scientific and technical studies, and producing a plan for conservation and development in the area.

As with the megalithic structure of Stonehenge in England, management of the stones can be controversial. Since 1991, the main groups of stone rows have been protected from the public by fences “to help vegetation growth”, preventing visits except by organised tours. They are open during Winter, however. When James Miln studied the stones in the 1860s, he reported that fewer than 700 of the 3,000 stones were still standing, and subsequent work during the 1930s and 1980s (using bulldozers) rearranged the stones, re-erecting some, to make way for roads or other structures. In 2002, protesters invaded the site, opening the padlocks and allowing tourists free entry. In particular, the group Collectif Holl a gevred (French and Breton for “the everyone-together collective”) occupied the visitor centre for the Kermario alignment, demanding an immediate stop to current management plans and local input into further plans.

In recent years, management of the site has also experimented with allowing sheep to graze amongst the stones, in order to keep gorse and other weeds under control.