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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 School and university classes had been replaced by political meetings and parades. http://news.bbc.co.uk/
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 (pinyin: Liú Shàoqí; Wade–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.
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.
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. 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 (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 state, head 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’an, Sichuan, China, 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.
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. http://news.bbc.co.uk
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
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. http://news.bbc.co.uk/
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
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. 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 THREE PHASES OF THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION
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
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 (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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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; pinyin: Sìrén 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 Qing, Mao Zedong‘s last wife as the leading figure of the group, and her close associates Zhang Chunqiao, Yao 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 Shaoqi, Deng 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 (pinyin: Jiāng Qīng; Wade–Giles: Chiang Ch’ing; IPA: [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: 蓝苹) 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.
Jiang Qing was born in Zhucheng, Shandong 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. 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.
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 Liberty, The Scenery of City, Blood on Wolf Mountain and Old Mr. Wang. In Ibsen’s playA Doll’s House, Jiang Qing played the role of Nora.
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
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 Four—Zhang Chunqiao, Yao 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 Hongwen, Yao 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
“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”.
- Birth name: Lǐ Shūméng (Chinese: 李淑蒙)
- Given name: Lǐ Jìnhái (simplified Chinese: 李进孩; traditional Chinese: 李進孩)
- School name: Lǐ Yúnhè (simplified Chinese: 李云鹤; traditional Chinese: 李雲鶴)
- Modified name: Lǐ Hè (simplified Chinese: 李鹤; traditional Chinese: 李鶴)
- Stage name: Lán Píng (Chinese: 蓝苹)
- Revolutionary pseudonym: Jiāng Qīng (Chinese: 江青)
- Pen name: Lǐ Jìn (simplified Chinese: 李进; traditional Chinese: 李進)
- Last used name: Lǐ Rùnqīng (simplified Chinese: 李润青; traditional Chinese: 李潤青)
9 Western name: Madame Mao