During the 1960s, the leader of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Mao Zedong started feeling that the party leadership, just like their counterparts in the Soviet Union, was taking the revisionist direction too far. Mao Zedong was of the belief that the party leadership was more focusing on expertise instead of ideological purity. Moreover, the influence of Mao Zedong in the government had deteriorated following the unsuccessful Great Leap Forward of 1958-1960 and the ensuring economic crisis. In order to consolidate his authority and influence, Mao Zedong organized a group of radical individuals including Lin Biao (the defense minister) and Jiang Qing (his wife) to assist him in attacking the CPC leadership as well as reemphasize his power. As a result, Mao started the Cultural Revolution (CR), also referred to as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) in 1966. He closed schools in the country and called for a large scale mobilization of the youth to put pressure on the party leadership for their apparent lack of revolutionary zeal and acceptance of middle class values. The months that followed saw an escalation of the movement characterized by students establishing revolutionary groups referred to as the Red Guards, which harassed and attacked the intellectuals and the elderly in China. It was followed by the development of a personality cult focusing on Mao Zedong, akin that of Josef Stalin, having various divisions alluding to the true understanding of Maoism. Current paper explores the CR including its significance and impact on China.
The CR had a considerable effect on China during 1965-1968 period. The CR refers to Mao’s efforts to reemphasize his ideals in China. From the late 1950s, Mao was concerned that other members of the CPC leadership were playing a prominent role, which subsequently weakened his influence both in China and within the party. It has been suggested as a contributing factor to the CR initiated by Mao. The CR movement commenced in September 1965 following a speech delivered by Lin Piao, who encouraged students in colleges and schools to resume embracing the revolutionary ideals. In addition, Piao encouraged Chinese youths to frankly disparage liberals in the CPC. Educational institutions were perceived to be overly academic, and thus, extremely elitist. Moreover, Mao believed that the progress witnessed in China after the 1949 revolution resulted in the development of a privileged class comprising of factory managers, scientists, and engineers among others. For Mao, such privileged class was amassing too much authority at his cost. Additionally, Mao expressed concerns regarding the novel class of Mandarins established in China since they were not conversant with the normal Chinese lifestyle.
The Red Guards, a paramilitary youth group, inspired all Chinese youth to harshly condemn those perceiving Mao as the untrustworthy leader with respect to his vision of China. This criticism was directed to anyone who disagreed with Mao including economists, writers and any other individuals having links to Liu Shao-chi, Mao’s key rival. As a result, any person appearing to have a superior attitude was perceived as an enemy of the CPC.
Mao intentionally established a personality cult around himself and set out to remove any CPC member who did not support his ideals. His primary selling point was the need to establish a Chinese society having peasants, educated individuals, and workers collaborating with each other. Mao believed that no individual was superior to another, and wanted to create a classless society wherein every person worked for the betterment of China.
Nonetheless, the enthusiasm exhibited by the Red Guards almost caused social turmoil in China. This was evident by the closure of schools and plummeting of the economy. Additionally, infighting between the various factions with the Red Guards was observed as each faction insisted that it had the best roadmap for China based on Mao’s ideas. In some instances, the actions of the Red Guards were unruly as evident by attacking foreign embassies and foreigners – an example being the British Embassy that was burnt down.
The ensuing chaos was managed after Zhou Enlai highlighted the need to return to normalcy. Zhou was one of the top ranking officials of the CPC who first encouraged members of the party to embrace criticism by the Red Guards. However, he discovered that the CR experiment was becoming unmanageable. During October 1968, the CPC expelled Liu Shao-chi, which marked the end of the CR. Mao had successfully removed a key prospective rival; thus, he had no need to continue the CR.
The CR had an impact on nearly all the officials of the local and central governments, experts in all professions, and the intellectuals. Notable mortality rate was documented among these groups of people due to their stance against Maoism; hence, they were subjected to ruthless attacks. As a result the purposeful execution of the brightest Chinese intellectuals stalled the development of China for a whole decade. Moreover, the CR had deleterious impacts with respect to the faith that people had in the government. The Chinese became disappointed with Mao Zedong after discovering that even his closest friend, Lin Piao opposed him. After the CR ended, the credibility of the government diminished significantly. The loss of faith in the government and the CPC leadership was unexpected following the founding of the PRC. Overall, the political significance of the CR resulted in a sharp decline in the number of Chinese intellectuals stalling development for a decade and diminished the faith that people had in the government.
In the course of CR, the Chinese people dedicated their effort and time fighting and criticizing one another. Experts from diverse fields were demonized. Additionally, there were numerous cases of physical and verbal attacks since the Chinese were overly obsessed with class struggle rather than work. The outcome was the decrease in the production and agricultural levels. In rural places, the collectivization was unsuccessful in enhancing the livelihood of peasants due to the inadequacy of the market supplies. In addition, there was a considerable decline in the revenue collected by the government because China had missed the chance to exploit the rapid global economic development that was occurring during the 1960s. For the period of the CR, Maoist thoughts were prioritized at the expense of economic development. As a result, the majority of Chinese spent their time debating Maoist thoughts, which halted the bulk of the economic activities in the country. The CR did help to facilitate industry and economic recovery. In 1966-1968, there was a significant decline in productivity because of the abolishment of the bonus system. Furthermore, the Red Guards destroyed numerous ancient paintings, books, antiques, artifacts, and buildings. Schoenhals estimated that the CR resulted in an economic loss of 500 billion Renminbi. In addition, intellectuals, officials, graduates, and students were transferred to the rural areas, which destroyed their careers since they had to sacrifice the wellbeing for the sake of the CR. Overall, although the CR was aimed to transform China, it resulted in a considerable economic disruption in the country.
During the CR decade, the attacks targeted the majority of the business department heads, intellectuals, and prominent business people. Moreover, researchers, scientists and engineers were subjected to attacks and criticism. The result is that the educational, cultural, technological, and scientific systems in China were halted. With the exception of nuclear weapons and the most advanced technological and scientific research and development, production and research in other sectors were extremely affected. The deterioration of the Sino-Soviet relations during the 1950s severely affected the functioning of the institutions that relied on Soviet technologies. When the CR ended in 1976, China remained behind the advanced nations with respect to science and technology by about 25-30 years when compared to the lag of 10-15 years during the 1950s. Moreover, the stalling of China’s modernization during the CR period can be attributed to the closure of universities and schools, which disrupted education. The educational curricular in the country was changed to emphasize Maoist thoughts. Furthermore, the majority of best teachers and professors were dismissed, which resulted in a generation that lacked proper education and skills. China stagnated at the mid-1950s levels in terms of technological theories, which is a potential explanation for the failure of the Four Modernizations program of the 1978.
During the early years of the CR, there was no social order since the Red Guards had destroyed the society and disrupted the lives of people. In some occasions, members of the Red Guards engaged in armed conflicts. The Chinese people were stratified into various classes, which included bad elements, rich peasants, counter-revolutionaries, rightists, and landlords. In the course of the CR, the Chinese society was extremely chaotic. The upper level staff were criticized and attacked by the lower level staff. Similarly, teachers were criticized and attacked by students and sometimes parents. Brothers also fought each other. There was a collapse of social morals and ethics. The problems associated with moral degradation and social order had not been addressed by the turn of the 21st century.
During the CR, the country isolated itself and severed its ties with other countries. In the course of the CR, academic research stalled; thus, by the end of the 1970s, the economic position of China was not better relative to its position during the early 1960s. Whereas university education was entirely stalled during the CR, secondary and primary schools remained operational, but it focused primarily on political indoctrination. The outcome was a situation whereby teachers refrained from teaching and students did not study due to the perception that studying is useless. The majority of the youth were transferred to rural China and forced to engage in farming. In addition, Chinese intellectuals were expunged without mercy, which stalled scientific development of the country. The “model dramas” sponsored by the state were the only permitted performances. These dramas contained revolutionary messages. For instance, Landsbergernotes that during the CR, “art had to be revolutionized and guided by the Mao Zedong Thought, its content had to be militant and reflect real life.” Therefore, during the CR, the cultural development in China was stagnant. In sum, the CR resulted in considerable disruptions in the social life of the Chinese.
At the peak of the CR, the majority of Chinese diplomats overseas returned to the country. The Foreign Ministry was occupied by the Red Guards, who attacked and harassed the officials. The Red Guards even embarked on issuing orders regarding China’s diplomatic missions overseas. In August 1697, the British Embassy situated in Beijing was attacked by the Red Guards, which resulted in substantial diplomatic tension between China and Great Britain.
The CR had significant impacts in terms of politics, economy, modernization, social order, and diplomatic relations. Regarding the political impacts of CR, it led to sharp reductions in the number of Chinese intellectuals, stalling development of the country for nearly ten years. Moreover, the CR diminished the faith that people had in the government. With respect to economic impacts, the CR resulted in a decline in agricultural and industrial production. The CR also had a negative effect on China’s modernization by halting educational, cultural, technological, and scientific systems. Lastly, the CR affected China’s diplomatic ties with other countries, resulting in the country’s isolation.