Erased History: Lessons from Mao Zedong’s ‘Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution’

Erased History: Lessons from Mao Zedong’s ‘Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution’

  • Posted by Renee Nal
  • On July 24, 2020
  • 4 Comments
  • Amy Mek, CCP, Chinese Communist Party, Communism, Cultural Revolution, Fan Shen, Gang of One: Memoirs of a Red Guard, Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, Li Zhensheng, mao, Mao Zedong, RAIR, RAIR Foundation, RAIR Foundation USA, Red Guards, Struggle Session

“At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, young Red Guards went from house to house, seeking to eradicate all vestiges of what they called “the four ‘olds’ “–old ideas, old customs, old culture and old habits. Nothing better exemplified the four olds than books.” – Jim Mann of the Los Angeles Times, 1985

There are unmistakable parallels from Mao Zedong’s “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” and Marxist movements today across the West. The Cultural Revolution started with book-burning and quickly turned into tearing down statues and changing the names of places and “especially street names.” Then, the Red Guards would drag “enemies” out of their homes and publicly shame them during “struggle sessions.” Finally, the Red Guards would go from house to house, confiscating property and sometimes torturing and killing the people they considered to be against the communist revolution.

The Cultural Revolution was about purging non-communists. The effort came after forced collectivization during the “Great Leap Forward” from 1958 – 1962 led to massive famine “that cost more than 40 million lives.” In the wake of the horrific Great Leap Forward, Mao Zedong had to destroy those who started to shift from communist thought. On August 8, 1966, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) explained:

“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 endeavor to stage a come-back.”

In order to cling to power, the CCP explained that their 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.”

Mao had to suppress opposition, as all communists must to keep power after it is made clear that their disastrous policies wreak havoc on citizens. Mao’s Cultural Revolution claimed the lives of 7.73 million innocent human beings and spanned from May 16, 1966 until Mao Zedong’s death on September 9, 1976. Mao “unleashed the [Cultural Revolution] movement by urging young people to rise up against their parents and teachers”.

The feared Red Guards, who oversaw the vast destruction during that evil period in China, consisted of militant high school and university students who were tasked with “eliminating all remnants of the old culture in China” and “purging” party leaders deemed “insufficiently revolutionary.” The Red Guards were simply heavily indoctrinated teens used by Mao “to enforce communism by removing capitalist, traditional and cultural elements from society” and are reminiscent of Hitler’s Brown Shirts in Germany and Antifa in America and across the West today.

Citizens were only allowed to read from “The Little Red Book,” or “Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong” and other limited communist propaganda. According to the BBC, “[T]he Ministry of Culture aimed to distribute a copy to every Chinese citizen and hundreds of new printing houses were built in order to achieve this.”

The images below reveal the militant nature of the Cultural Revolution; featuring Red Guards tearing down Buddha statues, reading the Little Red Book and burning forbidden books.

During that reign of terror, nobody was safe from the Red Guards, who could, without warning or evidence, target anyone as being an enemy of Mao and drag you to a “struggle session,” where you would be humiliated and even tortured and killed for hours on end in front of audiences that came to witness the spectacle and who delighted in the mob’s rage. Or, they could just torture people in their homes.

Very little about that period is documented and today’s Chinese Communist Party strategically works to convince citizens that times have gotten much better since the time of the Red Guards. As communists do, they have attempted to erase the brutal era from history and maintain strict controls of any reminiscences from that period or of the great famine.

Many of the surviving photos of the Cultural Revolution were taken by CCP-Approved photographer Li Zhensheng who painstakingly maintained a secret stash of negatives, carefully documented with time, names, and locations and stored under the floorboards of his home until he could smuggle them to the United States. Li Zhensheng passed away just last month at the age of 79. His photographs are essential to understanding the brutality of the Cultural Revolution.

The below images show people who for whatever reason, were perceived as not following the communist line. They would be humiliated for hours at a time as large crowds berated them, often forced to stand hunched over with signs hanging around their necks or dunce caps proclaiming their guilt as “rightists” or “capitalists.”

Fan Shen, who was 12-years-old in 1966, describes his experience as a young communist in the fascinating book “Gang of One: Memoirs of a Red Guard.” He details his youthful excitement in participating in the revolution following the footsteps of his communist parents, and his slow disillusionment as he was forced to face the brutality of his actions and those of his comrades. Shen’s book is particularly important because his account matches the few images preserved in graphic detail.

Watch Fan Shen discuss his experience here:

During the Cultural Revolution, propaganda posters were everywhere, and sometimes depicted good citizens smashing “The Four Olds”:

Destroy the Old World; Establish the New World
(Dasui jiu shijie, chuangli xin shijie)
, 1967, Beijing

As described at Columbia University:

This propaganda poster is a classic example of early Cultural Revolution Red Guard art and illustrates the anti-traditional, anti-imperialist iconoclasm that persisted into the 1960s. Notice that the worker is smashing a crucifix, as well as a Buddhist statue and classical Chinese texts.

The posters portrayed Mao Zedong as one of a long line of legendary and murderous communists, which indeed he was.

It should noted that literature surrounding the Cultural Revolution is often written from a revisionist perspective in the attempt to downplay the communist element of the period and presenting it as an anomaly.

Knowing that the left cannot progressively scrub the brutal history of the Cultural Revolution, which claimed the lives of millions of people over twenty years after the atrocities of nazi Germany, many do mental gymnastics to separate Mao’s reign from the tyrannical tendencies of contemporary communism.

In fact, the Cultural Revolution is the essence of communism.

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4 Comments

MARK BROWN
Great article! Thank you!
Ed
The people, in this country, who want communism, over what we have, are idiots. The system we have in place has made us the most prosperous country the world has ever seen. Ours is the system of success. Communism is the system of failure. Look at the USSR. After 50 years it fell apart because it could not sustain itself. What I see and read, saddens me.
Ryan
I watched a documentary years ago on Mao Zedong. He basically was a Chinese Hitler, but because Mao wasn't gathering everyone into concentration camps, dragged this out for several years, and was never a big part of a World War, no one really knows anything about him.

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