Chinese Proletarian Cultural Revolution

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution occurred between 1966 and 1976, the young people of China tried to purge the country from the “Four Olds”: old customs, old culture, old habits and old ideas. In August, 1966, Mao Zedong called for the start of a Cultural Revolution. He urged the creation of corps called “Red Guards” to punish party officials and any other people who showed bourgeois tendencies. The main reason for Mao to create this revolution was the failure of the “Great Leap Forward”, which was Mao’s attempt to modernise China’s economy so that by 1988, China would have an economy that rivalled America, and to recover the support of the people and the Chinese Communist Party.

Mao’s call was answered by the students, some as young as elementary school, who organized themselves into the first groups of Red Guards. They were joined later by workers and soldiers. The first targets of the Red Guards included Buddhist temples, churches and mosques, which were burned down to the ground or converted to other uses. Sacred texts, as well as Confucian writings, were burned, along with religious statues and other artwork. Any object associated with China’s pre-revolutionary past was subject of destruction. Almost 1,800 people were killed in Beijing alone in August and September of 1966.

By February, 1967, China had descended into chaos. The purges had reached the level of army generals who dared to speak out against the excesses of the Cultural Revolution, and Red Guards groups were turning against one another and fighting in the streets. By December of 1968, even Mao realized that the Cultural Revolution was spinning out of control. China’s economy, already weakened by the Great Leap Forward, was faltering badly. After this, Mao decided spread the Red Guards and the violence on street was almost over.

With this began a struggle for power. By 1971, Mao and his second-in-command, Lin Biao, were trading assassination attempts against one another. On September 13, 1971, Lin and his family tried to fly to the Soviet Union, but their plane crashed. Officially, it ran out of fuel or had engine failure, but there is speculation that the plane was shot down either by Chinese or Soviet officials. One of the main players in the succession game was Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing. She and three friends, called the “Gang of Four,” controlled most of China’s media, and railed against moderates such as the Deng Xiaoping and Zhou Enlai. Zhou died and hate from the people towards the Gang of Four and Mao grew.

Mao Zedong died on September 9, 1976. His chosen successor, Hua Guofeng, had the Gang of Four arrested. This signaled the end of the Cultural Revolution.


“Cultural Revolution.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 05/04/ 2013. 04/05/2013.

Spielvogel, Jackson. World History. U. S. Mc Graw-Hill, 2007.


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