The Chinese Cultural Revolution


The Chinese Cultural Revolution was a time of instability in China. Red Guards spread chaos across the country and political infighting was endemic.

The Chinese Cultural Revolution was a period of instability from 1966 – 1976. Its causes were complex but the goal of the Cultural Revolution was to put China back on the path to socialism and secure Mao Zedong’s power. Red Guards attacked intellectuals and liberals and destroyed precious cultural artifacts, leading to widespread fear and instability.

History of the Cultural Revolution

Mao Zedong, the chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), retired from active leadership of the People’s Republic of China after the disaster of the Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Instead, two senior party officials Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping took control of many day-to-day affairs.

Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping quickly began to move away from many of the excesses of the Great Leap Forward by introducing more liberal economic policies. However, Mao Zedong quickly felt that Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping were abandoning socialist principles and betraying the Communist revolution of 1949.

Urged and aided by his wife Jiang Qing, Mao Zedong declared the beginning of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, or simply the Cultural Revolution, in 1966. The stated goal was to root out so-called capitalist and imperialist elements that had supposedly infiltrated China and return to the values of the Communist revolution. It was also designed to stabilize Mao Zedong’s rule as leader of China.

The Cultural Revolution continued until 1976, when Mao Zedong died. His successor Hua Guofeng tried to continue Maoist policies but Deng Xiaoping made an outstanding political comeback and take hold of power in 1978.

Effects of the Cultural Revolution

Since one of the stated goals of the Cultural Revolution was to return China to the path of socialism, many members of society considered to be anti-revolutionary or pro-imperialist were targeted. This included intellectuals, artists, religious figures and anyone associated with foreign ideas or institutions. Universities effectively shut down and a generation of young Chinese went sent to live in the countryside. This was intended to teach them about proletarian values and lifestyles.

Ideas and objects from China’s pre-socialist past were also targeted. Temples, mosques, shrines and ancient buildings were destroyed or damaged. Countless precious artifacts were destroyed. Religion was suppressed harshly during this period. The human and cultural toll of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was massive.

Much of the damage done during the Cultural Revolution was caused by the Red Guards. These were youths that were dedicated to Mao Zedong’s cult of personality. Red Guards travelled the country targeting supposed enemies of socialism and Mao Zedong, destroying cultural artifacts and buildings and attacking intellectuals. Tens of thousands were killed and millions had their lives and reputations ruined.

Political Infighting During the Cultural Revolution

The Cultural Revolution was in many ways a struggle for the power and political direction of China. Figures that had been key leaders during the 1949 revolution and throughout the 1950s, such as Deng Xiaoping and Liu Shaoqi, fell out of favor. Liu Shaoqi himself was arrested by Red Guards and died in prison.

Other figures also experienced a rise and subsequent fall in power. Lin Biao, a top general from the Chinese Civil War, became Mao’s official successor only to fall out of favor. He was most likely murdered by Jiang Qing. Jiang Qing and her allies themselves were put on trial and executed in the early 1980s after the end of the Cultural Revolution.

Throughout the period of 1966 – 1976, political instability and chaos were the rule in China. Red Guards, government officials and even the Chinese military formed various factions to fight amongst each other.

The Chinese Cultural Revolution was a time of great instability and chaos in China. Mao Zedong’s cult of personality rallied Red Guards to attack intellectuals and China’s past. Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping were openly vilified. Various political figures and groups vied for power in the vacuum of clear authority.