Introduction to The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao
This is the first installment of my book, The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao. This will be somewhere around a 40-part series that will be posted about every other day, except those times when I’m on a vacation, hiding out from the law, or otherwise distracted. It will likely carry us into October. I know, it’s history, which is nothing more than old news, but I hope I’ve brushed off enough dust to keep it interesting for everyone.
I grew up in the Sixties, an era of peace, love, and flower children. I was pretty young, so I didn’t get a chance to participate in all the protesting going on. I had no draft card to burn, I wasn’t allowed to grow my hair long, and I was scared to death to drop acid, smoke a joint, or do any other kind of drugs. Not that I had an opportunity.
But there was that time I helped my siblings harbor a couple of Vietnam War deserters. They hid out in our garage loft, and my mother never had a clue. We thought that was far out. And yes, I did learn all those corny cool slogans, like “far out,” “groovy,” and, well, “cool.”
There was a lot of shit going down in the Sixties. It was a youthquake. Young people were rebelling against the establishment like never before. Hippies were living in communes, smoking joints, and turning into Jesus freaks. Old stodgy attitudes were on their way out, and being replaced by fresh new ideas that promoted free love and free thought. It was a revolution, in a sense. A cultural revolution.
Well, we weren’t the only ones. Because while we were getting in the groove in America, more than 7,000 miles away another cultural revolution was taking place in the People’s Republic of China. And it was actually called the “Cultural Revolution.” But unlike the peace, love, and flowers in our hair that we got to experience, their Cultural Revolution was some heavy shit.
It was downright scary for many people. And for good reason, because a lot of folks died.
We didn’t have much of an idea what was really happening in China at that time. Some thought that whatever it was, it must be wonderful since it was tagged with such a high-minded label: “Cultural Revolution.” Some hippies even imagined that they liked Chairman Mao, and they carried around pictures of him. But nobody had any idea what Mao was really like.
For most of us, the details of the Cultural Revolution were sketchy. And in many ways, it remains a mystery. Books have covered it, but very few have been written by those who bore the brunt of it. And the Chinese government refuses to allow access to its archives, so that investigative journalists can answer many of the questions the world has wondered about.
But in spite of this, some information has escaped. And for those diligent enough to research this strange era of Chinese history, much of the mystery can be resolved.
Some information can be found on the internet. I know, because I’ve been googling and reading. I’ve been grabbing bits of info here, and dabs of it there, analyzing it, throwing out that which seems too suspect to believe, and then putting the rest together to form the best picture I can.
I got interested in the Cultural Revolution while watching the news, and growing alarmed at all the bullshit that’s been going on lately. I’m no longer the young, rebel-at-heart of the Sixties. Now I’m in my sixties, and a long-standing member of the establishment. Now when I see people marching, rioting, burning, and looting, I get downright unsettled. I don’t mind the marching, but the rioting, burning, and looting kind of puts me in survival mode.
I’ve noticed some parallels between the 1960s and 2020. Young people are marching and calling for change. They’re demanding justice and equality. And they’re calling the police the same vile names, like “pigs” and “bacon.”
But there are some differences. For instance, the cops seem to be using a lot more restraint these days, than they used on the hippies in the days of yore. The media coverage seems to also be much kinder on protesters. And members of the establishment seem to be rolling over like never before, throwing their support behind outrageous demands, such as the call to defund police departments.
It feels a bit unnerving for old guys like me. And what’s even more unnerving is that those who dare speak anything even slightly critical of the Black Lives Matter movement, run the risk of losing their careers, or being targeted for violence. In fact, to say something as seemingly anodyne as “All Lives Matter” is to invite a level of censure and condemnation that borders on hysteria.
And I don’t remember the iconoclasm we’re witnessing these days. The toppling of statues, including those of Grant and Lincoln, is foreign to my memory of the Sixties. It makes no sense. It seems like madness.
But then again, so did the Cultural Revolution of China. This is why I’ve turned to if for answers. I’m seeing sinister parallels. I’m seeing political correctness taken to the point of persecutorial nitpickiness. I’m seeing intolerance on the part of those who demand tolerance. I’m seeing the opposite of peace, love, and flowers, yet in the name of peace, love, and flowers.
It’s piqued my curiosity. And so I’ve turned to China’s past to learn about our potential future.
So far, I think we can feel grateful we’ve never experienced a movement nearly as dangerous and deadly as China’s Cultural Revolution. Although we seem to be heading down that road, thankfully we’ve only made it a short distance.
I’ve written a long series of posts about the Cultural Revolution. About as long as one of Marco Polo’s famous journeys. Yeah, I guess maybe I got a little carried away. In fact I got so carried away that I went all the way back to the birth of Mao Zedong, in 1893, and to the Boxer Rebellion of 1900.
We’re going to learn a thing or two, not just about the Cultural Revolution, but also about the life of Mao Zedong, the Chinese Civil War, China in general, and much more.
I’ll be posting my series every few days over the next few months. I hope the reader will see what I mean, when I draw parallels from what happened in China to what’s starting to happen now in the U.S.A. We seem to be going through a bit of our own Cultural Revolution, and I want us to learn from China’s tragedy.
I believe that no matter how wonderful the message and cause may seem, there is danger in any movement. The ideals of today can quickly morph into disasters tomorrow. I think that regardless of how much we may admire a cause, it’s important to remain wary, lest we get so caught up in the crusade that we do things we regret later.
It can be easy to harm others in the passionate heat of the “greater good.” And it’s common for people to create monsters that turn on them and devour them. We must be careful.
The Cultural Revolution stands as a prime example of the dangers of any social movement. As our country continues through its current era of turmoil, I hope people will be circumspect enough to learn from history, and avoid taking things too far. Only then can we make progress without wounds, scars, and backlash erasing every benefit activists may struggle so hard to achieve.
Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Preface: Millions?