Series (History): The Cultural Revolution

Preface: Millions?

This is the second installment of my book, The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao.
To start at the beginning, click this link.


Cultural Revolution propaganda poster, featuring Chairman Mao.

Millions with a question mark. That’s one way to describe the Cultural Revolution. Historians can’t agree on how many died as a result of it, but a few low estimates actually go below a million, to hundreds of thousands.

Most estimates seem to range from 1.5 million to as high as 20 million. That’s quite a spread of tormented souls calling from the grave for accountability. We’ll never know anything close to the exact toll, because many deaths went unreported, or were covered up by local authorities.

Also, China did a piss-poor job of keeping accurate statistical records at that time, and the Chinese government has not allowed scholastic access to what archives it maintains, concerning this tragic event. But from what many scholars have gleaned from the evidence they’ve been able to access, it seems millions were killed in China.

And millions more died abroad, because the Chinese exported their Cultural Revolution to the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia. With Chinese funding, Pol Pot and his supporters murdered nearly a quarter of Cambodia’s population, or 1.5 to 2 million people. Those targeted for death were considered to be enemies of the revolution, similar to those targeted in China during the Cultural Revolution.

Beyond those who died in China, millions more were left crippled for life, mostly due to beatings from Red Guards. Millions were imprisoned on baseless, trumped up charges, and forced to endure hard labor. And millions lost their livelihoods, and were unceremoniously fired from their posts in universities, government, and even the Communist Party itself.

Nobody of any level of importance, prestige, or position of authority was safe during the Cultural Revolution. Top Party officials, including the president of China, Liu Shaoqi, were arrested, beaten, and imprisoned. Top generals were sacked and publicly humiliated, and sometimes murdered.

But low level authorities were also targeted. Teachers, mayors, landowners, supervisors of workers, heads of small departments, and anyone else who rose even slightly above the average prestige of a peasant, found themselves vulnerable to attack.

Civil war broke out in parts of China, resulting in even more deaths. A red hysteria swept the nation, pitting pro-Maoist factions against each other. Violence broke out everywhere. The hysteria that sought to persecute so-called counterrevolutionaries was so widespread, that every Chinese citizen was in some way affected by the Cultural Revolution.

For ten years this revolution ground on, until it finally ended with Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, and the arrest of the Gang of Four. In fact, the Cultural Revolution was instigated by Communist Party Chairman Mao, and facilitated by the Gang of Four, which included Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing.

But why? Why would Mao do this to his own people? The Cultural Revolution set China back economically, intellectually, and politically for many years. It weakened China in many ways, though some have argued that there were some benefits. What was Mao’s motivation? Those meager benefits at the cost of all those lives?

To understand the Cultural Revolution, it helps to go back in history to the events that led up to it. It helps to study the life history of Mao Zedong, and it’s also useful to learn about the rise of communism in mainland China.

We’ll start with Mao first, and follow his inimical rise to absolute power, his fall from power, and his diabolical scheme to regain power through the complex machinations of the Cultural Revolution.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 1: Buddhism and Beatings.

29 replies »

  1. I wonder what Trump would have thought of Mao. I’m sure at some point your essays will talk about what kind of relationship our Presidents had with Mao.

    Also, the title of your next essay is an interesting one – seems like an oxymoron…

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ll briefly mention Nixon’s visit to China, but I don’t get into much detail on that. It’s thought by some scholars that Mao tried to improve his relationship with the U.S. due to his fear of a Soviet-planned coup in China. If he could have the U.S. as an ally, it would discourage the Soviets from messing with him.

      Liked by 2 people

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