He’d lost his job as State Chairman, and was no longer in control of China. But Mao continued in his position as Chairman of the Communist Party. At that time, this was just a ceremonial role with inconsequential power.
However, Mao was charismatic and wildly popular with the Chinese people, so he found ways to leverage his popularity, combined with his role as Party Chairman, to wield a little more power than he would otherwise have.
Mao proposed the idea of perpetual, permanent, or continuous revolution. He claimed to be worried that an elite minority had taken power at the top of Chinese government and society, and that they were unresponsive and out of touch with the will of the people.
He reasoned that continuous revolution was the only way to preserve Communist ideals and prevent bureaucrats from putting China back on a road to capitalism. He called such bureaucrats, “capitalist-roaders.” By waging continuous revolution, Mao argued, those in power would be subjected to a continuous purity test. This would weed out those who did not keep communism and the interests of the people foremost in mind.
But in order to get his continuous revolution going, he had to find a starting point. With that in mind, he reasoned that first he had to go after the thinkers, philosophers, and writers of China. The intellectuals. They influenced opinion, and he needed to ensure they would not get in his way, in his quest to retake his former leadership.
In 1963, Mao announced there were capitalist-roaders among the intellectuals within the Communist Party, that were trying to poison minds. He claimed they were revising fundamental Marxist teachings to make them appear to favor capitalism.
The populace, who loved and respected Mao, became alarmed.
And so Party leaders decided to do something about this, and began the Socialist Education Movement. In this movement, intellectuals were removed from schools, universities, or wherever else they lived and worked, and were sent to the countryside to be reeducated by peasants.
They were forced to work on farms, and also spend time in self-criticism sessions. Peasants led these sessions, and required them to examine their hearts and uncover any counterrevolutionary sentiments they might be harboring. They had to confess these sentiments to the group they were in, criticize themselves, and accept criticism from others.
Conditions and punishments were sometimes harsh for the intellectuals, and from 1963 to 1966, over 70,000 perished. More than five million others were persecuted to various degrees.
Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 17: The Little Red Book.
Categories: Series (History): The Cultural Revolution