Chapter 21: The Fall of Liu Shaoqi

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


Chapter 21
The Fall of Liu Shaoqi

The Red Guards began arresting members of the establishment suspected of being revisionists, anti-Mao, anti-Cultural Revolution, or anti anything else they supported. They subjected their victims to brutal Struggle Sessions, where they were beaten, sometimes to death.

The country plunged into chaos. The target of the students was the “establishment,” and this worried the hell out of everyone in charge of anything. And among those worried were the heads of state.

State Chairman Liu Shaoqi and Secretary-General Deng Xiaoping were in a swivet, not knowing what the hell to do. They’d been blindsided, and had no idea how or why all of this upheaval was suddenly happening. And so they consulted with the mastermind himself, like chickens running to the fox. They asked Mao for advice.

Based upon the advice Mao gave them, Liu and Deng hastily set up a system of work teams. The work teams were sent to campuses of schools for the purpose of interacting with the Red Guards, restoring order, and re-establishing Party control.

The problem with this was that the members of the work teams were also members of the establishment. And so, by virtue of association, they were suspected by the Red Guards of being counterrevolutionary. The Red Guards didn’t trust the work teams, and suspected that their true purpose was to suppress revolutionary fervor.

It seemed hopeless. So the Communist Party became divided on whether or not to continue with the teams. But Liu insisted on continuing, in order to stop the mass hysteria.

Of course Mao, the fox in the henhouse, didn’t help Liu. Instead he sided with those who were against the work teams. He criticized the work team idea (even though he had suggested it), and on July 24, 1966, he called for the full withdrawal of these teams. This made Liu look suspect. Liu was pro-work teams, but Mao was anti-work teams. So why was Liu for them? people began to ask. Could Liu be a counterrevolutionary himself?

Then on August 5, 1966, Mao upped the ante. He authored his own big-character poster, and titled it, “Bombard the Headquarters.” He rallied people to target the command center of counterrevolution, which he insinuated was the Party establishment led by Liu and Deng. As a result of this poster, Liu and Deng quickly sank in status within the Communist Party, and effectively lost their power.

Lin Biao (left) with Mao Zedong.

Defense Minister Lin Biao, the Mao loyalist who had earlier attacked General Luo Ruiqing, to help pave the way for this coup, was elevated in status and took over Liu Shaoqi’s rank. Lin became the new official leader of China. But in reality, he was supposed to be a puppet who would rubber stamp anything Mao wanted. And so Lin’s rise to power was actually Mao’s rise to power.

Mao once again found himself in charge of China. Lin, as head of state, assumed all the risks, while Mao, pulling strings in the background, enjoyed all the benefits.

With Lin’s installment, Mao’s coup was complete. Well, almost complete. He still had a little more work to do. In 1967, Liu Shaoqi was arrested by Red Guards. They put him through Struggle Sessions, where they beat him regularly. He was denied medication for his diabetes, and denied treatment for pneumonia, which he contracted from his beatings.

He nearly died, but Jiang Qing finally stepped in and ordered medical treatment for him. She wanted him kept alive as a “living target” for the Ninth Party Congress in 1969. At that Congress, the barely living Liu was denounced as a traitor and enemy agent. Shortly after that, he died in prison. Now the coup was complete. Mao’s power was solidified.


Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 22: Red August.

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