Series (History): The Cultural Revolution

Chapter 22: Red August

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 22
Red August

Mao’s return to power came with great pain inflicted upon Liu Shaoqi, until he eventually lost his life. Mao had no problem unleashing this kind of pain and suffering. But Liu Shaoqi was just one person. Many, many others suffered as well. Mao released a plague of pain upon his entire nation while usurping power from Liu.

When considering Mao’s legacy, it’s important to consider just how much he cost his country, and how much suffering he put his own people through. The price tag for his sadistic excesses was astronomical, setting China’s economy back for years. And millions upon millions went through hell.

Mao & Lin Biao in Tiananmen Square, surrounded by Red Guards with Little Red Books.

For instance, in August 1966, in what would become known as Red August, over a million Red Guards gathered at a rally in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Mao Zedong and newly-annointed leader Lin Biao mingled with the Red Guards and gave speeches, denouncing enemies of the State that they insinuated had infiltrated the Party.

That’s when the chain-reaction of Mao’s dominoes fell out of control. A red terror swept out of this rally, beginning with a mass slaughter of officials in Beijing, and spreading rapidly to many other areas of China.

Most Red Guards were privileged urban youths. But workers, peasants, soldiers, common criminals, guttersnipes of all varieties, and millions of others occupying the lower strata of society, also joined in on the slaughter and became Red Guards. Yet none of this was necessary. Mao had already returned to power. He could have used this power to disband these Red hooligans and stop the killing. Only someone who enjoys causing pain would allow the killing to continue.

The police tried to intervene, but then Mao intervened with the police. He instructed the Party to issue a central directive warning them not to interfere. This warning threatened any law enforcement that stood in the way of the Red Guards, with being labeled as counterrevolutionary.

So the police stepped aside and allowed madness to descend upon the country. Thousands of government officials and members of the middle class were hunted down, beaten, and murdered. During the Red August of 1966, 1,772 such people were murdered in Beijing. In Shanghai that September, 704 people committed suicide, and 534 other deaths occurred, related to the Cultural Revolution.

Red Guards rallying in Tiananmen Square, with their Little Red Books, during Red August, 1966.

But this was only the beginning. Millions more would be brutalized and murdered by the Red Guards over the next few years.

An army of 12 million Red Guards ravaged the nation. They were given free rein by the government to travel the country, and could use the railroads without charge, as long as their purpose was to wage revolution. They committed horrible murders and atrocities everywhere they went.

They even turned on each other, splitting into factions and waging armed combat, Red Guard against Red Guard. Small civil wars sprang up in towns and cities of China, as warring sides fought each other for not being pro-Mao enough.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 23: Out With the Old.

27 replies »

  1. I have one good, long-term acquaintance from the Hong Kong region, a woman originally from Wuhan. She’s a communist party member… a requirement for a license to exchange Chinese Yuan for hard currency (Hong Kong dollars) for an export business she’s been running since the latter years of Deng Xiaoping’s free-market reforms. Her father is a retired school teacher now living in Hainan (which speaks to some family privilege). She’s hinted that her mother didn’t survive the Red Guard. Most Chinese don’t discuss such matters.

    On the way to her new “mansion” (purchased high-rise apartment) in Shenzhen just after Xi Jinping had become president, I offhandedly commented that as an American it seemed odd to see giant posters of his face plastered all over the city. Silence… profound, dead silence. In fact, no one said anything more until I broke the silence with some comment about all of the construction cranes in the city.

    It’s hard for Americans to understand the depth and magnitude of aversion to any form of expression that might even be implied as “political” that’s ingrained into the mainland Chinese psyche — something like watching your fingers around a broken electrical socket.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s very sad, what probably happened to your friend’s mother. So many died, and they’re not even statistics, due to the failure to keep careful records in those days.

      Sounds like you triggered a very awkward situation. And yet their silence speaks volumes. Seems like survival instinct, to me.

      From everything I’ve learned and written about recently, politics is a very dangerous profession in China. I understand the aversion.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Americans often look at something like BLM or criticize our Orangutan-in-Chief, and say how much America sucks. But they forget that they can say that with no risk of repercussion… or that something like a BLM protest or that the use of pejorative to describe a government official can even happen in the US. Even today, try that in China and not only will it be censored, but you’ll likely end up under arrest, if not among the millions mass-imprisoned or who simply disappear.

        Liked by 1 person

        • That’s one thing I love about our country. We can tear down our leaders in any number of ways, without the slightest risk of going to jail. The rhetoric can be jarring, but when there’s no legal risk, it emboldens people to speak their minds and address issues that might otherwise not be addressed. I think that’s good for our country. And I think countries like the PRC are desperately starved for that kind of nutrition of candor.

          Liked by 2 people

    • So sorry about your friend’s Mom.

      You are right, we Americans can’t grasp how different poliics is in China. We are so used to saying anything we want about our politicians with no fear of retribution!

      Liked by 2 people

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