Chapter 23: Out With the Old
Out With the Old
It wasn’t just people who were being targeted by the Red Guards. It was also Chinese culture. This was, after all, the “Cultural” Revolution.
During the Red August of 1966, newly-ensconced leader Lin Biao gave a speech advocating the destruction of the “Four Olds.” These were: Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits, and Old Ideas. These were described as having poisoned the minds of the people for thousands of years.
First to fall victim in the Campaign to Destroy the Four Olds were street names and store names. Streets throughout Beijing were renamed, causing confusion to travelers and shoppers. For instance, “E” street was renamed, “Red Guard Road,” and the “Blue Sky Clothes Store” was renamed to “Defending Mao Zedong Clothes Store.”
Intellectuals were thought to be living embodiments of the Four Olds, and they were rounded up, harassed, and forced to endure Struggle Sessions, where they were severely beaten and often killed.
Old, historic architectural sites were targeted, vandalized, and burned or razed to the ground. Libraries were raided, and books of classical literature were burned. Old Chinese paintings were ripped apart, and Chinese temples were desecrated. In Tibet, Buddhist monks were forced to demolish almost every monastery, many of which had been standing for over a thousand years.
The homes of the wealthy were raided and everything destroyed, especially paintings, books, sculptures, and antiques.
Red Guards raided ancient archaeological sites and smashed priceless relics. In one instance, they raided Ming Dynasty tombs, and dragged the remains of emperors and empresses out, denounced them, and burned them. And the Cemetery of Confucius was attacked and vandalized.
The destruction to the Chinese cultural heritage during this campaign was incalculable. Premier Zhou Enlai, Mao’s most loyal ally, felt appalled at this spoliation. He tried to step in and stop the iconoclasm, but was mostly foiled by Jiang Qing and other ultra-Leftists. Still, he did manage to prevent destruction to a few important historical sites, such as the Forbidden City.
China owes much gratitude to Zhou Enlai for such heroic efforts.
The Cultural Revolution raged on, long past the deposing of Liu Shaoqi. By December 1967, more than 350 million copies of Mao’s Little Red Book of quotations had been printed. Every Red Guard owned one, and they would congregate in study groups to devour and digest the words, while discussing the meaning of Mao’s vague sayings. They found ways to use Mao’s words to justify the Cultural Revolution, and all the death and destruction they were causing.
Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 24: Cow Sheds .