Series (History): The Cultural Revolution

Chapter 23: Out With the Old

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 23
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.

The heads of the figures in this ancient frieze were knocked off by Red Guards. It was originally from a garden house of a rich imperial official in Suzhou. Photo by Udo Schoene. CC BY-SA 3.0.

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 .

13 replies »

  1. I get lost easily enough even when knowing the street names!

    So Mao wasn’t just content with killing and torturing, but he had to destroy valuable, historical things as well! The destruction of historical things sounds a little too familiar right now!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. it seems in the U.S. today we’ve got conflicting forces in action. we’ve got a leader with a big ego who enjoys power, like Mao. But then we have a large number of people protesting against him and his policies. These people seem perhaps like the Red Guard, except the Red Guard was on the same side as Mao…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I guess the Cultural Revolution isn’t an exact parallel to what’s happening here. First, it was much worse (thus far). Also, you’re right, the one in power isn’t the one instigating the riots. There’s a theory that the instigators, with the money behind the riots, are those who want Trump out of power.

      There’s a similar psychology, though. If you give some people enough free rein to cause destruction, they will, and gladly. If we were to tell our police forces to stand down and let the rioters do whatever they wanted to do, then I think what we’d see happen here would closely parallel what happened in China.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I guess what I was trying to say is that Mao and Trump both want to silence their critics. But with China, the Red Guard was the one doing all the dirty work, they really were not protesting against Mao. While in the U.S., the people protesting are again Trump. In China, no one seemed willing to fight back against Mao. At least in the U.S. we have people willing to do so…

        Liked by 1 person

        • We do, but we also have people resisting Biden. That’s what is so great about this country in my view. You can fight back against whoever you want to fight back against.

          However, I wouldn’t go to a BLM rally and start shouting pro-Trump slogans such as, “Make America Great Again.” I think that would put my life at risk. They do want to silence their opposition, and perhaps kill them, just as much as Trump might want to silence his opposition. This country isn’t as safe as it was three or four months ago for those want to express their political opinions, whether they be on the right or left. And that has weakened the greatness of our country, in my view.

          Liked by 2 people

          • I agree, that is the one big difference between the situations, in the U.S. you are free to stand up to leadership and speak your mind.

            And it never seems like a good idea to go into the opposition and yell something offensive to them. Sort of like going to a Yankees game with a Red Sox jersey on and yelling the Yankees suck. That may not end well…

            And I agree that our country is going through troubling times now…

            Liked by 2 people

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