Series (History): The Cultural Revolution

Chapter 36: Final Thoughts

This is the final installment of my book, The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao. Hooray! It’s finally over!
To read the previous installment, click this link.
To start at the beginning, click this link.

Chapter 36
Final Thoughts

Mao is considered by most historians to be the bloodiest dictator of the 20th century. He’s said to be responsible for the deaths of between 40 and 80 million Chinese, through starvation, persecution, prison labor, and mass executions.

Hitler comes in a distant second, with about 17 million lives lost under his policies and leadership. Stalin is thought by many to be right behind Hitler, or perhaps ahead, but this is an old notion, in vogue before the Soviet Union collapsed and its archives were opened to historians.

No, the distinction of third place now goes to King Leopold II of Belgium, who ruled until 1909. He and his Force Publique enslaved and killed roughly 10 million Congolese in Africa, and amputated the hands and feet of millions more. But Stalin rates a close fourth place, right behind Leopold, with an estimated 9 million deaths under his belt, along with other related atrocities.

But I’m dabbling in controversy. These numbers vary in estimation, from one historian to another, and it’s impossible to get an exact count because these tyrants killed so damned many people, and record keeping was often spotty. So maybe Stalin beats Leopold, or Hitler actually loses to Stalin. Who knows? Who cares? They’re all assholes.

But as we can see, it’s likely that nobody came even close to matching Mao, for pure, bloodthirsty assholery. And in addition to all those deaths, he’s also blamed for the permanent crippling of millions more, from beatings and torture. Untold amounts of hardship, grief, and pain followed in his wake. And all for a “good cause” where, in his mind, the end justified the means.

And on that note, some historians do argue that Mao did more good than harm. They contend that under his leadership, life expectancy, education, and health care improved, and the Chinese population increased from 550 million to 900 million. In this way, they try to help Mao justify the means, by pointing out a rosy end result.

I think it’s reasonable to say that some good did come out of Mao’s rule. However, I also think it’s reasonable to say that those good things could have been accomplished without all the murder and mayhem that Mao unleashed. Deng Xiaoping proved this.

The Cultural Revolution alone, killed up to 20 million people. And it idled universities for several years, while students went on a rampage of mass murder and persecution, thus setting back the advancement of knowledge, and allowing for the spread of ignorance.

It set the economy back also, as production fell by double-digits during the early years of the Cultural Revolution. And the emotional terror and trauma that people suffered through was immeasurable.

The “greater good” was an excuse by Mao to inflict maximum torment on as many people as he could. It’s a warning to everyone, to beware of leaders who promise great things at great sacrifice.

Often, they’re not really looking out for the greater good. No, they have an ulterior motive. They have a sadistic streak that they want to take out on everyone. They just need popular support, so that they can inflict their campaigns of pain and suffering on innocent people whom they choose to villainize.

“Cultural Revolution” is a grand sounding, promising label applied to one of the greatest travesties in human history. It’s helpful to remember this when we consider other revolutions, as they arise and present themselves.

When we see demonstrators in the streets, bearing starry-eyed, glorious messages of profound social change, we are wise to be cautious. For everyone’s safety, we should consider their messages with a grain of salt. And it helps to measure the worth of their movement by the level of peace, and respect for dissent, that accompanies their cause.

I believe that only then can human society evolve and progress in a direction that respects human life, and guarantees those necessary ingredients for quality of life. Which are peace and freedom. Only then can the greater good be achieved, with revolutions that benefit every individual.

25 replies »

  1. You did a great job with this series! Taught me history that I didn’t know.i did remember King Leopold. Yes, you summed it up well, they are all horrible for the atrocities they committed! Just think, at one time they were all innocent babies…..Sad!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks. That’s the longest series I’ve ever written. I don’t think there’ll be another long one for a long, long time.

      So you already knew about Leopold? I’d never heard of him until I researched this post. I was probably sleeping in history class when he was discussed.

      Kind of strange how we all start out innocent, but then some of us choose a very dark path.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I listened in History, a lot more than I did in Math class!
        Remembering King Leopold though I think came from a show we saw earlier this year. A history show. It was that or something I read before. His name just stuck in my head.
        Makes you wonder why some choose such dark paths. We all have freedom of choice.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’d always thought it was Mao first, Stalin second and Hitler third. Leopold wasn’t even on radar. And, yes, they are all assholes.

    I like your closing paragraphs. There are those that are stating that we are in the middle of a cultural revolution of our own. I hope cooler heads prevail.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Leopold wasn’t on my radar either. And I wasn’t sure about where Stalin stood. Researching this series of posts opened my eyes to a lot of new things.

      It does seem like a similar “revolution” psychology is at play these days in America. Hopefully our country will be resilient enough to keep it from getting as far out of hand as it did in China. But as you say, we need cooler heads for that to happen. And there doesn’t seem to be too many of those in DC.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. this was a wonderful series; I knew nothing about Mao when it started, and now I feel somewhat informed.

    I’m not sure China’s population going from 550 to 900 million should be considered “good”.

    as to your final comments about protesters, it seems as if more people had protested against Mao, and weren’t beaten back by those in charge, then Mao’s reign of terror could have ended much sooner. So I’m happy to see people protesting; it’s the violence and vandalism that sometimes goes along with it that I don’t like.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. I’m glad I’ve been able to do a little educating. Maybe I should teach a class at Villanova.

      I agree, China’s population explosion is probably not such a good thing.

      I think protesting, in general, can be a helpful thing for society. But when it’s accompanied by intolerance for dissenting views, and rioting, looting, and burning down buildings, it loses credibility with me. And the call to defund the police seems chillingly similar to Mao’s order to make the police stand down so that the Red Guards could wreak havoc across the nation. For these reasons the BLM movement, which I was once sympathetic to, has lost me.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Great series. I enjoyed reading it, and I picked up a few new things along the way.

    Particularly with regard to domestic mass movements, I’ve always thought, “The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements”, written by Eric Hoffer in 1951 has much to say. Despite being well-researched and organized, It’s a fairly easy read as Hoffer didn’t bury his thoughts in academic-style writing.

    Hoffer’s perspective was that the “Maos”, “Hitlers”, “Stalins”, as well as the occasional “Ghandis” rise from social forces within the groups they’re able to harness. What Hoffer was interested in was why these groups are willing to subjugate themselves to following mass-movements, or what it is in human-nature that allows for “-isms” to draw in sycophantic crowds. I think it’s probably a timely read, as we see such movements emerging here in the US. Mao is certainly a relevant example. And the ignorance from some regarding his legacy is frankly rather disturbing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Since his book was written nearly 70 years ago, but would apply today, I guess it goes to show that human nature hasn’t changed.

      It is disturbing that so little is known of Mao, in the U.S. We’ve devoted libraries of books, and hundreds of documentaries and feature-length films about Hitler, but hardly nothing about Mao. Maybe that has something to do with the dearth of information from China about Mao, as opposed to the wealth of info about Hitler, from Germany. But I think we could do better than we’ve done.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Kind of an interesting paradox. In the US, we repeat the politically expedient aspects of history. The parts that empower American nationalism or political institutions become almost idiomatic… “Hitler”, for example. But we don’t much examine the philosophy, reasons, or context of such aspects of history and the disasters they precipitated. So we don’t even recognize them when they happen to ourselves.

        Paradoxically In Japan, while the characters of history are little studied, there came to be an understanding of just how culturally institutionalized social aspects like State Shinto religious fervor was used to transmit a nationalist message and manipulate a population to follow. As a consequence, most Japanese now see overt religious displays as socially dysfunctional. Likewise, open expressions of Japanese nationalism are seen as simply amusing examples of backwards thinking.

        Compare that to the US.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Yeah, we do seem to fall for it every time politicians wrap themselves in the flag. Sounds like the Japanese got a little more introspective about nationalism.

          So far we haven’t had the kind of disaster that befell Japan in the 1940’s, but maybe after we do we’ll become just as introspective.

          Liked by 1 person

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