Author Archives: Tippy Gnu

Chapter 31: The Tiananmen Incident

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 31
The Tiananmen Incident

After his death, Mao worried that if Zhou was publicly mourned, people would turn against him and his Cultural Revolution policies, which they knew Zhou had been trying to reverse or moderate. So only one official memorial ceremony was held, on January 15, 1976, at the Great Hall of the People, at Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

At that ceremony, Zhou’s friend and designated successor, First Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping, delivered the eulogy, which included this personal tribute to Zhou’s character:

“He was open and aboveboard, paid attention to the interests of the whole, observed Party discipline, was strict in dissecting himself and good at uniting the mass of cadres, and upheld the unity and solidarity of the Party. He maintained broad and close ties with the masses and showed boundless warmheartedness towards all comrades and the people . . . We should learn from his fine style—being modest and prudent, unassuming and approachable, setting an example by his conduct, and living in a plain and hard-working way.”

This statement was interpreted by the suspicious Mao as a subtle way to criticize him and the Gang of Four, because their characters did not come anywhere close to that of Zhou’s. Deng had already been a target of their persecution, and after this eulogy they stepped up their efforts against him.

With Mao’s permission, the Gang of Four launched a Criticize Deng campaign. It was successful. First Vice Premier Deng had been expected to succeed Zhou as Premier, but instead, on February 4, 1976, another Vice Premier, Hua Guofeng, was chosen for the job.

After Zhou’s funeral, Jiang and her Gang of Four launched the Five No’s Campaign, to prevent public displays of grieving. This campaign forbade honoring Zhou’s death, and instructed that there was to be: no wearing black armbands, no mourning wreaths, no mourning halls, no memorial activities, and no handing out photos of Zhou.

You can only push people so far, and the Chinese people had had enough. Resentment over the Cultural Revolution had been building. The Five No’s backfired, as the public turned against Mao and the Gang of Four. They said no to the Five No’s, and refused to comply. So more propaganda campaigns were attempted by the Gang against Zhou’s memory. But these only led to stronger resentment toward Mao and the Gang.

Millions of mourners in Tiananmen Square, honoring Zhou Enlai.

Tensions boiled over in what became known as the Tiananmen Incident. April 4, 1976, was the eve of the annual Qingming Festival, where Chinese pay homage to their deceased ancestors. That morning, thousands of people spontaneously gathered around the Monument to the People’s Heroes in Tiananmen Square, and commemorated the life and death of Zhou Enlai. They laid wreaths, banners, placards, written homages, and flowers at the base of the monument.

This mass of common people also criticized Jiang Qing and the Gang of Four for their attacks on Zhou, and there were even a few brickbats slung at Mao and his Cultural Revolution.

By day’s end, up to two million people visited Tiananmen Square to pay tribute, from the lowest peasants to high-ranking military officials. It seemed a popular revolt was underway, yet it was completely spontaneous, with no coordination from any leadership.

Similar spontaneous mourning incidents occurred elsewhere in China, including Zhengzhou, Kunming, Tiyuan, Changchun, Shanghai, Wuhan, and Guangzhou (Canton).

The next day more crowds arrived at Tiananmen Square, only to discover that the police had removed all the tributes that had been left by the masses the day before. A riot ensued, and police cars were set on fire. Over 100,000 people forced their way into government buildings that surrounded the square.

The crowd finally dispersed that evening, and the police managed to arrest hundreds of those rioters who had lingered on the scene. They were sentenced to hard labor, but were later pardoned by Deng Xiaoping, after he finally managed to rise to power.

But at this point, Deng was running out of power. Mao wrongly suspected that Deng had organized the Tiananmen uprising, and on April 7, 1976, he was stripped of all his leadership positions. Deng feared for his life and fled Beijing for the relative safety of Guangzhou Province.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 32: The Death of Mao Zedong.

Chapter 30: The Death of Zhou Enlai

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 30
The Death of Zhou Enlai

Portrait of Zhou Enlai.

Zhou Enlai had been a stabilizing force in the Communist Party, and a big reason why the government was able to survive the Cultural Revolution. He was also very popular with the people. Almost as popular as Mao.

Zhou and Mao also had a history of working well together. Their history went way back to the hardscrabble, bloody days of the Civil War. Zhou had masterminded the Long March of 1934-1935, and during that march, Mao got into a power struggle against two other Communist leaders. Zhou backed Mao, and helped him to emerge victorious.

Mao’s victory in the power struggle of the Long March put Mao on top as the leader of the Chinese Communist Party, and established Zhou as Vice-Chairman, in second rank behind Mao. They would both maintain high-ranking positions for the rest of their lives.

Zhou was very popular in China. He was a highly regarded national hero, and this made him almost as untouchable as Mao. Not only had he been a longtime ally of Mao, but Mao must have realized that going after him could easily backfire.

Mao and his wife, Jiang Qing, were both fearful and jealous of Zhou’s popularity. Mao wisely laid off of him, but during the early years of the Cultural Revolution, Jiang was determined to somehow get to Zhou. Since she couldn’t safely attack him directly, she decided to punish him indirectly, by going after those closest to him.

She had his adopted daughter, Sun Weishi, arrested by the Red Guards. They raped and tortured her for seven months, before she finally died in prison in 1968. That same year, Jiang had the Red Guards torture and murder his adopted son, Sun Yang, in the basement of Renmin University. And again that year, Jiang forced Zhou to sign an arrest warrant for his own brother.

This must have been hell for Zhou, but he somehow survived. And he managed to maintain his sanity, as well as his commitment to the Chinese people. He did his best to mitigate the effects of the Cultural Revolution, but only met with very limited success. But it was enough success to keep the fabric of society from completely unraveling, and to maintain a small, simulacrum of moderation within the Communist Party.

Jiang hated Zhou, and the feeling was probably mutual. So after Mao named Zhou to be his successor, Jiang and her Gang of Four stepped up efforts to persecute him. In 1973 and 1974 they directed the Criticize Lin, Criticize Confucius campaign. This propaganda campaign cast Confucius in an unflattering light, and attempted to equate Zhou with Confucius, in order to turn public opinion against him.

In 1975, Jiang and the Gang of Four began a new campaign called, Criticizing Song Jiang, Evaluating the Water Margin. This too was an elaborate attempt to paint Zhou as a bad politician.

But these campaigns were not very successful. Zhou was almost as beloved as Mao, and the people didn’t buy into it. He was like Teflon and seemed immune to any of Jiang’s nefarious propaganda campaigns.

Mao’s opinion of Zhou had very briefly warmed in 1972, leading him to name him as his successor. But he cooled to him soon after, because he didn’t like how Zhou had been trying to reverse and modify some of the effects of the Cultural Revolution. But he knew it was too dangerous to go after him directly. Instead, he would have to wait for some sort of chance to take him out sneakily.

That opportunity presented itself in November 1972. That’s when Zhou was diagnosed with bladder cancer. But his medical team was required to report this news to Mao first. In their report, they told Mao that Zhou had an 80-90% chance of survival, with treatment, which would include immediate surgery. But Mao ordered that Zhou should not be told of this diagnosis, and that there should be no treatment nor further examinations.

By the middle of 1974, Zhou was pissing blood and probably wondering what the hell was going on. It was now impossible to hide his diagnosis, so Mao ordered surgery in June, 1974. But it was too late to be very helpful. The cancer had metastasized.

Zhou made his last public appearance in January 1975. His health went steadily downhill after that, and he died of cancer in January 1976, at the age of 77.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 31: The Tiananmen Incident.

Chapter 29: Successors

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 29

China kept Lin Biao’s death a secret for awhile, and the public was not informed of it until two months later. Meanwhile, Lin’s supporters were either quietly purged or managed to find refuge in Hong Kong.

When the public was finally notified of his death, and of Lin’s assassination attempts on Mao, people were left feeling shocked and bewildered. Lin had been Mao’s hand-picked successor. It seemed impossible that their revered leader, whom they had worshiped like a god, could make a mistake. And this mistake was a biggie. A real biggie. Suddenly Mao seemed human and fallible in the eyes of the public, and not like a god, after all.

Mao himself felt bummed out about these events. He slipped into a cafard and secluded himself. His health deteriorated, and in January 1972, he suffered a stroke.

Mao wanted a successor who would continue his legacy, but now he didn’t know who to trust for that job. He grew nostalgic for the good old days, and for his old comrades who’d been purged at the start of the Cultural Revolution.

Zhou Enlai was still the premier, in spite of attempts by Jiang Qing to have him purged along with the rest of Mao’s old buddies. And Zhou encouraged Mao to rehabilitate some of his old comrades that Jiang and Lin Biao had purged. Zhou openly blamed the excesses of the Cultural Revolution on Lin, and used that as his excuse for trying to correct these excesses. Encouraging Mao to rehabilitate his old cronies was part of Zhou’s effort to repair the damage.

Up to this point, Mao had been suspicious that Zhou wanted to reverse the Cultural Revolution. But now Mao saw Zhou in a new light, and his suspicions eased for a short while. And so he decided to choose him as his successor, much to the chagrin of his wife, Jiang Qing. Jiang wanted to be the chosen one.

Now Jiang would have to plot much more seriously to discredit Zhou and push him out of her way.

At Zhou’s urging, Mao rehabilitated Deng Xiaoping. Deng was an old comrade of Mao’s, who was a veteran of the Long March and the Civil War. Deng had also worked under Liu Shaoqi, and he’d been purged at the start of the Cultural Revolution, at the same time as Liu.

Mao now had Zhou as his successor. But Zhou also needed a successor. So he chose Deng, and in 1974, convinced Mao to appoint Deng as Vice Premier. This put Deng in the position to not only succeed Zhou, but also to succeed Mao, after Mao and Zhou’s death.

This further angered Jiang, since she had been behind Deng’s purging in 1966. She regarded Deng as competition for power, and as a counterrevolutionary. She controlled the propaganda apparatus of the Communist Party, so she decided to use her power to do something about him. In 1975 she began a campaign to discredit him.

Around this time, Mao appointed Wang Hongwen, a national hero of the Cultural Revolution, to a highly powerful position in the Politburo. Wang soon allied himself with Jiang, and against Zhou and Deng. Jiang now had three strong allies in a political clique that included herself, Wang, Yao Wenyuan (member of the Cultural Revolution Group, and the literary critic who had accused the Hai Rui play as a being a criticism of Mao), and Zhang Chunqiao (member of the Cultural Revolution Group). They were all members of the Politburo’s very influential Standing Committee, and wielded tremendous political power.

Mao dubbed them the Gang of Four.

I’m taking a short vacation, so the next installment will be a little delayed, until Wednesday, September 16th. It will be entitled, Chapter 30: The Death of Zhou Enlai.

Chapter 28: A Mysterious Death

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 28
A Mysterious Death

By the middle of 1969, the Red Guards had been completely disbanded. Now, with all opposition crushed and order finally returning to his nation, Mao could focus on rebuilding China in his own image.

Lin Biao was officially the new leader of China, after the purging of Liu Shaoqi, even though Mao controlled Lin. Mao ensured that Lin was constitutionally confirmed to be his successor, and that Maoism was made the official ideology of the Communist Party.

But this doesn’t mean the Cultural Revolution was over. No, not by a longshot. The Cultural Revolution was part of Mao’s vision of continuous revolution, and as such the revolution had to continue on. No, it wasn’t over, but it was entering a new phase.

This new phase was a safer phase for most citizens. It was a phase of new order, where they could rebuild their country out of the ashes of the chaos they had just survived.

But for the leaders of the Communist Party and government, things weren’t so safe. A tension lingered. Everyone near the top maintained a hyperconsciousness of the one at the very top. Mao was the man, and he was not one to be challenged in any manner. Everyone knew, or should have known, that they had to walk on eggshells if they wanted successful careers and good, long lives.

But one day someone forgot about this and slipped up. And that person was none other than the man directly below Chairman Mao himself. It was Lin Biao. Lin Biao, who was instrumental in the sacking of Liu Shaoqi, and who took his place as the official leader of China, suddenly found himself in the hot seat.

Lin had been a very effective general in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), during the civil war. He had led the PLA to decisive victories in Manchuria, and in the taking of coastal provinces in Southeast China. His many successes had led him to the number three ranking among generals in the PLA.

So he had great influence within the PLA, and enjoyed its strong support. And although this was helpful for Lin, it was also problematic, since the PLA had many members in the Politburo. It left Mao feeling a little wary about what Lin could do with his political power, should he choose to usurp Mao.

But Lin knew it was wise to stay on Mao’s good side. And he tried. But this was not always easy to do, especially because of China’s deteriorating relationship with the Soviet Union.

When the Cultural Revolution began, China isolated itself after declaring that both the Soviet Union and the United States were its enemies. The Soviets had once been allies of China, but Mao rejected them after he came to believe they were adopting revisionism and straying from the pure teachings of Marx and Engels.

Friction between China and the USSR increased, and they almost went to war in March of 1969, after a border clash near Siberia. By October 1969, war seemed inevitable and senior leaders evacuated Beijing, expecting hostilities to break out at any moment. So on October 18, Lin Biao issued an executive order to the PLA to prepare for war.

This seemed like a routine order one would expect from any ordinary leader of a country in a similar situation. But the problem for Lin Biao was that he was no ordinary leader. Even though it was a routine executive order, he had to pass it through Mao first, to gain his approval. Mao had him on that short of a leash. And he failed to pass it through him. Whoops.

The ever-paranoid Mao felt alarmed, and worried Lin was trying to usurp his authority. And he also worried that war would make the PLA even more powerful within the Politburo, and closer to Lin, thus increasing Lin’s stature at the expense of Mao’s.

Tension developed between Mao and Lin. Mao’s ruminating mind saw Lin as possibly allied with the Soviets, secretly plotting a small war with the USSR as a ruse to gain enough popular support to depose Mao from power. This may sound crazy, but Mao was no stranger to complex plots, so it was easy for his imagination to run so wild.

Lin, on the other hand, feared Mao, and wanted to avoid getting on his bad side. He realized he’d screwed up big time, with that executive order, and he wasn’t sure how to get out of it. So for the next few years, he worried he was going to suffer the same fate as his predecessor, Liu Shaoqi.

In 1971, Mao invited U.S. President Richard Nixon to visit China. It’s speculated by some historians that one reason behind this invitation was to ally himself with the United States, in order to deter the Soviet Union from attacking China and assisting any coup plot Lin might be planning against him. But while this is speculation, it does make sense, due to Mao’s habitual manner of thinking in terms of complex plots to gain power.

Lin Biao in 1971, reading Mao’s Little Red Book, shortly before the author turned on him.

In July 1971, Mao’s paranoia took him over the edge. He decided it was time to purge Lin and his supporters. What happened after this was bizarre, and has been subject to much debate, and has never been completely resolved.

The official Chinese government explanation is that Lin tried to assassinate Mao on September 11, 1971. First he tried to sabotage Mao’s train. But Mao unexpectedly changed his route and bypassed the saboteurs. Then he tried a couple of other assassination attempts, but Mao’s bodyguards intervened.

By the official explanation, it seemed Mao had incredible luck that day, perhaps bringing to mind the luck of Inspector Clouseau.

Wreckage of Lin Biao’s plane near Ondorkhaan, Mongolia.

The official account goes on to say that Lin tried to flee the country after his repeated failures to kill Mao. On September 13, 1971, he boarded an airplane with his wife and son, and headed for the Soviet Union to seek asylum. But he never made it. His plane got as far as Mongolia, where it crashed, killing all onboard.

That was the official explanation.

But in the late-1970’s, the Chinese government destroyed records related to their investigation of Lin’s death, lending concerns of some sort of cover-up. Analysts and experts outside China have expressed a lot of skepticism about China’s version of events. This is not only because the investigative records were destroyed, but also because the explanation seems improbable and somewhat nonsensical.

However historians do agree that Lin was killed in a plane crash in Mongolia on 9/13/71. But they have never figured out how or why he would have flown to that location in the first place. Much of it makes no sense, and the details of Lin’s death remain a mystery to this day.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 29: Successors.

Chapter 27: The Lost Generation

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 27
The Lost Generation

Mango Fever happened quite by accident, without any planning on Mao’s part. But many other aspects of the Cultural Revolution were carefully planned and instigated by this madman, to effect as much pain as possible on the people he ruled.

On May 25, 1968, Mao launched the Cleansing the Class Ranks campaign, which was the next part of his Cultural Revolution. The stated purpose of this movement was to purge Communist society of traitors, spies, capitalist-roaders, and the Five Black Categories. These five black categories were:

Rich farmers

The Red Guards stepped up their persecution efforts, Struggle Sessions, and beatings. Lynchings took place. Suspects were tortured, and many massacres were carried out. Around 30 million people were persecuted, and up to 1.5 million perished. Or, that is, they were “cleansed” from the ranks.

By the summer of 1968, Mao had succeeded in gaining the complete control and cooperation of the military. His reign over China was undisputed. Except from one area. The Red Guards.

Mao decided he no longer needed the Red Guards. And by god, these assholes were wreaking havoc across the country. Things were getting too dangerous and out of hand, so Mao decided it was time for them to disband.

But the fervor and zeal of these young radicals was hard to contain. They refused to disband.

Urban youths from Shenyang being sent down to the countryside, in 1968.

This was a big problem. How do you get 12 million people to go home? But the ever ingenious Mao finally came up with a solution. In December 1968, he launched the Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside Movement.

Mao declared that privileged urban youth must be sent to rural areas to learn from workers and farmers. These privileged urban youth were high school and college graduates.

Mao proclaimed that by moving to the countryside, youths could “develop their talents to the full” through education among the rural population. According to Mao, “the countryside is a vast expanse of heaven and earth where we can flourish.” These lofty words became the slogan for the Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside Movement.

This program effectively dispersed the Red Guards, who mostly consisted of privileged urban youth. They moved to less populated areas where they would cause less disruption and be reeducated. This program went on for the next 10 years, displacing a total of 17 million youths.

Conditions for them were often harsh, and those who could not handle the grueling labor and tough lifestyle often died. They’re referred to in China as the Lost Generation, as some never returned from this exile. However, one who did return was Xi Jinping, the current Communist Party General Secretary, and leader of China.

Xi has revived some aspects of the Cultural Revolution, such as by imprisoning and reeducating millions of ethnic Uighurs, while subjecting them to hard labor. But this is not a tale about Xi. It’s about someone whose cruelty has not yet been eclipsed by Xi. It’s about Xi’s inspiration from the past, Chairman Mao.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 28: A Mysterious Death.

Stolen Quote: Devil

It is wonderful how much time good people spend fighting the devil. If they would only expend the same amount of energy loving their fellow men, the devil would die in his own tracks of ennui. ~ Helen Keller

But if the devil died of ennui, what would save the rest of us from dying of ennui?

Chapter 26: Mango Fever

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 26
Mango Fever

As the Cultural Revolution carried over into 1968, a campaign was launched to enhance Mao’s reputation and firmly establish his cult of personality. Mao’s portrait was plastered everywhere. Billions of Chairman Mao badges were mass produced and distributed to the people, to pin on their clothing. Every Chinese citizen was presented with Mao’s Little Red Book of quotations, and was told to carry it everywhere, study it carefully, and quote from it daily.

Mao was elevated to the status of a living god, and was always presented as an infallible hero and leader who could make no error nor do no wrong. To criticize Mao was to invite violent reprisal and possibly death. To praise Mao was expected, regardless of what he did, and whether it appeared foolish or wise.

Some families even prayed to Mao.

This unquestioning reverence for the Chairman led to the bizarre and comical Mango Fever, that began in August of 1968. On August 4, 1968, Pakistani foreign minister Syed Pierzada, presented Mao with 40 mangoes from Pakistan. It was a nice gesture, but Mao didn’t know what to do with the mangoes. These fruits weren’t native to northern China, and most Chinese there didn’t know what a mango was.

Mao decided to send the box of mangoes to his Mao Zedong Propaganda Team at Tsinghua University. This proved to be a very “fruitful” gesture. On August 7, 1968, they had this article published in the People’s Daily:

“In the afternoon of the fifth, when the great happy news of Chairman Mao giving mangoes to the Capital Worker and Peasant Mao Zedong Thought Propaganda Team reached Tsinghua University campus, people immediately gathered around the gift given by the Great Leader Chairman Mao. They cried out enthusiastically and sang with wild abandonment. Tears swelled in their eyes, and they again and again sincerely wished that our most beloved Great Leader lived then thousand years without bounds . . .”

Soon after, a poem appeared in the People’s Daily, that read:

“Seeing that golden mango
Was as if seeing the great leader Chairman Mao!
Standing before that golden mango
Was just like standing beside Chairman Mao!
Again and again touching that golden mango:
the golden mango was so warm!
Again and again smelling the mango:
that mango was so fragrant!”

A Cultural Revolution propaganda poster, produced in 1968, entitled, “Mangoes, the Precious Gift.”

One of the mangoes was sent to the Beijing Textile factory, which organized a rally in its honor. Workers recited quotations from Mao as they celebrated this piece of fruit. But the mango began to rot. So then it was peeled and boiled, and workers filed past the pot of boiled mango water, and each was given a spoonful to drink.

Mango fever took hold of the nation, and factories began producing mass replicas of the fruit. In one case, replicas of mangoes were sent to the city of Changdu, where about a half million people gathered to greet them. Also, wall posters were created, featuring Mao and mangoes.

In one notable incident, a dentist in a small town got a glimpse of a mango replica. He was heard to say that it was nothing special, and that it looked just like a sweet potato. People were horrified at such sacrilege. The dentist was arrested and put on trial. He was convicted of malicious slander, paraded publicly throughout the town, and then executed with one shot to the head. All for insulting a mango.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 27: The Lost Generation.

« Older Entries