Category: Series (History): The Cultural Revolution

History of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, including a book review.

The Cultural Revolution

This is a series of posts about China’s Cultural Revolution, and Mao Zedong. To start reading at the beginning, click this link: Link To Beginning. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck with a lot of scrolling to find the beginning, due to WordPress’s peculiar way of doing things.

Each post provides a link to the post that follows, leading you sequaciously from the start of the series to the finish.

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.

Chapter 35: The Rise of Deng Xiaoping

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 35
The Rise of Deng Xiaoping

The Deng that Jiang Qing so disparagingly referred to in her suicide note was Deng Xiaoping. Deng had been persecuted by Mao and Jiang Qing’s reviled Gang of Four. The arrest of the Gang was followed by widespread celebration and calls to restore Deng to power. Ironically, part of his popularity was just the fact that Jiang hated him so much.

In 1977, the year after the Gang’s arrest, Hua Guofeng relented to popular demand. He pardoned Deng and restored him to some of his former leadership posts.

Hua had been struggling as the leader of China, and he hoped pardoning Deng would help improve his popularity. But nothing could save Hua from himself, because he was stodgy, uncharismatic, and unimaginative. In another desperate attempt to improve his standing with the people, he aligned himself with Mao’s memory.

He instructed that his picture be placed side-by-side with Mao’s, in public buildings. And he adopted a policy published in the People’s Daily on February 7, 1977, stating, “We will resolutely uphold whatever policy decisions Chairman Mao made, and unswervingly follow whatever instructions Chairman Mao gave.”

But Hua had miscalculated. It so happened that the people were sick and tired of Mao’s old ways and were hoping for change. They were put off by this policy, and derisively referred to it as the Two Whatevers. The out-of-touch Hua lost a lot of popular support over this.

This presented an opportunity for Deng, and in “gratitude” for being pardoned, Deng plotted against Hua to take control of China. In 1978, Hua favored a plain-old, milk-and-water, Soviet-style economic system, whereas Deng pushed for a more exciting market-based economic system. Party leaders supported Deng over Hua, and this further weakened Hua’s power.

By 1980, Deng’s political maneuvering had gradually ousted Hua from all his top leadership positions, and Deng became the undisputed leader of China. But he allowed Hua to quietly retire, thus establishing a new precedent in his country, where an ousted leader could lose a political struggle without suffering physical harm.

Deng would maintain leadership of China until the crackdown of the Tiananmen Square protesters, in 1989. And during his time of leadership, China was transformed into a nation that barely resembled anything Mao had created. Deng believed China was in need of deep reform, and the reforms he enacted quickly and dramatically changed Chinese society and the economy.

For this, Deng Xiaoping has been referred to as the “Architect of Modern China.”

And as for continuous revolution, Deng put a stop to that. He encouraged open criticism of the Cultural Revolution. He avoided any effort to completely destroy Mao’s reputation, but he did knock him off his god-like pedestal, by pointing out his mistakes. He famously described the late Chairman as fallible, being “seven parts good, three parts bad.”

His economic reforms were probably the most notable. He dismantled the commune system and allowed peasants to manage their own land the way they wanted, and to sell their goods in a free market. Thus, he allowed for the return of capitalism to China. The country quickly modernized, and the economy began to thrive.

Deng Xiaoping with Jimmy Carter, in 1979.

On January 1, 1979, the United States officially recognized the People’s Republic of China, and foreign trade between China and the West began to grow. Deng even visited the United States in 1979, meeting with President Carter and other dignitaries.

Deng improved relations with Japan, and set Japan’s economic system up as an example for China to follow. He also restored relations with the Soviet Union. And he negotiated with Great Britain and Portugal for the return of the colonies of Hong Kong and Macau to China, by promising a policy of “one country, two systems.”

In short, Deng Xiaoping was the fulfillment of Mao Zedong’s worst fears. Mao had justified his various persecution campaigns on the grounds that the Communist Party was full of capitalist-roaders, revisionists, and other counterrevolutionaries. Deng was guilty of all these things, because he certainly put China on a road to capitalism, he revised interpretations of Marxism, and he reversed the Cultural Revolution.

Deng proved Mao right, in a sense, but he also showed just how mistaken Mao was. Mao was a purist, always pushing for a Communist system free of capitalist notions. Mao took things to the extreme, and expected everyone to live that extreme, without moderation.

But the only way Mao was able to accomplish his extreme dream was to persecute and kill millions of his own people. That’s the problem with extremism that allows for no dissent or compromise. It can only survive behind the point of a gun. And when it eventually and inevitably collapses, it’s overwhelmed by a flood of pent-up resentment that quickly carries society in the opposite direction.

Ultimately, extremism is counterproductive, and thus both revolutionary and counterrevolutionary at the same time.


Come on back in a few days for the final installment, entitled Chapter 36: Final Thoughts.

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