This Day In History: The Cultural Revolution Begins

Right, so it was forty years ago today that Mao launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

The gist: Mao Ze Dong, feeling the power he had gained over the first two decades of CCP control in China beginning to slip into the hands of others, began a purge of “bourgeois” from government and the rest of the country.

Despite having made a rather large flub a few years earlier (aka The Great Leap Forward), this is where Mao’s infamy lies. Even though it had a catchy title, the GLF just didn’t have the rabid fanaticism the the Cultural Revolution did. Mao (with the help of the Gang of Four – one of which being Mao’s wife) managed to mobilize the nation’s students into a crazy and often lethal group called The Red Guard. These guys ousted, criticized, and often tortured whomever they felt were standing in the way of the revolution. Labelled “bourgeois”, this is when the middle-class, limping for years, died.

The Cultural Revolution also, puntastically, removed most of China’s culture from the country – and indeed from the planet. Literature, temples, art, and basically anything else that might give China some sense of identity now, was considered “rightest” and unneeded under the new regime.

This continued until Mao’s death in 1976. A few years later Deng Xiao Ping returned from in-country exile, impossed on him during the CRL, took the reigns and began reforming China – it is largely due to him that China is where it is today. Good or bad, I think the world can agree that he was a shade better than his megalomaniacal predecessor.

Four decades on, the scars are still deep, and the middle-class has yet to fully recover. Though growing, well-educated free thinkers are still the exception, not the rule in most places throughout China.

And so yeah, that’s my brief “This Day In History” moment.

This post officially marks my breaking of 200 posts. 200 posts in a little over a year, not too shabby. If you’ve been along for the whole ride, thanks for reading… and if you’ve just got here… I swear, sometimes I’m entertaining.

I get a day off tomorrow (actually still have to work 2 hours tomorrow night, but) after working a week straight teaching each day… I’m tired as all hell, but somehow have been conned into heading downtown to meet Maggie and all the girls from her work for a night out at Noah’s (a nice bar in town). Though perhaps most people would jump at the opportunity to spend time with their beautiful girlfriend and her cute friends… I am very much not. I’m tired, they don’t speak English, the last time I went out with them was a clusterfeck of confusion that despite being sold to me as fun and dancing didn’t touch on either.

We’ll see if tonight fares better.

11 Responses

  1. Hi Ryan

    There was a report about it on BBC world today, but – surprise surprise!!! we lost the signal.

    I’ve had my own ‘Hundred Flowers’ campaign today and planted 100 petunias – aaaahhhh!

  2. Haha… it makes me wonder how much “selective history” we have in the West. I mean, do we (unbeknownst to the masses) edit our history so well that we’re really unclear as to the horrible things we’ve had done to us by our government, but still rah-rah the great things (in China’s case – paper), and cry about the bad (the whole Japanese thing)…

    It’s funny that I went 27 years without having any clear idea what the Cultural Revolution was, I feel ashamed that I was ignorant about it… but how does the average Chinese person feel when they think about their history and it’s just sorta this out-of-focus, full-of-holes image.

    Meh. That said, I’m not real clear on a lot of Canadian history – so perhaps I shouldn’t be too critical; though, Canadian history isn’t half as interesting, or half as lauded as Chinese history/culture…

    Again, meh.

  3. 1) I think every culture self-selects and edits their collective history. yah, even America. (shock! awe!) I’m so going to hell (aka Gitmo) for that sayin that….

    2) So, was it another “clusterfeck of confusion?”

    3) Canada has spectacular scenery, mountains, hockey, and pretty nice people. So it’s all good.

    Cheers Ryan! 😉


  4. @anonymous: Naw, we don’t really. I mean we sorta do but it mostly involves running away from Americans with guns, and beer. However, we don’t tout it either. I’ve certainly never bragged to anyone that Canada has a “nearly 300 year history!”

    And until this moment I had never bragged about Canadian inventions, but some of the finer are:
    The CPR Mannequin
    Electric Light Bulb (suck it T. Edison)
    Instant Mashed Potatoes
    Lawn Sprinklers
    Standard Time
    Trivial Pursuit
    and the Zipper…

    Basically, I hear day-in day-out how great China is from basically every Chinese person I meet… and I’ve just got one question – who you trying to convince?

  5. Hey Derek, thanks for the article – good read. As many of my students have been business people, I often hear about them travellig to Thailand, India and a collection of European countries that have interests in their collective businesses (making the trip a paid-for experience!).

    Just the other day I was teasing a student in an adult class I was substituting about being a tour-guide. I asked her if she made them all wear hats and follow a flag – she did.

    Sadly the end bit where the tourist from Shandong is talking about the Chao Phraya River in Thailand dividing Thailand and Vietnam sums up Chinese tourism. Like a kid that just got the keys to his parents’ car, they’re not sure where to go and they’re very likely going to look stupid or get hurt if they don’t take some time to de-ignorantize themselves.

    I don’t mean that to be a slight at the Chinese, they’ve been stuck indoors for the last … well… 3,000 years or so – it may not be their fault, but as much as Westerner tourists have quite jokingly realized that Chinese people don’t all sport the Manchu haircut and wear bamboo hats – the Chinese tourists are going to have to take babysteps in realizing that must places and cultures aren’t actually how they are often described in the media/textbooks here.

  6. Pingback: Mao And Red Guards Chinese

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