Cultural revolution

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Words of Chairman Mao Tsetung in various Chinese languages
Slogans on the outer wall of Fudan University in the spring of 1976: "Blood and life in defense of the Central Committee, blood and life in defense of Mao"

The Chinese Cultural Revolution ( Chinese  無產階級文化大革命  /  无产阶级文化大革命 , Pinyin wúchǎnjiējí Wenhua dàgémìng,  - "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution" or short 文革 Wenge ) was a 1966 by Mao Zedong triggered political campaign in the People's Republic of China continued, the number of years and set the country back socially and economically. Mao's personality cult was established at this time. With the ostensible objective of removing capitalist, bourgeois and traditionalist infiltration of society through a continuation of the class struggle , the movement was accompanied by massive human rights violations and political murders at the highest level; Among other things, Mao's designated successors Liu Shaoqi and Lin Biao, who had fallen out of favor, died .

There is no exact number of people killed by the Cultural Revolution. The available estimates (partly politically motivated) vary widely and range between hundreds of thousands and 20 million deaths across China. Massacres such as the Guangxi massacre (and cannibalism ), the cleansing of Inner Mongolia , the Guangdong massacre , the Zhao Jianmin espionage case , the Daoxian massacre , the Shadian incident , and the Red August of Beijing took place during the Cultural Revolution. In addition, many millions of people have been subjected to torture and other physical and psychological abuse, have been arrested and ended up in prisons and labor camps. An even larger number were exiled to remote areas of the country. From the Red August of Beijing, the movement to destroy the " Four Elders " was carried out. During the Cultural Revolution, the Banqiao Dam and other 61 dams in Henan Province collapsed in 1975 and became one of the greatest technological disasters in history. While Mao declared the Cultural Revolution to be over in 1969 after fundamental (but ultimately not permanent) upheavals in society and government, its end is tied to Lin's death in 1971 or Mao's death in 1976. In October 1976 the " Gang of Four " was arrested and the cultural revolution put to an end.

The following Chinese governments, especially in the assessment by Deng Xiaoping , have seen the Cultural Revolution since 1981 as a grave mistake and the greatest setback in the country's history, but hardly taken into account in the culture of remembrance apart from the official presentation from 1981. In the late 1970s, Deng Xiaoping launched the Boluan Fanzheng program to correct the mistakes of the Cultural Revolution and put the country back in order. In December 1978, Deng became the new supreme leader of China and started the " reform and opening up ", which ushered in a new phase for China. But Mao's responsibility is viewed as minor and isolated from his other vaunted activities and personality cult.


Initially, the Cultural Revolution was welcomed by large sections of the population as a movement to eliminate grievances in the state and society. Instead of the renewal within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) desired by politicians like Liu Shaoqi, Mao started a mass movement to destroy the old CCP. Most of the old cadres have been removed from office. Only 28% of the Politburo and 34% of the Central Committee members and 29% of the provincial secretaries were able to hold onto their positions until the end of 1966.

The Cultural Revolution consisted of a series of mass campaigns that followed each other and in some cases contradicted each other. Originally the Cultural Revolution was supposed to last only six months, then it was extended for ten years until Mao's death. At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, Mao was still able to inspire significant parts of the population for the Cultural Revolution, but the mass movements ordered in recent years have become listlessly held compulsory rituals.

The Cultural Revolution is often divided into three phases: the Red Guard period (May 1966 to 1968), the Lin Biao period (1968 to August 1971), and the Zhou Enlai period (August 1971 to October 1976).

Unlike the Great Leap Forward Campaign , the economy and agriculture were largely excluded from the Cultural Revolution. One had learned that production had to continue as undisturbed as possible. The campaigns focused on politics, culture, public opinion, schools and universities, but there the Cultural Revolution initially raged with sometimes limitless cruelty. Several professors were beaten to death. The universities ceased their work at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, and normal university operations, with entrance and final exams and qualified certificates, were only reintroduced in 1978. Numerous cultural monuments were destroyed by revolutionaries.

There was also this division of labor between the cultural revolution and production among the leading politicians. In charge of the Cultural Revolution, under Mao's direction, were politicians like Jiang Qing and Lin Biao , and the economy, which Mao understood little about and left to others, was politicians like Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping .

Concept and term

Mao and Khrushchev (1958)

In the 1960s, according to Mao, China, like the USSR before it , was on the path of revisionism . In Mao's opinion, a new class of bureaucrats had taken power in the USSR, set apart from the masses of the population. Mao pointed out that class struggles should be the guiding principle of politics and that class struggle should be carried out “daily, monthly and yearly”. In China, however, Mao saw a freeze-up with a class of bureaucrats cementing their position apart from the masses.

Therefore Mao called for a new socialist revolution in the area of ​​the political, social and cultural superstructure - the cultural revolution. The reason for the proclamation of the Cultural Revolution was not just the overthrow of some politicians from the “pragmatic line” such as Liu Shaoqi or Deng Xiaoping. Their disempowerment was already done at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in May 1966, when a large majority in the new Politburo opposed them. They were able to continue working in economic and daily politics, but they had lost their support in the Politburo. Mao had a bigger social goal in mind. The whole of society and the party should be renewed in a proletarian way and a further step towards ideal socialism should be taken.

In contrast to the ideas of the politicians around Liu Shaoqi, Mao was keen that the necessary renewals should not be brought about within and by the Communist Party, but rather by the masses of the people. He was of the opinion that relying on the onslaught of the popular masses would bring about a change in the overall social situation and thus create a true socialist society. Hence the expression Maos: "With chaos on earth one achieves great order in the country".

Mao hoped to become the father and leader of the world socialist revolution through the Cultural Revolution and therefore regarded the Cultural Revolution as a decisive event in human history . In 1967 he wrote in the magazine Rote Fahne :

“The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution is a revolution that has gripped people's souls. It meets the fundamental position of people, determines their worldview, determines the path they have already taken or will take and covers the entire history of the revolution in China. This is the greatest revolution in society that has never been seen in human history. It will educate a whole generation of staunch communists. "

Combined with the daily personality cult around Mao, Mao's proclamation in the direction of the Chinese youth announced that the Cultural Revolution would open a new chapter in the history of mankind towards an ideal world, the movement of enthusiasm, fanaticism as well as brutality, hatred and anger against the alleged enemies .

An essential feature of the Cultural Revolution was its indeterminacy. The aim was to expose “capitalist rulers” and “revisionists” who went the “wrong way”, but nowhere was it specified what these terms meant. At the same time, the judgments made were absolute. Everything was wrong with a person who was accused of being on the wrong track, and everything was right with a person who was "on the right track". This often resulted in senseless brutality against old, deserving comrades and fighters in the civil war , who allegedly had "left the right path". Violent conflict was not uncommon even between the drivers of the Cultural Revolution.

Cultural life and higher education almost came to a standstill. The universities did not hold normal education from 1966 to 1978. Avoiding the emergence of a new class of education and promoting the class struggle seemed more important than imparting knowledge.

By excluding the economy from the Cultural Revolution, Deng Xiaoping, who was attacked as a particularly evil "revisionist" during the Cultural Revolution, could be politically active for five years of the ten years of the Cultural Revolution, from 1966 to 1968 as general secretary of the party and from 1973 to 1976 as deputy and later successor to Zhou Enlai. On the other hand, access in the area of ​​culture was extensive. Jiang Qing, for example, arbitrarily selected works in which proletarian heroes were presented with their heroic deeds as exemplary. The performance of traditional operas was banned.

Shortly before his death, Mao received his successor Hua Guofeng and his most important comrades-in-arms for the Cultural Revolution, the later gang of four Wang Hongwen , Zhang Chunqiao , Jiang Qing and Yao Wenyuan , and gave the following verdict on his life's work:

“There is an old saying in China: Only when the coffin is closed can a judgment be made on it. It's about time for me, now you can give a rating. I can look back on two accomplishments in my life. I fought Chiang Kai-shek for decades and drove him to some islands. After an eight year war I sent the Japanese home. Finally I got to Beijing, right into the Forbidden City. […] As you know, the other accomplishment is the Cultural Revolution. Only a few support them, many are against them. "

Four weeks after Mao's death, Wang Hongwen, Zhang Chunqiao, Jiang Qing, and Yao Wenyuan were arrested as a gang of four , and Deng Xiaoping was reinstated in his previous offices a year after Mao's death. The Cultural Revolution, for which Mao had fought for ten years, was over.


Since the founding of the People's Republic of China, the CCP has essentially faced two groups with widely divergent positions. Mao emphasized that even after the victory in the civil war, the class struggle had not ceased and that the revolutionary consciousness of the masses had to be promoted. Liu's politicians focused on building up the country quickly and achieving high economic growth.

At the 8th Congress of the Communist Party of China (1956) the leadership of China was reorganized. After Mao, who remained number one in the political hierarchy as the party chairman, Liu Shaoqi became number two. As president , he was officially installed as Mao's successor. Deng Xiaoping also received an important position in the party as general secretary . The changes were in line with Mao's ideas, who wanted to withdraw from day-to-day politics and work more on the big lines. At Mao's suggestion, the Central Committee was divided into two fronts. On the first front were Liu Shaoqi, Zhou Enlai, Zhu De, Chen Yun, and Deng Xiaoping. Mao officially resigned to the second front, but was still active on the first front. Deng later made the following statement about his relationship with Mao at the time:

"In general, it can be said that Mao Zedong's leadership was correct until 1957, but from that point on, mistakes increased."

After 1957 Mao developed the “left-wing theory of the class struggle”, which took up more and more space in the party. It shows that in China a new exploiting class is developing on a “political and ideological level”. According to Mao, this new exploiting class included functionaries, administrators, technicians, intellectuals, etc., who had lost “contact with the masses”.

After the catastrophe of the great leap forward, the dispute over direction intensified. The method of economic incentives that Liu used to revive the economy was branded as revisionist by Mao. Although the economy recovered and the supply situation improved, the strong growth was achieved through the reintroduction of piecework wages , bonus systems and short-time working , among other things . At the same time, many of the businesses, health and educational institutions set up in the country during the Great Leap forward were closed. The urban-rural divide, which fell during the Great Leap , rose sharply again. With the influx of large numbers of rural residents, unemployment rose in the cities and social tensions arose between the permanent workers in the industrial plants and those who could be laid off at any time.

But there were other significant differences between Liu's and Mao's conceptions.

Disagreement between Mao and Liu

Liu described the position of the party and of individual party members as follows:

  1. When the Communist Party came to power, the class struggle in China ended. The Communist Party is no longer a class party, but a party of the whole people. If we are still talking about classes, they can coexist in harmony.
  2. The party members are obliged to obey the party unconditionally.
  3. The individual can join the party for the sake of a career.
  4. Inner party peace is a duty.
  5. The popular masses are backward and must be led by the party.
  6. The collective interests should be combined as fruitfully as possible with the personal interests of the individual.

Liu presented his views in his book On Self-Cultivation by a Communist Party Member , which by 1962 had a circulation of twenty million copies.

Mao's idea of ​​the party and society was different:

  1. Readiness for class struggle in the new China too
  2. flexible handling of party decisions
  3. Believe in the popular masses
  4. Self-motivated revolution
  5. permanent readiness for internal party dispute
  6. Waiver of any personal advantage

Liu was an apostle of the organization, for whom the path to socialism did not lead through mass movements, but through a well-organized and practically credible communist elite party. Mao was an apostle of the masses, without whose control the party would take the revisionist path.

In the economic field, Mao called for a planned economy , while Liu wanted more of a market economy . Only the strategic key positions should be strictly planned.

Prehistory of the Cultural Revolution

Mao and Deng in Moscow (1957)

In the first half of the 1950s, the old feudalist China was to be converted into a socialist country. Industry and craft businesses were gradually nationalized. The question now was how to proceed.

From 1956 Mao began to criticize the socialist building model of the Soviet Union and became increasingly dissatisfied with the work of the party committee of the "first front" (especially Liu and Deng). Mao wanted to prevent the Soviet pattern of “peaceful evolution” (of agricultural relations and industry) from spreading to China after the end of the class struggle. In the fall of 1957, during the 3rd plenary session of the 8th CPC Central Committee, Mao proclaimed: "The contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, between the socialist and the capitalist path, is undoubtedly the main contradiction in the society of our country at the moment."

In 1957, following the campaign Let 100 flowers bloom, the “fight against the right wing” was launched. As part of this campaign, over 500,000 people were assigned to the right wing, to which there are antagonistic, irreconcilable contradictions.

After the Great Leap Disaster , the political line around President Liu Shaoqi became predominant. Liu achieved much-needed economic growth through his politics . The creation of a new person with socialist consciousness , as Mao wished, fell behind. However, Mao remained the top political leader within the party with high ideological authority. His views on socialism also represented the party line, even if the day-to-day politics were then clearly different. Mao is now feared that the Chinese socialist revolution would result in the end nothing more than the old class of landowners and the urban bourgeoisie to be replaced by a new exploiting class, the functionaries of the Communist Party and government bureaucracy. Mao strived for a society with a low division of labor , self-sufficiency, unified incomes with a bridging of social differences. It was a variant of Mao's attempt to build people's communes in a big leap forward .

To rekindle the revolutionary vigor, Mao relied on mass campaigns. In 1962, for example, the campaigns on “socialist education”, “educating millions of followers of the proletarian revolution” and “learning from the people 's liberation army ” were launched.

In 1962 Mao himself identified the opponents of socialist society in the Communist Party by criticizing those party officials who wanted to go the "capitalist" path. He denounced the state and party bureaucracy as a new class that differed from the normal citizens in the privileges granted by the party - classified according to exact differences in rank. With his criticism of the "privileged functionaries" Mao also received approval within the party. At the 10th plenary session of the 8th CPC Central Committee in September 1962, Mao's views on the class struggle were adopted by the party. They said that the class struggle prevailed throughout the transition from capitalism to communism. Socialist upbringing must therefore follow the guiding principle of expanding the class concept.

At the meeting of the CCP Central Committee in February 1963, complaints were again raised that there was a "privileged class" and a "bureaucratic class" within the CCP. Senior cadres were called "capitalist elements" and Mao issued the slogan: " Master every task with the class struggle ".

In July 1964, at Mao Zedong's request, a small committee was set up to prepare a cultural revolution: the so-called group of five . The committee included Peng Zhen (Beijing Mayor, member of the party secretariat), Lu Dingyi (party propaganda chief), Kang Sheng (party deputy secretary), Zhou Yang (deputy propaganda chief) and Wu Lengxi (head of the Xinhua News Agency ). Of these five people, however, with Kang Sheng, only one can be considered a close ally of Mao, and the ideas of a cultural revolution were very unclear and varied. Under the Cultural Revolution, politicians like Peng Zhen had more of a CCP-led review of the administration and party for corruption and nepotism in mind, and not a mass movement.

In 1965, Mao and the CCP Central Committee issued a critical assessment of the country's situation. According to this, a third of political power is already no longer in the hands of the CCP, Marxists and workers have lost their influence in the management levels of the companies, schools are controlled by the bourgeoisie and intellectuals, and scholars and artists are on the verge of revisionism. In the country, there were “working class bloodsucking” bureaucrats and in the party “those in power who have taken the capitalist path”. So while the Liu government continued to pursue its market- and performance-oriented economic policy , Mao, the legendary party leader and subject of the personality cult, put the population in a position against substantial sections of the communist party.

Indeed, Mao had strong arguments for calling for a new class struggle of the popular masses against his oppressors. At the beginning of the People's Republic, class relations in the countryside had been turned upside down. The new leading class were the “poor farmers”. Behind them came the "middle farmers". Only these two classes had a say in the village. The former “rich farmers” were usually assigned poorer soils, while the former larger landowners could be happy if they were allowed to survive at all with poor soils. In any case, they were stigmatized as black elements.

When Mao compared the situation in the mid-1960s with that at the beginning of the People's Republic, he saw that class relations had reversed again. A new class of rich farmers and rich traders had emerged. Not only did the income from good performance remain with the individual, good performance was also strongly supported by the state. Families who were able to ramp up their production were rewarded with additional government supplies and expanded credit opportunities. In addition, the privately cultivated area was expanded far beyond the five percent actually specified. A successful family could increase their cultivated area, employ poor farmers as farm laborers and one or the other family member went into the middleman to sell their own and the products of other farmers in the village on free markets. The rich farmers and traders were supported by the local cadres, who offered further support from the state and administration in return for “reasonable fees”. Mao spoke of the corruption of the local cadre by the rural bourgeoisie. The cadres were able to take advantage of the fact that in the young People's Republic there were hardly any ordinances or laws by which they should have acted. There was much truth in the saying of the old empire , that of the emperor power to the village of hedge end. What was expected from the squad was acceptance by their direct boss and economic success. In addition, he was able to play himself as the new village emperor.

On the eve of the Cultural Revolution, the local party, administrative cadres and the wealthy section of the peasantry had come together to form a close community of interests that had set itself apart from the rest of the peasantry, gained mutual advantages and ruled the country.

Mao, who emphasized that so far all peasant uprisings in the Chinese past had broken with the bureaucratic tradition of long Chinese history, had never shared the optimism of other Chinese politicians that with the elimination of the rich landowners and the takeover of a communist government the problem of the Class struggle is over. Mao saw it as only normal that after fifteen years without a class struggle a new ruling class had emerged and demanded that the masses should oppose this newly established class structure while there was still time, even if members of this new ruling class were Communist Party officials be. On the contrary, precisely because essential parts of the communist cadres are part of the new exploiting class, the party can no longer lead the class struggle alone. Without a new class struggle of the popular masses, according to Mao, China will slowly but surely return to the long history of the old class and exploitative structure.

In September 1965, Mao proposed that the class struggle be intensified again. The Politburo rejected this application. Mao realized that he currently had no further options in Beijing against the internal party opposition around Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping and the Beijing City Committee under Peng Zhen . He then traveled to Shanghai, South and East China and, with the support of the Shanghai City Committee, started a journalistic campaign against the intellectual opposition. He wanted to create a climate in which he got behind him the majority of the Politburo, who honored him as a politician with great merits, but did not want to exchange the course of the "regulated market economy" Lius for new mass campaigns. Therefore, Mao did not attack Liu directly at first, but referred to what he said was a new exploiting class that had to be eliminated.


German edition of the Mao Bible from 1972
Practical art with Mao portraits, 1960s

Mao moves to Shanghai

Before the Cultural Revolution, Mao was very weak in power politics. His views did not have a majority in the Politburo, and the local party leadership in Beijing had sidelined him in Beijing. His articles and appeals were printed in Shanghai and in the army newspaper, but not in the Beijing media. Mao had therefore left Beijing and was mainly in southern China. Despite this neutralization by the state apparatus, Mao was still the object of the personality cult, which Lin Biao in particular continued to pursue. As a result, Mao continued to be revered as the leading figure of the new China by the broad masses of the population and also by essential sections of the party.

Mao is regaining power in Beijing

Mao's strategy of overthrowing the previous rulers consisted of three parts. At first the danger of counter-revolution was evoked, with major Beijing politicians as particularly dangerous figures. After these dangerous figures spread coup plans, the military intervened and occupied Beijing. The military, with Lin Biao loyal to Mao as commanding officer, took on the role of law enforcement. With the help of the military, the mass media that continued to report bad coup plans of the “right-wing elements” could be brought into line in Mao's sense. Mao brought his later Red Guards into position and could either intimidate his critics with the military and the Red Guards or imprison them immediately. On July 18 and 19, 1966, soldiers cordoned off the buildings of the CCP Central Committee and the residential area of ​​the senior leadership. Two weeks later, Mao called the 11th Central Committee plenary session. Many regular members were already being persecuted at this point and could no longer attend the meetings, so that of the 173 members of the Central Committee only 80 were present. Mao had the places of the Central Committee members not present fill up with young rebels. This gave Mao the Central Committee he liked in Beijing, which was ruled by his military. The events up to the convening of the Central Committee in August 1966 are detailed below.

Mao's first step was to criticize Wu Han , Vice Mayor of Beijing. Wu Han was one of the senior officials in Beijing who blocked Mao's political activities in Beijing. Mao spoke of the "Independent Kingdom of Beijing," which is so dense that no mist or water droplets can penetrate. Wu Han had previously been a university professor and made a name for himself as the author of two historical plays. In 1961 his play Hai Rui Is Relieved of His Office premiered. Based on this piece, Wu Han should now be presented in public and overthrown.

On November 10th, Wu Han was severely attacked in the Shanghai newspaper Wenhui Bao . Officially, editor Yao Wenyuan was the author, but the article was written by Mao himself. Wu Han was charged with grave ideological errors. He propagated a feudal personality and ignored the class struggle of the people against the rulers. In late December, the comment was also printed in the Beijing Ribao newspaper , the Jiefangjun Bao army newspaper and the People's Newspaper . According to the rulers in Beijing - Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping and Peng Zhen - the entire dispute in the cultural sector should be understood as a purely academic debate, as a variant of the "competition of a hundred schools ". Mao, however, was interested in something completely different: the political opponent was to be discredited personally and the danger of counterrevolution painted on the wall. It was the first step in preparation for Mao's takeover with the help of the military.

In addition to the public theatrical thunder around Wu Han, a central event took place rather in secret. Luo Ruiqing, the general secretary of the military commission, was ousted. Luo Ruiqing was a close confidante of Deng and used as a counterweight to Lin Biao, the representative of the left to Mao. At the beginning of December 1965 he was called to a meeting in Shanghai. He arrived in Shanghai on December 8th, was immediately arrested by Lin Biao and taken to an undisclosed location. It took Luo seven days to sign the " self-criticism " given to him . As a “counter-revolutionary”, Luo was dismissed from all his offices, and Lin Biao, as Mao's representative, had no one next to him. Mao was in control of the military.

In February 1966 the rumor was spread that Peng Zhen, Lu Dingyi and other officials were planning a coup d'état against Mao, so the Beijing authorities had put the Beijing military on alert. Defense Minister Lin Biao even claimed that Deng Xiaoping himself was involved in the conspiracy and spoke of the "February Mutiny". The Red Guards appeared and demanded the death penalty for the alleged coup plotters. Apparently soothingly, Mao poured fuel on the fire: “Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping always worked in public and not in secret. You are different from Peng Zhen. "

In March 1966 the time had come. Allegedly to secure the state, 33,000 men of the 38th Army marched into Beijing. The military leadership took over control of the state as a "protecting power", the Beijing city leadership was disempowered. Mao brought the mass media into line, and the opposition were threatened with personal consequences. The political weights had turned, Mao's political opponents could no longer reach the public and were helplessly exposed to Mao's public attacks.

Removal of Mao's critics from the Politburo

In May 1966, Mao launched an open attack. At the "expanded conference of the Politburo" four Politburo and seven of the thirteen members of the Secretariat, all of whom belonged to the liuist wing, were dismissed. Among them were Beijing Mayor Peng Zhen and People's Liberation Army Chief of Staff Luo Ruiqing , Lin Biao's rival. Mao had chosen a Politburo that he liked . On the one hand there was the nimbus of Mao, on the other hand the threat of personal consequences.

At the same meeting the group for the cultural revolution at the Central Committee was founded under the leadership of the Maoists Jiang Qing, Chen Boda , Zhang Chunqiao and Kang Sheng and the old revolutionary committee was abolished.

The “May 16 Communication” published by the Politburo took stock. It has been argued that leadership in various fields such as science, education, literature, the arts, and news and publications is no longer in the hands of the proletarian class. The members of the intellectual opposition were declared to be a “bunch of anti-communist, anti-popular counter-revolutionaries” with whom one had to wage a “life and death struggle”. The “representatives of capital” had crept into the party, the government and the army and formed a faction of rulers within the party who followed the capitalist path. They would have contaminated newspapers, radio programs, magazines, books, teaching materials, speeches, literary works, films, operas, plays, art, music and dance with their capitalist ideas, which is why such capitalist thoughts are exposed and destroyed in all areas of intellectual and political life must. In the first period, the victims of the Cultural Revolution were mostly intellectuals.

Furthermore, it was found that a large part of the leading cadres at all levels of administration represented capitalist interests and acted against party and socialism. They were declared to be counter-revolutionary, revisionist elements.

Calls for mass movements by the party were a way of expressing the party's political line in China. With the "May 16 announcements" Mao called on the population to uncover and eradicate grievances within the party and society. Then real proletarian successor organizations should be built up.

The expansion of the class struggle aroused fear and rejection on the one hand, but on the other hand many young people followed this call for a socialist revolution in the area of ​​the political superstructure of China, the call for a cultural revolution.

About this period, which was shaped by the concentration of power on and the personality cult around Mao, Deng Xiaoping later explained:

“The structure is the decisive factor. The structure at the time was just like that. At that time, merits were awarded to a single person. We actually did not contradict some issues and should therefore bear part of the responsibility. [...] Of course, under the conditions at the time, it was really difficult to resist. "

Demotion of Liu Shaoqi to the Central Committee

Liu Shaoqi

Although there have always been differences of opinion between the political leaders, the people and party members alike were presented with an image of the peaceful and conflict-free CCP until 1966. When Mao brought the ideological dispute with official President Liu Shaoqi to the public, Liu had nothing to counter it. Mao dominated the media. Liu had no opportunity to express his opinion or defend himself in the media or in front of the population. Mao, on the other hand, could always publish his new instructions on how to fight Liu. In the end, Liu was insulted by party members as well as by the population as the "top party ruler who went the capitalist path". In the newly elected Politburo, Liu Shaoqi fell from 2nd to 8th place in the hierarchy. The new number two became Defense Minister Lin Biao. The Maoists now had nine of the eleven seats in the new standing committee. The dispute over the direction between Liu and Mao was thus decided.

In August 1966, Mao himself wrote a wall newspaper called Bombing Civic Headquarters , in which he took a stand against Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping.

First phase

The initiators of the Cultural Revolution emphasized that the incipient riot among the schoolchildren and students had started spontaneously, without any outside influence. From today's perspective, however, this is highly unlikely. It is inconceivable for China at the time that students would have organized themselves and raised themselves against their teachers without the guidance of significant external forces. Today it is assumed that the Cultural Revolution Committee sent the appropriate people to schools and universities to activate and organize schoolchildren and students according to the new political line, the guidelines of the cult Mao.

Riots in Beijing's schools and universities

On May 25, 1966, the first wall newspaper (大字报, dàzibào, lit. “the large sign poster”) appeared at Peking University . The poster was written by Nie Yuanzi , the party secretary of the Philosophy Institute. She was encouraged to do so by Kang Sheng, a member of the Cultural Revolution group at the Central Committee. Nie Yuanzi accused the university rector, Lu Ping, and some of his colleagues of sabotaging the Cultural Revolution. On June 1, the content of the poster was published in a form modified personally by Mao on the radio and on June 2 in the party organ Renmin Ribao . Among other things, the poster demanded "to hold up the big red flag of Mao Zedong thinking, to unite around the party and Chairman Mao and [...] to destroy all revisionist subversion plans".

As a result, groups of high school students and students formed at the 55 higher education institutions in Beijing. Posters similar to Nie Yuanzi's were posted in all schools in the city. One of these posters was signed " Red Guard ". The name later became popular everywhere, although rebel groups with all sorts of names formed in the early stages of the Cultural Revolution. These groups were by no means homogeneous. The reasons why students joined the groups ranged from belief in the revolutionary ideals propagated by Mao to academic or social interests to the simple "lust for rebellion" against unloved teachers. About 6,000 students and teachers who had been forcibly sent to the countryside the year before streamed back to Beijing University and described their depressing situation. The university turned into a political fair with dozens of different groups.

The party leadership around Liu Shaoqi tried to steer the riot in order and, above all, to hide it from the public, and from June 5 sent party groups to the Red Guards to work with them. The primary goal was to protect the party apparatus and its privileged members who wanted to attack Mao from the Red Guards. The rebel groups should also be isolated from one another, but this did not succeed. The party's working groups were very unpopular with the rebels and were driven out of some Beijing universities just a few days later. Nevertheless, the energies were directed towards intellectuals and fellow students with negative class backgrounds. On June 18, at the first " fight and criticism meeting ", around 60 senior university teachers were humiliated by blows, kicks and other physical violence and then driven through the streets with large self-accusatory posters. The action was soon ended by the party's working groups and condemned by both the Mao faction and the Liu faction within the party. A hunt for the supposed enemies of the development of the working class began throughout the country. In light of the rebellion in universities and schools, the university entrance exams were suspended on June 18.

Those students who officially came from “revolutionary” backgrounds, that is, who were privileged in the existing society, were suddenly interested in the preservation of the existing system and therefore became conservative forces in the cultural revolution. In contrast, students with fewer privileges, because they were z. B. came from a previous landowning family, often very radical, because they expected advantages for their future advancement.

Time of the Red Guards

Damaged frieze, Suzhou

The events before the Cultural Revolution, such as education for the class struggle, the glorification of a revolutionary ideal, the personality cult around Mao, the atmosphere in schools and universities as well as the belief that we were working on a decisive action for world history, made many pupils and students receptive to the calls for revolution and the building of a “new world”. On May 29, 1966, the first group of the Red Guards was formed at Qinghua University , and they quickly expanded. In a letter to the Red Guards of Qinghua University High School, Mao wrote that "it is justified to rebel against the reactionary elements" and that he supports the movement. The letter was published immediately. Red guards then formed across the country. This is seen as the birth of the Red Guards. The "Oath of the Red Guards" read:

“We, the Red Guards, stand up for the defense of the red leadership. The party and Chairman Mao are our protectors. The liberation of all humanity is our undeniable duty. The Mao Zedong ideas are our top priority. We swear that we are determined to shed our last drops of blood for the protection of the party and the great leader Mao Zedong. "

The motive for the movement of the Red Guards initially lay primarily in the “destruction of the four relics” (so-called old thoughts, old culture, old customs and old habits), but they quickly expanded their actions. With encouragement from Lin Biao and Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, the Red Guards went public across the country to post wall newspapers, distribute leaflets, and give speeches. The military helped with transport, accommodation and food, the use of the train was free for the Red Guards, there were special trips to major events and the state gave the Red Guards grants for their subsistence. The people who were declared class enemies by the Red Guards were fought, beaten, ridiculed and their property confiscated. Items that the Red Guards viewed as feudal, capitalist, or revisionist were destroyed. By the end of September 1966, over 30,000 households in Beijing had been searched by the Red Guards and "cleaned" of books, pictures, unproletarian clothing, false dishes and lipstick.

Such visits could also be completely different. Jung Chang reports in her book "Wild Swans" how her group of the Red Guards visited a woman to whom a neighbor had attached a portrait of the anti-communist and former military dictator Chiang Kai-shek in her apartment. Jung Chang writes about the "interrogation":

“Then I saw the accused woman. She was around forty and knelt naked to the waist. ... The flesh on her back was split open, she was covered with wounds and blood stains. ... I couldn't stand the sight and quickly turned away. But I was even more shocked when I saw who was torturing her - a fifteen-year-old boy from my school whom I had previously liked quite well. He was lounging in an armchair with a leather belt in his right hand and carelessly playing with the brass buckle. 'Tell the truth, otherwise I'll hit you again,' he threatened in a tone in which he could have said: 'It's really cozy here.' "

Jung Chang's interpretation of these events is that the generation of the Red Guards was brought up on the principle of judging right and wrong according to the principles of class struggle and showing no mercy towards the class enemy.

Mao's statement, “With chaos on earth, order is achieved in the country” prompted the Red Guards to make their combat mission even more radical. The Red Guards did not tolerate dissenting. Often they did not even stop at their own families. The constantly repeated slogan "Love for mother and father is not like love for Mao Zedong" prompted countless Red Guards to denounce their parents as "counter-revolutionaries" - just as the Cultural Revolution was a prime time of denunciation .

However, since it was not specified who to fight and which opinion was the wrong one, factions quickly formed within the Red Guards and beat each other up.

Mao Zedong first met with the Red Guards on August 18, 1966 in Tian'anmen Square . Since then, up to the end of November, he has welcomed over eleven million teachers, students and middle school students from across the country eight times. The march of millions of Red Guards in the autumn of 1966, however, masked the fact that the Red Guards movement split up and lost its rebellious power. The movement originally came from the Beijing universities and the students came, due to the difficult entrance exams, preferably from the urban middle class and upper management families. The students let Mao stimulate them for a short time, but did not forget that they actually wanted to make a career in the existing system, and as students at Beijing University they had the best starting conditions. Radically outwardly, their representatives soon made contact with the university leadership, allegedly to control them. Towards the end of the year balance and compromise between the representatives of the students and the old authorities had progressed so far that the term “Red Guard” no longer had any revolutionary content. The situation was different for those who came back to Beijing after being deported to the countryside. After the end of the riot, they faced another deportation to the countryside. From the autumn of 1966, the uprising was carried on and expanded by another group, and the time of the "revolutionary rebels" began.

Resistance of the party

From March 1966, Mao, with the help of the military, had razed one bastion of his party opponents in Beijing after another. In August 1966 he had ousted his direct opponent Liu Shaoqi and the Red Guards raged undisturbed on the streets of Beijing and made life difficult for "revisionists". Many cadres were insulted, publicly humiliated or even beaten.

But despite Mao's apparent triumph over cadres who “were on the wrong track”, outside Beijing things were different. Since the great decentralization at the end of the 1950s, the regions had received a considerable increase in competencies, which the provincial governors were now playing to their advantage. Even at the 11th plenary session in August 1966, Mao was in trouble when he said: "Now you agree, but what will you do when you return?"

Sichuan with its 100 million inhabitants consistently withdrew from Maoist influence. Actions by the leftist forces were immediately stopped, and reinforcements that Jiang Qing wanted to bring in were intercepted at the train stations and arrested. Other provinces followed. As a rule, the local party leaders had no interest in riot and “cultural revolution”. Calls from Beijing headquarters just weren't passed on. In September and October 1966, the Red Guards swarmed to the provinces as messengers, especially to bring the new political line of uprising against "capitalist-friendly elements" closer to the lower cadres.

However, inciting the Red Guards mostly failed to achieve its goal. The police and coercive apparatus stood behind the party authorities, the military commanders wanted just as little to know about the riot, and the Red Guards did not have the same clout in the foreign environment as in their home towns. In addition, there was a detailed personnel file for each cadre and with the many political pans there would have been statements with which one could have presented him as a “capitalist-friendly element” in a public show trial. Mao could rant a lot about these "independent empires"; in the provinces, with the Red Guards and the lower local cadres, he could not stand up against the local leadership. However, the “losers” of the current liuistic order increasingly gathered around the Red Guards. A new potential for turmoil arose. The time of the revolutionary rebels began.

Revolutionary rebels

In the place of the students, who, despite all the turmoil, were not tinkering with an overthrow but with their careers, in the course of 1966 other groups emerged that were on the losing side of developments in recent years.

On the one hand, there were the “labor service providers”, mostly young Chinese, who had been forcibly relocated from the cities to the countryside. The background was the problem that the urban population to be supplied by the farmers grew rapidly since the founding of the People's Republic, faster than the employment opportunities. From the beginning of the 1960s, workers and school leavers who could not find employment were forcibly relocated to the countryside. A proverb read: “The best go to university, the good go to the factory or office, the rest is scrap and is deported to the countryside.” It was a bad thing for those affected, because in the country they usually lived isolated from the environment. As arrogant townspeople, they were often little respected by the farmers and the local cadres feared competition. In addition, they were often accused of working less than the trained farmers, but of eating the same amount. The following letter of complaint provides a clear example:

“We have become slave labor. The environment consists of a swampy wasteland, which is interspersed with sandbanks. Our dwellings are the inhospitable buildings of a state farm called the army base. There are no opportunities for further training, even newspapers are hardly available. Instead of cash, there are only vouchers that can be exchanged for food. Those who complain are threatened with a labor camp. We all do the hardest physical work, there is a rest day only every ten days. Anyone who needs to see a doctor has to walk many kilometers over sandy and swampy terrain. Anyone who should become seriously ill has little chance of survival. "

This represented the reality of life for people who had been forced to move, who knew how permanent workers in state-owned companies were socially protected and courted.

Another group of revolutionary rebels were the "contract workers". The permanent workers in the state-owned companies had both good pay and stable social security (“iron rice bowl”). In order to relieve the companies financially, it was decided after the failure of the "big leap forward" that the companies should reduce the number of permanent workers by thirty percent and replace them with contract workers. The contract workers had a significantly lower salary, no social benefits and could be fired at any time. If a permanent worker fell ill, he received treatment and continued to receive his salary indefinitely. However, if a contract worker became seriously ill, he was simply fired without compensation. If he did not have city resident status, he was deported back to his home village.

Young workers were also among the losers. Many of them were only employed as contract workers or, if they could not find work, sent straight to the country. Few had a chance of advancement.

In the countryside it was the newly impoverished “poor peasants” who joined the cultural revolutionary organizations. The resolutions of 1962 created a new layer of rich farmers, traders and functionaries in the country, who supported each other partly legally and partly illegally, while other farmers fell into day labor. Mao spoke of the corruption of the cadres by a new rural bourgeoisie.

Finally there was the group of demobilized soldiers. Most of them were politically trained but not professionally prepared for a civil profession and found a job very difficult.

Unlike the Red Guards, who, with a career in mind, did not want any fundamental change and had much to lose themselves, the groups above had a different point of view. They interpreted the Mao slogan that destruction must come before construction, and also the slogan “rebellion is reasonable” according to the reality of their lives, but no longer according to Mao's ideas, who only wanted to bring the socially detached leadership organs closer to the masses. The revolutionary rebels saw themselves treated unfairly, demanded a general "equality" and referred to Mao's idea of ​​grassroots democratic communes. Mao's slogan, "Rebellion is sensible!", However, did not refer to the economic sphere. At the beginning of August 1966, at the 11th plenum of the Central Committee, Mao supported the activities of the Red Guards. “You are too impatient! You claim the situation is out of control. But the masses are already on the right track. Just let people criticize for a few months and then we can take stock. ”However, when Shanghai labor rebels brought production to a standstill in September 1966, Chen Boda, chairman of the KRG (Politburo Cultural Revolutionary Group), sent a telegram stating:“ As Worker your main job is to work. [...] Therefore, you have to return to your workplace. ”In November the Beijing People's Daily made it clear:“ It is possible to close schools to carry out the Cultural Revolution, but factories, municipalities and offices are not allowed to cease operations [ …] The discipline of work must be strictly adhered to. ”In 1966 the labor rebels still adhered to the admonitions, in January 1967 there was a confrontation.

January storm and February movement

On January 6, 1967, labor rebels in Shanghai stormed key positions in the city. After two days of fighting, they were able to announce victory over the previous party elite and the formation of a Shanghai commune. The procedure was explicitly praised by Mao as a "revolutionary storm" and so similar actions by organized labor rebels quickly unfolded across the country.

This approach generated resistance from the materially well-off permanent workforce. Supported by the party elite, they opposed the revolutionary rebels with their own combat troops, the so-called Scarlet Guards.

The result of these struggles was a massive disruption to the economy. Many companies stopped working. In the countryside, where left-wing groups had dropped community leaders and brigades, vital spring planting was threatened. Then the army intervened. On January 23, the People's Liberation Army (VBA) was authorized to intervene to “protect the left”. Almost all military commanders, however, fought down the left rebels and formed "military administrative committees" with the workers' protection troops and the old cadres.

End of the rebel movement

The group led by Jiang Qing would have supported a use of the military against chaos; However, it opposed the complete elimination of the “revolutionary rebels”. After all, she had a strong position in the General Political Department of the Army and in the Military Department of the Central Committee, and Mao had publicly endorsed the uprising in Shanghai.

On April 6, the Central Committee's Military Department issued an ordinance banning all commanders from disbanding rebel organizations. Imprisoned rebels have been released. As a result, the fighting continued. There were weeks of fighting in Canton in July and August. On August 20th, local military commander Huang Yongsheng intervened with his army. The left rebels have been disarmed. Other military commanders in other provinces followed suit. At a meeting with local military commanders in September 1967, Mao and Lin Biao relented. The danger of serious economic damage was too great, the catastrophe of the “big jump” was still in the bone. A joint approach by the party and the army against the left rebels was decided. Mao was disappointed with the Red Guards and the rebels. He said: “The Red Guards are also constantly dividing, in the summer (1966) they were revolutionary, in the winter (1967) they became counter-revolutionary [...]. Now anarchism is spreading, everything is being called into question, everything is overturned, the result is that it falls back on themselves, that is not how it works. "

Formation of revolutionary committees

While rebel organizations seized the city administration in Shanghai, the opposite trend took place in Shanxi Province . On January 12, 1967, under the leadership of the army commander, together with representatives of the organizations of the labor aristocracy and old leadership cadre, excluding the "revolutionary rebels", a so-called revolutionary committee was formed. Several provinces followed. After the agreement between the army commanders, Mao and Lin Biao in September 1967, the form of revolutionary committees in all provinces was sought. It took another twelve months for Revolutionary Committees to be installed in all provinces, the last on September 5, 1968 in Tibet and Xinjiang. The radical revolutionary phase was over. The revolutionary rebels still tried to disrupt, but they no longer had a future. The party, the army and the great majority of the population, who only wanted stability, peace and a little prosperity, were against them.

End of the Red Guards

From January 1967 to September 1968, after local power struggles, so-called revolutionary committees took over local power in the provinces . The Red Guards were no longer needed. From October 1967 schools began to hold classes again. The schools were run by workers - their lessons consisted of the students studying Mao's works and criticizing old textbooks. A real lesson has not yet started.

On July 28, 1968, Mao Zedong, Lin Biao, and Zhou Enlai received leaders of the Beijing City Red Guards. Mao made it clear:

“I asked you here to end the violence in the universities. […] In a few higher educational institutions there are still violent clashes. If a few do not allow themselves to be dissuaded from the violence, they are bandits, then they are the Kuomintang. These figures must be surrounded. If they continue to resist stubbornly, they must be destroyed. "

The leaders of the Red Guards realized that their mission was over. At the end of 1968 Mao Zedong called on the intellectual youth to "go out into the wide world". Ten million middle school students were sent to the countryside to “learn from the farmers”. They were now leaving the cities in which they had made history as the Red Guards.

Lin Biao phase

Lin Biao in 1955

Ninth party congress

At the beginning of 1969 the situation had stabilized to such an extent that the 9th party congress could be held in April 1969. His task was to initiate a phase of rebuilding. 1512 delegates who had emerged from the various revolutionary committees met. The party congress decided to reintroduce the clause on the primacy of Mao Zedong's ideas, which had been deleted in 1956. Lin Biao was named "the chairman's closest comrade in arms" and introduced as Mao's successor. Particular importance was attached to the reconstruction of the party organizations. The party's provincial committees were to be reinstalled, and the great majority of the vilified cadres rehabilitated and reinstated. Lin Biao also referred to the special importance of the task of healing the wounds of the three years of civil war and of finding a new sense of unity.

Lin Biao's relationship with Mao deteriorated

With the use of the PLA to set up the revolutionary committees, the army's influence quickly expanded throughout China, and its head, Defense Minister Lin Biao, also gained political weight. Much of the leaders in the 29 provinces and autonomous regions were now members of the army. In this situation Mao needed Lin to stabilize the state. Lin filled more and more posts in the army with his shop stewards.

At the CCP's 9th Congress in April 1969, Lin Biao was named sole vice chairman - there had been five until 1966 - in place of Liu Shaoqi, making it number two in the party and succeeding Mao in the party statutes. Lin Biao now also claimed the office of president that the ousted Liu had previously held. Mao refused and pleaded for the office to be left vacant for the time being. Lin Biao insisted on his claim and made the issue public. At the beginning of 1970, after the Mao Bible, another small red book by Lin appeared, the "Important Documents of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution", in which he raised his own statements to cult. While Lin wanted to cement his position as Mao's successor, Mao kept his distance from Lin and increasingly distrusted him. In any case, Lin and his military followers had become dispensable for Mao when peace and order were restored after the chaotic beginning of the Cultural Revolution. The situation came to a head. Mao has not yet attacked Lin Biao personally, but he did attack Chen Boda , Lin's "mouthpiece," and asked for his release.

Reconstruction of the party committees

Since the 9th Party Congress, articles have been published in the Beijing People's Newspaper and in the Rote Fahne that pointed to the party's primacy over the military and recommended that the soldiers should behave accordingly. This went over to a reform campaign in 1970, in which the political leadership role of the party was underlined. Lin Biao, as Defense Minister and Chairman of the Military Department of the Central Committee, sabotaged this rebuilding of the party organs. It was easy to turn the officers, who had grown accustomed to their civilian power, against the recivilization of the country. The officers' arrogance and complacency, complained of by many cadres in the revolutionary committees, persisted.

On the civilian side, Lin had a willing helper in Chen Boda. After the 11th plenary session on April 28, 1969, Chen was given the task of reorganizing the local party apparatus, but blocked the rebuilding rather than promoting it. Between April 1969 and November 1970 not a single provincial committee could be established. Mao suspected Lin was primarily responsible for the blockade.

Lin's opposition to the new party committees had two reasons. First of all, building up party organizations had to limit the influence of the military, but there were also ideological reasons. Lin had always identified with Mao's mass line and the anti-bureaucratic struggle. The military and the old party cadres now dominated the formation of the new party committees. The representatives of the left mass organizations failed to make the transition to the party committees. For Lin, Mao's behavior was a betrayal of the Cultural Revolution. Mao could not attack Lin directly, but he could attack his assistant Chen Boda. After Chen Boda's fall, all 26 provincial and three city committees were established by August 1971.

After the formation of the party committees, it became clear that the local military, the old cadres and the central government under Zhou Enlai got along well. Lin Biao, who did not like the whole direction of dismantling the local left-wing forces and rehabilitating the old cadre, was sidelined.

Attempt to assassinate Mao

Mao increasingly withdrew his trust in Lin and built on what would later become the "gang of four" around his wife Jiang Qing and on Prime Minister Zhou. Lin, for whom a normal takeover of power became more and more impossible, did not want to back off, but tried to carry out an assassination attempt on Mao on September 12, 1971. Mao was supposed to be murdered during a trip to Shanghai. However, the plans became known. When Mao's train arrived in Hangzhou and Shanghai, Mao only received the regional leadership cadre in his train compartment. He said to the provincial leaders:

“Someone desperately wants to become president, split the party and gain power ... I don't think our army will rebel. Huang Yongsheng [a follower of Lin Biao] will not succeed in inciting the troops to rebellion. "

Shortly afterwards, Mao drove back to Beijing without the train stopping. On the afternoon of September 12, 1971, the train arrived at the station in the Beijing suburb of Fengtai. There, Mao summoned the heads of the Beijing city government and the Beijing Army Unit Wu De and Wu Zhong and had a long talk with them about how to proceed. In the evening, the train arrived at the Beijing train station again.

Lin realized that the assassination attempt had failed and escaped by plane at 1:50 am on September 13. It crashed because of a lack of fuel near the town of Öndörchaan in the Mongolian People's Republic. The Chinese government did not announce Lin's death for four months. Many of Lin Biao's supporters in the armed forces were sacked and generals removed at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution resumed their positions.

Zhou Enlai phase

The young Zhou Enlai , 1946
Old Mao with Henry Kissinger and Gerald Ford , 1975
Mao with Henry Kissinger, Zhou in the background, early 1970s
Ye Jianying

Time after Lin Biao's fall

From September 1971 until Mao's death in September 1976 there were two currents. On the economic and foreign policy level, the long-time Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, who after Lin's death also became Vice-Chairman and thus Mao's designated successor, was firmly in control, the ideological and cultural level as well as the media were dominated by the later gang of four around Jiang Qing . Wang Hongwen of the Group of Four became vice chairman in 1973 and was number three in the party hierarchy after Mao and Zhou.

In 1972 and 1973 the pragmatists gradually returned to their posts. Scientists and scholars were rehabilitated, and old cadres resumed their previous posts. Deng Xiaoping was reinstated as Vice Prime Minister. Since Zhou Enlai was in the hospital, Deng took over the day-to-day running of the government; from 1975 Deng Zhou Enlai also represented in the State Council.

Deng initiated a comprehensive reorganization of the economy, called numerous old cadres back to their posts and achieved noticeable economic success. Mao, now seriously ill, viewed the development with concern. Mao supported Deng's leadership of the State Council, but in the expectation that Deng would stimulate the economy as part of the Cultural Revolution. However, from Deng's point of view, economic development was impossible until the mistakes of the Cultural Revolution were corrected.

While Zhou and Deng were promoting the economic situation in the country, the “left faction” under Jiang Qing tried to weaken Zhou and Deng's position. On the other hand, Zhou often pointed out that the ideological currents of the extreme left would lead nowhere and go to extremes. The direction of political movements must not contradict economic production.

In contrast, the left under Jiang Qing, with Mao's support, launched the “Criticism of Lin Biao and Confucius” campaign directed against Zhou as “modern Confucius”. For the group of four , it was ultimately a matter of eliminating Zhou in order to take the lead in the expected succession battle after Mao. Mao, on the other hand, did not believe in the group's ability to rule the country and always stuck to Zhou as the man for the economy. In 1974, Mao was diagnosed with an incurable, fatal disease.

In November 1975, on Mao's instructions, the Politburo convened a conference which found that some people still opposed the Cultural Revolution. It was called for the whole country and the whole party to start "an attack against the revision of the deviants". On February 25, 1976, the Central Committee forwarded "Important Instructions from Chairman Mao," which included harsh criticism of Deng Xiaoping. Mao wrote:

“Deng Xiaoping is someone who does not take up the class struggle and has always rejected the class struggle program. [...] But what does the Cultural Revolution stand for? It just stands for class struggle. Why do some fail to understand the contradictions in socialist society? The reason is that these people are themselves small capitalists with a right-wing outlook. They represent the capitalist class, so it is only logical that they do not understand the class struggle. "

Many of Mao's old comrades in arms could no longer understand Mao's renewed attacks on Deng as a deviator. Mao had the Central Committee determine about them:

“Some comrades, especially the old ones, have stopped in the phase of capitalist democracy. They do not understand socialism and are in stark contradiction to it [...] They carry out the socialist revolution, but do not know where capitalism is. I tell you, he is still in the middle of the party, in the shape of the current capitalist rulers [...]. "

Mao tried again to mobilize the people and called the "movement to criticize Deng Xiaoping and attack the revision of the deviants". Popular support was modest, but economic consolidation was hampered.

On January 8, 1976, the Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai died. The great sympathy of the people of Beijing was also a criticism of the opponents Zhou and Deng, in other words, a criticism of the promoters of the Cultural Revolution. Jiang Qing and her followers directed the media not to cover the Zhou Enlai memorial service. On March 30, 1976, a funeral speech in honor of Zhou Enlai was posted in Tian'anmen Square in Beijing, which contained direct attacks on the Gang of Four. Rallies developed on the square - by April 4, two million people had already taken part in the events on the square. The demonstrations on Tian'anmen Square were the first mass demonstrations against the party leadership since the founding of the People's Republic.

On April 5, the military evacuated the square and Deng was held responsible for the "anti-party riot". On April 7, Deng was dismissed from all political posts. The largely unknown Hua Guofeng was appointed prime minister and first vice-chairman of the Central Committee as Mao's new and final designated successor. Mao Zedong died on September 9, 1976.

End and aftermath

Arrest of the gang of four

Jiang Qing , then the wife of Mao Zedong and a member of the " Gang of Four ".

After Mao's death, the group of four armed their followers. In the provinces of Shanghai and Anhui alone, 50,000 rifles were procured and it was planned to consolidate regiments devoted to the party left. An order from Mao's nephew, Mao Yuanxin, to move an armored division to Beijing was canceled by Marshal Ye Jianying , who was planning a coup. Wang Hongwen, so far the official number two in the state after Mao, claimed that 400,000 armed militiamen were standing by in Shanghai to go to war. He is ready to lead the command and take over the leadership of the country.

On September 29, 1976, Jiang Qing officially asked the succession question at a Politburo conference. Wang Hongwen and Zhang Chunqiao suggested that Jiang Qing should take over the leadership until further notice. However, a decision was postponed. This opened the battle for Mao's successor within the Politburo. Subsequently, an article by the party left appeared in all the major newspapers in the country with the title “Always act according to the established guidelines of Chairman Mao”. The party left tried to enforce Jiang Qing's claim to the party leadership through the mass media it controlled.

On the other hand, the opponents of the group of four had been making their own preparations for months. Since the new appointments after the overthrow of Lin Biao, the armed forces have been a bulwark for stability in all Mao's swings in the formation of a government and have been very reserved towards the "nonsense" of the party left. Marshal Ye Jianying , the defense minister, had built a network for a coup against the group of four based on leading military officials. It included three vice-chairmen of the Central Committee military commission , the defense minister and his deputy, the chief of staff and four leading generals from the navy and air force. Important people from the party and government also belonged to the network. After Mao's death, Hua Guofeng, who joined the group, was also inaugurated.

On October 6th, the group of four and other important supporters were arrested. The military occupied important political positions such as the official news agency and radio stations. The left party lost control of the mass media. The uprising in support of the four hoped for by the left did not take place.

Deng Xiaoping

The following day, Hua was elected Mao's successor as party chairman and chairman of the Central Military Commission. At the 3rd Plenary Session of the 10th CPC Central Committee in 1977, Wang Hongwen , Zhang Chunqiao , Jiang Qing, and Yao Wenyuan were expelled from the party, while Deng Xiaoping, the favorite of the October 1976 coup plotters, was reinstated. The Cultural Revolution came to an end.

To invalidate the Cultural Revolution

After the Cultural Revolution, Hua Guofeng succeeded Mao Zedong and largely continued Mao's policies. Hua suggested the "two whatever (两个 凡是)": We will resolutely adhere to all political decisions made by Chairman Mao and we will steadfastly obey Chairman Mao's instructions. On the other hand, Deng Xiaoping first proposed the idea of ​​“ Boluan Fanzheng ” in 1977 to correct the mistakes of the Cultural Revolution. In December 1978, with the support of his allies, Deng Xiaoping became the new supreme leader of China and started “ reform and opening ”.

In June 1981, the Chinese Communist Party unanimously passed a resolution elaborated by Deng and others (关于 建国 以来 党 的 若干 历史 问题 的 决议), extensively invalidating the Cultural Revolution. According to the resolution, it was "a domestic chaos falsely initiated by the leader ( Mao Zedong ) and exploited by counter-revolutionary gangs ( Lin Biao and the Gang of Four )." It also stated that the Cultural Revolution was "for responsible for the worst setback and losses that the Party, the country and the people have suffered since the founding of the People's Republic of China. "


Death toll

Sampho Tsewang Rigzin and his wife
fighting session during the Cultural Revolution in Tibet .

Estimates of the death toll in the Cultural Revolution vary widely, ranging from hundreds of thousands to 20 million. Moreover, occurred in August 1975 in the region Zhumadian in Henan Province of the " collapse of the Banqiao Dam " which by some as the greatest technological catastrophe of the world was considered, resulting in a number of 85,600 to 240,000 deaths.

  • Ye Jianying , the first vice- chairman of the Communist Party of China , claimed during a labor conference of the Communist Central Committee that "20 million people died, 100 million people were persecuted and RMB 80 billion were wasted in the Cultural Revolution," Party of China on December 13, 1978 .
  • Rudolph J. Rummel of the University of Hawaii concluded that 7,731,000 people died in the Cultural Revolution, or 96 people per 10,000 people.
  • Jung Chang and Jon Halliday concluded that at least 3 million people died in the violence of the Cultural Revolution.
  • The Chinese Communist Party's history research unit (in the book 建国 以来 历史 政治 运动 事实 ) together with other three institutes concluded in 1996 that at least 1.72 million people died in the Cultural Revolution.
  • According to research by Andrew G. Walder ( Stanford University ) and Yang Su ( University of California, Irvine ): In rural China alone, 36 million people were persecuted, 0.75 to 1.5 million died and roughly the same number of people for that Life crippled.
  • At least 1 million people died in the Cultural Revolution, according to Daniel Chirot of the University of Washington , but some estimates put it as high as 20 million.

Massacre during the Cultural Revolution

At least 1,700 people were killed in the violent clash between the factions in Chongqing and 400–500 of them were buried in this cemetery.

From BeijingRed August ” onwards, massacres took place in mainland China, including the Guangxi massacre , the cleansing of Inner Mongolia , the Guangdong massacre , the Zhao Jianmin espionage case , the Daoxian massacre , and the Shadian incident . Chinese scholars have indicated that at least 300,000 people died in massacres. Most of the victims were members of the " five black categories " and their families, members of religious groups and members of "rebel groups (造反 派)".

Factional battles and persecution

Violent struggles or wudou (武鬥 / 武斗) were factional conflicts (mainly between Red Guards and rebel groups) that began in Shanghai and spread to other areas of China in 1967. They brought the country into a state of civil war. Weapons used in armed conflict included 18.77 million cannons (some say 1.877 million), 2.72 million hand grenades , 14,828 cannons, millions of other ammunition, and even armored cars as well as tanks . Chinese Communist Party sources claim the death toll during violent fighting was 237,000, while scientists estimated 300,000 to 500,000 deaths. Another 7,030,000 were injured or permanently disabled.

At the same time, millions of people were persecuted, many of whom were sent to the " fight and criticism " session . Some people could not endure the torture and committed suicide. Researchers have indicated that at least 100,000–200,000 people committed suicides during the Early Cultural Revolution.

Academics and Education

Yao Tongbin , one of China's leading rocket scientists, was beaten to death in Beijing during the Cultural Revolution (1968).

Academics and intellectuals were widely persecuted during the Cultural Revolution. Well-known academics, scientists, and educators who died as a result of the Cultural Revolution were Xiong Qinglai , Jian Bozan, Lao She , Tian Han , Fu Lei, Wu Han , Yao Tongbin, and Zhao Jiuzhang . As of 1968, of the 171 high-ranking members at the headquarters of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, 131 were persecuted, and among all members of the academy across the country, 229 were put to death. By September 1971, more than 4,000 employees at the Chinese nuclear center in Qinghai had been persecuted: 40 of them committed suicide , five were executed and 310 were crippled for life.

During the Cultural Revolution, higher education in China stopped working and the college entrance exam ( Gao Kao ) was canceled for 10 years. In the "Up in the mountains and down in the villages (上山 下乡 运动)" over 10 million educated young people were sent to the countryside to receive education from the farmers.

Power struggle

2012 quote not removed

The Cultural Revolution ultimately failed to achieve all of its goals. The Maoists lost the directional dispute all along the line. While the lines of Mao and Liu Shaoqi were still fighting for power before the Cultural Revolution, after Mao's death the leading cultural revolutionaries were arrested without further protest from the population. The "Battle of the Two Lines" was over, the "Gang of Four" in prison, and Deng Xiaoping came back to Beijing.

The fight against presumption of office, bureaucratism and privileges of the party cadres also fizzled out, especially since the “left” did not want their own privileges to be questioned. An example of this was given by Jiang Qing, Mao's wife, who always invoked “solidarity with the masses” and appeared in a coarse-cut uniform, but led a luxurious life behind the scenes.

Social structure

A Buddha statue that was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution (Destruction of the " Four Elders ")

Own shopping opportunities, service points, own residential districts and rest homes, special hospitals and schools - things that were frowned upon in the early years of the People's Republic - remained as goals for the cultural revolutionaries. The common people, in turn, behaved in a mirror-inverted manner. Outward appearances were preserved, but relationships were important so that one could go through the “right back doors”. Going through the back door became the common man's motto. It all came down to relationships, if necessary by means of entanglement and corruption. The popular masses, originally appointed as the bearers of progress and called for "self-liberation", became the object of a spectacle ordered from above. The little red book was swung on request or unbelievable new achievements were “enthusiastically” applauded. The crowds cheered when Deng was overthrown, they cheered when Deng was reinstated, and they cheered again when Deng was overthrown. In reality, the population had long been tired of all these campaigns, but it was not profitable not to participate - it was better to keep appearances and think about the "back doors" to their own life. Political life had degenerated into a drama. An entire generation had grown up against the background of a deep contempt for knowledge and ability, for education and professional ethics by the leading cultural revolutionaries. Millions of young people found it difficult to regain a foothold after the Cultural Revolution.

In the countryside - and that is where the vast majority of the Chinese lived - there were of course positive results. The communal institutions in the people's communes, which at that time were far reduced in their tasks, were expanded again. For example, as part of the “Patriotic Health Campaigns”, rural health services were set up and semi-professional barefoot doctors trained. The mechanization of agriculture was promoted and the schooling of workers and farmers improved. Led by the “Learning from Dazhai ” campaign, the farmers of the people's communes carried out joint work such as clearing the hills to gain new arable land, repairing dikes and roads or building new houses on their own. The establishment of kindergartens and community staff contributed to the emancipation of women, who were now able to work better within the community and were credited with their own work points. However, the majority of farmers wanted to get away from the collectives and farm their own land again when the opportunity finally arose.

Relationship with foreign countries

During the Cultural Revolution, the Communist Party of China exported the "Communist Revolution" and communist ideology to several countries in Southeast Asia and supported the Communist parties in Indonesia , Malaysia , Vietnam , Laos , Myanmar and, in particular, Cambodia's Khmer Rouge which caused the " Genocide in Cambodia " carried out.

Of the more than 40 countries that had established diplomatic or semi-diplomatic relations with China at the time, around 30 countries got into diplomatic disputes with China. Some countries, including Central Africa, Ghana and Indonesia, have even ended diplomatic ties with China. Several foreign guests were assigned to stand in front of the statue of Mao Zedong, deliver " Chairman Mao Tsetung's words, " and "report back" to Mao, as other Chinese citizens did.

Culture of remembrance, coming to terms with the past

May 16, 2016 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. As in previous years, there were no official memorial events for the victims. On May 17, the Renmin Ribao (the “People's Newspaper” is considered the most important newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party ) described the Cultural Revolution as a flaw in theory and practice. She warned against forgetting the historical lessons of the disaster. China will never allow the Cultural Revolution to repeat itself. The newspaper has called on the Chinese to accept the conclusion about the time formulated in 1980 by the then leader and later reformer Deng Xiaoping , according to which the Cultural Revolution created chaos in the party, in the country and among people of all ethnicities.

See also


in order of appearance

Historical research

  • Rainer Hoffmann: Mao's rebels. Social History of the Chinese Cultural Revolution . Hoffmann and Campe, Hamburg 1977, ISBN 3-455-09220-9 .
  • Rainer Hoffmann: The battle between two lines. On the political history of the Chinese People's Republic 1949–1977 . Klett-Cotta Verlag, Stuttgart 1978, ISBN 3-12-910180-2 .
  • Guenther Roth : Political rule and personal freedom. Heidelberg Max Weber Lectures 1983 . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1987, ISBN 3-518-28280-8 , pp. 87-136.
  • Kuan-ting Kuo: The Chinese Bureaucracy during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) . Köster, Berlin 1996, ISBN 3-89574-162-0 .
  • Nora Sausmikat: Cultural Revolution, Discourse and Memory. An analysis of the life stories of Chinese women . Lang, Frankfurt am Main 2002, ISBN 3-631-38424-6 .
  • Richard Corell: The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. China's struggle for socialism . Zambon, Frankfurt am Main 2009, ISBN 978-3-88975-159-1 .
  • Tomas Plänkers (ed.): Chinese soul landscapes. The present of the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2010, ISBN 978-3-525-45415-2 .
  • Daniel Leese: Mao Cult: Rhetoric and Ritual in China's Cultural Revolution. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2013, ISBN 978-0-521-15222-8 .
  • Cornelia Hermanns: China and the Cultural Revolution. The last long march . Drachenhaus Verlag, Esslingen 2016, ISBN 978-3-943314-34-2 .
  • Wu Yiching: The Other Cultural Revolution. 1966–1969: The beginning of the end of Chinese socialism . Translated and by Ralf Ruckus. Mandelbaum Verlag, Vienna 2019, ISBN 978-3-85476-686-5 .

Experience reports

  • Ken Ling, Miriam London, Li Ta-ling: Mao's little general . The story of the Red Guard Ken Ling . Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich 1974. ISBN 3-423-01024-X .
  • Jung Chang : Wild swans. The story of a family - three women in China from the imperial era to the present day . Knaur, Munich 1991. ISBN 3-426-26468-4 .
  • Ting-xing Ye: Bitter wind. A young Chinese woman is fighting for her dignity and freedom . Econ-Taschenbuch-Verlag. Munich 1998. ISBN 3-612-26487-7 .
  • Yu-chien Kuan : My life under two skies. A life story between Shanghai and Hamburg . Scherz, Bern 2001. ISBN 3-502-18393-7 . (YC Kuan, who was born in Canton in 1931 and now lives in Germany, tells the story of how, as a high-ranking political official at the time of the Cultural Revolution, he was suspected of being a counter-revolutionary and had to flee his homeland overnight.)
  • Li Zhensheng: Red Intelligence Soldier . Phaidon-Verlag, Berlin 2004. ISBN 0-7148-9381-1 . (Experience report and photo documentation by the journalist Li Zhensheng)
  • Gao Xingjian : A Lonely Man's Book . S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2004. ISBN 3-10-024504-0 .
  • Emily Wu: Feather in the Storm. My childhood in China . Hoffmann and Campe, Hamburg 2007. ISBN 978-3-455-50034-9 .
  • Yang Xianhui: The Jiabiangou deviants. Reports from a re-education camp . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2009. ISBN 978-3-518-12591-5 .
  • Xiao-Mei Zhu: From Mao to Bach: How I Survived the Cultural Revolution. Translated by Anna Kamp. Kunstmann, Munich 2013, ISBN 978-3-88897-893-7 (Zhu Xiao-Mei, born in Shanghai, comes from a family of artists and appeared on radio and television at the age of six. In her autobiography, which is a bestseller in France Zhu Xiao-Mei has lived in Paris since 1985, where she began her international pianist career late, but all the more successfully. She teaches at the Paris Conservatory, gives numerous concerts and is particularly enthusiastic about her Bach interpretations .)

Fiction representations

Web links

Wiktionary: Cultural Revolution  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Cultural Revolution  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

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