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Mao's cultural revolution

Cultural Revolution

The revolution in its initial stages had not been that widespread and was largely an urban phenomenon. Indeed, throughout the first two and a half years of the Cultural Revolution, much of what had happened in the urban cities was not peripheral to most of rural China’s day-to-day activities. However, revolutionary leadership undertaken by the Communist Party had encouraged the Red Guards to “take Beijing to the rest of the country”9 and spread the revolutionary fervor across China’s vast countryside and get the people into the class struggle.

Red Guards in Tiananmen Square

Following Mao’s address of the Red Guards in Tiananmen Square in August, means of mass communications such as the radio and telephone helped spread news of the struggle at Beijing University to the ordinary masses, without the need for top level intervention. Once initiated by the leader at the top, the process just gained momentum on its own amongst the common people. An America youth who attended high school in Beijing during this time had taken part in the activities of the Red Guards too.

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In a 1968 interview he described the situation of being into the struggle at Beijing University: “Just as the people from my high school went to Beijing University to find out what was happening, people in other cities had that same yearning to come to Beijing. They had heard about all these groovy people out in the streets, making revolution, following Chairman Mao, you got a right to rebel.

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So they came. Our school had 1,800 regular students. All of a sudden, there were 7,000 more from Tianjin, living all over the place.

We figured we could spread the revolution by going outside of Beijing. The Central Committee decided that it was a good idea for us to travel. They figured that the educational system can only be changed by the students themselves. And that students can’t make the educational system serve the people unless they know who they’re serving…. The original idea was to keep some students in Beijing to keep up the struggle there and send other groups out to exchange experiences. But everybody wanted to go and everybody left. ”

From this account, it could be seen that students arrived in Beijing in anticipation of finding out what had been happening and joined the movement as a result of the belief that by following Mao, they would be given a right to rebel and the students saw this as something which they could be proud of. The students wanted to spread the revolutionary work into the countryside, which at this moment in time had not been largely affected yet, and did it in their own ways, despite instructions from the Central Committee that some should stay behind.

The powerful Mao

Again this showed how that the actions of the students had not been tied to the Party and that they were an independent body. More importantly it showed how important and powerful Mao was in the people’s minds. The students joined the movement because they felt they were doing something for their beloved chairman and needed no further instructions from him. However, the Red Guards also did receive some forms of assistance and aid from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The PLA had been given instructions to ensure that the Red Guards would be given all the assistance that they needed in the course of their revolutionary work.

Such assistance included allowing the youth to enjoy free passage in their travels to the different areas, food and lodging. Hence it could be seen that Mao was trying to pave the way for the Red Guards to carry out their work. To ensure the compliance and support of the masses, Mao had made use of the various organisations that had been approved by the Party as a means of control at lower levels. These agencies were plenty and of different nature, thus allowing the presence of the Party to be almost everywhere in the Chinese society.

The education system in China

Much indoctrination of Mao’s ideas had been implemented through the education system in China during the years leading up till the eve of the Cultural Revolution. Such organisations included The All-China Federation of Trade Unions ACFTU), Peasants Associations (PA) and The All-China Federation of Democratic Women (ACFDW)11 are some of the agencies in which the Party had used to put into effect its mass line policies. All of these agencies were being mobilized by the Party. The Party exerted its leadership and control over every key group and social activity.

These agencies were in effect used as organisations by the Party as indirect tools for the spread of propaganda for the masses. The ACFTU for instance had an important function of activating and mobilising the workers and improving the labour productivity which usually takes the form of “labour emulation” or “new record” campaigns. The creation of the Peasants Associations was an initiation made by the Party cadres and not by the peasants themselves. It was only when the program was well advanced that peasants began to play a more significant role.

The creation of the Peasants Associations

The Peasants Association was responsible for “re-educating the backward and conservative” rural masses to make them aware of their class responsibility in the world struggle against feudalism, capitalism and imperialism. Peasant indoctrination was also an essential component in these associations. Hence it was easy to see that the control of the masses had been essentially a decision implemented from the top in the Party and it was these people’s organisations which helped to ensure that it was brought to the rest of the people at the bottom.


  1. Thomas Robinson, The Cultural Revolution in China, (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1971)
  2. http://www. rwor. org/a/v20/960-69/966/redgrd. htm
  3. http://news. bbc. co. uk/hi/english/static/special_report/1999/09/99/china_50/little. htm
  4. http://www. rwor. org/a/v20/960-69/966/redgrd. htm
  5. http://news. bbc. htm
  6. http://www. rwor. org/a/v20/960-69/966/redgrd. htm
  7. http://www. rwor. org/a/v20/960-69/966/redgrd. htm
  8. Peter S. H. Tang and Joan M. Maloney, Communist China: The Domestic Scene 1947-1967, (South Orange, New Jersey, Seton Hall University Press, 1967), p. 484-489
  9. Gray, Jack. Rebellions and Revolutions, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2002
  10. Tang Peter S. H. and Maloney, Joan M. Communist China: The Domestic Scene 1947-1967 South Orange, New Jersey, Seton Hall University Press, 1967
  11. http://www. rwor. org/a/v20/960-69/966/redgrd. htm
  12. http://news. bbc. co. uk/hi/english/static/special_report/1999/09/99/china_50/little. htm


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