In 1967, Mao ordered the army to stem Red Guard factionalism but promote the Guard's radical goals. When the military itself threatened to factionalize, Mao dispersed the Red Guards, and began to rebuild the party. The Ninth Party Congress (1969), which named Marshal Lin Biao as Mao's successor, led to a struggle between the military and Premier Zhou Enlai. After Lin's mysterious death (1971), Mao expressed regrets for the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. However, the Gang of Four, led by Jiang Qing, continued to restrict the arts and enforce ideology, even purging Deng Xiaoping a second time only months before Mao's death (Sept., 1976). The Gang of Four were imprisoned in Oct., 1976, bringing the movement to a close.
See R. MacFarquhar and M. Schoenhals, Mao's Last Revolution (2006).
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in the People’s Republic of China was a struggle for power within the Communist Party of China that manifested into wide-scale social, political, and economic violence and chaos, which grew to include large sections of Chinese society and eventually brought the entire country to the brink of civil war.
It was launched by Mao Zedong, the chairman of the Communist Party of China, on May 16, 1966, officially as a campaign to rid China of its “liberal bourgeoisie” elements and to continue revolutionary class struggle by mobilizing the thoughts and actions of China’s youth, who formed Red Guards groups around the country. It is widely recognized, however, as a method to regain control of the party after the disastrous Great Leap Forward led to a significant loss of Mao’s power to rivals Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, and would eventually descend into waves of power struggles between rival factions both nationally and locally. Although Mao himself officially declared the Cultural Revolution to have ended in 1969, the term is today widely used to also include the power struggles and political instability between 1969 and the arrest of the Gang of Four in 1976.
The damages caused by the Cultural Revolution were seen by observers, the majority of China’s population, as well as the Communist Party of China, as an unmitigated disaster upon the country and its people. Although differing assessments continue to exist, in its official, historical judgment of the Cultural Revolution in 1981, the Party assigned chief responsibility to Mao Zedong, but also laid significant blame on Lin Biao and the Gang of Four (most prominently its leader, Jiang Qing) for causing its worst excesses.
In the initial preparation, the “Central Press and Broadcasting Bureau” was the driver in pushing all schools, army units, and public organizations at all levels to install public loudspeakers and radio receivers. The Central People’s Broadcasting Station was the main instrument established as part of the “Politics on Demand” concept. By the 1960s, 70 million speakers would reach the rural population of 400 million.
In 1957, after China’s first Five-Year Plan, Mao Zedong called for an increase in the speed of the growth of “actual socialism” in China (as opposed to “dictatorial socialism”), as the first step in making the country into a self-sufficient Communist society. To accomplish this goal, Mao began the Great Leap Forward, establishing special communes (Cultural nexus of power) in the countryside through the usage of collective labour and mass mobilization. The Great Leap Forward was intended to increase the production of steel and to raise agricultural production to twice 1957 levels.
However, industries went into turmoil because peasants were producing too much low-quality steel while other areas were neglected. Furthermore, the peasantry, as agriculturalists, were poorly equipped and ill-trained to produce steel, partially relying on such mechanisms as backyard furnaces to achieve production goals, which had been mandated by the local cadres. Meanwhile, farming implements like rakes were melted down for steel, impeding agricultural production. This led to a decline in the production of most goods other than steel. To make matters worse, in order to avoid punishment, local authorities frequently reported grossly unrealistic production numbers, which hid the problem for years, intensifying it. Having barely recovered from decades of war, the Chinese economy was again in shambles. Steel production did show significant growth, to over 14 million tons of steel a year, from the previous 5.2 million. The original goal was to produce an overly optimistic and, in hindsight, unrealistic 30 million tons of steel, though that was later revised down to twenty million. However, much of the steel produced was impure and useless. In the meantime, chaos in the collectives and unfortunate climatic conditions resulted in widespread famine, while Mao continued to export grain to “save face” with the outside world. According to various sources, the death toll due to famine may have been as high as 20 to 30 million.
In the 1959 Lushan meeting of the Central Committee (庐山会议), renowned military General Peng Dehuai criticized Mao’s policies on the Great Leap in a private letter. Peng wrote that the Great Leap was plagued by mismanagement and “petty-bourgeois fanaticism.” Although Mao made repeated self-criticisms in speeches for the Great Leap Forward and called for the dismantling of the communes in 1959, he insisted that the Great Leap was 70% correct overall. Also in 1959, Mao resigned as chairman of the PRC, and the government was then run by other leaders such as the new chairman Liu Shaoqi, Premier Zhou Enlai and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) general secretary Deng Xiaoping. Mao remained Chairman of the Party. Politically, Mao formed an alliance with Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, in which he granted them day-to-day control over the country, in return for framing Peng and accusing him of being a "right-opportunist".
Among Liu’s and Deng’s reforms were a partial retreat from collectivism, seen as more pragmatic and more effective. Liu Shaoqi declared famously, “buying is better than manufacturing, and renting is better than buying," opening a new economic frontier in China that contradicted Mao's self-sufficiency ideals.
Liu Shaoqi decided to end many Leap policies, such as rural communes, and to restore the economic policies used before the Great Leap Forward.
Because of the success of his economic reforms, Liu had won prestige in the eyes of many party members both in the central government and among the masses. Together with Deng Xiaoping, Liu began planning to gradually retire Mao from any real power, and to turn him into a figurehead. To restore his political base, and to eliminate his opposition, Mao initiated the Socialist Education Movement, in 1963.
Mao later admitted to some general mistakes, while strongly defending the Great Leap Forward in concept. One great irony of the Socialist Education Movement is that it called for grassroots action, yet was directed by Mao himself. This movement, aimed primarily at schoolchildren, did not have any immediate effect on Chinese politics, but it did influence a generation of youths, from whom Mao could draw support in the future.
In 1963, Mao began attacking Liu Shaoqi openly, stating that the idealism of “the struggle of the classes” must always be fully understood and applied; yearly, monthly, and daily. By 1964, the Socialist Education Movement had become the new “Four Cleanups Movement”, with the stated goal of the cleansing of politics, economics, ideas, and organization. The Movement was directed politically against Liu Shaoqi
In late 1959, historian and Beijing Deputy Mayor Wu Han published the first version of a historical drama entitled “Hai Rui Dismissed from Office” (pinyin: Hai Rui Ba Guan, Chinese: 《海瑞罢官》). In the play, a virtuous official, (Hai Rui), was dismissed by a corrupt emperor.
The play initially received praise from Mao. In 1965, Mao Zedong's wife Jiang Qing and her protégé Yao Wenyuan—who at the time was a little-known editor of a prominent newspaper in Shanghai—published an article criticising the play. They labeled it a "poisonous weed" (毒草 dúcăo）and an attack on Mao, using the allegory of Mao Zedong as the corrupt emperor and Peng Dehuai as the virtuous official.
The Shanghai newspaper article received much publicity nationwide, with many other prominent newspapers asking for publication rights. Beijing Mayor Péng Zhēn, a supporter of Wu Han, established a committee studying the recent publication and emphasizing that the criticism had gone too far. On February 12, 1966, this committee, called the "Group of Five in Charge of the Cultural Revolution," issued an "Outline Report on the Current Academic Discussion", which later became known as the "February Outline". In this document the group emphasized that the dispute over Hai Rui Dismissed From Office was academic rather than political.
In May 1966, Jiang Qing and Yao Wenyuan once again published various articles with content denouncing both Wu Han and Peng Zhen. On May 16, following Mao's lead, the Politburo issued a formal notice representing figuratively the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. In this document, titled "Notification from the Central Committee of Communist Party of China," Peng Zhen was sharply criticized, and the "Group of Five" was disbanded. "Completely penetrated with double-dealing, the thesis furiously attacked the Great cultural revolution, personally developed and managed by comrade Mao Zedong, the instructions of comrade Mao Zedong concerning criticism of Wu Han," stated the "Notification." One year later, on May 18, 1967 this "Notification" was called "a great historical document developed under the direct management of our great leader comrade Mao Zedong" in the editorial section of People's Daily.
In a later meeting of the Politburo in 1966, the new Cultural Revolution Group (CRG) （文革小组）was formed. On May 18, Lin Biao said in a speech that "Chairman Mao is a genius, everything the Chairman says is truly great; one of the Chairman's words will override the meaning of tens of thousands of ours." Thus started the first phase of Mao's cult of personality led by Jiang Qing, Lin Biao, and others. At this time, Jiang and Lin had already seized some actual power. On May 25, a young teacher of philosophy at Peking University, Nie Yuanzi, wrote a dazibao （大字报）("big-character poster") where the rector of the university and other professors were labeled "black anti-Party gangsters". Some days later, Mao Zedong ordered the text of this big-character poster to be broadcast nationwide and called it "the first Marxist dazibao in China." On May 29, 1966, at the Secondary School attached to Tsinghua University, the first organization of Red Guards was formed. It was aimed at punishing and neutralizing both intellectuals and Mao's political enemies.
On June 1, 1966, the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the CCP, stated that all "imperialists", "people with affiliations with imperialists", "imperialistic intellectuals", et al., must be purged. Soon a movement began, that was aimed at purging university presidents and other prominent intellectuals. On July 28, 1966, representatives of the Red Guards wrote a formal letter to Mao, stating that mass purges, and all such-related social and political phenomena were justified and right. Mao responded with his full support in an article entitled "Bombard the Headquarters", thus began the Cultural Revolution.
On August 8, 1966, the Central Committee of the CCP passed its "Decision Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution" (also known as "the 16 Points"). This decision defined the GPCR as "a great revolution that touches people to their very souls and constitutes a new stage in the development of the socialist revolution in our country, a deeper and more extensive stage":
Although the bourgeoisie has been overthrown, it is still trying to use the old ideas, culture, customs, and habits of the exploiting classes to corrupt the masses, capture their minds, and endeavor to stage a comeback. The proletariat must do just the opposite: It must meet head-on every challenge of the bourgeoisie in the ideological field and use the new ideas, culture, customs, and habits of the proletariat to change the mental outlook of the whole of society. At present, our objective is to struggle against and crush those persons in authority who are taking the capitalist road, to criticize and repudiate the reactionary bourgeois academic "authorities" and the ideology of the bourgeoisie and all other exploiting classes and to transform education, literature and art, and all other parts of the superstructure that do not correspond to the socialist economic base, so as to facilitate the consolidation and development of the socialist system.
The decision thus took the already existing student movement and elevated it to the level of a nationwide mass campaign, calling on not only students but also "the masses of the workers, peasants, soldiers, revolutionary intellectuals, and revolutionary cadres" to carry out the task of "transforming the superstructure" by writing big-character posters and holding "great debates." One of the main focuses of the Cultural Revolution was the abolishment of the Four Olds: Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits, and Old Ideas. The decision granted people the most extensive freedom of speech the People's Republic has ever seen, but this was a freedom severely determined by the Maoist ideological climate and, ultimately, by the People's Liberation Army and Mao's authority over the Army, as points 15 and 16 already made clear. The freedoms granted in the 16 Points were later written into the PRC constitution as "the four great rights (四大自由)" of "great democracy (大民主)": the right to speak out freely, to air one's views fully, to write big-character posters, and to hold great debates (大鸣、大放、大字报、大辩论 - the first two are basically synonyms). (In other contexts the second was sometimes replaced by 大串联 - the right to "link up," meaning for students to cut class and travel across the country to meet other young activists and propagate Mao Zedong Thought.) Those who had anything other than a Communist background were challenged and often charged for corruption and sent to prison. These freedoms were supplemented by the right to strike, although this right was severely attenuated by the Army's entrance onto the stage of civilian mass politics in February 1967. All of these rights were deleted from the constitution after Deng's government suppressed the Democracy Wall movement in 1979.
On August 16, 1966, millions of Red Guards from all over the country gathered in Beijing for a peek at the Chairman. On top of the Tiananmen Square gate, Mao and Lin Biao made frequent appearances to approximately 11 million Red Guards, receiving cheers each time. Mao praised their actions in the recent campaigns to develop socialism and democracy.
During the Destruction of Four Olds campaign, religious affairs of all types were persecuted and discouraged by the Red Guards. Many religious buildings such as temples, churches, mosques, monasteries and cemeteries were closed down and sometimes looted and destroyed. The most gruesome aspects of the campaign were the torture and killing of innocent people and the suicides that were the final options of many who suffered beatings and humiliation. In August and September, there were 1,772 people murdered in Beijing alone. In Shanghai in September there were 704 suicides and 534 deaths related to the Cultural Revolution. In Wuhan during this time there were 62 suicides and 32 murders. The authorities were discouraged from stopping the violence of the Red Guards. Said Xie Fuzhi, national police chief: "If people are beaten to death . . . its none of our business. If you detain those who beat people to death . . . you will be making a big mistake." Mao himself had no scruples about the taking of human life, and went so far as to suggest that the sign of a true revolutionary was his desire to kill: "This man Hitler was even more ferocious. The more ferocious the better, don't you think? The more people you kill, the more revolutionary you are."
For two years, until July 1968 (and in some places for much longer), student activists such as the Red Guards expanded their areas of authority, and accelerated their efforts at socialist reconstruction. They began by passing out leaflets explaining their actions to develop and strengthen socialism, and posting the names of suspected "counter-revolutionaries" on bulletin boards. They assembled in large groups, held "great debates," and wrote educational plays. They held public meetings to criticize and solicit self-criticisms from suspected "counter-revolutionaries." Although the 16 Points and other pronouncements of the central Maoist leaders forbade "physical struggle (武斗)" in favor of "verbal struggle" (文斗), these struggle sessions often led to physical violence. Initially verbal struggles among activist groups became even more violent, especially when activists began to seize weapons from the Army in 1967. The central Maoist leaders limited their intervention in activist violence to verbal criticism, sometimes even appearing to encourage "physical struggle," and only after the weapons seizures did they begin to suppress the mass movement.
Liu Shaoqi was sent to a detention camp, where he later died in 1969. Deng Xiaoping, who was himself sent away for a period of re-education three times, was eventually sent to work in an engine factory, until he was brought back years later by Zhou Enlai. But most of those accused were not so lucky, and many of them never returned.
The work of the Red Guards was praised by Mao Zedong. On August 22, 1966, Mao issued a public notice, which stopped "all police intervention in Red Guard tactics and actions." Those in the police force who dared to defy this notice, were labeled "counter-revolutionaries."
On September 5, 1966, yet another notice was issued, encouraging all Red Guards to come to Beijing over a stretch of time. All fees, including accommodation and transportation, were to be paid by the government. On October 10, 1966, Mao's ally, General Lin Biao, publicly criticized Liu and Deng as "capitalist roaders" and "threats". Later, Peng Dehuai was brought to Beijing to be publicly displayed and ridiculed.
On January 8, Mao praised these actions through the People's Daily, urging all local governmental leaders to rise in self-criticism, or the criticism and purging of others. This started the massive power struggles which took the form of purge after purge among local governments, some of which stopped functioning altogether. Involvement in some sort of "revolutionary" activity was the only way to avoid being purged, but it was no guarantee.
In February, Jiang Qing and Lin Biao, with permission from Mao, insisted that the "class struggles" be extended to the military. Many prominent generals of the People's Liberation Army who were instrumental in the founding of the PRC voiced their great concern and opposition to the "mistake of the Cultural Revolution". Former Foreign Minister Chen Yi, angered at a Politburo meeting, said that the new factions were going to completely destroy the military, and in turn the party. Other generals, including Nie Rongzhen, He Long, and Xu Xiangqian expressed their extreme discontent. They were subsequently denounced on national media, controlled by Zhang Chunqiao and Yao Wenyuan, as the "February Counter-current forces". They were all eventually purged by Red Guards. At the same time, many large and prominent Red Guard organizations rose in protest against other Red Guard organizations who ran dissimilar revolutionary messages, further complicating the situation and exacerbating the chaos. This led to a notice to stop all unhealthy activity within the Red Guards from Jiang Qing. On April 6, Liu Shaoqi was openly and widely denounced by a Zhongnanhai faction whose members included Jiang Qing and Kang Sheng, and ultimately, Mao himself. This was followed by a protest and mass demonstrations, most notably in Wuhan on July 20, where Jiang openly denounced any "counter-revolutionary activity"; she later personally flew to Wuhan to criticize Chen Zaidao, the general in charge of the Wuhan area.
On July 22, Jiang Qing directed the Red Guards to replace the People's Liberation Army if necessary, and thereby to render the existing forces powerless. After the initial praise by Jiang Qing, the Red Guards began to steal and loot from barracks and other army buildings. This activity, which could not be stopped by army generals, continued until the autumn of 1968.
In December 1968, Mao began the "Down to the Countryside Movement". During this movement, which lasted for the next decade, young intellectuals living in cities were ordered to go to the countryside. The term "intellectuals" was actually used in the broadest sense to refer to recently graduated middle school students. In the late 1970s, these "young intellectuals" were finally allowed to return to their home cities. This movement was in part a means of moving Red Guards from the cities to the countryside, where they would cause less social disruption.
Lin Biao, Mao's chosen successor, became the most prominent figure during the Cultural Revolution following 1968. In September 1971 China (and the world) was shocked when a plane in which he was believed to be on board crashed in Mongolia, following what seemed to be a series of assassination attempts on Mao's life. It is impossible to examine the events related to Lin Biao from 1968-1971 with cogency and accuracy because of the political sensitivities that surround the event until this day. Lin's years in power, and his disputed death have been of interest to historians worldwide, who have never been able to come to a conclusion on the issue.
The Ninth Congress began with Lin Biao delivering a Political Report, which was critical of Liu and other "counter-revolutionaries" while constantly quoting Mao's Little Red Book. The second thing on the agenda was the new party constitution, which was modified to officially designate Lin as Mao's successor. Henceforth, at all occasions, Mao's name was to be linked with Lin's, to be referred to as "Chairman Mao and Vice-Chairman Lin". Thirdly, a new Politburo was elected with Mao Zedong, Lin Biao, Chen Boda, Zhou Enlai, and Kang Sheng being the five new members of the Politburo Standing Committee. This new Politburo consisted mostly of those who had arisen as a result of the Cultural Revolution, with Zhou barely keeping his status, having dropped in rank to fourth among the five.
After being confirmed as Mao's successor, Lin Biao focused on the restoration of the position of State President, which had been abolished by Mao due to Liu Shaoqi's dismissal from power. Lin's aim was to become Vice-President, with Mao holding the position of State President.
On August 23, 1970, the 2nd Plenum of the CCP's Ninth Congress was once again held in Lushan. Chen Boda was the first to speak, widely praising Mao and boasting of Mao's status, with the unstated intention of raising his own. At the same time, Chen requested the restoration of the position of State President. Mao was deeply critical of Chen's speech and removed him from the Politburo Standing Committee. This was the beginning of a series of criticism sessions across the nation for people who used "deceit" for gains, who were called "Liu Shaoqi's representatives for Marxism and political liars".
Chen's removal from the Standing Committee was also seen as a warning to Lin Biao. After the Ninth Congress, Lin had continuously requested promotions within the party and the Central Government, leading Mao to suspect him of wanting supreme power and even of intending to oust Mao himself. Chen's speech added to Mao's apprehensions. If Lin were to become Vice-President, he would legally have supreme power after the President's death presenting a clear danger to Mao's safety.
Mao's refusal to let Lin gain more prominence within the Party and the government deeply frustrated Lin. Moreover, his power base was shrinking by the day within the Party apparatus, and his health was also gradually waning. Lin's supporters decided to use the military power still at their disposal to oust Mao Zedong in a military coup. Lin's son, Lin Liguo, and other high-ranking military conspirators created a coup apparatus in Shanghai aimed solely at ousting Mao from power by the use of force, and dubbed the plan Project 571, which was somewhat homologous to "Military Uprising" in Mandarin. It is disputed how invovled Lin was in this process. In one known document, Lin stated in Shanghai that "A new power struggle has surged upon us, if indeed we could not take control of revolutionary activity, then these control powers will fall upon someone else."
Lin's plan consisted mainly of aerial bombardments and the widespread use of the Air Force. Were the plan to succeed, Lin could successfully arrest all of his political rivals and gain the supreme power that he wanted. But if it were to fail, he would face great and dire consequences. Revisionist sources, however, dispute Lin's involvement in the coup attempt, and place a large portion of the blame on his son Lin Liguo.
Assassination attempts were made against Mao in Shanghai, from September 8 to September 10, 1971. It was learned that before these attacks upon Mao there was initial knowledge of Lin's activities on the part of local police, who stated that Lin Biao had been coordinating a political plot, and Lin's loyal backers were receiving special training in the military.
From these events onward came continuous allegations and reports of Mao being attacked. One of these reports suggested that en route to Beijing in his private train, Mao was physically attacked; another alleged that Lin had bombed a bridge that Mao was to cross to reach Beijing, which Mao avoided because intelligence reports caused him to change routes. In those nervous days, guards were placed every 10–20 meters on the railway tracks of Mao's route, facing outwards from the train, to prevent attempts at assassination.
Although reports are conflicting, it is known that after September 11 of the same year, Lin never appeared in public again, nor did his backers, most of whom attempted to escape to then British-held Hong Kong. Many failed in doing so, and around twenty army generals were arrested.
It was also learned that on September 13, 1971, Lin Biao, his wife Ye Qun, son Lin Liguo, and a few staff attempted to fly to the Soviet Union. En route, Lin's plane crashed in Mongolia, killing all on board. On the same day, the Politburo met in an emergency session to discuss matters pertaining to Lin Biao. Only on September 30 was Lin's death confirmed in Beijing, which led to the cancellation of the National Day celebration events the following day.
The exact cause of the plane crash remains a mystery. It is widely believed that Lin's plane ran out of fuel or that there was a sudden engine failure. There was also speculation that the plane was shot down. It could also have been Soviet forces, who later took possession of the bodies of those on board. Regardless, Lin's attempted coup had failed, leading to the destruction of his reputation within the CCP and in the country.
The death of Lin Biao and Mao's declining health also saw an increase in the power of Mao's wife Jiang Qing and her supporters. Although Jiang Qing was at the forefront of carrying out Maoist policies in the earlier stages of the Cultural Revolution, it was clear following Lin Biao's death that Jiang Qing had political ambitions of her own. She allied herself politically with propaganda specialists Zhang Chunqiao and Yao Wenyuan, and the politically-favoured Wang Hongwen, and formed a political clique later dubbed as the "Gang of Four". Together they held effective control of the media and China's propaganda network and were antagonistic towards Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping's economic initiatives. In late 1973, they seized the opportunity to begin another political movement, the Pi-Lin Pi-Kong ("Criticize Lin (Biao), Criticize Confucius)" campaign, whose stated goals were to eradicate China of neo-Confucianist thinking and denounce Lin Biao's actions as traitorous and regressive. The campaign was widely publicized and was indirectly aimed at Premier Zhou Enlai, whose political position the Gang of Four were seeking to weaken. The Gang identified Zhou as the main political threat in post-Mao era succession. Reminiscent of the first years of the Cultural revolution, the political battle was acted out through historical allegory, and although Zhou Enlai's name was never mentioned during this campaign, the Premier's historical namesake, the Duke of Zhou, was a frequent target. But the public was generally weary of useless or devastating political campaigns and movements, and lent little effort this time around. The campaign failed to achieve its goals.
The Gang of Four's heavy hand in political and media control did not prevent Deng Xiaoping from reinstating progressive policies in the economic arena. Deng's stance against party factionalism was clear and his policies aimed at promoting unity as the first step to reimplementing effective production. Mao, however, dubbed Deng's policies as an attempt at "rehabilitating the case for the rightists". With the reputation of the entire Cultural Revolution at stake should Deng further his policies, Mao responded by directing Deng to write self-criticisms during December 1975, a move lauded by the Gang of Four.
On January 8, Zhou Enlai died of bladder cancer. The next day, Beijing's Monument to the People's Heroes began filling up with wreaths expressing the people's mourning for the Premier. The event was unprecedented. On January 15, Zhou's funeral was held, and because of his popularity nationally, events commemorating Zhou across the country took place. The Gang of Four, however, was anxious that the spontaneous gatherings could turn the political tide against them. They acted through the media to impose restrictions, forbidding the "wearing of black sashes and white flowers" along with other mourning activities. Deng Xiaoping delivered Zhou's official eulogy in a funeral attended by all of China's senior leaders with the exception of Mao himself, who was also gravely ill.
In February, the Gang of Four began to criticize its final serious political opponent, Vice-Premier Deng Xiaoping. Deng was once again stripped of all state and party positions. But after Zhou's death, Mao did not select a member of the Gang of Four to become Premier, instead choosing the relatively unknown Hua Guofeng.
April 5 was China's Qingming Festival, a traditional day of mourning for those who have died. People had gathered since late March in Tiananmen Square, mourning the death of Zhou Enlai. At the same time, there grew significant anger towards the Gang of Four. Gradually, more and more people began writing and posting messages of disapproval against the Gang. On April 5, hundreds of thousands of people were gathered in and around Tiananmen Square, turning the assembly into a form of non-violent protest. The Gang of Four, in the name of the Central Committee, ordered police to enter the area, clear the wreaths and messages of hate, and disperse the crowds. They pointed out that the Tiananmen Incident, as it became known, was masterminded by a "small minority of right-leaning reactionaries" under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, and subsequently denounced the event on national media. In a Central Committee meeting on April 6, Zhang Chunqiao personally criticized Deng, who was stripped of all his positions and was sent into house arrest.
On September 9, 1976, Mao Zedong died. Mao's image from the Cultural Revolution portrayed him as an ideal person who mingled among the general public. To many, Mao's death symbolized the loss of the socialist foundation of China, and when his death was announced on the afternoon of September 9, 1976, in a press release entitled A Notice from the Central Committee, the NPC, State Council, and the CMC to the whole Party, the whole Army and to the people of all nationalities throughout the country, the entire nation descended into a massive state of spontaneous grief and mourning, with people weeping in the streets and public institutions closing for over a week. Before dying, Mao had allegedly written a message on a piece of paper stating "With you in charge, I'm at ease", to Hua Guofeng. This legitimized Hua as the Party's new Chairman. Before this event, Hua had been widely considered to be lacking in political skill and ambitions, and as posing no threat to the Gang of Four in the race for succession. But under the influence of prominent generals like Ye Jianying, and partly under influence of Deng Xiaoping, and with the support of the Army, Hua ordered the arrest of the Gang of Four following Mao's death. By October 10, the 8341 Special Regiment had all members of the Gang of Four arrested. Historically, this marked the end of the Cultural Revolution era.
Even though Hua Guofeng publicly denounced and arrested the Gang of Four in 1976, he continued to invoke Mao's name to justify Mao-era policies. Hua opened what was known as the Two Whatevers, saying "Whatever policy originated from Chairman Mao, we must continue to support," and "Whatever directions were given to us from Chairman Mao, we must continue to work on their basis." Like Deng, Hua's goal was to reverse the damage of the Cultural Revolution; but unlike Deng, who was not against new economic models for China, Hua intended to move the Chinese economic and political system towards Soviet-style planning of the early 1950s.
It became increasingly clear to Hua that without Deng Xiaoping, it was difficult to continue daily affairs of state. Deng also had notable prestige within the party. On October 10, Deng Xiaoping personally wrote a letter to Hua asking to be transferred back to state and party affairs. Unconfirmed information allegedly stated that Politburo Standing Committee member Ye Jianying would resign if Deng was not allowed back into the Central Government. With increasing pressure from all sides, Hua decided to bring Deng back into state affairs, first naming him Vice-Premier of the State Council in July 1977, and to various other positions. In fact, through the process Deng had become China's number two figure. In August, the Party's Eleventh Congress was held in Beijing, officially naming (in ranking order) Hua Guofeng, Ye Jianying, Deng Xiaoping, Li Xiannian, and Wang Dongxing as the latest members of the oligarchical Politburo Standing Committee.
In May 1978, Deng seized the opportunity for his protégé, Hu Yaobang, to be further elevated to power. Hu published an article on Guangming Daily, making clever use of Mao's quotations while lauding Deng's ideas. After this article was published, it was clear that support was with Hu, and thus Deng. On July 1, Deng publicized Mao's self-criticism report of 1962 regarding the failure of the Great Leap Forward. With an expanding power base, in September 1978, Deng began openly attacking Hua Guofeng's "Two Whatevers".
On December 18, 1978, the pivotal Third Plenum of the Eleventh CCP Congress was held. During the congress Deng famously stated that "a liberation of thoughts" was in order and the party and country needed to "seek truth from facts". Hua Guofeng engaged in self-criticism, stating that his "Two Whatevers" policy was a mistake. Wang Dongxing, formerly Mao's trusted ally, was also criticized. At the Plenum, the Qingming Tiananmen Square incident was also politically rehabilitated. Disgraced leader Liu Shaoqi was allowed a belated state funeral.
At the Fifth Plenum of the Eleventh CCP Congress, held in 1980, Peng Zhen, He Long and many others who had been purged during the Cultural Revolution were politically rehabilitated. Hu Yaobang was named General-Secretary and Zhao Ziyang, another of Deng's protégés, was introduced into the Central Committee. In September, Hua Guofeng resigned, with Zhao Ziyang being named the new Premier. Deng was the Chairman of the Central Military Commission. The power transition into a new generation of pragmatic reformist leaders was now complete.
On June 27, 1981, the Central Committee adopted the "Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party Since the Founding of the People's Republic of China", a document pertaining to the official historical assessment of a series of political movements since 1949. In this document, it is stated that the "Chief responsibility for the grave 'Left' error of the 'Cultural Revolution,' an error comprehensive in magnitude and protracted in duration, does indeed lie with Comrade Mao Zedong". It is stated that the Cultural Revolution was carried out "under the mistaken leadership of Mao Zedong, which was manipulated by the counterrevolutionary groups of Lin Biao and Jiang Qing, and brought serious disaster and turmoil to the Communist Party and the Chinese people."
It was necessary in this official view, which has since become the dominant framework for the Chinese historiography of the time period, to separate the personal actions of Mao during the Cultural Revolution from his earlier heroism. It also separates Mao's personal mistakes from the correctness of the theory that he created, which remained a guiding ideology in the Party even until this day. It also aimed to continue the legitimacy in the mandate of the Communist Party and the construction of socialism - although many interpretations on Mao's ideology as well as the founding principles of the Party would change with the rise of what would later become known as Socialism with Chinese characteristics.
The effects of the Cultural Revolution directly or indirectly touched essentially all of China's populace. During the Cultural Revolution, much economic activity was halted, with "revolution", regardless of interpretation, being the primary objective of the country. The start of the Cultural Revolution brought huge numbers of Red Guards to Beijing, with all expenses paid by the government, and the railway system was in turmoil. Countless ancient buildings, artifacts, antiques, books, and paintings were destroyed by Red Guards. By December 1967, 350 million copies of Mao's Quotations had been printed.
Elsewhere, the 10 years of the Cultural Revolution also brought the education system to a virtual halt. The university entrance exams were cancelled during this period, not to be restored by Deng Xiaoping until 1977. Many intellectuals were sent to rural labor camps, and many of those who survived left China shortly after the revolution ended. Many survivors and observers suggest that almost anyone with skills over that of the average person was made the target of political "struggle" in some way. According to most Western observers as well as followers of Deng Xiaoping, this led to almost an entire generation of inadequately educated individuals. However, this varies depending on the region, and the measurement of literacy did not resurface until the 1980s. Some counties in the Zhanjiang district, for example, had illiteracy rates as high as 41% some 20 years after the revolution. The leaders denied any illiteracy problems from the start. This effect was amplified by the elimination of qualified teachers--many of the districts were forced to rely upon chosen students to re-educate the next generation.
Mao Zedong Thought had become the central operative guide to all things in China. The authority of the Red Guards surpassed that of the army, local police authorities, and the law in general. China's traditional arts and ideas were ignored, with praise for Mao being practiced in their place. People were encouraged to criticize cultural institutions and to question their parents and teachers, which had been strictly forbidden in Confucian culture. This was emphasized even more during the Anti-Lin Biao; Anti-Confucius Campaign. Slogans such as "Parents may love me, but not as much as Chairman Mao" were common.
The Cultural Revolution also brought to the forefront numerous internal power struggles within the Communist party, many of which had little to do with the larger battles between Party leaders, but resulted instead from local factionalism and petty rivalries that were usually unrelated to the "revolution" itself. Because of the chaotic political environment, local governments lacked organization and stability, if they existed at all. Members of different factions often fought on the streets, and political assassination, particularly in rural-oriented provinces, was common. The masses spontaneously involved themselves in factions, and took part in open warfare against other factions. The ideology that drove these factions was vague and sometimes nonexistent, with the struggle for local authority being the only motivation for mass involvement.
The status of traditional Chinese culture within China is also severely damaged as a result of the Cultural Revolution. Many traditional customs, such as fortune telling; paper art; feng shui consultations; wearing traditional Chinese dresses for weddings; use of traditional Chinese calendar; scholarship in classical Chinese literature; and the practice of referring to the Chinese New Year as "New Year" rather than "Spring Festival"; had been weakened in China. Yet some aspects recovered fully, and some still survived in some forms in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau and overseas Chinese communities, notwithstanding the impacts of Western culture (and Japanese culture in the case of Taiwan and Manchuria) on those communities.
The Cultural Revolution was particularly devastating for minority cultures in China. In Tibet, over 6,000 monasteries were destroyed, often with the complicity of local ethnic Tibetan Red Guards. In Inner Mongolia, some 790,000 people were persecuted, of these 22,900 were beaten to death and 120,000 were maimed, during a ruthless witchhunt to find members of the allegedly "separatist" Inner Mongolian People's Party, which had actually been disbanded decades before. According to Jung Chang in her book Mao: The Unknown Story, cases included a Muslim woman having her teeth pulled out with pliers, then her nose and ears twisted off, before being hacked to death. Another woman was raped with a pole (she then committed suicide). One man had nails driven into his skull. Another had his tongue cut out and then his eyes gouged out. Another was beaten with clubs on the genitals before having gunpowder forced up his nostrils and set alight. In Xinjiang, copies of the Quran and other books of the Uyghur people were burned and Muslim imams were reportedly paraded around with paint splashed on their persons. In the ethnic Korean areas of northeast China, language schools were destroyed. In Yunnan Province, the palace of the Dai people's king was torched, and an infamous massacre of Hui Muslim people at the hands of the People's Liberation Army, called the "Shadian Incident", claimed over 1,600 lives in 1975.
Some of the most extreme violence took place in Guangxi, where a Chinese journalist found a "disturbing picture of official compliance in the systematic killing and cannibalization of individuals in the name of political revolution and 'class struggle.'" Senior party historians acknowledge that "In a few places, it even happened that 'counterrevolutionaries' were beaten to death and in the most beastly fashion had their flesh and liver consumed [by their killers]."
Estimates of the death toll, civilians and Red Guards, from various Western and Eastern sources are about 500,000 in the true years of chaos of 1966—1969. Some people were not able to stand the cruel tortures, they lost hope for the future, and simply committed suicide. One of the most famous cases was communist leader Deng Xiaoping's son Deng Pufang who jumped/was thrown from a four-story building during that time. Instead of dying, he became a paraplegic. In the trial of the so-called Gang of Four, a Chinese court stated that 729,511 people had been persecuted of which 34,800 were said to have died. However, the true figure may never be known since many deaths went unreported or were actively covered up by the police or local authorities. Other reasons are the state of Chinese demographics at the time, as well as the reluctance of the PRC to allow serious research into the period. One recent scholarly account asserts that in rural China alone some 36 million people were persecuted, of whom between 750,000 and 1.5 million were killed, with roughly the same number permanently injured. In Mao: The Unknown Story, Jung Chang and Jon Halliday claim that as many as 3 million people died in the violence of the Cultural Revolution.
Whatever the case, several self-described "Maoist" political parties survive today, throughout the globe, such as those found within the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement.
Among those who condemn it, the causes and meaning of the Cultural Revolution remain highly controversial. Supporters of the Chinese democracy movement see the Cultural Revolution as an example of what happens when democracy is lacking and place responsibility for the Cultural Revolution on the Communist Party of China. Similarly, human rights activists and civil libertarians also see the Cultural Revolution as an example of the dangers of statism. Briefly put, these views of the Cultural Revolution attribute its cause to "too much government and too little popular participation".
By contrast, the official view of the Communist Party of China is that the Cultural Revolution is what can happen when one person establishes a cult of personality and manipulates the public in such a way as to destroy the party and state institutions. In this view, the Cultural Revolution is an example of too much popular participation in government, rather than too little; and is an example of the dangers of anarchy rather than statism. The consequence of this view is the consensus among the Chinese leadership that China must be governed by a strong party institution, in which decisions are made collectively and according to the rule of law, and in which the public has only limited input. After Mao's death, the Communist Party blamed the Gang of Four for the negative results of the Cultural Revolution. Liu Xiaobo argued that this is still the case, with the Gang of Four being used as convenient scapegoats, rather than focusing upon Mao Zedong's responsibility.
These contradictory views of the Cultural Revolution were put into sharp relief during the Tiananmen Protests of 1989, when both the demonstrators and the government justified their actions as being necessary to avoid another Cultural Revolution.
The relationship between Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution is also controversial. Although there is general agreement that Mao was responsible for the Cultural Revolution, there is considerable dispute concerning the effect of the Cultural Revolution on Mao's legacy. The PRC's official version of history regards the Cultural Revolution as a serious error by Mao Zedong, whose contribution to history was 70% good and 30% bad. Using this formulation, the Party has argued that the Cultural Revolution should not denigrate Mao's earlier role as a heroic leader in fighting the Japanese, founding the People's Republic of China and developing the ideology which underlies the Communist Party of China. This allows the Party to condemn both the Cultural Revolution and Mao's role within it, without calling into question the ideology of the Party.
The first museum specifically dedicated to the Cultural Revolution opened in mid-2005 as a privately-funded museum in Guangdong province, created by Peng Qi'an, 74, a former deputy mayor of Shantou. Peng himself was almost executed during the Cultural Revolution, and survived only due to a last-minute reprieve. He stated that he wanted future generations of Chinese to realise how large an impact the period had on China, and how much ordinary Chinese suffered. Although the museum continues to operate, publicity about the museum was suppressed by provincial authorities shortly after its opening.