Why Did Mao Zedong Start the Cultural Revolution?

Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Communist Party of China, started the Cultural Revolution, in 1966, as a means of purging Chinese society of any remnants of traditional, western or capitalist elements. Also known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, this was a frontal assault and mass attack against what were considered the social and intellectual remains of "the four olds" represented by old customs, habits, manners and culture. The sanitizing force came in the form of millions of adolescent and zealously dedicated Red Guards who swept across China in search of persons, places and things in need of being purged from the new social and cultural order they were committed to creating.

The aim of the Cultural Revolution was to re-impose Mao's version of communist ideology on a society that appeared to still harbor pockets of anti-Maoist, traditional or Western-leaning sentiments. Mao also needed something to restore his image, after his enactment of the disastrous Great Leap Forward, the agricultural and steel-production collectivist program that caused estimates of up to 30 million Chinese to perish in the resulting famines.

In May of 1966, Mao announced that Chinese society and government had been infiltrated by alleged "revisionists" and bourgeois factions. This was a call to action that was heeded by waves of Chinese youth joining the Red Guards and embarking on often violent campaigns of persecutions, arbitrary imprisonments and seizures that quickly spread to all walks of life. The unforeseen intensity of the Red Guard's actions resulted in a major disruption of China's politics and economics. Five years after Mao's death, China's Communist Party declared the Cultural Revolution to be the "most severe setback" suffered by the Chinese people since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.