On May 16, 1966, Mao Zedong announced the so-called “May 16 Notice” on behalf of the politburo, launching the Cultural Revolution, a man-made political catastrophe of biblical proportions that almost destroyed the nation.
Fifty years on, only a few in China have reflected on its painful lessons.
Instead, many consider it a taboo subject and avoid talking about it but there are some who are nostalgic about the “good old days” of Chairman Mao.
They believe the Cultural Revolution turned into a disaster because those who carried out Mao’s orders, such as the Gang of Four and Lin Biao, deviated from its “good intentions”.
To this day, the popular myth is that Mao launched the Cultural Revolution to fight a conspiracy by pro-capitalists in the communist leadership and prevent the party from going down a revisionist path.
Those who embrace the “good intentions” theory believe that Mao was sidelined from the party leadership after 1959 Liu Xiaoqi succeeded him.
Under Liu, the party began to deviate from the Marxist-Leninist doctrine that had guided it since its founding in 1921, and adopted a counter-revolutionary pro-capitalist line.
Dismayed by Liu’s heretical and reactionary stance and desperate to preserve the “revolutionary fruit”, Mao had no choice but to fight a rearguard action against Liu and his allies by launching a bloody uprising.
Deng Xiaoping, who rejected the Cultural Revolution and referred to it as a “fatal mistake on the part of the party leadership”, dared not dispel this myth. Mao is still revered as the founding father and symbol of the People’s Republic.
Publicly denouncing him could weaken the legitimacy of the communist regime.
It turns out that Mao was never stripped of his powers or sidelined in 1959.
Despite the fact that Mao was replaced by Liu as party chairman, he held on as general secretary of the central committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission.
In other words, Liu was a figurehead and real power rested with Mao.
Also, the notion that Mao was stripped of his powers by the so-call “pro-capitalist faction” led by Liu is nonsense.
It’s as nonsensical as the idea that Mao started the Cultural Revolution out of “good and selfless intentions”.
Independent historians agree that the Cultural Revolution was a politically motivated plot orchestrated by Mao to purge his political enemies and impose one-man rule.
Mao’s motives were apparently envy, hate and lust for power.
The Red Guard, the Gang of Four and Lin Biao, his handpicked successor who later fled the country and was killed in Mongolia in a plane crash, were just Mao’s proxies who did the dirty work for him.
Despite the fact that the “May 16 Notice” was announced on behalf of the politburo, it was a personal decree prepared on the sole and direct orders of Mao himself.
Key politburo members including Liu Xiaoqi, Premier Zhou Enlai, Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping and Luo Ruiqing, chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, were kept in the dark.
Mao had hijacked the politburo in the course of launching the Cultural Revolution.
Its toxic legacy is still evident across China and its myths will take a long time to completely dispel.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 26.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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