24 February 2019
The toxic legacy of the Cultural Revolution can still be felt today. Photo: HKEJ
The toxic legacy of the Cultural Revolution can still be felt today. Photo: HKEJ

Mao Zedong: the sum of all evils

As this year marks the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution, a heated debate over the true motives behind Mao Zedong’s perpetration of the movement is in full swing among mainland intellectuals.

While the pro-Mao faction have insisted that he started the Cultural Revolution in order to declare war on the pro-capitalist heretics who had hijacked the Communist Party, the anti-Mao intellectuals, or the so-called “reflection faction”, argued that the Cultural Revolution was by nature an all-out political onslaught mounted by Mao against his political opponents such as president Liu Xiaoqi and vice premier Deng Xiaoping.

The “Resolution on several historical issues concerning the party since the foundation of the People’s Republic”, passed unanimously by the 6th Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee in June 1981, denounced the Cultural Revolution as a “man-made political catastrophe of biblical proportions”.

Yet it refrained from holding Mao directly accountable for starting the disaster out of political concerns.

However, during a closed door meeting held seven months before the 6th Plenary Session, 4,000 party delegates from across the country spoke their minds freely about Mao’s responsibility for causing that 10-year-long disaster.

They also strongly criticized Mao’s “personal quality”, or simply put, his character flaws, an absolutely taboo subject when Mao was still alive.

In Chinese tradition, political leaders are often held to higher moral standards, and are expected to manifest Confucian virtues such as integrity, kindness, tolerance, impartiality, righteousness and incorruptibility.

However, according to the delegates who commented on Mao’s personality during that meeting, Mao had none of those virtues. In fact, he was considered by most the personification of evil.

Many delegates pointed out during the meeting that Mao as a party leader always looked upon his partymates with suspicion, almost habitually went back on his word, and was cruel, highly volatile as well as egocentric.

According to some of the minutes of that meeting which came to light recently, Hu Keshi, former secretary general of the Communist Youth League, said Mao had turned his back on him and refused to tell the truth when he had been framed for counter-revolution by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution, despite the fact that Mao knew very well that all the charges made against him were untrue.

Xia Yan, former deputy minister for culture, said Mao was a complete egomaniac who just loved being complimented all the time and hated brutally honest advice, and who always hid a dagger behind his smile.

He also said Mao often blamed others for his own mistakes, and the cruelty with which he framed and persecuted his long-time colleague Liu Xiaoqi was simply spine-chilling.

Huang Jing, former director of the science committee of the State Council, said the notion that Mao started the Cultural Revolution to stop the party from going down the wrong capitalist path was complete nonsense.

He said the only reason why Mao mounted the campaign was to wipe out his political opponents.

What most delegates failed to mention is that Mao’s evils and crimes against humanity date back to long before the Cultural Revolution.

For instance, tens of thousands of intellectual elites were labeled “rightists” and brutally persecuted during the Anti-Rightist Movement spearheaded by Mao between 1957 and 1959, not to mention his reckless “Great Leap Forward” economic plan that led to a nationwide famine between 1959 and 1962, resulting in the deaths of at least 30 million peasants.

Marshal Ye Jianying, one of the founding fathers of the People’s Republic and the leader who arrested the Gang of Four in 1976, referred to the Cultural Revolution as “a disaster that threw the Chinese people into a period of bloody terror of unparalleled proportions”.

Even to this day, official party records still blame the Cultural Revolution on the Gang of Four and Lin Biao, the former minister of defense and Mao’s handpicked successor.

However, the Chinese people who have personally experienced that tragedy know only too well who was truly behind it.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 7.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ columnist

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