On Aug. 18, 1966, a million people, mostly students, took part in a parade at Tiananmen Square in Beijing to celebrate the passage of a Central Committee resolution endorsing the start of the Cultural Revolution.
It was on that same day that Mao Zedong granted an audience to Red Guard leaders for the first time and publicly praised them for their “revolutionary virtues”, and encouraged them to root out all pro-capitalist traitors, reactionaries, counter-revolutionists and bourgeois in every corner of the country by every possible means.
This so-called “818 parade” was widely regarded as a symbolic event that marked the rise to power of the Red Guards.
As this year marks the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution, the so-called “pro-Mao faction” and leftist intellectuals in the mainland are trying to put that man-made political catastrophe in nostalgic and even righteous light.
According to them, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution because by mobilizing students across the country, he wanted to fight a conspiracy by pro-capitalist and revisionist traitors in the party leadership such as President Liu Xiaoqi and rescue the party from going down the heretical path.
They are convinced that the Cultural Revolution eventually turned into a complete disaster because those who carried out Mao’s orders, such as the Gang of Four and Lin Biao, had deliberately deviated from his “good intentions” in order to serve their own secret political agenda.
Truth be told, the notion that Mao started the Cultural Revolution out of his “selfless devotion” to the Marxist-Leninist cause is total hogwash.
The only reason why he ignited the Cultural Revolution, a political catastrophe that almost destroyed the entire nation, is because he wanted to purge his political enemies, to take back power from Liu Xiaoqi who had replaced him as president in 1959 and to re-establish his one-man rule.
The only motives behind Mao’s initiation of the Cultural Revolution were nothing more than grudge, envy and lust for unlimited power.
As far as the Red Guards are concerned, they were merely Mao’s tools and proxies who did the dirty work for him.
Some historians have drawn parallels between the Red Guards, the SA or “Stormtroopers”, the paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party under Hitler, and the Cheka (the Soviet secret police) under Stalin.
All of these violent organizations have one thing in common: their absolute loyalty to their supreme leaders and their staggering ruthlessness, brutality and cruelty in persecuting dissidents, political rivals of their supreme leaders, or virtually anyone who was deemed “enemy of the state”.
The first-ever Red Guard organization was founded on May 29, 1966 at a secondary school affiliated with the Qinghua University.
And since then the mainland saw a full blossoming of Red Guard organizations across the nation.
The Red Guards played a pivotal role in bringing down president Liu Xiaoqi, Mao’s No. 1 political opponent and Deng Xiaoping, the then vice-premier who was in charge of the economy.
In particular, the Red Guards in Beijing were notorious for their brutal persecution of Marshal Peng Dehuai, Mao’s long-time colleague and the Red Army’s top general.
Peng was targeted by Mao because he had openly criticized his reckless “Great Leap Forward” economic policies back in 1959, and Mao resented the public humiliation.
Peng was jailed throughout the Cultural Revolution and was eventually tortured to death by the Red Guards.
His murder was widely considered as one of the biggest tragedies during the Cultural Revolution.
Ironically, however, the Red Guards, who were Mao’s accomplices in his crimes against humanity, later became the victims of the Cultural Revolution themselves.
At first, they were encouraged and used by Mao to help him wipe out his political opponents.
But after the Red Guards became increasingly aggressive and started spinning out of control, Mao thought it was time to get rid of them, and immediately sent the People’s Liberation Army to suppress them with guns and tanks.
As a result, hundreds of thousands of Red Guards were killed or permanently disabled during the fight.
Like the Gang of Four and Lin Biao, Mao’s hand-picked successor, the Red Guards were just seen by Mao as expendable tools to help him finish his job.
Once their services were no longer needed, they were immediately ditched by Mao like garbage.
(Editor’s note: Marshal Peng Dehuai was the commander-in-chief of the Chinese expeditionary force during the Korean War between 1950 and 1953. He was rated by both General Douglas MacArthur and his successor General Matthew Ridgway as one of the best field commanders they had ever encountered.)
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 18.
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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