This year marks the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution, and a heated debate over Mao Zedong’s true motives for unleashing the calamity is underway among intellectuals in the mainland.
The “pro-Mao faction” have insisted that Mao initiated the Cultural Revolution in order to declare war on the pro-capitalist heretics in the party leadership, while most liberal intellectuals, or the “Reflection faction”, believe that the entire movement was an effort by Mao to wipe out his political rivals.
Many have also taken the view that another reason for Mao to kick-start the Cultural Revolution was to reinforce his one-man dictatorship by stirring up a nationwide political frenzy and imposing a reign of terror across the country through the Red Guards.
In other words, “fear” is the ultimate weapon Mao used to intimidate and subjugate his own people.
To do that, Mao needed a party machinery that was absolutely loyal to him and to him only through which he could tighten his grip on the economy, the military and every aspect of society.
In order to turn the entire Communist Party into his own apparatus, Mao first dismantled the existing collective leadership in the party by stripping president Liu Xiaoqi and vice-premier Deng Xiaoping, the two key leaders who oversaw the day-to-day running of the central government, of their offices, and introduced a new chain of command that was strictly under his control.
Then, on his orders, a new body known as the “Central Cultural Revolution Group” (中央文革小組，CCRG) was formed under the Politburo Standing Committee in May, 1966 to “lead and guide” the Cultural Revolution.
Even though the group was in theory subordinate to the Politburo, in reality it superseded both the Politburo and the Central Secretariat to emerge as the de facto top decision-making organ in the country during the Cultural Revolution.
Led by Mao’s wife and head of the notorious “Gang of Four”, Jiang Qing, the CCRG comprised a bunch of ultra-left theorists and propagandists such as Zhang Chunqiao and Yao Wenyuan who specialized in penning polemics and carrying out political purges as well as persecutions.
(Editor’s note: Zhang and Yao were also members of the “Gang of Four” who, along with Jiang Qing and Wang Hongwen, were eventually arrested in October, 1976 on charges of treason. All four of them later stood trial and were sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.)
After Mao secured his firm grip on the party leadership in Beijing, he went on to seize control on the provincial levels with the help of Lin Biao, then the minister of defense.
At Mao’s instigation, hundreds of thousands of Red Guards in cities, counties and villages across the country were given weapons to allow them to seize power from their local authorities by force.
Subsequently, local governmental and party bodies across the country were shut down and replaced by Revolutionary Committees formed and led by Red Guards, and as a result a large part of the country was thrown into a virtual state of anarchy in the wake of their onslaughts.
After they seized control of their local governments, the Red Guards, again incited by Mao, began to embark on a nationwide witch-hunt for members of the so-called “Five Black Categories”（黑五類), which refers to the groups of people in society identified by Mao as class enemies who he said were posing enormous threat to both the Communist Party and the great proletariat.
They included the landlords, rich farmers, counter-revolutionaries, reactionaries and rightists, who, according to Mao, must be eradicated from society in order to prevent the socialist system from being sabotaged by them.
The massive and brutal persecution against innocent people belonging to these so-called “Five Black Categories” during the Cultural Revolution could be considered one of the worst atrocities against humanity in the 20th century.
During that period, tens of millions of people across China were tortured and mass-murdered, including men, women and children, all because of Mao’s secret agenda to establish his one-man dictatorship and enforce his personality cult.
Perhaps it is fair to say that Mao owed his success to ancient Chinese tyrants such as Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang (朱元璋，1328-1398), the founding father of the Ming dynasty and, of course, to his great mentor Joseph Stalin, who were all masters of brutal dictatorship.
For without their inspiration and enlightenment, Mao might never have been able to achieve his demigod status during his lifetime.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 25
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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