Question: To what extent did Mao’s Cultural Revolution impact the people of China during the period of 1966-1968?
Mao’s Cultural Revolution impacted the people of China during the period of 1966-1968 to a great extent as China was brought to near anarchy. This was essentially due to the creation of the Red Guards from the youth of China. They brought detrimental chaos to the country, through schools, colleges and on the streets. The Cultural Revolution also known as The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution lasted from 1966 to 1976, but its most intense stage was the from 1966 to 1968. This was because the Red Guards started with a sudden and passionate out burst of radicalism. The mass mobilization of the youth of China into the Red Guard units had a widespread negative impact on the population of China. This negative impact was furthered by the lack of an education. The youth were also adversely affected psychologically. Finally the downward spiral of the Chinese economy had a profound effect on China in its entirety.
Through the mass mobilization of the youth of China into what were known as Red Guards, Mao’s Cultural Revolution had an enormous negative impact on the people of China. As the Red Guard Demonstrations became more frequent and violent, China’s people began to conform and join the side of Mao and his followers to avoid humiliation or death. These rebelling youths tore through streets, houses, and cultural heritages destroying all deemed ‘suspicious’. This greatly affected China’s population as the people lived in fear while China was losing control of its youth and spiraling into social turmoil. Mao’s Cultural Revolution called for all the youth of China to band together and rebel against the ‘capitalist roaders’, which resulted in the creation of the so-called Red Guards. These were groups of students that generally came from a lower class background, whose young minds were easily influenced by that of Mao and violently followed in his footsteps.
“Red Guards were formidable forces in Mao’s Crusade, in the second half of 1966 and early 1967” stated Parris Chang, who received a PhD from Columbia University and is currently a professor of Political Science at Pennsylvania State University, and is also the author of numerous articles, journals and contributor to several books (Chang, 1973, pg.17). The consequences that followed in 1966 and 1967 were, “public terror in the hands of teenage gangs called Red Guards” states Timothy Cheek a professor and director of Chinese centre for research, who has also acquired a Ph.D in History and East Asian Languages, Harvard University, an M.A. (History), The University of Virginia, and a B.A. Asian Studies, Honours, Australian National University plus multiple publications in various areas (Cheek 2002, pg.27).“Red guards played a decisive role in the Cultural Revolution, without the red guards the Cultural Revolution certainly would not have been so intensive” stated Bullard (Bullard, 1985, pg 45). The Red Guards power skyrocketed as Mao openly stated his support for them and their actions.
As well as his avocation for violence, which led to the first two years of the revolution, unleashing violence upon the people and country. They made sure they left no part of China untouched. They were to rid the country of the ‘four olds’, old customs, cultures, old habits and old ideas and spread the teachings of Mao. Anyone one who was against Mao teachings or criticized him was punished, this showed the Red Guards violent side. This was because “Red Guards in China were encouraged to criticize those who Mao deemed untrustworthy with regards to the direction he wanted china to take,” stated Trueman (Trueman, 2000). Some were even humiliated publicly by being dragged through the streets of China and forced to wear dunce caps. The Red Guards charged through the streets invading hairdressers and commanding them to cease any peculiar haircuts for clients and telling girls with long braids to chop them and wear only a bob.
Other Red Guards raided shops and ordered them to stop selling unnecessary items such as cosmetics while restaurants were forced to simplify their menus, this caused sales to plummet in China. The Red Guards burned millions of books while destroying numerous cultural treasures such as temples, museum and libraries. Religion was another main target of Red Guards, all Buddhist signs or images were covered with signs attacking religion. Chen, J. and Buell, H. agree and both state that “Red Guards clambered up street signs and columns to change the street names to be more revolutionary like “Anti- Imperialism Avenue” (Buell, 1967 pg.74 and Chen, 1975 pg.227) this caused significant confusion among the people of China.
“The Red Guard demonstrations became more and more violent as time passed, soon blood was spilled in major Chinese cities” (Buell, 1967 pg.76). People began being tortured, homes were charged into and raided of anything suspect or believed to be holding on to the ‘four olds’. The Red Guards were unstoppable as even local police told people to not intervene and no measures should be taken to stop these guards. They believed “If Chairman Mao is our Red Commander – in –chief and we are his red soldiers, who can stop us? First we will make china red inside out and then we will help the working people of other countries make the whole world red” (Hay, 2012, pg.450).
This shows just how extreme their dedication was. It even continued into their own homes. Children were advised to spy on and report their parents for being inadequately revolutionary. Beatings, sometimes to the point of death occurred. “The Cultural Revolution mobilized and engaged the masses to fight among themselves, with consequences that huge numbers of people were forced to commit suicide or were tortured to death” at the hands of the Red Guards. (Lin, 1991, pg.3). The Cultural Revolution claimed the lives of more than 5million and impacted China’s population both psychologically and physically. The impact of the Cultural Revolution directly touched all of Chinas populace.
Mao’s cultural revolution profoundly impacted the youth of China during the period of 1966-1968. One of the greater areas of impact for the youth was their education or lack of. The end of 1966 saw all schools and colleges closed for revolutionary struggle (Stewart, 2006, pg.137). The start of the revolution saw 107million youths from schools, colleges and universities join the Red Guards and abandon their studies. (Lin, 1991 pg.4) “The movement spread from universities to high schools. Students began wearing paramilitary uniforms, and red arm bands proclaiming the Red Guards, defendants of Mao” (Faulkner, 2003, pg.92/93). The teachers bore the burnt of the initial violence such as being tortured to death by enraged pupils. The Red Guards proceeded to take over schools and universities, instructing all offices to have photos of Mao hung up. Red Guards turned their time of studies into preaching about Mao and his teachings.
They perceived him as a god like figure, and often stated, “Chairman Mao is our supreme leader and we are his soldiers, Chairman Mao stands among us. This is the happiest and most important moment in our lives. We will read his work, follow his teachings, act according to his instructions and be his good pupils for the rest of our lives” (Hay, 2012, pg.441/442). The only book they continued to study was Mao’s ‘Little Red Book’ full of quotations of Mao, which they continually preached and quoted. As the youth of china had left school and deserted their studies so early in their schooling life they knew nothing but to follow Mao’s instructions. They were unable to do anything that required particular knowledge and technique, as they did not have the training, knowledge or skills. The impact of this was not recognized until after the revolution when the next generation was trying to boost China’s economy and enter the workforce however failing miserably due to their lack of education and experience.
Another major impact that the Cultural Revolution had on the Chinese population, especially the youth, was psychologically during the period of 1966-1968. The Red Guards consisted of children as young as 13 that were extremely susceptible to Mao’s new ways along with being easily influenced. The youth of China perceived Mao in a god like figure, so that anything he thought or did was seen as how they were to think and act. This was evident as “ Mao personally looked down on teachers as well as intellectuals and considered them hopeless and useless” (Bullard, 1985, pg48.) Red Guards continually attacked and made examples of any intellectuals, especially teachers. Mao had always encouraged destruction and this was then embedded into the minds of the youth and this violence quickly became action instead of thought.
Mao stated “There may be thousands of principles of Marxism but in the final analysis they can be summed up into one sentence; Rebellion is justified” (Hay, 2012, pg.438). “The Red Guards were damaging and destroying China – powerful adults couldn’t defend themselves against the mass of Red Guards as they had become violent, brutal and lawless during the Cultural Revolution. However very much loyal to Mao Zedong” stated Bullard (Bullard, 1985, pg.37). Violence was promoted and beatings, torturing became accepted to ridding China of “class enemies.” Former Red Guard Rae Yang stated, “From May to December 1966, the first seven months of the Cultural Revolution left me with experiences I will never forget. Some memories cause me unspeakable pain and shame to remember” (Cheek, 2002, pg.210).
Bullard also agrees with Rae Yang’s recount as he states, “the Cultural Revolution was indeed the darkest chapter in their living memory” (Bullard, 1985, pg.43). The leaders of China and those with high authority in the Chinese Communist Party encouraged and supported the formations of the Red Guard units, who were to criticize and destroy anything connected to the ‘four olds’ and ‘class enemies’. Red guards used methods of torture, interrogation, starvation and sleep depravation to extract confessions and knowledge about ‘class enemies’ (Faulkner, 2003 pg.95).
Although the Red Guards were mentally and physically immature, by having the support and authority of Mao, they were unstoppable. The Cultural Revolution changed the way the youth of China thought and processed things. They may have deliberately been destroying China but only because they truly believed that was the right thing to do under Mao’s command. “Although Red Guards created so many damages in China, no one can deny the very basic fact that the Red Guards were uncorrupted, naive, innocent and high in their moral standards in general” (Bullard, 1985 pg.45). Mao’s corrupt influence on their young fragile minds was the main cause for the damage to society.
Mao’s Cultural Revolution impacted the people to such a large extent that the economy became collateral damage. This increased the impact of the Cultural Revolution on the people of China. Economic activity was halted during 1966-1968 of Mao’s Cultural Revolution because of the mass mobilization of the Chinese youth, peasants, and factory workers (the proletarian class) into Red Guard units. This left the economy to suffer and caused many problems for China in its entirety, as people quit work and their jobs to engage in revolutionary struggle and join Red Guard units. “Since labour is the key factor of human creation, labour is the foundation on which human society exists and develops. Workers are the creators of civilization” (Chen, 1971, pg.16). This shows just how important the workers of China were, and can explain why the economy suffered due to the creation of Red Guards.
China’s economy was greatly affected by the lack of production in industrial and agricultural products. The lack of workers led to an inevitable decline in production, which resulted in diminishing food supplies for families all over China. “In 1967, the industrial and agricultural index decreased by 9.6% over the previous year and that of 1968 was 4.2% less than 1967” (Wertz, 1998). These figures give evidence of the decline of China’s economy. Rice grains and cotton production also dropped dramatically and caused prices to increase” stated Phillips (Phillips, 2009). Above all, production in china was needed and with this drop in production China’s economy was in turmoil. Through the downward spiral of the Chinese economy during the period of 1966-1968 the Chinese population was extensively effected in their everyday life.
Mao’s Cultural Revolution impacted the people of China during the period of 1966-1968 drastically as China was in social turmoil due the actions of the Red Guards under Mao’s influence. There was no escape from the Red Guards and their ‘correctional’ actions. The damages done to society and the people were extreme and in all sense negative.
The people of China lived in fear and their everyday life was seriously disrupted during this period of the Cultural Revolution. The lack of education through school and university closures combined with the harsh psychological impact of Mao and his Cultural Revolution caused extensive damage to the youth of China. The Cultural Revolution also significantly impacted China’s populace as the economy collapsed as a result of the Cultural Revolution through the people’s move from jobs to join revolutionary struggle. Through the combination of these significant events during the period of 1966-1968 of Mao’s Cultural Revolution impacted the population of China profoundly.
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