Introduction to The Great
Proletarian Cultural Revolution, 1966-1976
The period of The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (approximately
1966-76) was the most extreme in modern Chinese history. Though its underlying
causes were political, it had profound cultural and economic consequences.
Chairman Mao began the Cultural Revolution as an attempt to regain power
after criticisms emerged about the ruling of China. His goal was to return
to the ideals of the Chinese Communist Revolution. Liu Shaoqi and other "revisionists" had
advocated relying on an urban intellectual elite to lead national development,
and they favored using bonuses as incentives to increase production.
Mao Zedong, however, emphasized that workers and peasants were the true
revolutionary forces, and he sought to increase production through political
idealism (including propaganda and "re-education"). He closed
the schools and called upon all youth to take up the cause of revolution
as "Red Guards." They were to fight against those who were "taking
the "capitalist road." With the support of the Red Guards and
the army, Mao had Liu Shaoqi removed from power by the end of 1968; revolutionary
committees were established at all levels to replace the centralized
bureaucracy associated with Liu. Party cadres were sent to the countryside
to learn respect for physical labor and "correct" political
thinking. The Red Guards attempted to eliminate the "Four Olds":
old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits. They traveled around
the country destroying religious icons and ancient art works, changing
names of streets and parks, forcing women to avoid "bourgeois" clothing
and long hair, and violently attacking counterrevolutionaries and foreigners.
The Red Guards purged one faction after another, often with no apparent
consistency, and fought with one another. Thus, it was dangerous to speak
and write, because what was proper one day might be considered counter-revolutionary
the next day.