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In the 1960s, local party and government organs in numerous parts of China collapsed dramatically. As a result, a new, unpredictable dynamic was injected into a surging mass movement. Notably, Moa leadership authorized masses to rebel against the party’s bourgeois representatives. In this case, Mao stripped party organizations their supreme authority without providing appropriate alternative structures (Wu 142).
After January 1967, a large number of rebels in China engaged in the tumultuous political process leading to new antagonisms and contentions that violently divided the disorganized mass movement. This essay paper scrutinizes the social base and the ultraleftist ideas of Shengwulian, a Hunanese organization. According to Wu, the development of Shengwulian unorthodox ideas was due to unforeseen political circumstances and new social conditions (148).
Resisting Demobilization: The Road to Shengwulian
Cultural Revolution started in Hunan in early June 1966 with the message “antiparty elements” and “reactionary academic authorities” (Wu 148). At the time, there were three mass movements in Hunan. University Headquarters (Gao Si), a college student’s antiwork team mobilization that was formed in October 1966, opposed provincial party authorities and was against the labeling of individuals as black gang or counterrevolutionaries (Wu 150). Xiang River Storm and Thunder, the students, teachers, and workers’ organization formed in October 1966 had a membership of 1 million. Finally, workers left Xiang River and formed Worker’s Alliance in April 1967 after PLA suppressed Xiang River members in February 1967.
On 30 September 1967, delegates from numerous Xiang River groups formed Hunan Provincial Proletarian Revolutionary Great Alliance Committee (Shengwulian acronym) (Wu 156). Members included the Hunan Red Flag Army, the Changsha Youth Guardian Army, the Provincial Teachers’ Alliance, the Northern District Worker Alliance, the Changsha Workers’ United Revolutionary Committee, the Changsha Peasants’ United Committee, the University Storm and Thunder, and the Hunan Jinggang Mountain (Wu 156-57).
Other members were the Middle- School Red Guard Committee, the East Is Red Headquarters, the Provincial Government Agencies Rebel Liaison Post, and the Red Vocational School Rebels’ Association. The acts of Shengwulian were considered similar to those of KMT officers, counterrevolutionaries, bad elements, rich peasants, and landlords.
A coalition of the Disaffected
Shengwulian had a limited binding power on groups that acted in its name. In spite of fluid membership and structure, Shengwulian attracted many people with grievances relating to social life marginalization or being political targets (Wu 159).
The Shengwulian had strong ties with small size cooperatives and factories, where workers’ social status, wages, and benefits were inferior. Some of the active Shengwulian groups included PLA Veterans, Black Devils, and Rusticated Urban Youth. Mainly, the participation of PLA Veterans was due to their neglect in areas of residential rights and employment. Black Devils participated in Shengwulian because of the 1950s discrimination related to bourgeois rights labeling. Besides, Rusticated Urban Youth joined Shengwulian to voice their grievances relating to brutal treatment from cadres (Wu 163).
The People’s Commune of China
The Cultural Revolution empowered discontented Chinese citizens to express their grievances, mainly at the local level. The anti-bureaucratic critique in Hunan shows that in the form of ideological transformation (Wu 170). Notably, Mao initially advocated for ‘commune’ but later opposed the establishment of Shanghai Commune in January. Mainly, Yang Xiguang believes that Mao’s opposition to commune was because “Chinese proletariat was still immature, and its consciousness had not yet developed to the degree at which it was possible to transform the society” (Wu 179).
Again, the January Storm failed to handle essential problems of all revolutionaries – the army. Specifically, the Cultural Revolution reached a phase where the coercive arm of the state needed a transformation to rectify the bad relationship between people and the army.
The Universality of the Singular
Mainly, the ideas of Yang Xiguang, Zhang Yugang, and Zhou Guohui demonstrated an alternative interpretation of the Cultural Revolution. In particular, their critique showed the manner in which individual struggles could be connected or separated from one another (Wu 184). As Wu notes, In late 1967 and early 1968, both local demands and the emergence of the novel political idea, which led to new meanings of particular grievances and incidents, had a potentially explosive effect on the Cultural Revolution’s mass politics (185).
Despite Shengwulian activists’ effort, their determination failed to materialize following national and local authority’s condemnation and destruction. On 26 January 1968 mass rally, General Li Yuan depicted Shengwulian as “hodgepodge of social dregs consisting of landlords, rich peasants, counterrevolutionaries, rightists, unrepentant capitalist-roaders, KMT remnants, and Trotskyist bandits” (Wu 186). Shengwulian activists such as Yang went into hiding, prison, or committed suicide. Finally, on 21 February 1968, Xiang River and Workers Alliance announced their dissolution, marking the end of Shengwulian.
Xiang River groups formed Shengwulian on 30 September 1967 as resistance towards demobilization. Some of its members were Hunan Red Flag Army and the Changsha Youth Guardian Army. Due to its opposition towards the government, the actions of Shengwulian activists were considered similar to those of KMT officers, counterrevolutionaries, bad elements, Trotskyist bandits, rich peasants, and landlords. Through local and national governments’ condemnation and crushing effort, Shengwulian activists’ determination failed to materialize as per their expectations. On 21 Feb 1968, Shengwulian was no more as Xiang River, and Workers Alliance announced their dissolution.
Wu, Yiching. “Revolution is Dead, Long Live the Revolution: Popular Radicalization of the Cultural Revolution in Hunan.” The Cultural Revolution at the Margins: Chinese Socialism in Crisis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014. 142-189. Print.