One of the greatest events which had a notable effect on shaping of Chinese history was the China’s Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) also known as the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution”.
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It may be regarded as the political event of the century, taking into account the far reaching effect it had on the China’s politics, economy and culture. The architect and creator of it all was the chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Mao Zedong.
According to Joseph, “The Cultural Revolution can be traced to the mid–1950s when Mao first became seriously concerned about the path that China’s socialist transition had taken in the years since the CCP had come to power in 1949” (par. 2).
Mao believed that a privileged class of professionals, who had emerged since 1949, following China’s progress, was acquiring too much power at his expense. Mao understood the fact that new elite was unaware of the common and widely-accepted lifestyle of an ordinary citizen in China.
The revolution seemed to be aimed at purging the CCP of anyone, who did not fully support Mao. Mao Zedong’s desire was to create a country with a classless society where all the peasants, workers and educated people would be working together for the common good of China (Trueman par. 4).
This decade-long event can be divided into three main phases. The mass phase (1966–1969) was described by the activities of a vicious ‘army’ of school and college students, also known as ‘The Red Guards’, who responded to Mao’s call to “raise a revolution”. This phase saw most of Mao’s rivals in the top leadership deposed, including the China’s president, Liu Shaoki (Joseph par. 4).
The military phase (1969-1971) was mainly dominated by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) who Mao had called upon to suppress the anarchy of the ‘Red Guards’ (Joseph par. 7). Mao saw the need to suppress the ‘Red Guards’ after the activities of the ‘Red Guards’ had gone out of hand.
In some areas, they fought against themselves and even turned their aggression against the foreigners. The British Embassy was completely burnt down as a result. (Trueman par. 6)
The military phase ended in September 1971 with an attempted coup by the defense minister Lin Biao. Biao was one of Mao’s main allies in launching the China’s Cultural Revolution. His attempt, however, had failed, and he later died in a plane crash while on his way to the Soviet Union.
The succession phase (1972-1976) mainly concerned who would succeed Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou Enlai, both of whom were in deteriorating health.
After the death of Mao Zedong in September 1976, his key allies, also known as ‘The Gang of Four’ which also included his widow, Jiang Qing, were arrested. This marked the end of the Cultural Revolution.
The China’s Cultural Revolution is generally regarded as the most depressing moment in the country’s recent history. As Joseph puts it,
The movement’s ideals were betrayed at every turn by its destructive impulses. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of officials and intellectuals were physically and mentally persecuted.
The much–vaunted initiatives that were to transform the nation often had disastrous consequences for China’s education and cultural life (par. 8)
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The decade-long event remains a landmark in the Chinese history making which will be remembered as the one which had a great effect on shaping of China.
Joseph, William. China’s Cultural Revolution: A Brief Overview, 4 Aug 2003. Web. <http://academics.wellesley.edu/Polisci/wj/China1972/brief-intro.html>
Trueman, Chris. The Cultural Revolution. 2000. Web. <https://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/modern-world-history-1918-to-1980/china-1900-to-1976/the-cultural-revolution/>