Background Information:

• 1966-1976
• Launched by Chinese Communist Party chairman, Mao Ze Dong
• Criticism of intellectualism
• 39 artists, writers, scholars = “reactionary bourgeois authorities”
• “Dramas of the Ming Mandarin” by Wu Han, the man who protested against emperor on behalf of suffering ordinary people & was exiled
• Mao then asked Yao Wenyuan to write a criticism in secrecy

The Chinese Cultural Revolution all started when Mao Ze Dong and his wife Jiang Qing started to criticize intellectualism. In 1964, Mao drew up a list of 39 artists, writers, and scholars and called them “reactionary borgeois authorities”. In particular, Mao condemned a play called “Dramas of the Ming Mandarin” written by Wu Han. It was a story about a man who remonstrated with the emperor on behalf of the suffering
ordinary people, at the risk of his own life. Consequently he was dismissed and exiled.

Mao and Jiang Qing suspected that the Ming Mandarin was being used to represent Marshal Peng Dehuai, the former defense minister who in 1959 had spoken out against Mao's disastrous policies, which had caused the famine. Jiang Qing went to Shanghai and asked Yao Wenyuan to write a report criticizing "Dramas of the Ming Mandarin". This was done in complete secrecy.


Mao wanted to renew the spirit of Chinese revolution since
• Russian revolution was failing
• Mao’s colleagues trying to rid of economic depression caused by Great Leap Forward, Mao questioned their devotion to revolution
• Feared urban social stratification

Mao concerned about his own place in history and wanted to get rid of the “4 Olds”
•  Ideas
• Culture
• Customs
• Habits


The Chinese Cultural Revolution occurred more than thirty years ago. It was launched in August 1966 by the chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, Mao Ze Dong during his last decade in power (1966-1976).

Mao’s Four Goals:

Mao not only wanted to secure Maoism, a form of communism he created, as the country’s dominant ideology but wanted to eliminate any political opposition.

During the early 1960s, Mao feared that China’s revolution would go astray like the Russian’s did. He doubted the revolutionary commitment by his colleagues, who set out to bring China out of the economic depression but most of all, he resented his minimal role.

Mao initially pursued his goals through a massive mobilization of the country’s youths. They were organized into groups called the Red Guards.


A poster during the Cultural Revolution. Caption reads:

The People's Liberation Army of China is a grand school of

Mao Ze Dong Thought

Mao Ze Dong:


Mao Ze Dong (12/26/1893 – 9/9/1976), born in the village of Shaoshan, Xiangtan county, Hunan Province, was the eldest son of four children of a moderately prosperous peasant farmer and a money lender.

Early on, Mao was an advocate of physical fitness and collective action. After his graduation from Hunan First Normal University in 1918, Mao traveled with his high-school teacher and future father-in-law, Professor Yang Changji, to Beijing.

There, he worked as an assistant in the university library. As he worked, Mao also read extensively, which served as a life-long influence.

At the same time, became a part-time student at Peking University. He sat in and listened to the lectures of many leading scholars, such as Chen Duxiu, Hu Shih, and Qian Xuantong.

In the early 1920s, Mao traveled throughout China while his radical colleagues went abroad. When he returned to Hunan, Mao

strongly advocated collective action and labor rights.

When he was only 29 years old, Mao was elected to the party’s Central Committee.

When the party suffered suffered major setbacks in organizing the labor union movement and problems with the alliance with the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) arose, Mao became disillusioned with the revolutionary movement and moved back to his home village of Shaoshan, apparently retired from politics.

After the 1925 violent uprisings in Shanghai and Guangzhou, Mao regained his interest in the revolution.


Wish Mao a long life with no limits.

Mao’s Associates:

Defense Minister Lin Biao: Made sure the army remained Maoist


Lin Biao

Mao’s Assistant: Chen Boda: Worked with security men Kang Sheng and Wang Dongxing to carry out Mao’s orders about ideology and security


Chen Boda

Premier Zhou Enlai: Essential in keeping China running even through period of intense chaos


Zhou Enlai

Key Players: Gang of Four

Gang of Four: Jiang Qing (Mao's third wife) and three of her close associates, Wang Hongwen, Yao Wenyuan, and Zhang Chungqiao

These four radicals were the group of Communist Party leaders in the People’s Republic of China.

After Mao’s death, all four were arrested and removed from their positions. They were blamed for the events of the Cultural Revolution.

Mao put Jiang in charge of China’s cultural apparatus.

Wang, Yao, and Zhang were party leaders in Shanghai, who had played leading roles in securing Shanghai for Mao during the Revolution. (Lin Biao, the Defense Minister, was also a part of this group until his death in a plane crash.)

The removal of this group from power marked the end of the Cultural Revolution.

The Gang of Four

A government poster calling for the "Immediate overthrow of the [anti-Communist]" Gang of Four

(individuals listed in the center by last name).


Red Guards

Red Guards traveled throughout China going to schools, universities, and institutions spreading the teachings of Mao with posters and speeches.

They were violent and oppressive to those who went against the teachings of Mao and those who criticized him, causing ill feelings and opposition in society.

Clashes between Red Guards and workers, peasants, and soldiers of People's Liberation Army occurred.

The role of Red Guard was mainly to attack "the four olds" of society: old ideas, cultures, manners, and customs.


Soldiers/Warriors love to read Mao’s books.

Mao met a million Red Guards formally in Tiananmen Square on August 18, 1966. The Red Guard, carrying portraits of Mao, marched through the streets and destroyed all the symbols, which they thought were "feudal, capitalist, and radical".

They named and renamed street signs & buildings.

They abused intellectuals (called "anti-revolutionaries“) and ransacked their homes.

The Red Guards also ransacked museums, destroyed old books and works of art. Many famous building like temples and shrines and heritages was destroyed (4,922 out of a total 6,843 were destroyed).

The Red Guard played a big role in damaging the Communist party, the nation and its people, and themselves. They trusted Mao but since they lacked social experience, they were brainwashed into acting enthusiastically and blindly led by Rin Biao and Jiang Qing.


The people of the world should unify together to defeat the American empire,

Russian ideology, and any party in any country which may object to our revolution.


The Cultural Revolution had a significant impact on almost all of China’s population, including young students, as well as on many people throughout the world.

10 years of the Cultural Revolution brought the education system to a complete halt.

Countless of ancient buildings, artifacts, antiques, books, and paintings were destroyed/ burned by the Red Guards.

China’s historical reserves, artifacts, and sites of interest also suffered devastating damage as they were though to be at the root of the “old ways of thinking.”

Although there is no official record of exactly how much was destroyed, many suggest that such of China’s thousand years of history was destroyed during the ten years of the Cultural Revolution, with such destruction of historical artifacts unmatched at any time or place in history.


The Revolution was especially devastating for minority cultures in China. This supposedly came from Jiang Qing’s personal animosity and contempt towards ethnic minorities.


Economic Impact

Cultural Revolution had a strong hold over the economic production of China.

For ten years, the Revolution caused the near collapse of China’s economy.



In 1981, the Communist Party of China officially repudiated the Cultural Revolution with the responsibility and blame put on Mao Ze Dong.

According to a Central Committee resolution adopted on June 27, 1981, the Cultural Revolution was carried out “under the mistaken leadership of Mao Ze Dong, who was used by the counter-revolutionaries Lin Bao and Jiang Qing, and brought serious disaster and turmoil to the Party and the Chinese people.”

Intellectuals were sent to rural labor camps. Anyone with skills (over that of the average person) was targeted. This led to almost an entire generation of inadequately educated individuals.

Mao said , “it is necessary for intellectual students to go to the countryside and be re-educated by poor or average peasants.” Students (more than 16 million) became manual labor in the countryside and the Red Guards campaign came to an end.

Mao believed “the more books you read, the more stupid you become”
Thus, leading to a lack of good talent. About one million college students and two million high school students had neglected their studies.

Difference between the educational levels of China and the rest of the world grew with the Revolution. Thus, causing problems that remain today.

Did You Know?

During the Revolution millions of people in China had their human rights annulled. Young people from the cities were forcibly moved to the countryside, where they were forced to abandon all forms of standard education for the teachings of the Communist Party.

Crimes against the government were brutally and publicly punished. People were forced to walk through the streets naked, were beaten publicly, and many deaths occurred in police custody, even though they were often covered up as suicides.

People had to carry 2 or more copies of Mao’s Little Red Book to avoid being accused of supporting Mao since many were accused of being foreign spies with very little evidence against them.

The authority of the Red Guards surpassed that of the army, local police, and even the law. People were encourage to criticize cultural institutions and to question their parents and teachers, which had been strictly forbidden in Confucian culture.

Any aspect that had to do with the west or an upper class connotation was done away with. Civilians were also not allowed to drink alcohol, smoke or chew tobacco, use perfumes, colognes, or beauty appliances.


Chinese poster saying: "Shatter the old world / Establish a new world."

Classical example of the Red art from the early Cultural Revolution.

Worker crushes the crucifix, Buddha and classical Chinese texts with his hammer; 1967


Today, the Revolution is seen by most people inside and outside of China, including the Communist Party of China and Chinese democracy movement supporters, as a complete disaster and as an event to be avoided in the future. There are no politically significant groups within China that defined the Revolution aside from the still-ruling Communist Party.

Supporters of the Chinese democracy movement see the Cultural Revolution as an example of what happens when democracy is lacking and place responsibility for the Cultural Revolution on the Chinese Communist Party.

Human rights activists and conservatives in the West attribute the cause of the Cultural Revolution to be "too much government and too little popular participation".

By contrast, the official view of the Communist Party of China is that the Cultural Revolution is what can happen when one person establishes a “cult of personality” and manipulates the public in such a way as to destroy the party and state institutions.

Cultural Revolution is an example of too much popular participation in government, rather than too little.

It is an example of the dangers of anarchy.


The Communist Party also strongly de-emphasizes the extent of Mao's involvement in the instigation of the Cultural Revolution, preferring to shift most of the blame onto the Gang of Four as a convenient culprit.

The consequence of this view is the consensus among the Chinese leadership that China must be governed by a strong party institution, in which decisions are made collectively and according to the rule by law, and in which the public has only limited input.

These contradictory views of the Cultural Revolution were put into sharp relief during the Tiananmen Protests of 1989, when both the demonstrators and the government justified their actions as being necessary to avoid another Cultural Revolution.

Despite some knowledge of the Cultural Revolution among many Chinese, there has not been a single museum dedicated to its events on the mainland, until recently.

The Cultural Revolution severely impacted China and was a disaster for the Chinese people.

Songs From China’s Cultural Revolution

The East is Red
Sailing the Seas Depends on the Helmsman
The People of the World Will Surely Be Victorious!
Long Live Chairman Mao!
We are Chairman Mao's Red Guards
I Love Beijing's Tiananmen!
March of the Revolutionary Youth
I am a Little Member of the Commune
Little Ping Pong Ball

The Force at the Core Leading Our Cause (A Quotation from Chairman Mao)

To Listen go to http://www.wellesley.edu/Polisci/wj/China/CRSongs/crsongs.htm

Song Source: <http://www.wellesley.edu/Polisci/wj/China/CRSongs/crsongs.htm>


Timeline of Events: