The Cultural Revolution: A People's History, 1962-1976
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After the economic disaster of the Great Leap Forward that claimed tens of millions of lives from 1958–1962, an aging Mao Zedong launched an ambitious scheme to shore up his reputation and eliminate those he viewed as a threat to his legacy. The stated goal of the Cultural Revolution was to purge the country of bourgeois, capitalistic elements he claimed were threatening genuine communist ideology. Young students formed the Red Guards, vowing to defend the Chairman to the death, but soon rival factions started fighting each other in the streets with semiautomatic weapons in the name of revolutionary purity. As the country descended into chaos, the military intervened, turning China into a garrison state marked by bloody purges that crushed as many as one in fifty people.
The Cultural Revolution: A People's History, 1962–1976 draws for the first time on hundreds of previously classified party documents, from secret police reports to unexpurgated versions of leadership speeches. Frank Dikötter uses this wealth of material to undermine the picture of complete conformity that is often supposed to have characterized the last years of the Mao era. After the army itself fell victim to the Cultural Revolution, ordinary people used the political chaos to resurrect the market and hollow out the party's ideology. In short, they buried Maoism. By showing how economic reform from below was an unintended consequence of a decade of violent purges and entrenched fear, The Cultural Revolution casts China's most tumultuous era in a wholly new light.
85–6. 11Robert Service, Stalin: A Biography, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2004, pp. 312–13; E. A. Rees, Iron Lazar: A Political Biography of Lazar Kaganovich, London: Anthem Press, 2012, p. 135. 12Hao Shengxin, Nanwang de suiyue (Unforgettable years), Beijing: Beijing shidai nongchao wenhua fazhan gongsi, 2011, p. 76. 13Speech by Liu Shaoqi, 27 Jan. 1962, Gansu, 91–18–493, pp. 58–60 and 62. 14Speech by Lin Biao, 29 Jan. 1962, Gansu, 91–18–493, pp. 163–4. 15Roderick MacFarquhar, The Origins of the
‘poisonous weed’, but Peng Zhen insisted on portraying the whole affair as a scholarly controversy. Mao feigned ignorance and brushed off the conflict, adding: ‘You people work it out.’16 Mao had lulled Peng into a false sense of security. The trap was sprung a month later, as Mao denounced the mayor for ‘running an independent kingdom’. The Beijing Municipal Party Committee, the Chairman told Kang Sheng, should be dissolved for having shielded bad people and opposed the revolution. Kang
first order of business was to crush the opposition. The Forty-Seventh Army was there to help. It had served under Lin Biao as part of the Fourth Field Army. Power shifted overnight, as rebels attacked their erstwhile oppressors. They were exacting revenge, storming strongholds belonging to their opponents, smashing the windows, tearing down the broadcast system, burning papers and beating captives with leather belts. Ordinary people were having a field day, taking out their anger on the party
disease, ranging from liver infection to heart disease. Those banished to the north of the country suffered from goitre, caused by prolonged lack of iodine. Some diseases were so debilitating that the victims could no longer work, falling into a spiral of illness, malnutrition and underperformance.19 Morbidity rates are hard to come by, but in Hunan cases of premature death among educated youngsters were described by one team of investigators as ‘ceaseless’. There were reports of poisoning and
frequent in the evening.14 Appeals went out for blood donations. But most of all, people were asked to contribute by digging trenches and air-raid shelters. The Chairman called on the people to ‘deeply dig caves, extensively store grain’. Already in June 1965, Mao had proposed that ‘the best way would be to dig shelters underneath houses, roughly a metre deep. If we connect all the houses with tunnels, and each household digs its own shelter, the state will not have to incur any expenses.’ In an