Mao’s Last Attempt: The Cultural Revolution
China History

Research Report
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Revolution can be defined as a process of alternation, modification and reformation. To the Chinese intellectuals and leaders, revolution is a way , a solution, to control and re-educate those who do not conform or who hinder China’s progression towards being the greatest nation. Mao delivered the Cultural Revolution with a forceful conviction and positiveness; however, it failed to deliver the radical change to its Chinese people. The Cultural Revolution was the last call for Mao to prove to his people that he is the greatest leader in China.

Historical Background

    The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, otherwise known as Cultural Revolution, was Mao Zedong last attempt to reunify China into a socialist country. The birth of this Revolution started at Beijing University and spread all over China. The Cultural Revolution advocated the elimination of the old, the tradition, and the capitalist thinking. Supporters of the Revolution fed and lived by the words of the Revolution, “down with,” “drag out,” “smash, burn, fry, and torch,” and the all-purpose “kill”; and the labels affixed to the movement's victims such creative dysphemisms as “ox-freaks and snake-monsters” and long and ugly “scientific” designations like “the biggest handful of Party-persons in power taking the capitalist road (Schoenhals, 3).”
    To the outside world the Cultural Revolution was a mystery and phenomena to the foreigners. However, to the Chinese it was seen as the decade 1966 – 1976 as “Ten Lost Years” (Fairbanks 316). It was a decade of confusion, power struggle, exploitation, and fear. Cultural Revolution was supposed to be the road to improvement and advancement; however, in actuality it pushed China back into the past.

Research Report

“A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained, and magnanimous”  - Chairman Mao

     Mao’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution can be categorized into four different phases, starting from 1966 to 1976. Each phase tells us the story how this destructive revolution came about and how it ended to be the most devastating event in human existence.

Phase I: The Beginning

    During the summer of 1966 there was an increasing tension between the Mao’s supporters and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) establishment. Mao fearful of the growing party opposition declared a full meeting with the Central Committee at its Eleventh Plenum in August of 1966. At the meeting they declared a war against all party opposition which, led to the development of the Cultural Revolution (Fairbanks 317).  The purpose of the Cultural Revolution was to combat and prevent revisionism. With this they developed three – dimensional transformation of the Chinese society: (1) the removal of power holders who were traveling the capitalist road (2) the repudiation of bourgeois and reactionary academic authorities (3) the transformation of the superstructure that does not correlate  with the socialist economic base (Barnouin 22 –23). According to Mao’s philosophy a great nation can only be strong when its people believe and practice the Marxist philosophy. Mao completely rejected capitalism and any form of bourgeoisie way of living. Thus, this has become his prime objection of the Cultural Revolution, to unshroud party hidden opposition with the Party and to eliminate them politically. Mao believed the exclusion of capitalist power holders and followers within the Party, and of reactionary intellectuals would lead the passage for the proletariat to change the superstructure of the Chinese society. Hence, in order to fulfill his dream, he had to transform the society by remodeling their minds. Mao advocated that, “ a great revolution which touches people to their very souls and aims at changing their world outlook (Barnouin 24).”  However, the most important requirement for changing people’s world outlook was to beat down one’s self-interest and substitute for concern for others, thus favoring collectivism over individualism. Cultural Revolution was launched due to Mao’s power, charisma, and influence to the Chinese people. When the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was introduced to  the public, it was the openly accepted by middle-school graduates or above.

Phase II: The Middle

     Mao’s biggest supporter were the intellectuals who were middle-school graduates or above. May 29 was the birthday of the Red Guard movement. On this day, groups of students from prestigious Beijing high schools had learned about the fight against capitalism and decided to pledge themselves to defend Mao Zedong Thought and the proletariat party. The Red Guards are the production of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution; they were born and are growing up under the influence of the revolution. The Red Guards have been nurtured and raised by Mao’s thought, “Chairman Mao is our red commander, and we are the young, red soldiers of Chairman Mao (Schoenals 44).” This began the rise of terror in China. These young guards declared their loyalty by pledging that they, “ are the red guards to safeguard the Red political power. The Party centre and Chairman Mao are our mainstay…we will shed our last drop of blood to protect the party centre and our great leader Chairman Mao and we shall carry the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution resolutely to its end (Barnouin 95)." The first agenda they set forth was educational reform. The middle-school student began to criticize the educational system authorities that were following an established educational standard, and postulate thorough changes in the school system (Barnouin 95). The Red Guards rampaged throughout the Chinese cities, attacking the, “Four Olds” (old ideas, culture, customs, and habits) with resilience (Fairbanks 316). They vowed to uphold the Thought of Mao, to expunge bourgeois influences and revisionist tendencies. They formulated political propaganda all over the cities, destroyed private properties, ransacked cities, renamed streets, attacked those with modern attire and haircuts, and humiliated foreign diplomats. These assaults crippled the government, yet did not create a Chinese united front; instead, by 1967 the Red Guard disturbances reached an alarming proportions (Hsu 701).

A peasant denounces a former landlord.

Immortal Meritorious Deeds in the name of the Revolution:

 The Red Guards was fully supported and praised by the Chinese public; hence, led to mass destruction of all kinds.

    As a result, the country faced severed turmoil and civil strife. Industrial and agricultural productions suffered immensely. The disruption in education caused the loss of a generation of trained manpower. The damage in effect involved three generations. The Cultural Revolution turned out to be anticultural, anti-intellectual, and antiscientific, for knowledge was seen as the source of reactionary and bourgeois thought and action (Hsu 703). This period of mass destruction ended in mid – 1968, when Mao demobilized the Red Guards and called in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) (Fairbanks 317).

Phase III: The End

    On October 1968, Mao was already thinking of ending the Cultural Revolution on the condition that those rebels could claim victory (Ninth Congress). By the summer of 1968 all through April 1969, several attempts were made to rebuild the party and the government, in which the military has become very influential. By April 1969, at the Ninth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) it was announced the end of the Cultural Revolution.
    The Great Proletarian Revolution was a disaster from the start. In the end it did not achieve Mao’s ultimate goals. It did not established the new socialist society he desired. In the end it had become a memory of horrors to many Chinese. In the end, Mao’s image as the great leader had diminished into a simple ideology of a man who failed a lot. Mao’s dream withheld the Chinese progression towards a progressive and successful future. China was left behind as the whole world moved towards 20th century of new technological, agricultural, and economical innovation. It was said that, “Comrade Mao is mainly to blame for the Cultural Revolution, a long-term leftist mistake. Only, his mistake was absolutely that of a great proletarian revolutionary (Ninth Congress).”

Phase IV: The Aftermath / Ninth Congress in Beijing

     From April 1 through 24, 1969, the Chinese Communist Party held the Ninth Congress in Beijing to justify the action of the Cultural Revolution. 1512 representative of 22 million communists attended this delegation, were mainly the leaders of the Revolutionary Committees and rebels and People Liberation Army supporting leftist. Once they arrived they were under strict surveillance, “delegates were not informed in advance of the date of the congress, guests from foreign countries were not invited and reporters were not allowed to report freely. They were not allowed to go out and use the telephone (Ninth Congress).” It was said that this kind of behavior had never been seen in the CCP’s history in any country. The purpose of the meeting was to put together explanations, reasons, and future tactics as a result of the Cultural Revolution. The reports covered a great number of pages, added the false comments on the history of the CCP, and inventing reasons to explain the need for the Revolution – the entire agenda they put together were all lies.  In the end, the Congress adopted the “Chinese Communist Party Rule.” With this ruling they agreed that the Cultural Revolution was, “a political revolution in which Proletarians resist Bourgeois and the other exploiting classes. Maoism is Marxist Leninism of the time when imperialism is going to be destroyed and Socialism will be victorious in the world (Ninth Congress).” Clearly these were subjective exaggeration of Maoism. The Ninth Congress was a success. In the end the Cultural Revolution did not turn towards the end as Mao had expected.  However, its the Chinese people who were the victims of this Revolution. Even though the Revolution has ended China now is lagging behind other great nations.

Historical Significance

    The Great Proletarian Revolution was one of the most horrific events that occurred to Mankind. It destroyed people’s soul and self-worth. Not only did it destroy the minds of many Chinese people but also destroyed the China as a nation. China after the revolution lagged behind other nation and was seen as a backward and confused state. China has become a mystery to many foreigners. We have learned that China and its people suffered a great amount of pain under Mao’s regime.  The Chinese realized that living in the world of ideology is not ‘to live’ but ‘to die.’  Mao’s destruction not only destroyed the lives of many Chinese people, but also destroyed the process of living. ‘To live’ is not the deprivation of culture, tradition, and education. ‘To live’ is not in fear but with assurance. ‘To live’ is not to weaken one’s soul, but to strengthen it. By understanding Mao’s Cultural Revolution we can have a better grasp regarding China of today.


Barnouin, Barbara; Changgen, Yu. The Chinese Cultural Revolution. New York: Kegan Paul International, 1992.
Fairbanks, John Kin. The Great Chinese Revolution 1800- 1985. New York: Harper & Row, Publisher, 1987.
Hsai, Adrian. The Chinese Cultural Revolution. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972
Hsu, Immanuel. The Rise of Modern China.Oxford: Oxford: University Press,1995.
Schoenhals, Michael. China’s Cultural Revolution 1966 – 1969. New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1996.

Web Resources    articles on China’s history   “Ninth Congress” journals and articles on China’s meeting with world and regional organizations.   articles and links to China’s history   provides information, pictures and posters on China’s history   Cultural Revolution museum website

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