Reviewing the meaning of Cultural Revolution in China ahead of the 30th anniversary for Tiananmen Square protests.

Reviewing the meaning of Cultural Revolution in China ahead of the 30th anniversary for Tiananmen Square protests.


In December 2018, China celebrated the 40th anniversary of its reform and open policy. The country has become the world second largest economy after starting to build a base of economic development in 1979. Life of Chinese people has improved significantly especially in urban regions through the past 40 years and the government is very proud of it.


Meanwhile, China will have the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest in coming June, although the government is likely to ignore it. In the late 1980s, Chinese people were frustrated by wider economic gaps after modernization was proceeded based on expectations of the trickle-down effect. Democratize movement stimulated by East European nations also formed a turbulent atmosphere. Leaders who showed understanding about democratization like Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang were forced to conflict with conservatives who were supported by Deng Xiaoping and other elders. Democratization movement led by students was escalated by such political composition of conflict. Eventually, the movement was smashed by violence triggered by 8 elders under martial law.


The reason why the elders treated reformers terribly and reacted the democratizing movement in excess is estimated that all of them had horrible memories through the Cultural Revolution. These elders were fired from leading positions of the nation or communist party at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution and then accused severely by youths mobilized by Mao Zedong.


Deng Xiaoping was dismissed from the position of the general secretary and was dispatched to rural as a worker. His son was arrested then suffered serious damage to his body due to an accident during interrogation. Peng Zhen was detained, then his pictures shocked the world as Red Guards grabbed his hair and showed him to the public as criminal. Current Chinese president Xi Jinping’s father Xi Zhongxun spent long years in prison.


The Proletarian Cultural Revolution that generated serious turmoil in China for more than a decade started in May 1966 as a political struggle triggered by Mao Zedong. Prior to the movement, the People’s Republic of China couldn’t realize economic growth after its establishment in 1949 due to continuous ideology fighting. Additionally, failure of the great leap policy that was enforced during 1958 and 1961 by Mao’s leadership caused serious famine nationwide. Up to tens of millions of people were estimated to be killed by the famine.


The Communist Party of China that started the socialist revolution from rural immediately performed the land reform upon obtainment of the administration. They confiscated soil from rich agrarians to distribute to poor farmers; however, these all lands were forfeited again to be shared by people. The land reformation abolished the rural management system that had governed Chinese society with regional intellectual class for thousands of years. Then an inequality that provides the same results to hard workers and lazy people accelerated Mao’s economic failure. On the other hand, practitioners like Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping attempted to realize moderate harmony rather than aiming to hike people’s loyalty to the communist party by the radical fight among classes. Mao decided to purge these practitioners to protect his political position. However, it was expected that the tendency of revisionism started by practitioners could not be faded even if Mao would beat down political enemies.


Although historical Chinese dynasties had ended their life cycle every 2-3 hundred years by internal riots or conquests by aliens, the rural social ruling system continued as a bridge between the general public and the dynasties. Every new dynasty integrated rural ruling systems to stabilize the nation while foreign conquers were absorbed into the Chinese social system. The rural management system sustained by scholar-officials class was the basis of Chinese society over thousands of years even while long wartime. The tradition survived even after the communist revolution to sustain society. To complete the communist revolution, these traditions that take root in society needed to be eliminated entirely. Even good sense and culture were obstacles. Therefore these traditions were attacked by the Cultural Revolution as a social enemy. All of the people who attempt to rebuild the economy or inherit traditional culture were recognized as an enemy class that disturbed the socialist revolution. They were started to be accused as “ox-headed demons and serpent gods” which provides people a simple image of evil.


During the initial phase of the Cultural Revolution, Red Guards worked actively as Mao’s limbs to beaten the evils. Since the majority of them were teenage students, they didn’t hesitate to attack traditional values. First, they swooned their teachers. Teachers couldn’t resist against students who were supported by the great leader Mao. Red Guards then went out to the city to find enemies. People who were descendants of landlords, rich farmers, anti-revolutionaries, terrorists and right wings were targeted as “five black categories”. These counter-revolutionaries were recognized arbitrarily and various ranges of people from president Liu to rural leaders were accused as revisionists or capitalists.


Red Guards were led by the group of Mao’s entourages – Cultural Revolution sect including Lin Biao and gang of four. This group organized revolution committees nationwide to attack practitioners. However, the Cultural Revolution group was soon split up and started internal conflicts with violence to each other in step with escalating conducts. Mao Zedong was annoyed by runaway Red Guards, and then started the Rustication Movement that sends students from urban areas to rural regions to calm down the turmoil in 1968. The movement continued until the end of the Cultural Revolution. As a result, the education system in China suffered serious damage. Since many scholars, teachers, and artists were targeted, Chinese academic level retreated.


After many practitioners have already been eliminated, revolution committees continued still struggled among factions. Even Mao’s loyal successor Lin Biao rebelled against him. Entire China covered with violence and suspicions caused by political struggle. The decade long turmoil was finally over when members of the gang of four arrested just after Mao Zedong’s death. Those who survive had lost too much physically and mentally.


During the historical severe upheavals, most rebel leaders sought fortunes and political powers, so that the movement to modify society fundamentally can be said unique. Although the Chinese traditional society was completely destroyed by the Cultural Revolution, people’s loyalty to the Communist Party failed to increase as Mao anticipated and the devastation and sense of disappearance expanded to nationwide. After all, survivors including Deng Xiaoping resumed reform to enrich China. However, the essence of Chinese civilization and tradition were lost and only frames like mammonism and authoritarianism are inherited. In China, ideology and speech have been strictly controlled since the Tiananmen Square protest. Intellectuals who supported the historical transition of dynasties are also not regenerated now. It is difficult to forecast how the present dynasty of communist dictatorship changes to the next.


★【Sozen Fujiwara】

Research partner、Institute of Economics for Humans

Private investor

Bachelor of Arts, Hiroshima University

Master of Economics, Nihon University

Worked as a reporter for US-based financial media after engaged in futures markets in China and Southeast Asia as a trader. Before that started work experience as a local newspaper reporter.

Immigrated to New Zealand for children’s educational opportunity. Participated in the management of a nutritional product manufacturer that is owned by wife’s family.

Having more than 30 years experience in commodity markets and operating a crude oil market specific blog since 2010:



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