“We Thought Mao Was Doing a Wonderful Thing”

 
Cultural_Revolution_poster
Chinese Propaganda Poster by Source, Fair use.

Fifty years ago yesterday is generally considered the date that Mao Zedong initiated China’s Cultural Revolution. Over the next three years, two million Chinese may have died in the upheaval, with millions more punished and/or internally exiled. While the worst of the violence was over by 1970, aspects of the Cultural Revolution lasted until 1976 when Mao died and the Gang of Four (which included his wife) were deposed. Having only a few years earlier (1958-61) subjected to populace to the madness of the Great Leap Forward — which led to 20 to 40 million deaths from starvation and regime-inspired violence — Mao feared his subjects were beginning to show too much personal initiative and losing their revolutionary ardor to achieve the Communist state. Or, as Zhou Enlai, Mao’s comrade, observed, “Every time the situation improves a little, the people move back towards capitalism”.

The Cultural Revolution was Mao’s way of shaking things up, particularly with those he thought might thwart progress; mid-level officials at the city, village, and province levels, the military; those related to the former pre-1949 capitalist classes; and, most of all, educators. In preparation, 60 million copies of Mao’s Little Red Book were distributed. Realizing that young students were the most impressionable and easily manipulated, Mao and his comrades created the Red Guards, whom they then let loose on the country to indulge in an orgy of harassment, public humiliations, torture, and murder. Mao’s instructions were to attack the “four olds:” old ideas, old culture, old habits, and old customs.

As Frank Dikotter, a professor of history at Hong Kong University and author of The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History 1962-76, observes in the Daily Mail:

Higher education was a particular target. Professors were spat upon and made to wear placards around their necks identifying them as ‘imperial spies.’ Lecturers were beaten with nail-spiked clubs, made to crawl over broken glass and had boiling water poured over them.

‘There were even cases of people being buried alive,’ writes Dikotter. Pensioners and those on sick leave were flung out of the cities, along with China’s ‘most eminent scientists, physicians, engineers and philosophers, who were made to clean toilets. ‘What stinks is not so much the excrement as your own ideology,’ intellectuals were told.

A ‘counter-revolutionary’ came to mean anyone who ‘likes freedom’ — freedom of speech, movement, expression. It was a death sentence to be found listening to a foreign radio station. Military drills were held in the middle of the night. ‘Class enemies’ had their tongues ripped out or eyes gouged from their sockets. The offspring of former landlords or vaguely bourgeois sorts were electrocuted. Children were hung from their feet and whipped. In the district of Wuxuan, 60 people had their heads bashed in with hammers.

https://hansimann.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/1966-persecution-cultural-revolution.jpg
From Hansimann Files.

Yet, there are those for whom it was all worthwhile. The Telegraph (UK) recently ran an article that features the quote heading this post. It’s from Michael Crook, who was a 15-year-old Briton in 1966, living in China where his Communist father had moved before World War II. His father had fought for the Communists during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) and served as a Soviet spy in order to unmask Trotskyites in the communist ranks (who were then promptly executed). Speaking to The Telegraph, Crook still doesn’t think the Cultural Revolution was so bad:

“We all thought it was a wonderful thing that Mao was launching,” Mr Crook, now 64, told the Telegraph, in his first interview with a British newspaper. “It would guarantee that China would take the socialist road.”

While mistakes had been made during the Mao period, he argued, the free-market economics on which China has since prospered had led to just as much upheaval, creating a “tremendous imbalance” between rich and poor. “Letting greed drive development – well that certainly does bring about development – but it also brings about polarisation, so what price social harmony?” he said.

http://www.nybooks.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/li-zhensheng.jpg
From nybooks.com.

What can be said about such an appalling person? It reminds me of the last century of Western “idealists,” who first thought the Russian Bolsheviks, then the Chinese communists, then the Vietnamese communists, then the Cuban communists, then the Nicaraguan communists and — most recently — the Venezuelan Chavistas would herald new dawn for humanity. They so prided themselves on their idealism that they constantly looked ahead and towards the horizon, never bothering to look down and notice they were wading through a blood-filled swamp.

Reading Crook’s words reminds me of the passage in Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago in which he relates the sorrowful tale of the Baltic-White Sea Canal built in the early 1930s. Stalin demanded the building of a canal that would allow the passage of Soviet naval vessels from one sea to the other in order to avoid the Arctic Ocean, setting a 20-month deadline for completion. Hundreds of thousands of prisoners were assigned to its construction. The canal was dug by hand without any mechanical equipment under terrible physical conditions and brutal oversight from abusive guards; 250,000 died during its construction. The canal was poorly designed and never functioned as planned. Solzhenitsyn is unsparing in his portrayal of this debacle and, near the end of the chapter, recounts a visit he made to the canal in 1966 as he was completing the book and of the official tour he took:

“It’s so shallow,” complained the chief of the guard, “that not even submarines can pass through it under their own power, they have to be loaded on barges, and only then can they be hauled through.”

And:

And what about the cruisers? Oh, you hermit-tyrant! You nighttime lunatic! In what nightmare did you dream up all this? And where, cursed one, were you hurrying to? What was it that burned and pricked you – to set a deadline of twenty months? For those quarter-million men could have remained alive. Well, so the Esperantists stuck in your throat, but think how much work those peasant lads could have done for you! How many times you could have roused them to attack – for the Motherland, for Stalin! “It was very costly,” I said to the guard. “But it was built very quickly!” he answered me with self-assurance. Your bones should be in it!


For those who grew up during those years in China and are now in their 50s and 60s, the fear of returning to those days of chaos and disorder remains and is why they value the relative stability of modern China, even with its repressions.

A few years ago, a Chinese friend gave me a book called Red Memory, published in China and containing propaganda posters from the 1950s, 60s and 70s and subtitled “Posters of Cultural Revolution”. The English language introduction reads, “We hope that such crazy and flimflam years will never come again“.

From Red Memory.

This post was cross-posted at on my blog.

There are 52 comments.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  1. Josh F. Inactive

    This post is excellent. For a fictional account of post-Cultural Revolution China, nothing I have read can shake a stick at Yiyun Li’s The Vagrants the book reminds me of Zora Neale Hurston Their Eyes Were Watching God in the directness and inciveness of using every day people’s lived experience to show the depths of depravity of repression.

    • #1
    • May 16, 2016, at 6:03 PM PDT
    • Like
  2. Profile Photo Member

    Am I the only one who looks at this, has a chill of terror and thinks, “So this is what our future looks like”?

    • #2
    • May 16, 2016, at 6:18 PM PDT
    • Like
  3. RightAngles Member

    Too bad the young Bernie-ites haven’t been taught history.

    • #3
    • May 16, 2016, at 7:03 PM PDT
    • Like
  4. Profile Photo Member

    Mr. Crook seems pretty casual about it all, despite the enormous number of deaths. The Left always accuses the Right of blood lust. Ironic. The pure indifference of the Left in face of those horrors is frightening.

    • #4
    • May 16, 2016, at 7:14 PM PDT
    • Like
  5. Western Chauvinist Member

    RightAngles:Too bad the young Bernie-ites haven’t been taught history.

    Yeah, well, the horrifying thing is, Bernie knows the history. As does Hillary. There are no limits to their lust for power.

    • #5
    • May 16, 2016, at 7:22 PM PDT
    • Like
  6. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    Quinn the Eskimo:Mr. Crook seems pretty casual about it all, despite the enormous number of deaths. The Left always accuses the Right of blood lust. Ironic. The pure indifference of the Left in face of those horrors is frightening.

    Yes, it really set me off. I was just going to write a piece about the anniversary and then ran across the interview with him. I’ve heard the same refrain from the Left since the 1960s, time after time after time. It’s why I despise Bernie Sanders, a man whose lifetime of bitterness and envy against those of his fellow citizens who have done well through their own efforts, has led him to embrace some of the worst regimes of the past century.

    • #6
    • May 16, 2016, at 7:28 PM PDT
    • Like
  7. RightAngles Member

    Western Chauvinist:

    RightAngles:Too bad the young Bernie-ites haven’t been taught history.

    Yeah, well, the horrifying thing is, Bernie knows the history. As does Hillary. There are no limits to their lust for power.

    It’s also due to no limits on their idealism, especially in Bernie’s case. Unfortunately, one of the hallmarks of progressives is their unbridled idealism. If you can convince them that socialism has never worked, they actually believe this is only because they weren’t the ones trying it. Now that they are here, they can make it work because they care so much! Nobody in history has ever cared as much as we do! Yes we can!

    • #7
    • May 16, 2016, at 7:38 PM PDT
    • Like
  8. PHCheese Member

    Did they have three different sex categories ? At the Pirates/ Braves game tonight my wife had to share the lady’s restroom with 3 teen aged boys. Thanks Barry.

    • #8
    • May 16, 2016, at 8:04 PM PDT
    • Like
  9. LC Member
    LC

    When you bring up all the deaths as the result of communist ideology, lefties always argue that they are much smarter than the Soviet technocrats, the Chinese politburo. The left thinks their implementation of such policies would be better, they would do it right.

    • #9
    • May 16, 2016, at 8:09 PM PDT
    • Like
  10. Profile Photo Member

    There are some on the Left who know their history and some who do not. The ones who know their history are the ones more likely to be on the giving rather than receiving end of the beatings.

    • #10
    • May 16, 2016, at 8:34 PM PDT
    • Like
  11. tigerlily Member

    Excellent post. Thanks Mark. I don’t know who Michael Crook is, except to say that he is a moral cretin.

    • #11
    • May 16, 2016, at 9:05 PM PDT
    • Like
  12. LC Member
    LC

    Quinn the Eskimo:Mr. Crook seems pretty casual about it all, despite the enormous number of deaths. The Left always accuses the Right of blood lust. Ironic. The pure indifference of the Left in face of those horrors is frightening.

    As long as they can attain their collective utopia, human lives are cheap and expendable.

    • #12
    • May 16, 2016, at 9:42 PM PDT
    • Like
  13. Joe P Member

    Lidens Cheng:When you bring up all the deaths as the result of communist ideology, lefties always argue that they are much smarter than the Soviet technocrats, the Chinese politburo. The left thinks their implementation of such policies would be better, they would do it right.

    I wish it were possible to obliterate this terrible idea. Like, I’d actually be OK with some sort of evil mind control device if it would be used just to stamp out this one thought.

    • #13
    • May 17, 2016, at 3:20 AM PDT
    • Like
  14. Profile Photo Member

    Lidens Cheng: The left thinks their implementation of such policies would be better, they would do it right.

    Hey, what’s a life or a million of them flowing into a blood river if it leads to Utopia? It’s worth this price of admission–especially if YOU (not me) are the one whose ticket was punched.

    • #14
    • May 17, 2016, at 4:12 AM PDT
    • Like
  15. Percival Thatcher

    Mark: [A]s Zhou Enlai, Mao’s comrade, observed, “every time the situation improves a little, the people move back towards capitalism“.

    You got that backwards, pal. Every time the people move back towards capitalism, the situation improves a little.

    Communism: Savagely missing the point since 1848.

    • #15
    • May 17, 2016, at 4:13 AM PDT
    • Like
  16. I Walton Member

    What is one to say? Anyone who knows any of this history, and remains a leftist is insane. Yet here we are. It never goes away, the left never learns, never changes and will always end up in the same place. Evil is like that I guess. They help their mental disorder along by using Lenin’s phrase that fascism was the last stage of capitalism, but murders committed by Nazism and Fascism belong in the same column. They were anti democratic, anti tradition and religion, anti free market, and pro centralized economic and political management and came to power with socialist banners and were celebrated by our left as well. Murders by the lessor regimes such as Cuba, Cambodia belong there as well. Another assertion that seems to contribute to self delusion is that Nordic socialism welfarism shows that socialism can be beneficent. Now that’s not insane, it’s just blindness by deep ignorance or dishonesty.

    • #16
    • May 17, 2016, at 4:27 AM PDT
    • Like
  17. Larry3435 Member

    Lidens Cheng:When you bring up all the deaths as the result of communist ideology, lefties always argue that they are much smarter than the Soviet technocrats, the Chinese politburo. The left thinks their implementation of such policies would be better, they would do it right.

    I have always said that the leftists’ explanation for why their policies fail is always, “we didn’t do enough of it.” So they implement more leftist policies, and more, and more, until the government controls everything and everyone serves the government. Then the explanation for their failure becomes “Stalin was the wrong guy to put in charge.”

    What a tragedy it is for the leftist Utopia, that just when they get to total socialism, it always turns out that the wrong guy is in charge.

    • #17
    • May 17, 2016, at 4:52 AM PDT
    • Like
  18. Marion Evans Inactive

    “Ah, those were the good old days!” (overheard at Bernie Sanders rally).

    • #18
    • May 17, 2016, at 5:08 AM PDT
    • Like
  19. Mate De Inactive

    This was an excellent post. Never ceases to amaze me how knowledgeable, and thoughtful the folks are Ricochet are.

    The left never do look back do they? It is always the march forward and the never think about the reasons behind some of those old fashioned ideas. It is the hubris of the overly educated and comfortable bourgious class, none of them actually have to live with the consequences of their ideas.

    • #19
    • May 17, 2016, at 5:23 AM PDT
    • Like
  20. Profile Photo Member

    I Walton: Another assertion that seems to contribute to self delusion is that Nordic socialism welfarism shows that socialism can be beneficent. Now that’s not insane, it’s just blindness by deep ignorance or dishonesty.

    I’m going with “and” rather than “or.”

    • #20
    • May 17, 2016, at 5:33 AM PDT
    • Like
  21. Eugene Kriegsmann Member

    For anyone with any delusions about Mao, I would recommend Jung Chang’s biography of him. It is pretty eye-opeing.

    • #21
    • May 17, 2016, at 5:45 AM PDT
    • Like
  22. Paul A. Rahe Contributor

    Mark:

    Quinn the Eskimo:Mr. Crook seems pretty casual about it all, despite the enormous number of deaths. The Left always accuses the Right of blood lust. Ironic. The pure indifference of the Left in face of those horrors is frightening.

    Yes, it really set me off. I was just going to write a piece about the anniversary and then ran across the interview with him. I’ve heard the same refrain from the Left since the 1960s, time after time after time. It’s why I despise Bernie Sanders, a man whose lifetime of bitterness and envy against those of his fellow citizens who have done well through their own efforts, has led him to embrace some of the worst regimes of the past century.

    This post is marvelous, and you are right about Sanders.

    • #22
    • May 17, 2016, at 6:04 AM PDT
    • Like
  23. Umbra Fractus Inactive

    I Walton: Another assertion that seems to contribute to self delusion is that Nordic socialism welfarism shows that socialism can be beneficent. Now that’s not insane, it’s just blindness by deep ignorance or dishonesty.

    It is ignorance, because Nordic Welfarism is not socialism at all. Despite their huge welfare states the Scandinavian countries are right there with us on the Heritage index, and Denmark actually beat us one year. Despite high taxes and huge welfare states their markets are almost as free as ours. The only plausible explanation is that their regulatory states must be virtually nonexistent. The reason the Scandinavian system kinda-sorta works is because they left out what, for many, is the main appeal of socialism – making big business bend over and take it.

    • #23
    • May 17, 2016, at 6:06 AM PDT
    • Like
  24. Steven Jones Inactive

    So it is better that millions die than anyone have more than anyone else. Except the leaders, who will always have their dachas.

    • #24
    • May 17, 2016, at 6:11 AM PDT
    • Like
  25. Trinity Waters Inactive

    Instapundit nailed it in today’s USA Today: Under capitalism, the rich get powerful, under socialism, the powerful get rich.

    • #25
    • May 17, 2016, at 6:17 AM PDT
    • Like
  26. Umbra Fractus Inactive

    Also:

    • #26
    • May 17, 2016, at 6:17 AM PDT
    • Like
  27. Old Bathos Member

    It is always revealing to see what happens whenever it is time for the narcisso-malevolents to defend The Narrative against its natural enemies (i.e., truth, fact, clarity, physical and economic reality, natural law etc.). After the cruel destruction of hundreds of millions of lives for a century instead of an apology we get:

    • Never happened.
    • Exaggerated.
    • But what about slavery, racism in U.S.?
    • Question is not was Mao wrong but why we don’t struggle equally hard against inequality.
    • “Genocide” in China is just a rhetorical deflection to justify capitalist oppression here.
    • Was it all caused by the climate created by hard-line anti-communists in the West the way the Cambodian “genocide” was really the fault of US policy?

    Or more simply what would Chomsky do.

    • #27
    • May 17, 2016, at 6:33 AM PDT
    • Like
  28. Ed G. Member

    Quinn the Eskimo:There are some on the Left who know their history and some who do not. The ones who know their history are the ones more likely to be on the giving rather than receiving end of the beatings.

    Seems like all of them wind up on the receiving end sooner or later. They’d save everyone else much suffering if they’d realize that upfront and give up.

    • #28
    • May 17, 2016, at 7:02 AM PDT
    • Like
  29. I Walton Member

    Umbra Fractus:

    I Walton: Another assertion that seems to contribute to self delusion is that Nordic socialism welfarism shows that socialism can be beneficent. Now that’s not insane, it’s just blindness by deep ignorance or dishonesty.

    It is ignorance, because Nordic Welfarism is not socialism at all. Despite their huge welfare states the Scandinavian countries are right there with us on the Heritage index, and Denmark actually beat us one year. Despite high taxes and huge welfare states their markets are almost as free as ours. The only plausible explanation is that their regulatory states must be virtually nonexistent. The reason the Scandinavian system kinda-sorta works is because they left out what, for many, is the main appeal of socialism – making big business bend over and take it.

    I read a study in under graduate economics admittedly many (make that many many) decades ago, that compared import prices with export prices in complex way I can’t remember, in order to get a fix on internal distortions.The study was trying to compare freedom from internal interference and import distortions. Sweden was much less distorted in the goods markets than the US. They intervened in labor markets, but less in goods markets. Our market is now many time more distorted and twisted out of shape than then and Sweden has been trying to reform.

    • #29
    • May 17, 2016, at 7:12 AM PDT
    • Like
  30. Ed G. Member

    Umbra Fractus:

    I Walton: Another assertion that seems to contribute to self delusion is that Nordic socialism welfarism shows that socialism can be beneficent. Now that’s not insane, it’s just blindness by deep ignorance or dishonesty.

    It is ignorance, because Nordic Welfarism is not socialism at all. […..]

    I think this is a distinction we righties lose sight of too often, and it doesn’t help us persuade people to support us when we’re using building our appeals on quicksand.

    This is not an endorsement of welfarism, by the way. Even though it isn’t itself socialism, it can indeed serve as a gateway drug along with a variety of other maladies.

    • #30
    • May 17, 2016, at 7:15 AM PDT
    • Like
  1. 1
  2. 2