Chairman Mao Tse-tung
The Great Leap Forward ended (January 1961) after 3 years in catastrophe as its foundation was dependant on coercion, terror and systematic violence. Peasants who had received property through land reforms were unwilling to hand over their plots to the state. The ban on private holdings ruined peasant life as villagers were unable to secure enough food to survive. People were herded into fields and worked intolerable hours. Local customs such as funerals, weddings, markets and festivals were deemed as signs of feudalism and were banned. Failure to participate in political campaigns would result in detention, torture, the suffering of entire families and death. Public criticism or ‘struggle’ sessions were often used to intimidate peasants to obey the local cadres. Crop yields were dramatically reduced due to the new planting techniques and the amount of labour diverted to producing low quality steel called pig iron. Under tremendous pressure local officials falsely reported record harvests, which were then used as a basis to determine the amount of grain taken to supply the cities and for export. Most of the grain was exported to the Soviet Union in order to pay for debts incurred during the revolution and to pay for weapon technology… including the atomic bomb. Foreign aid was refused as Mao sought to maintain face and convince the outside world of the success of his plans… even exporting grains to Africa and Cuba. In 1959 and 1960 the weather was less favourable and the situation got considerably worse. There is disagreement over how much weather conditions contributed to the famine and how much was intentional or due to willful negligence. An estimated 18-40 million citizens starved to death, 2.5 million were beaten or tortured to death, 1-3 million committed suicide and The Great Leap Forward became one of the deadliest famines in history.
Land Reform was the major focus of policy and the foundation of the People’s Republic of China. This policy won the party millions of supporters among the peasantry as 90% of the population were farmers. Property of landlords was expropriated by the government and redistributed to the lower class peasants so that each household would receive a comparable holding. Landowners that resisted giving up their land were executed… some owning no more than ¾ acre. Mao insisted that the peasants themselves become involved in the killings and therefore become permanently linked to the revolutionary process. Quotas were established and at least one landlord, but usually several were selected from every village for execution. The number of deaths are unknown but estimates range from 2-5 million. Mao defended these killings as necessary for securing power. Wealthy businessmen and political opponents were targeted and purged in order to rid urban areas of corruption. A climate of terror developed through anti-rightist campaigns as workers denounced their bosses, spouses turned on spouses and children informed on their parents. Minor offenders were humiliated at ‘struggle sessions’, sent to labour camps and those considered major offenders were executed. Many committed suicide. A second Land Reform occurred in 1958 when ownership was eliminated during The Great Leap Forward and peasants were only given usage rights to land. Land was confiscated and became the property of the state. Peasants were organized into teams and collectives becoming property-less members of ‘peoples communes’.
Revolution is not like inviting guests to dinner, is not like writing articles, painting pictures or sowing flowers; Revolution cannot be that graceful, that calm and easy, that modest and tolerant. Revolution is violence. It is violent action of one class overthrowing the other. (Mao Tse-tung)
On August 18, 1966, Mao assembled 800,000 of his Red Guard students to launch his Cultural Revolution. As a student pinned a Red Guard armband on him, the Great Helmsman asked her name. She responded ‘Song Binbin’, which meant ‘properly raised’ and ‘polite’. ‘ Be violent ! ’ he responded. She changed her name to ‘Yaowu’ or ‘Be Violent’. Only thirteen days earlier, girls at her school brutally beat their teacher, Bian Zhongyun to death with wooden sticks spiked with nails. She was the first victim of the Cultural Revolution. The Red Guards, the majority aged 12-17, were directed to attack the four olds in order to help create a ‘new China’. Books, art and religious artifacts were burned, museums were ransacked and posters of Mao adorned most buildings. Many quotations from ‘the little red book’ were used as guidelines to take action. The attacks on culture quickly shifted to attacks on people. Anyone in a position of authority was denounced and suffered physical and psychological abuse. This rooting out of ‘capitalist roaders’ extended to the highest echelons of the Communist Party including President Liu Shao-qi. Travel to Beijing and throughout China to establish revolutionary links was free and centers were set up to provide food, lodging and clothing. Loyalty and obedience to Mao began with teachings in nursery schools. By the tender age of three years, children were familiar with the portrait of Mao and began learning that they should love and respect him. The first Chinese characters that children learned in primary school included “long live the People’s Republic of China, long live the Chinese Communist Party, and long live Chairman Mao”. These early influences shaped the minds of children and led to attachment to the ideology of Mao. For those the age of the Red Guards, the Cultural Revolution was a chance for them to express their discomfort and their opinions violently, with no threat of consequence.
The Great Leap Forward was a 5-year economic and social plan led by Mao Tse-tung in 1958, which aimed to use China’s vast population to rapidly transform the country from an agrarian economy into a modern communist society through the process of rapid industrialization and collectivization. The hope was to industrialize by making use of the massive supply of cheap labour and avoid having to import heavy machinery. Mao believed that the best way to finance industrialization was for the government to take control of agriculture by establishing a monopoly over grain distribution and supply. Private ownership of land was abolished and households all over China were forced to live in state-owned communes with communal canteens. By the end of 1958, 25,000 communes had been established with the average of 5,000 households each. The communes were relatively self-sufficient co-operatives where wages and money were replaced by work points. The commune system was aimed at maximizing production for provisioning the cities focused on constructing offices, factories, schools, urban dwellings and infrastructure. A number of controversial agriculture innovations such as close cropping and deep plowing were introduced with the belief that they would lead to larger per-acre gains. Political meetings and propaganda sessions replaced most social activities. Mao saw grain and steel production as the key pillars of economic development so he encouraged the establishment of small backyard steel furnaces in every commune and urban neighbourhood. Huge efforts were made by peasants and workers to produce steel out of scrap metal. Thousands of large-scale state projects including mass mobilization on irrigation works were initiated requiring huge investments in technology. Engineers and skilled technicians from the Soviet Union came to help train the youth.
Lin Biao (Piao) was a major Chinese Communist military leader who played a pivotal role for the communist victory in the Chinese Civil War against Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang government. Lin advocated a strategy of protracted guerilla warfare to weaken the enemy through feints, ambushes, encirclements and surprise attacks. In order to protect himself from the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, he gave absolute support to Mao always at his side in public appearances waving a copy of ‘the little red book’. Lin was rewarded by being promoted to First-ranking Vice Premier of the Peoples Republic of China and Mao’s designated successor. Mao became uncomfortable with Lin’s growing power and asked all principal generals to write self-criticisms on their political positions and unconditional support. The official narrative states that Lin, harbouring a strong desire to seize power organized a coup with his son titled ‘project 571’…. later aborted. He attempted to flee to the Soviet Union to seek asylum boarding a plane which ran out of fuel and crashed killing all… including his wife and son. Within a month 93 people close to Lin were arrested and over 1000 senior military officials were purged. Scholars outside China are skeptical that one of the most successful Communist generals would attempt a poorly planned abortive coup. Eyewitness accounts state that Lin, convinced that he and his family were to be purged planned an escape. Lin’s daughter ‘Doudou’ reported this plan to the authorities and the doomed flight departed in haste while still refueling. A propaganda campaign ‘Criticizing Lin Biao and Confucius’ began to scar his image and after Mao’s death, he was blamed for many negative aspects of the Cultural Revolution…. accused of taking advantage of ‘Mao’s mistakes’ to advance his own political goals. (years of service 1925-1971)
The Cultural Revolution set in motion by Mao Tse-tung, was a social-political movement that took place from 1966 through to 1976. It’s stated goal was to enforce socialism by removing capitalism through the destruction of traditional and cultural elements from Chinese society while imposing Mao orthodoxy in the party. Mao believed that the political hierarchy, still dominated by bourgeois elitist elements, capitalist and revisionists, justified mass purges. All politicians who had any history of being anything other than dogmatically Maoist were almost immediately purged. Liu Shao-chi (Shaoqi), president of the People’s Republic of China, once the most powerful man in China after Mao, was arrested, sent to a detention camp where he later died. This nationwide campaign called upon the students, workers, peasants and revolutionary cadres to carry out the task of transforming society by destroying the 4 olds….. old ideas, culture, customs and habits. Mao’s praise for rebellion was effectively an endorsement for the violent actions of the Red Guards and a ‘stop all police intervention’ was issued. Countless ancient buildings, artifacts, antiques and paintings from museums and private homes were destroyed on the spot. Millions of people were persecuted as spies, capitalist roaders, revisionists, bad elements or coming from a suspect class (those related to former landlords or rich peasants). For 10 years, China’s education system was brought to a grinding halt and most intellectuals and administrators were sent to rural labour camps. Anyone with skills above average were considered petty bourgeois and subjected to humiliating ‘struggle sessions’. On July 27, 1968, the army was deployed to stop the chaos. Mao began the ‘down to the country’ campaign to dismantle the Red Guard factions. They were sent to rural farms in order to learn from the peasants. This led to an entire generation of inadequately educated youths. In any case, the purpose of the Red Guards had been largely fulfilled. Mao had consolidated and regained his political power after his failure of The Great Leap Forward. In Mao : The Unknown Story, Jung Chang and Jon Halliday claim that during the first few years of anarchy as many 3 million people died violent deaths and 100 million suffered in one way or another. The Red Guards killed a small percentage but most killings were sponsored by the state… the direct work of Mao’s reconstructed regime.
Missionary activity increased considerably in China after the first opium war in 1842. Christian missionaries built hospitals as well as schools from primary to university level… all under the protection of Western powers. The Boxer uprising in 1900 was an anti foreign reaction to Christianity killing many missionaries, however the Manchu army backed by foreign powers overcame the Boxers. On Monday, June 7, 1926, Mrs. W.E. Sibley, who had been a Canadian missionary in West China since 1907, had her head cut off while walking down a crowded street by a lone swordsman. This incident sparked the exodus of 7000 missionaries fleeing the interior of China. The People’s Republic of China established October 1, 1949 was officially an atheist government. All religious practices were banned from 1966 to 1976 during the Cultural Revolution. The Red Guards destroyed thousands of churches, schools and monasteries. Bibles were destroyed, homes looted and many Christians were subjected to humiliation. Many Priests, Nuns, Monks and religious followers were arrested, persecuted, tortured and executed. In order to protect paintings, many were covered over with propaganda.
China aquires the atomic bomb. These images transfered on to pages of Mao’s 1966 first edition red book show the efforts required to achieve this goal…. farmers working the fields and young red guards and athletes striving to fulfill Mao’s dream. These pages of the red book are rare as they contain LinBiao’s forward; ‘study Chairman Mao’s writings, follow his teachings and act according to his instructions’, as well as; ‘we depend on the helmsman for sailing in the sea and depend on Mao Tse-tung thoughts for revolution’. These pages were supposed to be torn out after Lin Biao was denounced in 1971 or you would risk denunciations, arrest, beatings or even death. A vintage Mao pin symbolizes a basketball…. the youth striving to score points for China. This book also contains a personal note from one friend to another.
to my friend Zhun Chan
After two years together, we must now part
The feeling of departing you is like being put into boiling water
I hope we will become good steel in the furnace
I would like to shed my blood, to write a new history
your friend, Liang De
Nov. 8 1970