Mao's Last Revolution

By Roderick Macfarquhar; Michael Schoenhals | Go to book overview
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Confusion on Campuses

In a letter to his wife on July 8, 1966, Mao expressed his determination to create "great disorder under heaven" for the purpose of ultimately achieving "great order under heaven."1 To achieve this extraordinary end, Mao chose to employ extraordinary means. He had started the Cultural Revolution by letting Jiang Qing secretly supervise the production of a newspaper article attacking an intellectual in order to topple the boss of Beijing. Now, in phase two, he would manipulate a mass movement at China's educational institutions to unseat the head of state.

But while the first battles of Mao's Cultural Revolution raged out of public view in the Politburo and the criticism of Wu Han and his colleagues had yet to fully engage the intellectual elite on university campuses, ordinary Chinese still managed to lead ordinary lives. Politics was never completely absent, as evidenced in the diaries the CCP and CYL encouraged the young to keep. Pledges to emulate Lin Biao's self-sacrificing soldiers, the paragons of proletarian virtue; outrage directed at the latest atrocities of the American imperialists in Vietnam; disgust with Fidel Castro in Havana, who had recently compared the Chinese people's love for Chairman Mao to "superstitious idol worship"—a week if not a day never seemed to pass without an entry on such subjects, copied, one suspects, verbatim from the party media.2 Yet much of the time, the concerns of 745 million Chinese were with more mundane, private everyday matters, often of precisely the kind that would soon be denounced as insufficiently focused on class struggle.

Left to their own devices, students described a life and echoed sentiments that did not seem all that far removed from the May 4 era and its concerns with saving the nation and making it wealthy and powerful. At the end of a wet, dreary Friday in March, a Nanjing college student returning to campus after a day of semaphore flag practice on Lake Xuanwu recorded in his diary that "on


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