Mao's Last Revolution

By Roderick Macfarquhar; Michael Schoenhals | Go to book overview
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The Red Guards

By the end of the Eleventh Plenum, the "masses" had already risen. A "red terror" spread rapidly through the campuses of colleges and middle schools of the capital. That violence was the product of the Red Guard movement.1 Mao's endorsement of students' right to rebel had removed such restraints on violence as the work teams had selectively imposed. Various of his remarks indicate that Mao craved a measure of catalytic terror to jump-start the Cultural Revolution. He had no scruples about the taking of human life. In a conversation with trusties later in the Cultural Revolution, the Chairman went so far as to suggest that the sign of a true revolutionary was precisely his intense desire to kill: "This man Hitler was even more ferocious. The more ferocious the better, don't you think? The more people you kill, the more revolutionary you are."2 Perhaps he was vicariously reliving his glory days of mobilizing peasants in Hunan and Jiangxi. Whatever the motivation, in the autumn of 1966 the violence ranged from the destruction of private and public property, through expulsion of urban undesirables, all the way to murder. Although the human toll of some subsequent phases of the movement was greater, it was the in-yourface nature of the "red terror" of August-September 1966 that stuck in popular memory.

"Beijing is too civilized!" Mao declared at a post-plenum work conference of central leaders. "I would say there is not a great deal of disorder and that the number of hooligans is very small. Now is not the time to interfere."3 Prompting Mao's comments most notably was an "Urgent Appeal!" issued on August 6 by Red Guards in the three elite middle schools attached to Tsinghua University, Peking University, and the Beijing Aeronautical Institute. The appeal spoke of "hooligans" masquerading as Red Guards going on a rampage, destroying state property, and beating people up at random, and it called on all "genuine, revolutionary" Red Guards to take action to bring to an end the "disorder" into which


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