China's Cultural Revolution, 1966-1969: Not a Dinner Party

By Michael Schoenhals | Go to book overview

C. Purging the Party

Inside as well as outside China, the Cultural Revolution is now and then described as a political movement in which the Communist Party brought untold suffering upon the Chinese common people (baixing). This convenient characterization overlooks the fact that millions of Party members themselves became victims of the movement. The purge of the Party--the vicious attack, humiliating denunciation, and physical abuse of cadres accused of treachery or of "taking the capitalist road"--did as much to define Mao's "revolutionary transformation of society" as did the persecution of ordinary citizens.

Accounts of the Cultural Revolution invariably highlight the role of Red Guards in the attack on Party cadres. What has not always been sufficiently appreciated by outsiders, however, is the extent to which the seemingly "spontaneous" violence inflicted upon leaders by the previously led was covertly managed and manipulated by Mao and the members of his inner circle. The history of one of the best known university Red Guard organizations shows the extent to which the activities of this particular group involved repeated contacts with and received direct official endorsement from the CCP Center (Document 19).

Of the roughly two million Party cadres who had their past and present examined for signs of heresy or treachery, less than half a dozen (e.g. only those who immediately prior to their demise had been members of the Politburo Standing Committee, like Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping) were at Mao's insistence spared the ordeal of socalled "face-to-face" struggle by Red Guards.1 Liu Shaoqi's wife Wang Guangmei was not so lucky, and an edited extract from her "interrogation record" (Document 20) is a thought-provoking document. Humiliated but far from humbled, Wang manages to put up a spirited defense against the accusations hurled at her.

Kang Sheng was a member of Mao's inner circle deeply implicated in the purge of the Party. As an acknowledged expert in sinister prac

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Liu, Deng, and Tao Zhu were "struggled" against inside the Zhonpanhai compound by Central Committee General Office staff and members of the Central Guard regiment.

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