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

By Michael Schoenhals | Go to book overview

H. The Trouble with History: Official Verdicts

To the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, the Cultural Revolution remains a singularly sensitive issue. While in actuality they may by now have succeeded in undoing most of what Mao Zedong, on his deathbed, called a "lifetime achievement" (Document 57), the specter (once the "revolutionary spirit") of rebellion, sanctioned by the Great Leader, and directed squarely at the Party apparat still haunts them. The erosion of the political authority of the CCP as a result of the Cultural Revolution has been devastating and permanent.

The legitimizing myth of the Communist Party as an agent of progressive historical forces and surrogate of truth was shattered by what happened in and after 1966.1 Official history has since been reemplotted to account for the rehabilitation of Liu Shaoqi (Document 58)--the unfortunate figure who became Mao's ninth metonymic representation of reaction ( Lin Biao, of course, becoming the tenth and last). A Central Committee resolution has been passed in which the story of the Cultural Revolution is narrated as the "error of a great revolutionary," compounded by the "counter-revolutionary crimes" of Lin Biao, Jiang Qing, et al. (Document 59). Yet the CCP has all but given up the search for rhetorical devices powerful enough to turn what happened into something capable of legitimizing the present regime. The Party's history is tacitly acknowledged to be in a mess-- hence Deng Xiaoping's injunction to historians to be "crude rather than finicky" (yicu bu yixi) when dealing with it.2

In practical terms, the reversal of Mao's verdict on the Cultural Revolution involved the reexamination of countless so-called "unjust, false, and mistaken" cases. Translated here are the guidelines (Docu

____________________
1
See David E. Apter and Tony Saich, Revolutionary Discourse in Mao's Republic ( Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994).
2
Cf. Qu Jiang, "Jixu 'wenhua dageming' yixi bu yicu" (When Narrating the "Great Cultural Revolution" One Should Be Finicky Rather than Crude), Sichuan Difangzhi Tongxun (Sichuan Local History Newsletter), No. 1, 1987, pp. 7-9.

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