Turbulent Decade: A History of the Cultural Revolution

By Yan Jiaqi; Gao Gao et al. | Go to book overview

Introduction

The Genesis of the
Cultural Revolution

THE UNIQUENESS OF the Cultural Revolution in twentieth-century Chinese history has led many to think that it was an unprecedented historical event. Actually, as humanity is in the end limited by its own capabilities, whatever the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution accomplished or destroyed has appeared at some other time or place. The cult of personality, for instance, had appeared in Soviet Russia during the Stalin era. In February 1956, Nikita Khrushchev told the Twentieth Soviet Party Congress that, during the time of the personality cult, the people believed Stalin "was omniscient, all knowing, capable of thinking for all others and accomplishing any task, and could do no wrong." Every word of this remark can be used to describe how people viewed Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution.

During the Cultural Revolution, the high spirit of youthful students can also be compared with that of the youth of Nazi Germany. In Nazi Germany in the 1930s, students excitedly gathered in Berlin's public squares with torches ablaze, burning thousands of books to light up the "New Age of Teutonic Culture." In the service of the idealism of National Socialism, they interrupted their regular schooling, enlisted in the armed forces, and went down to the countryside to labor, in order "to be educated physically, intellectually, and morally in the spirit of National Socialism." 1 At the time, the majority of students embraced all these activities with high enthusiasm. Similarly, the Red Guards, swept by a fanatical enthusiasm, responded to the call of the "Great Leader" and engaged in criticizing the "black gangs" (heibang), torching books, joining up for military training, and going "up to the mountains and down to the countryside." Many did not have to be told to do these things.

More than 170 years before the Cultural Revolution in China, Jacobean dictatorship put Paris in the shadow of revolutionary terror. To eliminate enemies of the revolution, law and order were pushed aside, just as in the Cultural Revolution in China. The prevailing precept of the time was that all

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