They will begin by taking the State and the manners of men, from which, as
from a tablet, they will rub out the picture, and leave a clean surface. This is no
easy task. But whether easy or not, herein will lie the difference between them
and every other legislator,—they will have nothing to do either with individual
or State, and will inscribe no laws, until they have either found, or themselves
made, a clean surface …
… let there be one man who has a city obedient to his will, and he might
bring into existence the ideal polity about which the world is so incredulous.
—Plato, The Republic, book VI
China's 600 million people have two remarkable peculiarities; they are, first
of all, poor, and secondly, blank. That may seem like a bad thing, but it is really
a good thing. Poor people want change, want to do things, want revolution.
A clean sheet of paper has no blotches, and so the newest and most beautiful
pictures can be painted on it.
—Mao Zedong, 1958
The Cultural Revolution was a watershed, the defining decade of half a century of Communist rule in China. To understand the "why" of China today, one has to understand the "what" of the Cultural Revolution. To understand what happened during the Cultural Revolution, one has to understand how it came to be launched. This introduction seeks to explain the origins of the "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution." The rest of the book chronicles what happened during its terrible decade, 1966–1976.
Before the Cultural Revolution started, in May 1966, China was by and large a standard Communist state, if more effective than most. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ruled unchallenged. Its writ ran throughout the nation. Its