Cleansing the Class Ranks
Cleansing the class ranks" was the first major campaign carried out by the new revolutionary committees. As its name suggests, this was a purge designed to eliminate any and all real and imagined enemies of the unity that was professedly the basis of the political order the revolutionary committees were inaugurating. To borrow a metaphor used on a similar occasion in the past by one of Mao's most prominent ghostwriters, socialist society was once more about to "defecate": "Societies are like that, "like people" they also have to defecate, which is not a bad thing. Once this truth has been made clear to people, it will no longer appear strange to them. Of course, differences in essence as well as process distinguish defecation by socialist societies from defecation by capitalist or feudal societies."1 Thus "cleansing the class ranks" was all about getting rid of those whom the CCP regarded as waste matter. The movement provided whoever happened to be in power with an opportunity to get rid of opponents. It began gradually in places like Shanghai in late 1967, and was in full swing in most parts of China by the summer of 1968.
Mao never spoke at length on the subject in 1967–68, and he left most of the work of running the movement and keeping it on track to Zhou Enlai and the CCRG. Jiang Qing's role was widely recognized as being that of Mao's personal purgative, and by comparison with Zhou's, her part was—in the eyes of one Beijing cadre—the "easy" one: "The premier is the one who has to wipe the backside afterward, and that's the difficult part."2 From the outset Zhou kept his options as open as possible: the movement was about getting rid of "bad people" broadly defined. "The bad people you have to drag out aren't just capitalist readers," Zhou told a delegation from Zhejiang province on February 15, "but bad people inside your own ranks as well … Some of them have come from across the ocean while others have come out of the sky and wormed their way into your ranks."3 Two weeks later, he quoted Mao to the leadership of the Jilin RC: