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

By Michael Schoenhals | Go to book overview

B. Official Policy

Like most political initiatives launched by the CCP after 1949, the Cultural Revolution did not really begin with the announcement of a "resolution" in the national media. By the time the formal decision of the Central Committee (Document 4) appeared in the People's Daily on 9 August 1966, the movement had already been under way for some time--in secret at first, as Mao had plotted in Shanghai to remove the mayor of Beijing and make the national capital safe for "extensive democracy"; then publicly, in the form of a student movement so "noisy and boisterous" as to provoke complaints from resident foreign diplomats no longer able to fall asleep.1

The texts translated in this section represent but a fraction of the steady stream of orders, decrees, decisions, directives, "reference materials," editorials, etc., issued by the central authorities to set or alter the parameters of the movement. Unlike Mao's own "supreme instructions," the language in these bureaucratic communications is dry, formalistic, and repetitive. The CCP Chairman claimed he did not enjoy reading such "officialese" and on one memorable occasion--when speaking about a telegram sent, in his own name, by the CCP Central Committee to the Albanian Party of Labor--he even told Zhang Chunqiao"I never read such crap (piwen)."2

The birth of the Red Guard movement cannot be traced to a decree from Mao or the Party Center--it was a spontaneous event. But the ex-post-facto endorsement given it in the pages of Red Flag (Document 5) and People's Daily contributed directly to its remarkable growth. Young and restless Red Guards, out to "destroy the old world and build a new world," played highly visible roles on China's political stage throughout the autumn and winter of 1966. Military (Docu-

____________________
1
Letter to Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs from the Swedish ambassador to China, Lennart Petri, dated 16 June 1966, in the Ministry Archives, File HP 1 XK.
2
The telegram was issued in Mao's name but had actually been penned by Wang Li. Information from an official source.

-29-

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