RICH KIPER: Cultural revolution

Rich Kiper
Rich Kiper

Mao Tse-tung consolidated power following victory over the Kuomintang in 1949. He targeted “enemies of the state” and capitalists and centralized the economic system under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). He proclaimed that “Governance is also a process of socialist education.” Over time Mao and the CCP gained control of the army, police, courts and media.     

In June 1966, he instituted the Cultural Revolution that would last for 10 years. 

Mao encouraged mobs of students to attack university professors. Their homes were vandalized. Admission to universities was to be based on “equity,” meaning merit was irrelevant. Social factors were the determinant. 

Intellectuals were put to work cleaning latrines and collecting manure for farming. “Experience became meaningless.”

The mobs were known as “The Red Guards.” “We would smash something just for effect.” That included historical relics and “statues smeared with paint.” Millions were encouraged to destroy temples, churches, businesses and works of art.

Their mission was to destroy the “Four Olds” – old ideas, old culture, old customs and old habits.”      

Plays and posters that Mao believed to be attacks against him were forbidden, and those who created them were denounced and removed from power. 

Mao’s obsession with “class struggle” led to violent clashes between classes.

Those with better homes than the masses were thrown out and even killed.

Government officials were denounced as traitors and threatened with violence. Bureaucrats’ files were examined for anything that might hint of disloyalty or traditional values.

Mao created a Ministry of Culture whose mission was for “social purification of art” and literature. Writers of newspaper articles that CCP leaders found objectionable were dealt with harshly. Streets were renamed. Books and other writings that extolled the past were destroyed.

Individuals at all levels of society were accused of revolutionary acts. Accusation equaled guilt. They were humiliated, ostracized and often beaten or killed. Only confessing was allowed.

Even Confucius, who died in 479 BC, and Confucianism, which had been considered a “critical inheritance,” were victims of “complete severance” and eradication of his teachings. Confucius was charged with being part of a “slave-owning aristocracy."

People were forced to accept the dictatorship, to be obedient to authority. All the while, Mao was touting his efforts to respond to peasant concerns.      

Although Mao said, “There is nothing wrong with chaos,” by 1967 he realized he had unleashed a whirlwind. He called for moderation and, yes, unity while the army tried to regain control.

In the 1970s, Mao directed a massive program for what we call infrastructure. China experts have labeled the efforts as “highly wasteful,” “inadequately planned” and so “inefficient” that they could never be completed. The elite prospered while the people “stagnated.”

The results were destruction of priceless artifacts and thousands of years of history, closing schools and universities resulting in a 41% illiteracy rate and a faltering economy. Estimated deaths are as high as 20 million.

Place China’s Cultural Revolution in today’s context. 

A self-proclaimed Socialist-Democrat president candidate was lionized.

We see mobs running amok.

The president preaches unity, but Democrats are considering such divisive practices as packing the Supreme Court. 

He proposes trillions of dollars for infrastructure.

Equity is the catch phrase. Class warfare is promoted. 

Historical sites and statues are “smeared with paint” and toppled, victims of “social purification of art.” 

Democrat members of Congress call for harassment of government officials at restaurants and at their homes.

Publishers and the media censor news stories and refuse to print books that provide differing opinions.

Speakers at universities are shouted down for having a different point of view.

Classic books such as “Tom Sawyer” are removed from shelves. Movies such as “Gone with the Wind” are no longer acceptable. 

Streets, buildings and military bases are being renamed, and names of iconic figures are being erased.

Professors are censured for teaching facts contrary to the current orthodoxy and even for using a foreign word that sounds like a slur.

Movie and TV figures are pilloried because of how they voted or, having once appeared in a TV show filmed in front of an antebellum home, are to be humiliated and deprived of their livelihoods. 

We must be obedient to masks and limits on church attendance and closing businesses.

By 1970, China for the most part was returning to the normal life that Mao had tried to destroy. His comment was: “Many mistakes were made and many people died.”

What will be the result of our cultural revolution?

Rich Kiper is a Leavenworth Times columnist.