History of Beijing - People's Republic of China - Cultural Revolution

Cultural Revolution

See also: Cultural Revolution

The Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao’s campaign to change the social and cultural fabric of Chinese society, was launched from and ultimately halted in Beijing, with profound consequences for the city and country. Mao initiated the campaign by directing attacks against political-literary figures in Beijing. The first target was Wu Han, the deputy mayor of Beijing and historian, whose book Hai Rui Dismissed from Office adapted from a Peking opera about an incorruptible Ming-era official, had been praised by Mao in the early 1960s. But in November 10, 1965, the work was criticized by Shanghai propagandist Yao Wenyuan as an attempt to rehabilitate Peng Dehuai. Yao was supported by Mao’s wife Jiang Qing. The scope of attack then expanded to the “Three Family Village”, so-named for a column in the People’s Daily jointly-written by Wu Han, Deng Tuo, the editor of the newspaper, and Liao Mosha, another Beijing literary figure and official. The trio were accused of making veiled attacks against Maoism. Deng Tuo committed suicide and Wu Han later died in prison. Their fall implicated the mayor of Beijing, Peng Zhen, who was accused of running the city government as his independent fiefdom and harboring anti-party conspirators. The attack on Peng Zhen, in turn, undermined the standing of Liu Shaoqi, an ally of Peng and Mao’s ultimate target. The Beijing Municipal Government became the first casualty of the revolution; its leaders were replaced with radical Maoists.

As Mao expanded the power struggle at the elite level in the spring of 1966, he encouraged radicalized youth from Beijing’s universities and high school to join his campaign. On May 16, 1966, Mao unveiled the “May 16 Circular”, which officially launched a Cultural Revolution to cleanse party and country of bourgeoisie and Soviet revisionist elements such as Peng Zhen. On May 25, 1966, several junior faculty at Peking University led by Nie Yuanzi, wrote a “big-character poster” accusing the school administrators of obstructing the Cultural Revolution and calling on the masses to destroy counter revolutionary and pro-Khrushchev elements. Nie was initially rebuked by the university but her poster was published nationally with Mao’s blessings on June 2 in the People’s Daily. On June 18, Peking University students held the first struggle session denouncing their teachers. Jiang Qing visited campus to lend her support to the rebellions students. By July 29, classes at all universities and high schools in the city were halted as students mobilized to join the Cultural Revolution. On May 29, a group of students at Tsinghua University Middle School, organized the first “Red Guard” group protect Chairman Mao from the enemies of the Cultural Revolution. And students at other Beijing schools followed. In August, Mao praised the Red Guards and called on them to “bombard the headquarters” of bourgeois elements in government. The movement spread and Mao ordered that the Red Guards be given free rides on trains and room and board across the country to spread the revolution. From August 18 to November 26, he presided over eight Red Guard rallies in Tiananmen Square attended by over 11 million youth. The rallies helped drive Liu Shaoqi from power.

Having halted classes and toppled school administrations, the Red Guards then turned to enemies of the revolution in broader society. They ransacked homes of class enemies in search of incriminating evidence, smashed cultural relics deemed to be remnants of feudal culture, and struggled against political and cultural luminaries who were accused of following the capitalist road. Within one month of Mao’s first rally on August 18, they ransacked 114,000 homes city, seizing 3.3 million items and 75.2 million in cash. During the height of the Red Guard fervor in August and September, at least 1,772 residents were killed. Many were driven to suicide or beaten to death by the Red Guards. Notable Beijing residents who took their own lives include Liu Ren, the deputy mayor, Lao She, famous writer, and Rong Guotuan, table tennis star and coach. Countless others suffered public humiliation, beatings and extrajudicial detentions at the hands of Red Guards and rebels. Many historical sites, including those designated by the city’s historical protection bureau, were damaged or destroyed in the mayhem. Landmarks such as the Temple of Heaven, Beihai, Old and New Summer Palaces, Ming Tombs, Yonghe Lamsery and the Great Wall were also targeted. Virtually all houses of worship were shutdown. The Forbidden City was protected on the orders of Premier Zhou Enlai. Many city streets were renamed after revolutionary slogans. The Red Guards sought to rename the city itself, East is Red City.

By 1967, with the schools closed and authority figures toppled, Red Guard factions began to compete with each other for control of institutions they had seized. The clashes grew violent, and some groups turned to challenge Jiang Qing. In 1968, Mao ordered the military to take control of government, universities and factories in 1968 and had the Red Guards disband and leave the city for the countryside where they would “undergo reeducation from the peasants.” Hundreds of thousands of educated youth from Beijing were sent to rural and pastoralist areas. At the Ninth Party Congress held in Beijing in April 1969, Mao declared the Cultural Revolution was completed and named Lin Biao as successor. But on September 13, 1971, Lin Biao died in a plane crash as he tried to flee the country following an unsuccessful coup against Mao. After Lin’s death, colleges were reopened to students of worker-peasant-soldier backgrounds and some of the purged old guard leaders such as Deng Xiaoping were partially rehabilitated, but radical Gang of Four, led by Jiang Qing, continued to hold sway.

The Monument to the People's Heroes was erected in Tiananmen Square in 1958 to commemorate the martyrs of revolutions in modern Chinese history. Mourners of Zhou Enlai laid thousands of floral wreaths at and around the foot of the monument during the April 5th Movement of 1976. The Monument later became the gathering point student leaders during the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests. Behind the Monument is the Mao Zedong Mausoleum, completed in 1977.

After Zhou Enlai died on January 8, 1976, Yao Wenyuan’s published a series of propaganda works criticizing the legacy of Zhou, which drew widespread public disapproval. On March 20, 1976, students from the Niufang Primary School laid a wreath at the Monument to the People's Heroes in Tiananmen Square to commemorate Zhou, and others followed. Many of the wreaths carried poems remembering the premier that criticized the Gang of Four through allegorical allusions. By the time of Qingming Festival on April 4, a traditional tomb-sweeping holiday, the square was filled with wreaths and poetry and an estimated two million city residents visited to pay their respects. The gathering was the largest spontaneous demonstration against the Cultural Revolution. The following day, the Gang of Four ordered the police to seize and destroy the wreaths and seal off the square from further access. In clashes with residents, hundreds were arrested. The April Fifth Incident, the largest spontaneous public gathering against the Cultural Revolution, was branded a counter-revolutionary criminal incident blamed on Deng Xiaoping who was purged.

Mao died in Beijing on September 9, 1976 and his mausoleum in Tiananmen Square was completed one year later. Less than one month after his death on October 7, 1976, the Gang of Four was arrested in Zhongnanhai by Mao’s former security chief, Wang Dongxing, in a bloodless coup supported by Mao’s anointed successor Hua Guofeng and military chief Ye Jianying. The arrests ended the Cultural Revolution. Deng Xiaoping was rehabilitated and then wrested power away from Hua. At the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee held in 1978, the party, under Deng’s leadership, rehabilitated the victims of Cultural Revolution, reversed the verdict of the April Fifth Incident, and adopted a policy course of economic reforms. College entrance exams were restored in 1977 and most of the rusticated youth returned to the city.

The Cultural Revolution also exacerbated tensions with the Soviet Union and some 300,000 city residents were mobilized to build elaborate underground bunkers designed to shelter up to 40% of the city's population in the event of a nuclear attack. Beijing's Underground City, built from 1969 to 1979, was later converted to underground shopping centers and museum.

Read more about this topic:  History Of Beijing, People's Republic of China

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