In 1958, Chairman Mao Zedong’s People’s Republic of China (PRC) launched the “Great Leap Forward.” Its goals were to rapidly transform the country from an agrarian economy into a socialist society through rapid industrialization and collectivization. Private farming was banned, and if caught, one was persecuted and labelled a counter-revolutionary, with restrictions on rural people strictly enforced through public shaming, peer pressure and beatings. One of the first things The Great Leap Forward implemented was a hygiene campaign against the “Four Pests” (rats, flies, mosquitoes, and sparrows). Sounds good. Except, two years later devastating locust swarms arrived and ate everything in sight, because their natural predators, sparrows, had all been killed. The ensuing “Great Chinese Famine” is estimated to have killed upwards of approximately 30 million people, out of a Chinese population of 600 million at the time, or five percent. It was the deadliest famine in the history of China, and though the worst famine to-date was the Great Irish Famine, (Potato Famine) where approximately one million of a population of eight million people died, or 12.5 percent, the Great Chinese Famine, in part due to China’s large population, became the deadliest famine in history. Meanwhile, the Great Leap Forward face-planted and ended in 1962.
After the 1958-62 fiasco the Great Leap Forward, the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) leaders pulled back some of the most extreme collectivization efforts. Then, in May 1966 the Peoples Republic of China issued a statement which outlined Mao’s ideas on the Cultural Revolution. By early June, mobs of young demonstrators wearing red armbands, lined the capital of Beijing’s major streets, brandishing huge portraits of Mao, beating drums, and shouting slogans. The mob would soon become known as the Red Guards. In August over a million of these, mostly 16 to 28 year olds, gathered from all over the country, in and around Tiananmen Square in Beijing, where Chairman Mao spoke to them. Over the next few months eight mass-rallies were held where over 12 million people attended. The movement’s stated goal was to purge capitalist and traditional elements from society, and to substitute a new way of thinking based on Mao’s own beliefs. But fundamentally, it was about elite politics, as Mao tried to reassert control by setting such radical youths against the Communist Party hierarchy and to wage war against anybody who didn’t agree with his ideas. He told his mobs that “to rebel is justified” and that “revisionists should be removed through violent class struggle.” He came up with an official blacklist called the Four Olds, (old customs, old culture, old habits, and old ideas) which were to be all eradicated. With anyone still believing in such things deemed evil, because they were only using such traditions to preserve their power and subjugate the people.
Students everywhere began to revolt against their respective schools’ party establishment because education was deemed the way that old values were preserved and transmitted. Teachers, particularly those at universities, were considered the “Stinking Old Ninth” and were widely persecuted, from suffering the public humiliation of having their heads shaved to assault and even torture. Many were also murdered or harassed into suicide. By June 1966 all classes in primary and secondary schools were cancelled nationwide. The cops were told not to intervene in Red Guard activities, and if they did, the national police chief pardoned the Red Guards for any crimes. And so it began.Continue reading