Early GPCR, the Rise of New Power and New Ideology Part 6

Early GPCR, the Rise of New Power and New Ideology: Seas are Rising, Clouds and Waters Raging – The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution Begins, Maoist China from 1958 to May 16, 1966 (Part 6)

Read Part 1 here: https://llco.org/early-gpcr-the-rise-of-new-power-and-new-ideology-part-1/

Part 2: https://llco.org/early-gpcr-the-rise-of-new-power-and-new-ideology-part-2/

Part 3: https://llco.org/early-gpcr-the-rise-of-new-power-and-new-ideology-part-3/

Part 4: https://llco.org/early-gpcr-the-rise-of-new-power-and-new-ideology-part-4/

Part 5: https://llco.org/early-gpcr-the-rise-of-new-power-and-new-ideology-part-5/

Part 6: https://llco.org/early-gpcr-the-rise-of-new-power-and-new-ideology-part-6/

Part 7: https://llco.org/early-gpcr-the-rise-of-new-power-and-new-ideology-part-7/

Part 8: https://llco.org/early-gpcr-the-rise-of-new-power-and-new-ideology-part-8/

Prairie Fire

Yao Wenyuan Opens Fire Against Revisionists, the Approaching Storm

As the Cultural Revolution approached, parallel institutions were emerging within Lin Biao’s military as its spread Mao Zedong Thought to the broader society. These new institutions would play a big role in the battle against the Party bureaucracy, which had become dominated by revisionists. Similarly, although all sides sought to appropriate Mao’s words and image, two kinds of authority came into conflict. On the one side, there was the revisionist Party bureaucracy. The authority of the Party was used as a way to convince the masses to defer to the bureaucracy, the local cadres, upward through the chain of command, even when obedience did not serve the interests of the masses. Deference upward, through bureaucratic layers, was very old in Chinese culture. Such obedience was a hallmark of Confucianism. On the other hand, a cult around the personalities of Mao, and to a lesser extent, Defense Minister Lin Biao were promoted in the military and its parallel institutions. The Mao cult had existed for some time, even since the time of the people’s war. However, now, the cult began to grow massively and take root in across all parts of society. Through the Cultural Revolution, the cult became a way to trump Party authority. The Party no longer could claim to be the only interpreter of Mao. The Party no longer had a monopoly on authority and legitimacy. The cult, along with the dissemination of Mao’s works, especially “the little red book,” gave individuals themselves the ability and courage to question, and, ultimately, rebel against the Party. The cult, with all the problems that arise from it, was a kind of “Protestant” rebellion that democratized revolutionary authority. The cult was a battering ram that any individual could wield against the bureaucracy at any level.

This emerging split between the Maoists and revisionists was reflected geographically also. Whereas the revisionists were entrenched in the national government and Party bureaucracy in Beijing, many, but not all, of the top Maoists were from outside the capital. It was from Shanghai that the Maoists would begin to maneuver. Mao himself was away from the capital, he placed himself outside the storm in the capital. Away from Beijing, at Hangzhou, Mao delivered a speech for a conference on December 21, 1965. Mao pushed for confrontation. He declared there is no such thing as a “policy of concession.” He declared that reactionaries will always use concessions to launch attacks against revolutionaries. He began to push for Maoist approaches to be extended throughout society, including academia and the arts. Mao called on professional philosophers to go to the factories and countryside in order to transform themselves and the masses. Mao criticized the Party’s handling of the arts:

“The Department of Arts must be reformed. If it is not reformed, can it produce philosophers? Can it produce writers? Can it produce historians? Today, philosophers are incapable of writing anything philosophical; writers are incapable of writing novels; and the Department of History is incapable of carrying out historical studies. What they all write concerns nothing but emperors, kings, generals and prime ministers…”

Mao went on to criticize education. In preparation for future struggle with revisionists, capitalist roaders, he told leftists that they must go beyond their own circles and make contact with the masses. They must take care to explain the works of revolutionary science to the masses as preparation for the offensive to come. (1) As Mao made made declarations from outside the capital, Lin Biao’s military continued to promote Mao Zedong Thought and the politicization of society as a way to push against the revisionist layers of the Party in the months to come. On January 24, 1966, the army published a speech by general Xiao Hua, General Political Department of the People’s Liberation Army: “Hold High the Great Banner of The Thought of Mao Zedong, And Resolutely Implement The Five Point Principle Of Bringing Politics To the Fore.” (2) Also “Let Us Be Armed With The Thought Of Mao Zedong And Become Proletarian, Revolutionary Fighters In Literature And Art.” (3) The official Cultural Revolution was about to begin.

While the Maoist efforts of the army were spreading, the struggles in culture had yet to mobilize people broadly. In a way, the Cultural Revolution had already been going on for some time in the army and cultural circles. Our concept of the Cultural Revolution suddenly beginning on November 10, 1965 is somewhat contrived. The date is rather arbitrary, part of later myth making. An ex-Red Guard, who was a middle school student at the time, recalls:

“We had been hearing things about a revolution in culture and art since 1964. We sometimes discussed this in our spare moments. It seemed to be a dispute among experts that did not concern us directly.” (4)

Soon this would all change. The Cultural Revolution was about to escalate.

When does the Cultural Revolution Begin?

There is some confusion about the dates — the beginning, end, and duration — of the Cultural Revolution. Some loosely refer to the last decade of Mao’s life from 1965 or 1966 to 1976 to be the “Cultural Revolution decade.” The Chinese revisionists in their official Party history continue to count the entire last decade of Mao’s life as the “Cultural Revolution.” In reality, there had been Maoist efforts since the Great Leap that continued until the fall of the Gang of Four on October 6, 1976. However, when most people think of the Cultural Revolution, they think of the incredible mass movements that, for the most part, took place between 1966 and into 1968, when Mao helped to end them. Another case could be made that the Cultural Revolution was about remaining on the socialist road, moving toward communism. With this in mind, it is important to note that forward, revolutionary momentum was ending before the fall of Lin Biao in 1971. Chen Boda, a key Maoist theorist, was purged in 1970 as Mao shifted rightward. A final blow is landed with the fall of Lin Biao and the loss of the army, “pillar of the dictatorship,” with all its might, to the revisionists. Thus the march forward to communism ends, the “Cultural Revolution” ends, with the final defeat of Lin Biao on September, 13, 1971. After that, it is all decline with no hope of rejuvenation. But again, officially, by 1970, it was already over. The Chinese held the view that the Cultural Revolution was not ongoing after April 1, 1969, that the radical period had ended with the conservative turn as Mao began shifting rightward. It was only later, in 1974, that Mao surprised everyone by announcing “The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution is already in its eighth year.” (5) Thus Party history was rewritten, revising the previous assessment that the Cultural Revolution’s end was marked by the Ninth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in April 1, 1969. In any case, most histories mark Yao Wenyaun’s polemic against Wu Han as the beginning of the Cultural Revolution even though there were numerous similar polemics and debates that had been going on for years. In a way, our concept of the Cultural Revolution as having a definite beginning and end is somewhat contrived, based on later myth making. Maoist efforts had been going on since the aftermath of the Great Leap and they continued to go on even after the Ninth Congress in April of 1969, continued to go on after Lin Biao’s death in 1971, and even continued to go on through the 1970s. Exact dates are not all that important.

Leaders and Historical Narrative

Every Marxist is aware of the idealist nature of “the great man theory of history.” Yet it is difficult to write political history without reference to leaders. Fall of individuals at the top represent changes in underlying social forces whose reversal cannot be pinpointed to an exact date. The rise and fall of individual leaders represents shifts within society. It is not that any individual leader alone determines whether socialism continues or not, but rather that the fates of individual leaders are determined by complex underlying processes. It is not that the death of Lin Biao, the death of Mao, or the fall of Chen Boda and his allies or the Gang of Four cause the reversal of socialism, but rather that the shifting fortunes of socialism become reflected at the top. Contrary to the “great man theory” that Marx criticized, in the final analysis, individuals alone do not make history, “all history is the history of class struggle.” Thus this is a history of the rise of New Power against Old Power, a history of institutional conflict. It is also a history of the struggle between contending ideologies and culture. Even so, the story really can’t be fully told without reference to the political struggles between leaders, which reflects the struggles between middle cadres, which reflects the struggle between lower cadres, which reflects struggles within the population itself. Thus this chapter begins with the fall of Wu Han, a revisionist leader in the cultural establishment.

Wu Han and Others Fall

Wu Han was a prominent historian and Vice-mayor of Beijing under Mayor Peng Zhen. They were closely allied with other revisionists like Lu Dingyi, alternate member of the Politburo and member of the Central Secretariat and head of the Central Committee Propaganda Department. And, most of all, they were allied to President Liu Shaoqi and Vice-chairman Deng Xiaoping. Peng Zhen, Lu Dingyi, and Wu Han were leading figures in the cultural establishment. They set cultural policies. They acted as censors and patrons. At times, they personally penned political works lampooning the Maoists. Yao Wenyuan’s attack on Wu Han would be part of a chain reaction that would unleash an whirlwind that would shake the entire system, and eventually culminate with the fall of the entire clique, including top revisionist, capitalist President Liu Shaoqi. The confrontations began as small conflicts in the cultural and academic world, but they would grow bigger and bigger. Just as most conflicts between the Maoists and revisionists go back to the Great Leap, so to does the confrontation between Yao Wenyuan and Wu Han.

In 1959, faced with inflated economic figures during the Great Leap, Mao viewed the classical opera Tablets of Life and Death. The opera describes peasants who suffer under Ming Dynasty officials who confiscate their land. Hai Rui, the emperor’s advisor, is the protagonist who speaks truth to power. When Hai Rui intervenes on the behalf or the peasants, he is unjustly dismissed from office by an autocratic and capricious emperor. The hero suffers for standing for truth and siding with the people. In April 1959, the Seventh Plenum of the Central Committee stated that participants should “learn from Hai Rui’s uprightness and tenacity.” Wu Han’s first published reference to Hai Rui occurred just two days after Defense Minister Peng Dehuai’s return from the Soviet Union on June 15, 1959. Peng Dehuai was a well-known critic of Maoist policies. Wu Han began speaking of Hai Rui in the context of calls for bolder discussion of the Great Leap. In 1961, at the tail end of the Great Leap, Wu Han published his play Hai Rui Dismissed From Office. (6) (7) (8) In the play, he touches on the same themes as an earlier opera on the same topic. Wu Han writes:

“…Hai Rui, then, in 1566, concerned with the problems of the times, questioned the emperor and demanded from him reforms. He said in his memorial, ‘In your early years you may have done a few good deeds. But now? You speak only of the ways of prolonging life… You live only in the Western Garden… Officials have come to graft, and generals have grown weak, and peasants everywhere have risen… The country has been devastated with you for a long time, a fact known by all officials of the inner and outer courts… So set on cultivating the tao, you have become bewitched; so bent upon dictatorial ways, you have become dogmatic and biased.” (9)

Like the original, Wu Han’s remake praises Hai Rui for his honesty and steadfastness in the face of the emperor’s cruelty. However, the political winds had shifted by 1965. No longer was the story seen as a warning about false reports. Rather, it was now widely seen as a thinly disguised allegorical criticism of “emperor” Mao’s dismissal of then Defense Minister Peng Dehuai in 1959 over the old Defense Minister’s attacks on the Great Leap. The play was written in 1961, the same year that the tide had turned against the Maoists, the year that Peng Dehuai was requesting rehabilitation. (10) The parallels would have been obvious to many whether they were intended by Wu Han or not. Many saw return of the land in the play as allegorical support for de-collectivization and privatization. (11) In addition, Peng Dehuai is said to have referred to himself as Hai Rui at Lushan where Maoist policies came under attack, where Liu Shaoqi and the revisionists began rising. When he was requesting rehabilitation, Peng Dehuai reportedly said, “I could no longer be silent. I wanted to be Hai Rui.” (12) Jiang Qing, Mao’s wife, was one of the first to express criticism over it. At the end of 1965, when Mao was politically strong enough to publicly criticize Wu Han’s play, Mao reportedly remarked:

“The crucial point about the play is ‘dismissed from office.’ The Jiaqing emperor dismissed Hai Rui from his office. In 1959 we dismissed Peng Dehuai from his office.” (13)

The Maoists sought writers for the campaign against Wu Han’s work. Jiang Qing sought out Li Xifan, a literary critic in Beijing who worked at the People’s Daily. He declined to lead off the new campaign, perhaps fearing Wu Han’s powerful connections to top officials Peng Zhen and Deng Xiaoping. After approaching other writers in Beijing unsuccessfully, she relied on Ke Qingshi, Mayor of Shanghai at the time. He had supported Mao during the Great Leap. Before he died in 1965, Ke Qingshi introduced her to both Zhang Chunqiao and Yao Wenyuan. The latter was a literary critic who was relatively unknown, but had taken up the Maoist cause in academic debates in previous years. Jiang Qing would become their political patron. All three would play a big role in the coming years. (14) They would come to form a Shanghai clique, and eventually be denounced, along with Wang Hongwen, as part of the “Gang of Four” in the 1970s.

The beginning of the official Cultural Revolution would come to be marked with the publication of Yao Wenyuan’s criticism of Wu Han on November 10, 1965. “On the New Historical Play Hai Rui Dismissed From Office” was a Maoist collaboration originally written in secret. Yao Wenyuan’s text reads:

“Should we follow the example of ‘return of occupied land’? Our villages have realized the socialist system of collective ownership and established the great People’s Communes. Under these circumstances, who is to ‘return the occupied land’? The People’s Communes? On the other hand, to whom should the land be returned? To the landlords? Or to the peasants? It is the 500 million peasants who are advancing with determination alone the socialist road should ‘learn’ such ‘return of occupied land’?”


“The Hai Rui in the play is fabricated by Comrade Wu Han to publicize his own points of view.” (15)

To take on such powerful figures in the establishment could result in prison or even assassination. When Peng Zhen learned of the article, he sought to censor key passages. After failing, he sought to prevent the article’s publication entirely, even in Shanghai. According to later Red Guard publications, Peng Zhen left Beijing to visit Shanghai in this period. Thus he understood the danger to his power. The tables had recently turned in Shanghai because the Maoist mayor Ke Qingshi had recently died. He was replaced with revisionist allies of Peng Zhen and Wu Han. (16) (17) Aside from a few leading figures of the cultural and political establishment, at the time, Yao Wenyuan’s criticism was not seen as especially important within the broader population. This is partially because Yao Wenyuan’s criticism of Wu Han did not occur in a vacuum. It occurred amidst a vast debate in literature and art. One witness reports that “it was neither more nor less significant than any of a dozen other debates and campaigns the preceding year.” (18) Other similar articles by Qi Benyu, Guan Feng, and Lin Jie appeared criticizing the work. (19) Another recalls that “no one thought this particular controversy was very serious. It was only art and literature, after all.” (20) At the time, this uneventful event will become more important as the Cultural Revolution unfolds and the narrative is shaped. Later, Mao, looking back, would remark that the time had come for a “monkey king” to brandish his “golden cudgel against Peng Zhen’s imperial court.” (21) It was time to create disorder in heaven, to shake up the establishment.

Peng Zhen was a Party bigwig. Peng Zhen had a long-standing and close relationship with Deng Xiaoping going back at least to the 1950s when they worked closely on the Secretariat together. Peng Zhen was appointed second in command to Deng Xiaoping at the First Plenum of the Eighth Party Congress. (22) They collaborate in their political work. They made inspection tours together. Their families were close to each other. Deng Xiaoping discharged important duties to Peng Zhen, especially in legal and security matters. Peng Zhen frequently appeared in public and made speeches. He was often the face of the regime abroad. Peng Zhen correctly recognized, long before others, that the struggle over Wu Han’s play was just the beginning of a much wider movement against the rightists and revisionists. Peng Zhen correctly saw a danger in the campaign. Instead of trying to oppose it directly, Peng Zhen reacted to the controversy with a sophisticated maneuver. He tried to limit the scope and impact of the discussions only to the literary world. To aid him, Peng Zhen called on Lu Dingyi, head of the Propaganda Department.

Lu Dingyi used his influence to limit the publication of Yao Wenyuan’s polemic. He managed to limit the publication of the article to mostly newspapers and magazines in eastern China. Peng Zhen ordered Beijing book stores not to carry it. The Maoists had to rely on alternative distributions networks. Jiang Qing and Zhang Chunqiao could exert some authority in Shanghai through their local networks. Chen Boda’s Red Flag, the Party’s theory journal, connections would be helpful. The propaganda apparatus of Lin Biao’s military, especially the General Political Department and the military’s cultural forums, also played a role supporting the Maoist campaign. Zhang Chunqiao used his authority as the political commissar of the Nanjing military district. Mao also used his personal clout. When the revisionist obstructed the spread of Yao Wenyuan’s article, Mao personally intervened to order the Shanghai printing press to issue a pamphlet version to be distributed throughout the country through the Xinhua book stores. Mao then ordered Zhou Enlai to to have the article published nationally. On November 30th, 1965, Yao Wenyuan’s critique was finally published in Beijing Daily. However, its publication was accompanied by a preface, approved and revised by Zhou Enlai, stressing that the debate was merely an academic one, underplaying its political import. Zhou Enlai’s preface in the People’s Daily stated:

“[The] correct approach to Hai Rui Dismissed from Office was to consider how to look at historical figures and plays and how to study history…”

The debate spread. Another newspaper, Beijing Daily, took its lead from Zhou Enlai’s moderate tone that echoed Peng Zhen’s earlier tactic. However, Liberation Army Daily, paper of Lin Biao’s military, contrary to the Party establishment, stated categorically that Wu Han’s play is “an anti-party, anti-socialist and anti-Mao Zedong Thought poisonous weed which should be criticized.” The Beijing establishment came to Wu Han’s aid. Several authors using many pseudonyms made criticisms of Hai Rui, but still drown the political debate in academic discussion. (23) The articles were very careful to keep the discussion theoretical, not concrete and political. In mid-December, 1965, writing under the pen name of Xiang Yangsheng, Deng Tuo, a colleague of Peng Zhen published an article “From Hai Rui Dismissed from Office to the Problem of Inheritance of Moral Values.” This article argued that the debates had no political relevance. Under a pen name, Li Qi, head of the Beijing Party Propaganda Department, attacked Wu Han only for his historical analysis. Other writers from the Propaganda Department, under the pen name Fang Qiu, debated the ideological trend that the play represented. Articles designed to divert attention from the political and concrete issues dominated the pages. At the same time, they were able to prevent the publication of several other articles attacking Wu Han’s politics. Qi Benyu’s “The Reactionary Nature of Hai Rui Dismissed from Office” was censored by the revisionist establishment. (24) (25) (26)

Initially, the controversy blew over to a large extent. Wu Han eventually published a mild self-criticism on December 27th, 1965. The self-criticism by Wu Han goes into great detail in showing how he had inaccurately portrayed Hai Rui as a historical figure. Wu Han also states that in the course of the debates, he made more and more errors. He stated that more errors were used to cover up earlier ones. However, only a few paragraphs of long the self-criticism address the play’s allegorical attack on Mao. Wu Han mostly brushes aside the heart of the issue:

“In that year, as was pointed out by Comrade Yao Wenyuan, there sprang up in society ‘the wind of individual farming’ and there was vociferous clamoring for ‘reopening of misjudged cases,’ ‘redressing of grievances’ and ‘return of land’ to mark the objective existence of class struggle. Under such a circumstance, what would be the effect of the release, staging and publication of the Dismissal of Hai Rui on the reading public and audience?… [T]hey naturally would link the play with this or that trend.” (27)

Peng Zhen then sent Wu Han off to a rural commune to participate in the “Four Cleanups” campaign. This was, all things considered, a rather light punishment, a slap on the hand. In February, 1966, Yao Wenyuan’s criticisms were dismissed as “gossip.” At the same time, Peng Zhen was now investigating the Maoist critics in order to depose them, including searching for “incriminating materials” on Guan Feng. Peng Zhen convened a team, his “Group of Five,” to issue a final verdict and close the Cultural Revolution debate. Two dissented, including Kang Sheng. The final verdict sought to keep the struggle limited to academic circles by deflecting the political implications. The verdict was that “expert study” of Hai Rui would be made at Beida University. (28) (29) Thus the issue was to be closed and the Cultural Revolution was to be tamed just as the earlier Socialist Education Movement had been.

Because of the conflicts in culture, people were already beginning to talk of a “Cultural Revolution,” although the term would not become widespread until April, 1966. Already at the beginning of 1966, there was a mostly revisionist “Group of Five in Charge of the Cultural Revolution” that included Peng Zhen, Lu Dingyi, Chao Yang, Wu Lengxi, and Kang Sheng. Only Kang Sheng could be considered a Mao loyalist. All of the others were associated with Peng Zhen, the rightists and revisionists. The “Group of Five” was dominated by critics of the Maoist line; it was dominated by those who politically aligned closely with the top revisionist, President Liu Shaoqi. A question arises: Why was Peng Zhen and his team put in charge of the campaign to revolutionize the superstructure, to revolutionize and debate culture? Many speculate that Mao put Peng Zhen in charge knowing that he would make errors that would lead to his downfall, which is exactly what happened. Another, more probable explanation, is that the revisionists were the ones who already controlled the cultural establishment. Mao’s influence in the Party was simply limited. So, it makes sense that the a Party hierarchy dominated by President Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping would maneuver their own people to run the campaign, thus thwarting any Maoist effort, which is what initially happened. In February, 1966, Peng Zhen issued a “Outline Report on the Current Academic Discussion Made by the Group of Five in Charge of the Cultural Revolution” or “February Outline.” This document was to serve as the official guide for debates ranging on a number of cultural works at the time, but was meant to be a kind of guide to the Cultural Revolution generally. Once again, it stressed the academic nature of the debates. The “February Outline” claimed “that no link existed between Wu Han and Peng Dehuai.” (30) (31) The report also warned against “arrogance” and condemned “scholar tyrants who are always acting arbitrarily and trying to overwhelm people with their power.” This was a transparent allusion to Yao Wenyuan and other Maoist critics. The “February Outline” sought to take control of the debate, recommending that “criticism and repudiation by name-calling in the press should be conducted with caution and with the approval of the leading bodies concerned.” (32) Although the report adopted Maoist verbage, it directed debates away from Maoist conclusions. The report was popular among the Party establishment and hierarchy. The press echoed the report’s conclusions. For now, Peng Zhen and the revisionists appeared to win.

Other confrontations occurred in in this period. In February, Liu Shaoqi blocked a report from Hupeh province. The plan advocated mechanization funded by the People’s Communes themselves. In other words, Liu Shaoqi was blocking an effort to shift power back to the People’s Communes, an effort to undermine Maoist self-sufficiency. At the same time, a Japanese Communist Party delegation had visited Beijing. There they met Peng Zhen. They issued a joint communique pushing for unity of action between the Chinese and Soviets in fighting the United States in Vietnam. Peng Zhen declared “both revisionism and dogmatism must be fought,” a tacit criticism of the Maoists. This worked its way through the Politburo into the joint declaration. Away from the capital, in Hangzhou, Mao was angered by the declaration. Mao insisted that it should have emphasized “a united international front against American imperialism and Soviet revisionism.” (33) This echoed an earlier incident when Khrushchev was deposed, the Soviet ambassador visited China to assess the situation. Peng Zhen was highlighted as having made overtures to Brezhnev in the press in November, 1964. In his toast at the ambassadorial reception, he carefully avoided criticizing the Soviets. He made sure to leave the door open for reconciliation. The Chinese press, following Peng Zhen’s lead at the time, stressed that Khrushchev had been the problem, not the Soviet Union. This was very different than the militant line against revisionism associated with Mao and Lin Biao. It is a stark contrast to the militant global people’s war outlook being advanced by Lin Biao. (34)

In January, the army’s General Political Department had concluded twenty days of meetings making “a serious study of important instructions given by the Central Committee of the Communist Party and Chairman Mao Zedong on the building up of the army and its political work.” Concluding reports were made by general Xiao Hua, Director of the General Political Department and general Yang Chengwu, Deputy Chief of the General Staff. Both were Maoists, close to Lin Biao. A great emphasis was made of the mass upsurge in the creative application of Mao Zedong‘s work. The report stated, “…on all aspects of the work of the whole army and putting Mao Zedong’s Thinking in command of everything.” (35) The Maoist made another important move through the military. From February 2 to 20, 1966, the Maoists initiated an art forum, another dual institution to challenge the Party. It was led by Jiang Qing under the auspices of Lin Biao’s army. This forum was important in Jiang Qing’s further rise to early prominence as a cultural authority. This forum was part of the offensive against Peng Zhen’s line. Just as the army’s media was going against the Party, so too was its cultural efforts. After the conference, on March 22nd, 1966, Lin Biao described the reason for the focus on art in a “Letter to Members of the Standing Committee of the Military Commission of the Party Central Committee”:

“The last 16 years have witnessed sharp class struggle on the front of literature and art and the question of who will win out has not yet been settled. If the proletariat does not occupy the positions in literature and art, the bourgeoisie certainly will. This struggle is inevitable. And it represents an extremely broad and deep socialist revolution in the realm of ideology. If things are not done properly, revisionism will prevail. We must hold high the great banner of Mao Zedong’s Thought and unswervingly carry this revolution through to the end.” (36)

Chen Boda, Zhang Chunqiao and Yao Wenyuan drafted a summary of the forum that was issued on April 10, 1966: “Summary of the Forum on the Work in Literature and Art in the Armed Forces with which Comrade Lin Biao Entrusted Comrade Jiang Qing.” The official conclusions of the forum were very different than those of Peng Zhen and the Group of Five’s “February Outline.” Rather than limiting the scope of the Cultural Revolution, the report from the army forum widened the scope. The conclusions of the army forum were not merely academic, but stressed the political implications of culture. According to the forum, the cultural debates had political, concrete implications. Cultural struggle is power struggle. The document stated that “the last sixteen years have witnessed sharp class struggles on the cultural front” and that “we have been under the dictatorship of a black anti-party, anti-socialist line which is diametrically opposed to Chairman Mao’s Thought.” (37) This forum was a launching off point for renewed offensive against Peng Zhen and the “Group of Five.” On April, 18, 1966, Liberation Army Daily ran an editorial “Hold High the Great Banner of the Thought of Zedong and Take an Active Part in the Great Socialist Cultural Revolution.” This article further described the culture debates as a fierce class struggle. The article claimed that struggle in culture was so important that the fate of the socialist system itself was in the balance. At the same time, Yao Wenyuan continued his agitation against Wu Han, calling him “part of the Guomindang.” In May, 1966, Chen Boda threw Red Flag, the Party’s theory journal, into the battle. (38)

The struggle hit other allies of Peng Zhen and Wu Han in the anti-Maoist elite. In the tail end of the Great Leap, in February of 1961, Deng Tuo published a column “Evening Chats at Yanshan” in the Beijing Evening News. In October, Wu Han, Teng Tuo and Liao Mosha, all holding high positions in the Beijing Municipal Committee, had published a column “Notes from the Three Family Village.” The columns were social criticism thinly disguised as ancient anecdotes and foreign fables. Of the writers, Deng Tuo’s criticism of Maoist policies was the sharpest. Deng Tuo had castigated the idea of reaching communism through the People’s Communes as “substituting illusion for reality.” (39) Deng Tuo was the editor of People’s Daily. He was secretary for culture and education in the Beijing Party Committee. He also collaborated on articles with Peng Zhen and Lu Dingyi. Deng Tuo played a role, along with Peng Zhen, in persecuting those who opposed the Party. After the Maoist era, he would be praised as a model comrade by Deng Xiaoping. He was a Party man whose conception of Party loyalty, like other revisionists, corresponded to Confucian authoritarianism. Deng Tou had advocated the virtues of the elite scholar-official of the Confucian tradition that deferred to authority. He had always been a rightist, favoring united front policies over socialist pushes. As early as 1954, Deng Tuo stood with Liu Shaoqi against Maoist efforts to speed up collectivism. He also opposed the Hundred Flowers campaign in 1957. He criticized the Maoist emphasis on politics by cadres and in the art world. He would criticize the Three Red Banners along revisionist lines. In place of the Maoist emphasis on struggle and transformation, he emphasized industry and development. His positions were consistent with those raised earlier by Peng Dehuai at Lushan in 1959. (40) On May 11th, 1966, Qi Benyu, who had earlier been banned from the pages of major periodicals by the Beijing elite, published “On the Bourgeois Position of the Beijing Daily and Front Line.” Yao Wenyaun’s “Concerning Notes from Three Family Village: The Reactionary Character of Evening Chats at Yanshan and Notes from Three-Family Village” also criticized Wu Han, Deng Tuo, and Liao Mosha. Jiang Qing, writing under the pen-name Gao Ju attacked Deng Tuo too. As Peng Zhen’s allies came under attack, they were forced to make self-criticisms. However, like Wu Han’s self-criticism, the self criticisms were disingenuous. The self-criticisms were being used as a way to deaden the offensive. The self criticisms admitted the least significant errors in order to avoid taking responsibility for the real errors of attacking class struggle, attacking social experiment, defending Peng Dehuai’s and the Soviet’s criticisms of the Maoist policies of the Great Leap. The self criticisms were not genuine, but merely a tactical move to survive the coming storm. The Maoists claimed that life-and-death issues were at stake. Yao Wenyuan began to refer to the allies of Peng Zhen as out-and-out bourgeois reactionaries:

“Wu Han and Jian Bozan (Vice-rector of Beida University) are members of the Party, but in reality they are still part of the Guomindang (reactionaries). The bourgeois academic authorities must be criticized on these grounds. We should form the young people ourselves, without the fear that they will offend against the so-called ‘King’s laws’. Their articles must not be withheld.” (41)

The writings of Peng Zhen’s allies were said to be the “most vicious attacks on the Party, socialism, and Mao Zedong Thought” and they were “poisonous fog and blinding dust.” (42) The second-tier figures of Wu Han, Deng Tuo, and Liao Mosha were openly being portrayed as the revisionist “black line” in the media. Shanghai Liberation Daily published “Open fire on the anti-party, anti-socialist black line” by the pseudonym Gao Ju. Guan Feng published a similar attack in Guangming Daily. In the three month period from the beginning of the year through march only 90 articles appeared attacking Wu Han, in April 4,000 appeared criticizing Wu Han and his associates. (43) The tide shifted in favor of the Maoists.

The criticisms began to trickle down as debates heated up, especially into 1966. The debates even reached the schools in some places. One person who was a child at the time recalls a song:

“Wu Han Deng Tuo Liao Mosha
one stem three black melons
beat beat beat
we will resolutely overthrow them” (44)

Teachers encouraged their students to participate in the debates. Students were told to take out their notebooks and “open fire” on the revisionists. Participating in the debates that were occurring in the papers gave youth a sense of “importance.” A writer who was a middle-school student at the time recalls:

“At the end of April, it seemed to us that all literary, art, and some university students were in the midst of repudiating Wu Han and The Three-Family Village. The newspapers were full of it. We simply assumed that the two-year stream of criticism had reached a peak. We speculated that the conflict might turn into a movement involving students at our level, but it was only an idea. The meeting came as a complete surprise. Such things were rare, especially on such short notice. When the principal told us that our school was about to begin participation in the Cultural Revolution by launching a movement to repudiate Wu Han and The Three-Family Village, I was amazed. It was completely unexpected. Although Chen did not cite any specific directive, we all realized that he must have had some sort of authorization from higher levels. He would never have dared to mobilize us on his own. We likewise assumed that other schools would be doing the same thing… We were very much in the dark, but still in an excited frame of mind. Within a very short time, the whole school was buzzing…

The principal first called our attention to the numerous accounts of the criticisms of The Three-Family Village. He accused Wu, Deng, and Liao of using their positions to attack the Party and of seeking the restoration of capitalism. He cited the high tide of criticism to show that conditions were excellent for a counterattack against the bourgeois line and emphasized our responsibility to unite, criticize, and defend the Party and the nation.

Each of us was to write big-character posters containing accusations and denunciations of revisionists. We were also suppose to write analyses of the present situation stating our opinion on its causes and how it could best be rectified. Finally, we were to write essays summarizing our experiences and what we had learned.”

He continues:

“At first, big-character posters were fun. We would write our individual posters together and exchange ideas about the best kinds of criticisms. There was a kind of competition to see who could write the best one. However, we knew nothing about Deng, Wu, or Liao; they seemed distant and few of us had even read their essays. All of our information came from the newspapers. We just copied phrases and accusations from them and incorporated them into our posters. Discussions of our essays were the same. We read the newspapers, saw what lessons we were expected to learn, and got ideas of how the case should be treated. We then wrote these ideas into our own essays. There was nothing else we could do. All we knew was what appeared in the news and we could only say that something was good or bad. We wanted to criticize in a deep way but could not do so.” (45)

Another person recollects:

“Such activities were a lot of fun, and a welcome break from the aimless life at home… I was sorry when our meetings were over. In Changsha city, though, the wave of criticism was still mounting, and we heard more and more about a ‘Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution’ that was to expose the reactionary capitalist stand of the academic authorities who opposed the Party and Socialism. It was all extremely confusing…” (46)

The battles in culture continued and widened in scope. The Cultural Revolution became louder and more intense. Peng Zhen and his associates now came under heavy criticism for the “February Outline,” censorship of articles criticizing Wu Han, harassment of Qi Benyu, and Peng Zhen’s poor, overall leadership of the Cultural Revolution. Criticisms were made against Peng Zhen’s ally Lu Dingyi, alternate member of the Politburo and member of the Central Secretariat and head of the Central Committee Propaganda Department. Earlier, in March,1966, Mao himself stepped in and attacked the propaganda department headed by Lu Dingyi:

“Wu Han has published so many articles, without having to seek anyone’s permission. But when it comes to Yao Wenyuan, permission has to be asked. Why is this so? Articles from the Left are suppressed, while the great despots of the academic world are protected… the department of propaganda has become the court of the king of hell; but the little devils must now be released.” (47)

From Mao’s statement, a slogan was born: “You must overturn the King of Hell and set all the little devils free!” This slogan meant that the top leaders should be criticized by the lower cadres. (48) Mao sought to unleash a wave of criticism of the Party and cultural elite from below. The Propaganda Department had opposed Maoist pushes since the Great Leap. They had allied with President Liu Shaoqi and Vice-chairman Deng Xiaoping. Revisionist control of the Propaganda Department had prevented the Maoists ability to go through normal Party channels. It was Lin Biao’s military, an emerging New Power, not the Party, that was the main vehicle for Mao Zedong Thought. While the Party’s official channels had been undermining Mao Zedong Thought, Lin Biao was promoting it through the army’s General Political Department, media, and culture work. As Lu Dingyi opposed the spread of the cult of personality around Mao, the General Political Department promoted the cult as a pole of authority. (49) Lu Dingyi was now accused of opposition to Mao Zedong Thought and the Cultural Revolution. Peng Zhen’s lower-ranking allies began to fall. The storm was not over. It had only just begun.


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