To what extent did the Red Guards control the Cultural Revolution?
The Cultural Revolution in China started in 1966 and ended on Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, on September 9th. While headed by Mao Zedong (sometimes spelled Tse-Tung), otherwise known as Chairman Mao, the Cultural Revolution contained a powerful group who called themselves the Red Guard, student activists who killed, pillaged, and destroyed “Old Fours” for Zedong. One could argue they were the drive of the Revolution.
However, the Red Guards were not the Cultural Revolution, though, neither was Mao Zedong. To what extent did the Red Guards control the Cultural Revolution?
This investigation will use memoirs (Red Scarf Girl, Life and Death in Shanghai) which are primary sources, along with historical books (The Great Cultural Revolution, China: 100 Years of China, The Cultural Revolution, and The Great Chinese Revolution 1800-1985) for the background of the Cultural Revolution. By interpreting opinions and putting them into context of the events, this investigation aims to discover how much influence the Red Guards had over the Cultural Revolution.
Before the Cultural Revolution, Mao had implemented the Great Leap Forward 1958 in the People’s Republic of China. The Great Leap Forward caused a famine with an estimated death count of 20 to 30 million (Fairbank 296). Mao had retired in 1959, and his successor, Liu Shaoqi, was a moderate President who reversed the effects of the Great Leap Forward (Esmein 34). Mao felt threatened by Liu’s success where he had failed.
Mao began to purge the Communist Party to rebuild his power (Fairbank 320). In May of 1966, students at Beijing University put up a poster that attacked the teachers (Salisbury 212). Mao approved of this on public radio, and soon thousands were up (Salisbury 212). The students, who called themselves Red Guards, began to show the budding signs of violence. They would humiliate and criticize their former teachers (Salisbury 213). Mao used the students to further his goals.
On August 8, 1966, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party released a document called the 16 Points (Esmein 81). It simplified Mao’s goals in the Revolution, namely, to get rid of intellectuals and what he called the Four Olds: thought, customs, habit, and culture (Fairbank 317). In Tiananmen Square, he spoke there on August 18th, the first of a few rallies (Langley 13). Afterwards, the violence of the Red Guards increased greatly. They would hold meetings and torture and shame victims, most of whom were innocent (Salisbury 214).
An estimated 400,000 people died due to the purging, not including those who committed suicide, and who were mentally or physically crippled (Fairbank 320). The Red Guards didn’t only destroy life, they destroyed artifacts, books, museums, paintings; anything considered old (Esmein 108). By this time, China was in complete chaos; there was no economy or education. Power struggles were seen...