Mao’s Calamitous Cultural Revolution

By Sherry Zhang

Growing up, I have always been fascinated by Chinese culture. Chinese legends, poetry, and paintings were among my favorites as a child. In my eyes, Chinese culture holds so much beauty and history. It would have been a sin to destroy it. Little did I know such beauty had already been destroyed by the hands of the hungry decades ago. 

In 1966, Mao Zedong, the chairman of the Communist Party of China (CPC), came up with the brilliant idea of purging capitalist and traditional elements from Chinese society in order to reestablish Maoism. And guess what. His plan worked. Through an unsurprising amount of CPC propaganda, Mao convinced a large number of students—known as the Red Guards— to attack the Four Olds: old ideas, culture, customs, and habits. Anything found to be bourgeois was destroyed to make room for a new culture that aligned with the mainstream communist ideology. 

As a result, a myriad of classical literature, paintings, monuments, temples, and architecture were torn, burned, or destroyed. Scholars, teachers, and anyone who appeared highly educated or wealthy were tortured, beatened, sent to the countryside as laborers, or even killed. Mao wanted change and he got it. Traditional China? Gone. It was a new era. Conservative values were out and communist propaganda was in. A ten year period of destruction plagued the country. 

Luckily, after Mao’s death, the Cultural Revolution came to an end. The aftermath was catastrophic. Not only did China lose an enormous chunk of its traditional culture and history, but also experienced a collapsing economy and an estimated death toll of around a million. 

While I love China and her people, I cannot say the same about the government. What happened from 1966 to 1976 was sinful and inexcusable. However, to nobody’s surprise, the corrupt CPC doesn’t care. The only objectives they seek are power and status. Decades ago, the CPC managed to convince the entire peasant population to overthrow the bourgeoisie only to take its place and become the new and revamped elites. Furthermore, because the CPC is the CPC, they will never be held accountable for the crimes. Unfortunately, it is too late to go back and change the past. Thus, we can only move forward and work to change the future.