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The “Red Guards” And The “Cult Of Mao”

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Mao Zedong and the Red Guards go hand in hand in the history of China. Mao knew that the Red Guards were a useful tool in implementing his teachings. The Red Guards were a group of people who were very devoted to Mao and they wanted to spread his ideas all over China. This paper will cover the Cult of Mao and the role the Red Guards played during this time in China.

Mao Zedong started the Cultural Revolution in 1966 in the hoped that it would put an end to “liberal bourgeoisie” and to keep China in its revolutionary class struggles. Many people look at it as Mao trying to regain power from the Great Leap Forward because he lost a lot of power to Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping. The Cultural Revolution almost brought China into a civil war because most of China was in a conflict due to struggles in social, political, and economic realms of society.1

The Red Guards came about when a group of students at a high school attached to Tsinghua University put posters up that had constructive criticism towards their teachers and administration. They called themselves the Red Guards and they would in turn be a very useful tool to chairman Mao. Their leader was Zhang Chengzhi and the group as a whole was looked upon by the administration as “radicals”. Before long, the Red Guards were getting recognition at all levels of society and it eventually reached Mao Zedong. Mao set up investigations at the schools and in return got rid of school administrations. After this, the group was pretty much free to put up more posters which were calling for a radical revolution. This idea was even supported and published by the People’s Daily. After the publication in the newspaper, students all over Beijing wanted to join the group.2

The Red Guard’s role in Mao’s Cultural Revolution was pretty simple. They went all over China to different schools and universities talking about the teachings of Mao. They wanted everybody in China to follow the teachings of Mao and those that didn’t usually were dealt with by using physical violence. The Red Guard’s attacked the “four olds” in Chinese culture. The “four olds” included the old ideas, cultures, manners, and customs of China. The Red Guards pretty much sacked everything and went around destroying anything that didn’t fit into the teachings of Mao. The group destroyed many sacred and ancient temples. Out of 6,843 temples, 4,922 were destroyed. They also destroyed many ancient documents and artifacts. They went throughout the country spreading the word of Mao and they put up many posters, made many speeches, and also committed heinous crimes in the support of the Cultural Revolution.3

On August 18, 1966 Mao stood in front of around a million Red Guards in Tiananmen Square. This shows that Mao had a lot of support because the group grew into huge numbers of people. On the other hand, the regular people of China thought that the Red Guards were just out to destroy everything they had. This caused a major conflict and many people were hurt. The Red Guards went throughout the streets attacking everything that they thought was associated with the “four olds”. They renamed street signs and even buildings which didn’t fit their category. They ransacked museums and destroyed ancient books also. In many areas, people went against the Red Guards because of the devastation in which they inflicted upon others. Many peasants and workers rebelled against them with the help of the People's Liberation Army. This only made things worse because Mao pushed for peasants and workers to support the Red Guards. This was also published in the People’s Daily and it made many people join the group and support it.4

The Cultural Revolution and the Red Guards didn’t just harass people and destroy sacred Chinese artifacts. The Red Guard tortured and murdered many people in the name of the Cultural Revolution. Many people were so embarrassed and harassed that they committed suicide because all that they had worked for was gone or destroyed. In Beijing during August and September of 1966, 1,772 people were murdered by the Red Guard. In Shanghai during September it wasn’t any better. 704 people committed suicide and 534 people were murdered due to the Cultural Revolution and the destruction of the “four olds”. The devastation was carried out all over China. In Wuhan, 32 people were murdered and 62 people committed suicide. These statistics show that many people were harassed and embarrassed to the point where they couldn’t take it any longer. The Red Guards where very determined at spreading the teachings of Mao. In many areas, the group put lists of people’s names who they thought were “counter revolutionaries” on boards in city squares. They always had pamphlets supporting Mao so that they could hand them out to people. One reason that probably led to many suicides was the public displays of humiliation that many people had to go through. They would hold meetings so that they could harass certain “counter revolutionaries” in front of their peers. Many people would confess to things that they didn’t even do so that the torture and humiliation would be over. In Mao’s 16 points, it talks about how “physical struggle” shouldn’t happen but only “verbal struggle”. This wasn’t the truth because in pretty much every case, physical violence happened in some way or another. In 1967, many Red Guards had weapons and this wasn’t good for the people being criticized. The criticism wasn’t only limited to the peasant and working class. Liu Shaoqi was sent to a detention center where he eventually died in 1969. Deng Xiaoping was sent away several times for “re-education” but was forced to work in an engine factory for years until Zhou Enlai brought him back from his punishment. Mao Zedong didn’t want the Red Guards to have any limitation and one example of this is on August 22, 1966, Mao made a public decree that made it illegal for any intervention on the Red Guards actions by the police. If any police officer went against this then they in return would be a “counter revolutionary”. This shows that the Red Guards had full support from Mao and his communist party.5

In 1967, there was a series of power struggles in politics. In January, Lin Biao and Jiang Qing created the “January Storm” with the help of the media. The “January Storm” made it clear that everybody was under scrutiny. Many well-known Shanghai municipal



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