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The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (Chinese:无产阶级文化大革命) or simply the Cultural Revolution (文革) was a violent mass movement in the People’s Republic of China that started in 1966 and officially ended in 1976....More

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The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (Chinese:无产阶级文化大革命) or simply the Cultural Revolution (文革) was a violent mass movement in the People’s Republic of China that started in 1966 and officially ended with Mao Zedong's death in 1976
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By Bernd Chang

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (Chinese:无产阶级文化大革命) or simply the Cultural Revolution (文革) was a violent mass movement in the People’s Republic of China that started in 1966 and officially ended with Mao Zedong's death in 1976.

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, commonly known as the Cultural Revolution, was a socio-political movement that took place in the People’s Republic of China from 1966 through 1976. Set into motion by Mao Zedong, then Chairman of the Communist Party of China, it was designed to further advance socialism in the country by removing capitalist elements from Chinese society, and impose Maoist orthodoxy within the Party.

The Revolution was launched in May 1966. Mao alleged that bourgeois elements were entering the government and society at large, aiming to restore capitalism. He insisted that these “revisionists” be removed through violent class struggle. China’s youth then responded to Mao’s appeal by forming Red Guard groups around the country. The movement then spread into the military, urban workers, and the Communist Party leadership itself.

It resulted in widespread factional struggles in all walks of life. In the top leadership, it led to a mass purge of senior officials who were accused of deviating from the socialist path, most notably Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping. During the same period Mao’s personality cult grew to immense proportions.

The Cultural Revolution damaged the country on a great scale economically and socially. Millions of people were persecuted in the violent factional struggles that ensued across the country, and suffered a wide range of abuses including torture, rape, imprisonment, sustained harassment, and seizure of property. A large segment of the population was forcibly displaced, most notably the transfer of urban youth to rural regions during the Down to the Countryside Movement. Historical relics and artifacts were destroyed. Cultural and religious sites were ransacked.

Mao officially declared the Cultural Revolution to have ended in 1969, but its active phase lasted until the death of Lin Biao in 1971. The political instability between 1971 and the arrest of the Gang of Four in 1976 are now also widely regarded as part of the Revolution. After Mao’s death in 1976, forces within the Party that opposed the Cultural Revolution, led by Deng Xiaoping, gained prominence. Most of the Maoist reforms associated with the Cultural Revolution were abandoned by 1978. The Cultural Revolution has been treated officially as a negative phenomenon ever since; in 1981, the Party assigned chief responsibility to Mao, but also laid significant blame on Lin Biao and the Gang of Four for causing its worst excesses.

Key Dates

1963: Mao Zedong establishes the Socialist Education Movement

May 29, 1966: First group of Red Guards formed

June 1, 1966: The People's Daily calls for a purge of "imperialists" and "imperialistic intellectuals"

August 8, 1966: "16 Points" decision passed defining the extent and nature of the revolution

August 20, 1966: Red Guards gather in Bejing and begin the "Destruction of the Four Olds" campaign

December 1968: "Down to the Countryside Movement" begins

September 8-10, 1971: String of assassination attempts on Mao occur as part of Lin Biao's coup plot

September 13, 1971: Lin Biao killed in a plane crash

September 9, 1976: Mao Zedong dies

October 11, 1976: Gang of Four arrested

 

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