Red Guards were a mass movement of civilians, mostly students and other young people in the People's Republic of China (PRC), who were mobilized by Mao Zedong in 1966 and 1967, during the Cultural Revolution.
On May 25, 1966 a young philosophy lecturer at Peking University, Nie Yuanzi, wrote a big-character poster and taped it onto a public bulletin. Nie attacked the university party administration and cadres from Beijing party authorities as "black anti-Party gangsters," implying that there were forces at work in government and at the university who wished to betray the progress of the revolution. Several days later, Mao ordered Nie's message to be broadcast nationwide and called it "the first Marxist big-character poster in China." On May 29, at the High School attached to Tsinghua University, the first organization of Red Guards was formed with the aim of punishing and neutralising both intellectuals and Mao's political enemies.
On June 1, 1966, the People's Daily launched an attack on "reactionary" forces in the intellectual community. Subsequently, various university presidents and other prominent intellectuals were purged.
On July 28, 1966, Red Guard representatives wrote to Mao, stating that mass purges and all such related social and political phenomena were justified and correct. Mao responded with his full support with his own big-character poster entitled Bombard the Headquarters. Mao wrote that despite having undergone a Communist revolution, China's political hierarchy was still dominated by "bourgeoisie" elitist elements, capitalists, and revisionists, and that these counter-revolutionary elements were indeed still present at the top ranks of the party leadership itself.
On August 8, 1966, the Central Committee of the CPC passed its "Decision Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution" (also known as "the 16 Points").
The Decision took the already existing student movement and elevated it to the level of a nationwide mass campaign, calling on not only students but also "the masses of the workers, peasants, soldiers, revolutionary intellectuals, and revolutionary cadres" to carry out the task of "transforming the superstructure" by writing big-character posters and holding "great debates."
On August 18, 1966, millions of Red Guards from all over the country gathered in Beijing for a peek at the Chairman. On top of the Tiananmen, Mao and Lin Biao made frequent appearances to approximately 11 million Red Guards, receiving cheers each time.
On August 22, 1966, Mao issued a public notice, which stopped "all police intervention in Red Guard tactics and actions." Those in the police force who dared to defy this notice were labeled "counter-revolutionaries."
On September 5, 1966, another notice was issued, encouraging all Red Guards to come to Beijing over a stretch of time. All fees, including accommodation and transportation, were to be paid by the government.
In the spring of 1968, a massive campaign began, aimed at promoting the already-adored Mao Zedong to god-like status. On July 27, 1968, the Red Guards' power over the army was officially ended and the central government sent in units to protect many areas that remained targets for the Red Guards. Mao had supported and promoted the idea by allowing one of his "Highest Directions" to be heard by the masses. A year later, the Red Guard factions were dismantled entirely.
In December 1968, Mao began the "Down to the Countryside Movement". During this movement, which lasted for the next decade, young intellectuals living in cities were ordered to go to the countryside. The term "intellectuals" was actually used in the broadest sense to refer to recently graduated middle school students.