Mao’s Cultural Revolution turns 50

Tom Watkins

When Chairman Mao Zedong unleashed the “Cultural Revolution” in 1966, he admonished his fellow Chinese: “A revolution is not a dinner party, it is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.”

Chairman Mao’s violent insurrection stalled the fortunes of the country for a decade, creating chaos, even as millions of his own people were tortured and murdered. It is a scar on the nation that still oozes to this day.

Aided by his closest sycophants, including his wife Jiang Qing and defense minister Lin Biao, Mao wrought havoc on the then-party leadership and his fellow Chinese citizens as a means of asserting his authority.

The Chinese Communist Party leader came to believe that the party leadership in China was moving too far in a “revisionist” direction, with an emphasis on knowledge and expertise rather than on Communist ideological purity. Chairman Mao’s stated goal was to reinforce Communism in China by removing any traces of capitalist, traditional, and cultural elements from Chinese society. But by imposing his Maoist orthodoxy within the Party and on the nation, he created instead pure bedlam, chaos, and destruction.

Yet, todays communist leaders ignore and cover up this stain.

Like many young Chinese during the Cultural Revolution, teenager Xi Jinping, now president of China, suffered. His education was interrupted for seven years when he was sent to the Shaanxi province, a poor region in northwestern China as part of his Cutural Revolution “experience.”

Like Deng Xiaoping, the “paramount leader of China” in 1978, credited with opening the world to China after Mao’s death, Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun, was purged three times by Mao, serving as deputy prime minister from 1959 until 1962. The elder Xi is credited with the creation of the first Special Economic Zone in Shenzhen, which grew from a small fishing village near Hong Kong to a bustling modern city and manufacturing center.

As a “Chinese princeling” and the son of revolutionary hero and former Mao Zedong comrade, Xi Zhongxun, Xi Jinping, has become the first princeling to lead China.

President Xi has been described as “pragmatic, serious, cautious, hard-working, down to earth and low-key,” and “a problem-solver and a leader.” He has needed all these skills and more to manage and lead modern day China and not allow his country to slip back into the nightmare of the Revolution.

Like other leaders before him, China’s President Xi Jinping understands the biggest problem for himself and the Communist Party is to become divorced from the people. As president of a country that is home to one-fifth of all humanity, Xi currently presides over ethnic unrest, official corruption, environmental degradation, an aging society, unstable neighbors and a slowing economy.

President Xi is pulling the reins of power tighter than anyone since Mao, trying to jerk the country into yet another change paradigm in his quest for “wealth and power.” It remains to be seen whether Xi pulls a Mao in order to maintain power.

Chinese society is vastly different today than in the Mao era — the group-think psychosis of the turbulent Revolution-era seems unfathomable today. One Cultural Revolution in China was one too many.

As the civilized world reminds us about the Holocaust, we must “never forget” the ten-year reign of terror that Mao unleashed on his own people.

Tom Watkins is president, CEO and executive director of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority.

Twitter: @tdwatkins88