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2011/2012 SEASON




MAO’S SWAN SONG In the summer of 1966, a seventy-two-year-old Mao Zedong—in

conflict with other top leaders about how China and the Communist Party (CCP) should develop—maneuvered to purify the Party ranks. His vehicle would be continuing revolution, a “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” that would protect China’s socialist future from internal threats and the self-serving policies of the Soviet leadership. As Mao publically pointed fingers at “reactionaries,” the Party’s Central Committee fell into line, launching the Revolution by saying:

Although the bourgeoisie has been overthrown, it is still trying to use the old ideas, culture, customs, and habits of the exploiting classes to corrupt the masses, capture their minds, and endeavor to stage a comeback…Our objective is to struggle against and crush those persons in authority who are taking the capitalist road, to criticize and repudiate the reactionary bourgeois academic “authorities” and…all other exploiting classes and to transform education, literature and art, and all other parts of the superstructure that do not correspond to the socialist economic base…


To advance this utopian agenda, Mao tapped the revolutionary fervor of the young. Units of Red Guards sprang up in universities and secondary schools around China, caught up in revolutionary enthusiasm and ready to do his bidding in attacking elites, intellectuals, “counterrevolutionary” officials and whoever repressed the Chinese masses. Students’ anger toward authorities and educators for the restraints, sacrifices, and limited prospects that characterized their lives fueled the rebellion. As the revolution spread to other disaffected sectors of society,

Red Guards and workers split into factions that interpreted Mao’s statements differently and chose their targets according to local politics and personal resentments. Violence, which the rebels embraced as transformative, initially met with impunity and encouragement from the Party. Together Mao and his political supporters, the army, and the Gang of Four (including Mao’s wife Jiang Qing) purged the country of many political opponents. They whipped the people into an ideological state where political correctness dominated decision-making, and upended the Confucian world order and traditional religions. As law and order broke down across institutions, the CCP ultimately moved to reign in the chaos and terror. Beginning in 1969, it dispersed educated urban youths to the countryside to be “re-educated” through work alongside peasants and the study of Maoist thought. With classes and admissions at schools and universities suspended for long periods,

Woody Sez


Wild Swans

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