CBC Digital Archives

Mao's Cultural Revolution

"When the sleeping dragon awakes," Napoleon once said of China, "he will shake the world." In the 20th century, multiple upheavals shook the Asian giant. The rule of emperors gave way to civil war and the Communist revolution, closing China to the world. The doors slowly opened in the 1970s with new diplomatic ties and economic reforms. The crackdown on democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989 barely checked China's growth, and today the world's most populous nation is on its way to superpower status. CBC Archives presents China as CBC journalists have seen it over the decades.

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In Mao's China, the peasant comes first. No longer do intellectuals and bureaucrats decide how things will be done in the factories: that power now lies with the workers. The image of Chairman Mao is everywhere, and his cult of personality has reached its apex. Even deafness is said to be cured by the faithful application of Maoist tenets and acupuncture. In this clip, a CBC crew examines the impact of the Cultural Revolution. 
• Launched by Mao in 1966, the Cultural Revolution (known in Chinese as the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution) officially ended in 1969 and unofficially in 1976.

• The Cultural Revolution was a time of great upheaval in Chinese society. Revolutionary committees purged many members from the Chinese Communist Party as Mao sought to make the party more pure in Maoist thought.

• Committee members called Red Guards had the power to persecute intellectuals and party functionaries. An estimated 400,000 people died as a result, often by suicide. Universities closed down.
• The Red Guards also stormed the cities, where they attacked China's "Four Olds" - old ideas, culture, customs and habits. Monuments, temples, old books, sculptures and painting were destroyed. Western-style clothes were also a target.

• Popular support for the revolution was encouraged through propaganda on posters, over loudspeakers, in newspapers and in film. Theatrical groups travelled to remote areas to demonstrate the principles of the revolution to local peasants.

• Mao himself made a sudden dramatic appearance in 1966 to solidify the people's admiration for him. On a trip north, he swam the mighty Yangtze River, much to the amazement of peasants, most of whom could not swim. Mao was 72 years old at the time.

• To help indoctrinate the Red Guards, Mao held a series of six huge rallies in Beijing between August and November 1966. Ten million young people were transported there free of charge on trains from all over the country.

• Red Guards also carried a compilation of quotations and lessons from Chairman Mao. In the West it was known as the Little Red Book.

• The Cultural Revolution was officially declared over in April 1969, but many of its practices continued until Mao's death in 1976. These included witch hunts for counter-revolutionaries and actions against peasants who raised pigs and chickens for profit, a "capitalist" practice that, when forbidden, led to starvation for many.
Medium: Television
Program: Thursday Night
Broadcast Date: Dec. 11, 1969
Reporter: Bill Cunningham
Duration: 11:12

Last updated: November 4, 2014

Page consulted on November 4, 2014

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