Did anyone benefit from the Cultural Revolution?
Few people would deny that the Cultural Revolution is one of the most significant events in China’s history, with its extraordinary effects on many groups of the population. The main aim of the revolution was simple: having risen to power, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) wanted to reform the Chinese population so that they followed the communist ideology – the favour of absolute social equality. While the initial impression of this aim seems positive, many people nowadays consider that there were few benefits of the Cultural Revolution, due to the turbulence that it caused between 1966 and 1976. Whilst it could be considered that there was initially some reform of the Chinese people, it is now widely considered that these reforms did not bring about benefits. The group that the CCP wanted to help most was the lower class, especially the peasants in the countryside. Meisner (1986, p.373) points out that initially, the Cultural Revolution hardly affected the countryside, with the Red Guards banned from entering the peasant villages, presumably because virtually all peasants were already loyal followers of Mao. Mao tried to restore peasant associations in an attempt to bring more political power to rural areas. Nevertheless, in general, if these peasant associations tried to participate in their villages, higher powers intervened. Therefore, all in all, peasants did not really gain power from the Cultural Revolution (Meisner 1986 p.375). Some argue that there were benefits of the Cultural Revolution for rural areas. Meisner (1986 pp.376-378) states that a main aim of the revolution was to promote rural industrialisation to narrow the gap between urban and rural living and to make use of the local labour forces. Thanks to this project, almost 20 million peasants became industrial workers. However, one aspect that certainly did improve in rural areas was the availability of health care. According to Byong-joon Ahn (1976 p. 155), in the early 1960s, more than 200,000 health clinics were closed in rural areas of China. However, as Meisner (1986 p.379) mentions, Mao changed this by reducing the program of study of doctors from six years to three in order to encourage more rural students to join the health care. In spite of the decrease in the number of study years, the knowledge and ability of the doctors was generally sufficient, as they were only trained to deal with the most common problems. It is worth considering the changes in the education system in rural areas. According to Meisner (1986 p. 380), Mao’s attitude was that the book-learning technique that had been used before the Cultural Revolution should be replaced by a system which combined education with productive labour. Additionally, monetary aid given by the state to richer areas was cut and more support was given to rural areas, thus increasing the number of primary school students from 116 million to 150 million and secondary school students from 15 million to 58 million (Pepper 1986 pp. 6-7). “Tuition fees, entrance examinations and age limits on student attendance were abolished” (Meisner 1986 p.381), thus making education more accessible for those of lower social classes. However, in spite of these changes, Meisner (1986, p.382) also points out that the living conditions and incomes of the peasants in rural areas showed little improvement. Therefore, it is questionable whether the improvements made brought true benefits to society. The Cultural Revolution was frustrating for many as China underwent turmoil and disruption to industry and education, yet without much positive change. As Meisner (1986 pp.382-385) states, during the Cultural Revolution, many demands were made by the working class which were not responded to. For example, producers, who were frustrated by the dominance of the state which prevented them from making their own decisions, demanded more control over the means of production. However, there...
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