The Cultural Revolution began quietly. On November 11, 1965, a Shanghai daily newspaper published a review of a four-year old play, Hai Jui Dismissed From Office. The review stated that the play's author, Peking Deputy Mayor Wu Han, had written an anti-socialist document calling for the destruction of socialism in China. That same day, Red Flag published an attack on the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and revisionism within the CCP. The article charged that some leading CCP members had given in to pressure for a capitalist restoration and had begun preparing a counter-revolution. Within six months, senior leaders who had joined the Party in the 1920s and 1930s had fallen into disgrace. Within a year, student radicals had paralyzed the CCP. By the summer of 1967, China was on the verge of a civil war. This study grew out of the need to explain the short-term causes of the Cultural Revolution. Therefore, most analyses of the Cultural Revolution focused on the general, long-term question: Why did Mao launch the Cultural Revolution? Although many answers vary, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution to prevent a "capitalist restoration" in China and eradicate what he believed to be the early signs of ideological collapse within the CCP. (Wedeman.) Looking Back
The origins of the Cultural Revolution can be found in the gradual escalation of political tensions within the Chinese Communist Party. Throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s, stresses within the CCP mounted as Mao became alienated from other members of leadership. Some of these dated back to the early days of the revolutionary struggle. Chu Te, the founder of the Red Army, and Mao had been at odds since 1929 and Premier Chou En-lai and Mao had argued off and on. Regional and political backgrounds also divided the party. Most of the old guard; Mao, Chou, Chu Te, Party General Secretary Teng Hsiao-p'ing, and Minister of Defense Lin Piao; came from the southern paramilitary wing of the party. Party Vice-Chairman Liu Shao-ch'i and Peking Mayor P'eng Chen, on the other hand, rose through the northern political machine. These long-standing divisions made the CCP a divided party and prevented the establishment of an internal power structure. More specific conflicts emerged during the mid-1950s. The process of political consolidation and the need to create a functioning system of government caused serious internal problems. When the Kuomintang disintegrated in 1948-1949, the CCP moved from its original rural environment into the cities for the first time. The party was unprepared to move to urban areas as well as the nation as a whole. It had little experience with the politically sophisticated urban middle classes. Its peasant population often had never been to the cities and found them foreign. More importantly, the rough ex-peasants found they lacked the education and skills of the urban professionals and were far less qualified for jobs within the rapidly expanding government. Skills that they had developed during the war suddenly become worthless. The ability to sabotage Kuomintang supply lines, for example, did not translate into the ability to run a railroad. These problems, along with many others within the Chinese regime, were just some of the causes of the Revolution, but foreign intervention also played its role. (essaybank.co.uk, Wedeman) The Debate
The most immediate issue confronting the Chinese leadership in the spring of 1965 was growing American involvement in the Vietnam conflict. For China, as for the U.S., Vietnam was the "wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time." China could hardly oppose the efforts of the Vietnamese communists to rid themselves of imperialist rule; on the other hand, there was a danger that the Indochina war could escalate into a Sino-American conflict if the United States attacked North Vietnam. If that happened, the Chinese believed there would be two possible results. Either the threat of having to...
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