To see a note from the editor, click here.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Looking at the 'Little Red Book': 1

'Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung' (more commonly known as simply the 'Little Red Book') is the most recognisable physical representation of China's Cultural Revolution decade (1966-1976). First published en masse on the eve of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR), it soon became the established handbook for how China's youth should go about making revolution.

The 'Little Red Book' is packed with hundreds of Mao's sayings, extracts from his speeches and key ideas from his writings. Not surprisingly, a few have become synonymous with the GPCR and Maoism in general, with 'political power grows out of the barrel of a gun' perhaps being the most famous of them all. However, in each distinctive red plastic-backed copy, there are also many fascinating lesser-known quotes, which become increasingly relevant in the context of the GPCR's history. In a series of short pieces, using the first English edition of the 'Little Red Book' published in 1966, Sino-Gist will consider a few of these.

To start, the first chapter (entitled 'The Communist Party') contains a criticism from Mao of comrades who forget the CCP's general line. The quote reads:

"...If we actually forget the Party's general line and general policy, then we shall be blind, half-baked, muddle-headed revolutionaries, and when we carry out a specific line for work and a specific policy, we shall lose our bearings and vacillate now to the left and now to the right, and the work will suffer."1

In essence, Mao was warning of the dangers of Party officials not understanding the CCP's approach to socialism. In his opinion, cadres guilty of this would be unable to undertake work for the Party and concentrate on a particular idea to bring it fruition. The Cultural Revolution encompassed campaigns to root out individuals who had forgotten the Party's stand and ideology, and who were allowing the Chinese revolution to 'suffer'. Such an ambiguous (and broad) category of condemnation inevitably allowed for the removal of thousands of Party cadres on these counts.

However, this theme of being unable to 'carry out a...specific policy' could not apply to the Cultural Revolution's main targets, the 'capitalist roaders' in Chinese political life. After Mao was forced to stand-aside in the policy-making arena after his disastrous 'Great Leap Forward' initiative, more moderate elements in the CCP's leadership (led by Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping and Zhou Enlai) instigated (in Mao's eyes) a much less 'revolutionary' programme of economic and social policy. As a result, during GPCR, Liu and Deng were accused of being the highest placed individuals in the CCP taking the 'capitalist road'- accusations that contributed to the former's death in 1969, and the latter's political annihilation until the GPCR's worst excesses were over. Although guilty of the 'crime' of betraying Mao Zedong Thought, the cases of Liu and Deng (and others) showed the fallibility in this aspect of the Maoist canon. Even if they had forgotten the CCP's general line as the Red Guards supposed, they had gone firmly down the capitalist road- a phenomenon that certainly could not been achieved by 'blind, half-baked, muddle-headed revolutionaries'.

Mao's reference to vacillating 'now to the left and now to the right' had both physical and political undertones. While in one sense it accords with the theme of 'we shall be blind...revolutionaries', the sentence can also be seen to refer to cadres oscillating between the political left and the political right. The supreme irony of the GPCR is that Mao and those around him were as guilty of doing this as those that suffered for having done so pre-1966. The politics of the Cultural Revolution started out as very radical in 1966, with the mass-action of the Red Guards and the establishment of the Shanghai Commune in 1967 (superseded by the nationwide 'revolutionary committees' in 1968). However, the arrest of Chen Boda (seen as the guiding hand for Maoist ideology) in 1970 and the death of Lin Biao (Mao's designated successor) in 1971 after allegedly mounting a failed coup against the Chairman can be interpreted as the revolutionary tide beginning to turn. Over the next 5 years up to his death, Mao swung between conservatism and radicalism, with those around him desperately trying to keep in sync with the way the wind was blowing. In 1973, Mao approved the political revival of figures like Deng Xiaoping who had been attacked in the opening years of the Cultural Revolution, only to approve a campaign attacking Deng again 3 years later. In addition, the fortunes of Mao's ultra-Maoist followers (the Gang of Four) rose and fell as Mao's attitude to their revolutionary endeavours shifted back and forth between praise and concern. Mao was as guilty of vacillating between left and right as anyone- unfortunately, this hypocrisy had disastrous consequences.
1'Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung', 1966, p. 7 ('Speech at a Conference of Cadres in the Shansi-Suiyuan Liberated Area', 1/4/1948)

The next instalment of this series will be coming soon.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Make a comment...

Contact Us

To contact Sino-Gist, please email