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Mao Zedong's Role in the Cultural Revolution

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As Mao Zedong said in 1976, “Some people say that China loves peace. That’s bragging. In fact, the Chinese people love struggle. I do, for one” (Mao Zedong 1967). Mao Zedong is one of the few, held most responsible for the cultural and political shift made in China during the Cultural Revolution, which lasted from 1966 to 1976. During these 10 years, Mao Zedong rose to power, and changed the face of China, as many can argue for the worst. The Cultural Revolution resulted in radical changes made to China politically, socially and economically and uncovered the backwardness of the Communist Party of China (CPOC) and its leaders. Following the beginning of the revolution, Mao Zedong and other leaders established reforms across China changing the way Chinese peasants lived among each other. Primarily, The CPOC and their, land reforms, educational reforms, the Great Leap Forward campaign of 1958, and Mao Zedong's Five Year Plan in 1953. The Cultural Revolution forced Chinese peasants, into conflict, harsh working conditions, and limited their access to their basic human rights, making this 10 year period one of the most burdensome.

Mao Zedong or Mao Tse-tung is recognized as one of the most remarkable political leaders, and revolutionaries of the 20th century. Mao played an extremely significant role in leading China's communist revolution and leading the Chinese Communist Party. He did not rise to power overnight, but gained his status gradually, which started with his attendance at a Communist Party functionary. In 1943, Mao eventually became chairman of the party where he began his mission to revolutionize China. As he became better recognized, Mao used his wife and prior connections to his advantage. His wife, Jiang Ping used a group of radical intellectuals to control the cultural realm and used Lin Biao, China's defense minister to maintain military loyalty with a promise that it would remain Maoist.

Alongside Mao, the CPOC also played a key role in influencing China’s reforms and cultural reforms. Following the leadership of Mao, China began to undergo a process of modernization through land reform, collectivization, and industrialization. Both Mao and the CPOC focused their attention on China's ‘bourgeois’ infiltrates within the communist party and the Chinese government. In a document issued on May 16, 1996, Mao outlined his vision of communism. The Revolution’s beginning is debated upon by historians but according to the New York Times, Mao publicized this document on May 16, 1966, the public was exposed to Mao's ideas on the revolution, and a beginning to how their lives would be changed.

The Great Leap Forward, as promising as it sounds, was disastrous in benefiting China's economy. In an attempt to modernize China further, Mao Zedong moved China to become a modern industrial nation to better prepare China for communism. Between 1958 and 1960, the Great Leap Forward campaign began to spread across China, specifically in large-scale rural areas. From this, the Chinese wished to incorporate labor-intensive methods to help combat their agricultural and industrial problems. Following the Soviet Model which taught the Chinese that the conversion of capital gained from the sale of agricultural products in heavy machinery was nearly impossible for them due to their dense population and lack of surplus.

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Mao and the CPOC took matters into their own hands and under the commune, the system began to organize peasants into brigade teams, and communal kitchens in an attempt to organize the workplace and free women for work. As simplistic as it seemed, the Great Leap Forward resulted in one of the world's worst famines, with an estimated 30-40 million deaths. Reflecting on the treatment of peasants, 2-3 millions of these deaths were victims that were tortured to death or summarily executed. Those who did not work hard enough were often beaten or hung, or in rare cases bound and thrown into ponds.

From an economic perspective, the hope that the Chinese could use their massive supply of cheap labor to industrialize was over. At the time, the CPOC saw grain and steel production as the foundation for economic development. Following this, the government made significant investments in large state enterprises with the expectation that the economy’s production would increase. Overall this campaign was not beneficial to the Chinese peasants especially as private holdings were banned and the famine crisis got worse. Therefore, because of this, there was no longer enough food to live off of and peasants became more deprived by the commune system. At the end of the campaign, China’s community and the economy was left worse than when it started, and Mao’s reputation began to change.

Contrary to the economy, Mao also intended to revolutionize education by establishing a new society that was less orthodox and traditional. Education was recognized not only by the communist party but by most of China as a key part of the cultural revolution and its success. Mao intended to add structure and modernization to education while preparing the next generation of skilled worked and technical personnel. Similarly, China has always been recognized by its use of propaganda and indoctrination. The traditional education of the time was based specifically on book knowledge than practical skills, mechanical memorization and dominant style teaching. Following Mao’s planning, in 1966 he issued a radical decree that abolished all University entrance examinations while allowing access to education to all children through ‘senior middle school’.

Aside from this Mao also intended to lessen academic competition because he wanted less individualistic and entrepreneurial values within his students. Starting in 1952, enrollment in China's primary schools shot up from 51,000,000 to nearly 116,000,000 in 1965. During the same time, China moved to more moderate policies and changed its educational priorities. As the percentage in enrollment increased, the quality of education and the options for professional opportunities remained the same. These changes impacted both the primary and secondary school system, which had an even more significant influence on Universities. These educational reforms also changed the administration of schools from the bourgeois intellectuals having major control, to committees made up of soldiers, peasants, and local workers having it. At the end of Mao’s educational reforms, school discipline was eventually restored, full-time schools became a mainstay system of education, and even though the statistics proved good, Mao’s changes were not revolutionary, but more short-lived.

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Mao Zedong’s Role in the Cultural Revolution. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 24, 2024, from
“Mao Zedong’s Role in the Cultural Revolution.” Edubirdie, 01 Sept. 2022,
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