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9-08-2015, 22:47

MAO’S CHINA

There was one aspect of Chinese life that did not change after the communist victory in 1949: China continued to be ruled autocratically by a powerful leader who used the threat of punishment to keep the people under control. Mao Zedong manipulated a tight group of supporters in the central party apparatus, ridding himself of ‘enemies’. During the twenty-seven years from 1949 to his death in 1976, his was the guiding spirit. He made clever use of the Politburo members to represent a variety of policies, from the radical and revolutionary socialist to the more pragmatic reformist. Mao would back one group against another according to what suited his immediate purpose; he felt no personal loyalties. This way of operating allowed him every option, and a change of policy would discredit yesterday’s men rather than the chairman. Mao believed in driving the revolution forward by appeals to the masses, but just as important was the exercise of control through coercion. The great surges of revolutionary fervour were masterminded by Mao himself, though at crisis-points he expediently accepted pauses, even temporary reversals. Thus the revolutionary drives were interspersed with periods of retrenchment during which economic recovery was permitted to take precedence over revolution. But Mao feared that too long a soft period would weaken mass revolutionary ardour and lead China back onto the capitalist road to ‘bourgeois values’, instead of advancing it towards a communist utopia. Continuous revolution, faith in the power of the masses and in his ability to compel them to follow his lead, self-help if foreign aid was not available without unacceptable strings, the need to propel China irrevocably towards its communist goal – these remained Mao’s consistent guidelines even when abrupt changes of direction bewildered the outside world. Those who opposed him were ruthlessly eliminated. The picture of the benign, fatherly Mao was as much a product of propaganda as that of ‘Uncle Joe’. Soon after Mao’s death in 1976, the concepts of ‘revolution’ and ‘socialism’ were replaced by new ideas about modernisation; class conflict was dropped from the official vocabulary; capitalist experiments were encouraged. Much of Mao’s revolutionary Marxism was now condemned. Yet in one crucial respect there was no change. The all-powerful inner group of party leaders could alone decide on the proper course China should follow. As none of Mao’s successors could hope to achieve his prestige, the struggles within the party leadership assumed a new significance. Mobilising the masses involved the use of terror against those designated as the enemy. Whole families were made to suffer for the alleged delinquency or opposition of any one of its members. Revolutions require enemies and after 1949 these enemies were ‘uncovered’ not only outside the continental confines of China but also within. The first target was the hated landlord class, who were delivered up to peasant vengeance. During the first four years of communist rule some threequarters of a million enemies, principally landowners, were summarily executed. Four-fifths of China’s population lived in the countryside, so Mao was making sure that they would view the revolution favourably: this was the first step towards their mass indoctrination. To this end Mao allowed the landlords’ holdings to be divided up among the peasants – a step backwards from his ideal of a socialised peasantry. The redistribution of land after 1950 gave the peasants what they most hungered after. Their tiny holdings, although still meagre, were on average doubled or trebled in size. The richer peasants, the so-called ‘middle peasants’, benefited the most. The extortion of taxes was abolished and a more just system introduced. Before the road to communism could be taken, China’s industrial strength had to be built up and greater yields obtained from the land. The Chinese head of state, Liu Shaoqui, declared these to be the country’s basic policy aims; Mao, chairman of the party and the undisputed overall leader of China, was prepared until the mid-1950s to bide his time before driving the revolution on. From 1949 to 1955 the party preached harmony (except for its hostility towards feudal landlords and agents of Chiang Kai-shek). In the cities private enterprise and ownership were allowed to persist in a mixed economy, while in the vast rural areas socialist schemes were brought in gradually and were always voluntary. The peasant owned his land, but ‘mutual aid teams’ introduced shared labour and shared use of animals and equipment, and a number of cooperatives were formed. The most urgent task in 1949 was reconstruction. For this the professionals, the engineers, the businessmen and the owners of factories in the newly liberated areas were for the time being indispensable, and they were provided with the class label of ‘national bourgeoisie’. Mao’s China in 1949 proclaimed not a communist republic but the People’s Democratic Dictatorship. Democratic did not mean that the proletariat would be supreme in the state; rather, it meant that the four classes of peasants, workers, petty bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie would work together under the leadership of the party to bring about China’s recovery. How long this apparent harmony would be allowed to continue only Mao knew. While he presided over an apparently cohesive central party committee, allowing his principal lieutenants wide-ranging debate over different policy options and acting as chairman, receiving advice from different quarters, his deeper purpose was revealed by his incessant discovery of new contradictions, his stirring up of new conflicts. In 1951 he launched a campaign against the ‘three evils’ of corruption, waste and bureaucracy among the local communist cadres, its purpose being to increase central control and keep local party officials on their toes. The following year was added a campaign against the ‘five evils’; this time the masses were aroused against the ‘bourgeoisie’ in a struggle to eradicate bribery of government officials, tax evasion, theft of state property, cheating on government contracts and speculation. In this way private industrial and commercial enterprises were constantly threatened. Mao’s revolution fed on fear, intimidation and denunciation – three genuine evils of the system. Nevertheless, the first years of communist rule also brought about genuine improvements for most of the Chinese people. The cessation of fighting and destruction was the greatest and most immediate. There was also a measure of mass idealism, as the people acted together to improve conditions. This was most noticeable in the cities, where neighbourhood groups organised by party officials tackled the sanitation systems and spread poison to get rid of the rats, carriers of disease. Life on the land and in the factories was made more congenial. One measure of success was a dramatic fall in the mortality rate. After the ruinous inflation of the Kuomintang years, prices had become stable. Living standards, especially of the poorest peasants, had risen. In the cities unemployment was halved, attendance at school and college nearly doubled; cholera and plagues had been brought under control. The gross output of industry was one and a half times greater in 1952 than it had been in 1949; agricultural output, on which the country depended, was up by half. Roads and railway lines were constructed. These were the considerable accomplishments. In 1952 Mao set out the general line of policy to be followed. China was in a period of transition, from the foundation of what was now called the People’s Republic to the socialist transformation of agriculture, industry and handicrafts, to be accomplished ‘step by step over a fairly long period of time’. The priorities were to increase production, to raise standards of living, and to strengthen China’s defences. Liu Shaoqui announced at the Eighth Party Congress in 1956 that the transition to socialism had been largely accomplished and would be completed over the next decade. During the early years of Mao’s rule China conducted itself aggressively on the international stage. In 1950–1, it claimed sovereignty over Tibet, overcoming local resistance with great brutality. The US developed an implacable hostility to China and maintained its support for Chiang Kaishek in Taiwan. The outbreak of the Korean War opened another front, when Mao, overriding his more cautious advisers, decided on China’s intervention in November 1950. Isolated from the West, China had no alternative but to align itself with the Soviet Union. The Korean War imposed huge strains and sacrifices on China, and until the armistice was signed at Panmunjon in July 1953, Mao had to restrain his revolutionary drive. When planning began in 1953 to increase China’s industrial base, the Soviet model was adopted. The Russians provided assistance and sent 10,000 engineers to work with the Chinese while three times that number of Chinese were accepted for training in the Soviet Union. Plants, machinery and technical designs all came from Russia. The emphasis was on the expansion of energy supplies and heavy industry – iron and steel mills, electricity power stations, machinetool factories. In all, 156 projects were sponsored by the Soviet Union. Without this help China’s modernisation of industry would have been far slower. America’s Marshall Aid to Europe likewise accelerated the recovery and prosperity of Western Europe, but it came in the form of loans and grants that enabled the Europeans to import from the US what they needed. Soviet aid came in the form of people, training and technology, but the Chinese had to pay for them. The Soviet Union needed capital for its own reconstruction and its loans to China were small. But the joint Soviet–Chinese companies that had been established were not a success. Mao insisted on complete Chinese sovereignty and they were dissolved in 1954 after Stalin’s death. Just as the First Five-Year Plan was getting under way, Mao bypassed the central party leadership and in 1955 began his long campaign to transform China’s independent landowning peasantry into collectivised socialist workers on the land. Despite vicissitudes, Mao never abandoned that aim and had substantially achieved it by the time of his death. But the cost to China was huge. The famines that followed alone caused some 20 million deaths. Mao’s plans for collectivisation illustrate his determination to build socialism with Chinese characteristics. The peasant continued to own his home and, in less radical phases, small plots – but the rest of the land and all the labour were collectivised in three tiers. The bottom tier was called the production team, perhaps a village of thirty or forty families. Everything was pooled and the earnings of the team shared out between them. A larger collectivised unit was the production brigade, made up of several production teams. Production brigades together formed the collectives. Whether earnings would be accounted for and distributed at the production team, brigade or collective level depended on Mao’s decree and varied with different phases of more or less radical policies. The better-off ‘middle peasants’ were reluctant to cooperate with the poorer, and the production of rice and soya beans, staple Chinese foods, scarcely kept pace with the country’s growing population. For a short period the party blamed the poor results not on Mao but on the over-hasty setting up of the large cooperatives. Following the Soviet model, the party leaders concluded, had led to a lopsided development of heavy industry at the expense of light industry and agriculture. From 1956 until early 1957 was a period of relaxation and consolidation. The emphasis at the Eighth Congress of the Communist Party in September 1956 was shifted from building socialism, which it was claimed had been more or less accomplished, to increasing productivity and correcting the agricultural backwardness. This new line, which was intended to help China catch up with the West, required more individual enterprise, encouraged in part by the provision of incentives. Students and intellectuals, cowed by previous campaigns against them, were now wooed. Deng Xiaoping, one of Mao’s rising lieutenants, advocated more worker participation in management as one way of increasing productivity. This, in the Chinese definition, was greater participation – always subject, though, to the leadership of the party. In February 1957 Mao delivered a speech ‘On the Correct Handling of Contradictions among People’. One passage in particular received widespread publicity for its apparent espousal of freedom of ideas among the scientific and intellectual community – ‘letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend’. But what seemed to the West to be a move towards tolerance and plurality was no more than a tactical device, a means to an end, the perceived precondition for what became known as the Great Leap Forward. It encouraged China’s intellectuals and was meant to act as a restraint on party bureaucracy at the local level. Freedom of thought would not, however, be allowed to challenge central control and leadership. During the winter of 1957 and into the spring of 1958, 60 million peasants were put to work on water-conservancy constructions to aid agriculture. Mass human power was to be used in place of more advanced technology to achieve quick results. At the same time as plans for the Great Leap Forward were implemented, a purge of intellectuals was begun in a bewildering reversal of the previous year. The pendulum had thus swung once more. Mao intervened to pronounce a new line after watching the turmoil of destalinisation in Poland and Hungary in 1956; this was called the Anti-Rightist campaign. The ‘hundred flowers’ had blossomed for little more than one season. In every factory 5 per cent of the workers had to be denounced as ‘rightists’ and subjected to a witch-hunt. Up to 700,000 ‘intellectuals’, or educated Chinese, were thrown out of their positions and professions and sent to the countryside for so-called labour reform. The contempt for the intellectuals, the need to control and subjugate them, now took precedence over China’s desperate need for their skills. It was easy to treat them harshly as they were isolated from China’s masses of peasants and workers. Denunciation by family, friends, colleagues and fellow workers, which inevitably sowed distrust, was one of the party’s most effective means of control. Abroad, China’s softer line cooperating with a neutral Third World, exemplified by the Bandung Conference in 1955 and the stance of ‘peaceful coexistence’, was followed by increased militancy and selfassertion. In 1958 China’s relations with Taiwan reached a new crisis-point, and on India’s border in 1959 there were armed clashes. Mao’s faith that the ideologically motivated peasants and workers could overcome all obstacles, that the grassroot masses were what mattered, not the professionals and intellectuals, found practical expression in what party propaganda described as the Great Leap Forward – actually two leaps, in 1958 and 1959–60. They proved an unmitigated disaster for the Chinese economy and people. In the countryside the people’s cooperatives were merged into huge communes under ideological local party leadership. They now comprised not only agriculture but also grass-roots industrial units. Unrealistic production targets were set. Now not only would steel be smelted in the new modern mills, but iron would be produced in small peasant furnaces. Chaos ensued: industrial production declined and agricultural output dropped by a quarter. A renewed ‘leap’ in 1959 and 1960 resulted in further disastrous agricultural and industrial losses. In the first quarter of 1961 alone output of twenty-five key industrial products dropped by between 30 and 40 per cent. There was a chronic grain shortage as China’s population increased, and famine became widespread. More than 20 million people died. After the failure of the Great Leap Forward, Mao permitted a reformist party leadership to follow policies at variance with his longer-term objectives, because priority had to be given to increase food supplies and resume industrial growth – in other words, to repair the ravages of the Great Leap Forward. Thus from 1960 to 1963 the party returned to more rational planning. China’s professionals were appeased and told that they were part of the working people. Private plots and handicraft enterprise were again permitted. The peasantry were allowed to sell their produce in a free market provided they fulfilled their state quotas. To feed China’s growing population – it increased by 80 million between 1957 and 1965 – incentives were necessary to raise production. Even so, agriculture barely recovered to its 1957 level and the shortfall had to be made good by grain imports. All these policies of the so-called reformists were opposed by an ultra-left group that placed the revolutionary class struggle first. The reformers were led by the nominal head of state, Liu Shaoqui, and Deng Xiaoping; the defence minister Lin Biao, who in 1959 had replaced Peng Dehuai, dismissed for openly criticising Mao’s Great Leap Forward, was a sycophantic supporter of Mao’s most extreme policies; Mao’s wife, the former actress Jiang Quing, was another uncompromising extremist. Then there were various groupings between the two; Premier Zhou Enlai was the most enduring and able, manoeuvring cleverly so that he never lost Mao’s approval. Mao waited until he judged the time right before resuming the revolutionary lead. Unquestionably there was serious inner-party strife at the top level of the Politburo from 1958 to 1966. Mao permitted the different groupings to coexist, acting only if there were any outright criticisms of the chairman himself, such as those voiced by the disgraced Peng. The inner workings of Chinese party politics permit more than one interpretation. It is possible that Mao genuinely had to struggle against opponents in the party to reassert his authority. Much more likely, Mao deliberately chose to withdraw from time to time to study and reflect, and to dissociate himself from ‘rectification’ policies that he would later attack and condemn. This explains certain simultaneous but contradictory currents in Chinese politics. In the autumn of 1962 Mao indicated a return to a more radical course with a campaign against writers and the resurfacing of bourgeois and capitalist tendencies. He turned to a new generation: ‘youth must be educated so that our nation will remain revolutionary and incorruptible for generations and forever’. In the spring of 1963 he claimed that landlords and rich peasants were regaining their influence, corrupting and manipulating local party officials, and ‘developing counterrevolutionary organisations’. Meanwhile, Deng Xiaoping, now the party’s general secretary, was giving priority to economic recovery, above all to repair the ravages in agriculture. Deng had expressed this view uncompromisingly: ‘As long as we increase production, we can revert to individual enterprise; it hardly matters whether a good cat is black or white – as long as it catches mice.’ This did not mean that Deng was a liberal in the Western sense, that he envisaged abandoning communism or authoritarian control from the centre. He was adopting a pragmatic approach to China’s immediate economic problems – any incentives offered to private enterprise would be determined by the party. The party would continue to control China. By 1963, Mao was preparing to move against Deng and the policies he advocated, but ‘selfcriticism’ saved him in 1966. Liu Shaoqui was not so fortunate; dismissed from all his posts in 1968, he died in prison a year later. With the help of Lin Biao, Mao embarked on an intensive campaign to radicalise the young army recruits with ‘the thoughts of Chairman Mao’. The famous Little Red Book was written to indoctrinate them. ‘Study Chairman Mao’s writings, follow his teachings and act according to his instructions’, ordered Lin Biao. Mao’s quotations can be cited in justification of all the changes of policy resorted to and cover every possible condition. They are taken from his writings and speeches from the 1920s to the 1950s. By grouping them in thirty-three thematic chapters under headings such as ‘Self-Reliance and Arduous Struggle’, ‘Serving the People’ and so on, but then jumbling up any chronological sequence within each section, they can be used to support many different arguments by selective citation. They thus convey a sense of infallibility despite their contradictions. The Little Red Book became the holy writ of the student youth revolt of 1966 – that is, of the Red Guards. China’s difficulties were compounded by its international isolation. Khrushchev’s destalinisation in the Soviet Union led to a breach with Mao, who accused him of revisionism and of leading the Soviet Union back on to the capitalist road. He condemned him for betraying the revolution while exhibiting great-power chauvinism by suppressing nationalism in Eastern Europe. Mao vehemently rejected the Soviet leader’s attempts to use the assistance given to China to control its policies. In 1959 Khrushchev first withdrew Soviet help from the programme to build China’s own atomic weapons. Faced with America’s nuclear threat, China would have to construct nuclear weapons by itself, and it succeeded in doing so. In 1960 Khrushchev dealt a heavy blow to the Chinese economy, stopping all aid and recalling some 30,000 Soviet engineers and technicians from China. Mao discerned ominous signs of Soviet–American collusion after the Soviet failure in Cuba, and the Test Ban Treaty in 1963 was a clear indication to him that the US and the Soviet Union were joining one great-power camp. Mao placed China in opposition to this supposed collusion, calling on the Third World countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America not to be afraid but to struggle for their independence: ‘People of the world, unite and defeat US aggressors and their running dogs . . . Monsters of all kinds shall be destroyed.’ Nuclear weapons need not strike fear in the hearts of peoples struggling against imperialism, Mao declared, using a colourful metaphor, for the nuclear powers were just ‘paper tigers’. But when in 1962 he conceived the fear that America would back a Chiang Kai-shek invasion, he allowed himself to be reassured by a hastily arranged contact between the Chinese and American embassies in Warsaw. Mao took care not to involve China again directly in any fighting against a stronger enemy. His diatribes against the Soviet Union and the US remained rhetorical. He was opposed to any military confrontation with the US, even when he was urged to intervene in Vietnam, where the Americans were stepping up their support for the anti-communist southern republic. The case of India was different. Earlier good relations with Nehru deteriorated when the Indians expressed their sympathy for the subjugated Tibetans and welcomed the Dalai Lama and Tibetan refugees after the revolt of 1959. When the Indians occupied some Chinese border posts on the ill-defined Sino-Indian frontier, Mao reacted forcefully. Launching a major military offensive in October 1962, he routed the inferior Indian forces. But, having taught India a painful lesson, he declared a unilateral ceasefire in November and withdrew to a rectified frontier line which India later accepted. Thus, the early 1960s were years of danger and crisis as perceived by Mao; his response to the US, the Soviet Union and Taiwan was not appeasement but independence, a determination to defend China. But he was also cautious, avoiding direct military engagement except on the Indian frontier, where it was strictly limited. As Mao contemplated Khrushchev’s errors in the 1960s, he feared that leading party members in China might well be tempted to emulate him and take the capitalist road. So his condemnation of Khrushchev was intended also to serve as a warning at home to the party. One of the roots of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was certainly Mao’s concern that the revolution was being betrayed by the ‘bourgeois’ ideas of Deng and Liu. Mao sought to revive the revolutionary spirit by unleashing a conflict between the masses on the one hand, and the party functionaries, the bureaucracy and all those who had a stake in preserving the status quo in China, on the other. To Westerners one of the most curious features of Chinese politics is the oblique way a new policy is signalled by a development that might seem quite trivial. Mao preferred this approach. He began his assault in 1965 by criticising the writer Wu Han, one of whose plays some years earlier he had interpreted as an attack on himself. This seemed innocuous. But Wu was the protégé of Deng Xiaoping, the party general secretary. Mao then left the capital and manoeuvred to gain support among the various factions within the widespread Chinese power structure. In February 1966, with his wife Jiang Quing now playing a prominent role, he declared his intention to launch the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. A distinguished Chinese economic historian, Xue Mugiao, director of China’s Economic Research Centre, in the 1980s condemned the Cultural Revolution as initiated by a leader labouring under a misapprehension and capitalised on by counter-revolutionary cliques; it led to domestic turmoil and brought catastrophe to the party, the state and the whole people. Such criticism of Mao became possible only in the reformist 1980s. At the time party members attempted to defend themselves while sycophantically declaring their loyalty and obedience to the chairman. Liu was not so lucky. The convulsion of the Cultural Revolution wrecked millions of lives. From 1966 to 1968 the struggles assumed the proportions of a civil war, with fierce fighting and brigandage in many parts of the country. Mao had aroused the people to denounce each other. In the process he raised his teaching to an unprecedented personality cult. The revolution began with the dissident students and disgruntled teachers, who organised themselves spontaneously into ‘Red Guards’ to carry out Mao’s will. The Cultural Revolution was unique among student revolts of the late 1960s in that it was encouraged from the very top against the more privileged elders. The students proceeded physically to assault the ‘monsters and demons and all counter-revolutionary revisionists of the Khrushchev type’ and to ransack their homes; they vowed that they would carry Mao’s socialist revolution through to its end. Their instruments were terror and humiliation. On 18 August 1966, Mao appeared on the gallery of the Tiananmen Gate of Heavenly Peace, to be adulated by huge crowds of Red Guards, who packed the square before him all day. Eventually he descended into the square itself to be among them; more than a million Red Guards had come from outside Beijing to join those in the capital already. They were ordered to ‘spread disorder’, to attack the party bureaucrats, to root out Chinese tradition and bourgeois revisionism – indeed to eliminate all the elements that had infiltrated the party and were taking the false capitalist road. The student Red Guards fanned out throughout the country to radicalise the masses in the cities; the vast countryside of China remained less affected. In factories they enlisted workers. It was a movement that became anarchic and violent; teachers, professionals, anyone in authority could become the target of their attacks, sons and daughters denounced parents or failed to protect them. The Red Guards were rendering China’s urban centres virtually ungovernable, as local party structures were paralysed by their onslaught. Much destruction was inflicted on Mao’s orders, but the Red Guards were incapable of putting a new orderly structure in place of those that had ceased to function. After a few months Mao had to call a temporary halt. The People’s Liberation Army was the one force able to restrain Red Guard rampages, and had already intervened in places. But it was not a proper instrument for furthering revolution; it was more suitable for repressing disorder of whatever ideological nuance. By the spring of 1967 the army had become a dominant force in the country and was gradually restoring order, fighting the radicals, replacing the party, moving into factories and controlling the extremists. It was not the outcome of the revolution Mao had planned. Cities were destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of lives were lost. Mao now unleashed the second phase of the revolution, attempting to curb the army. Red Guards went back on the rampage. Throughout China different factions were locked in confrontation. Mao could influence events but even he could not control their outcome. Among the most strident voices encouraging the Red Guards to persevere was that of Mao’s wife, Jiang Quing. Violence reached new heights in August 1967. The revolutionary committees, which had replaced the local party machines, now battled against more extremist youths. Trains carrying weapons destined for Vietnam were looted. Peasants in rival factions, army units, Red Guard groups all fought each other. In Wuhan military groups refused to obey directives from Beijing. The army itself became divided. In Beijing, Liu Shaoqui, nominal head of state, still remained as a symbol of party opposition to Mao, although he had been made to ‘confess his crimes’. But the control Mao and his supporters could exercise over the central apparatus could do nothing to restore China to order and sanity. By September 1967 Mao was ready to accept that the most important task now was to stop China from disintegrating further. Only the professional army could restore order; blame for excesses could now be shifted on to Mao’s advisers and the Red Guards, who had exceeded their functions. The betrayal of his most fervent supporters meant nothing to Mao. The myth of his detached infallibility of judgement had to be preserved, although he was the author of China’s woes. His wife indirectly admitted to mistakes and now sided with the army against the Red Guards, who were exhorted to practise selfcriticism. Mao had to admit that they had proved incapable of providing leadership and impetus to revolutionary China. Only strife and chaos had followed in their path. Behind the scenes Prime Minister Zhou Enlai and Lin Piao, the defence minister, were taking charge. The distinction between a Red Guard and a criminal became blurred. Many were executed. The restoration of order was an enormous task, only gradually achieved, and social ferment and the killings by radical factions continued sporadically even as late as 1968. The army was now praised for imposing revolutionary discipline and for defending the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. The Red Guards, yesterday in the vanguard of socialist progress, had become ‘leftist opportunists’, ‘anarchists’ and ‘class enemies’. Mao’s army ‘Thought Teams’ were sent in to take charge of universities and colleges. Mao now initiated a new movement that won the approval of both the army and the Beijing moderates. The cities and universities were cleared of students and intellectuals and rowdy youths; they were overpopulated anyway. Some 20 million Chinese were forced into the countryside in 1968 and 1969 to learn to labour as peasants. The ‘young intellectuals’ were undergoing re-education. In October Liu Shaoqui’s disgrace was complete. Only Mao emerged intact. Lin Piao at the Ninth National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in April 1969 absolved Mao of all blame and buried the Cultural Revolution, describing its demise as a ‘great victory’. The cost, in lives and in blighted careers, was enormous and was to set China back by a decade even after the immediate losses of production in 1967 and 1968 had been made good. During the last years of his life Mao became more remote, removed from the day-to-day running of the state. Now deified he continued to symbolise for China the communist victory and China’s emergence as a world power. And herein lies the final contradiction: Mao’s benign reputation was not deserved; terror and violence were the result of the ideological utopias he had pursued. He had ruined millions of lives in the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution and the wholesale forced migrations. Mao had attempted to ensure that as his life drew to a close the revolutionary fire would not be extinguished with him. The excesses of the Cultural Revolution, however, taught some of the Chinese leadership a bitter lesson in the dangers of Mao’s line of thought and action. By the time he died in September 1976, in the context of economic planning there would only be a revolutionary flicker of his radical ideas left. But the heritage of a repressive political oneparty state remained very much intact. The Chinese revolution had created its own Gulag, a network of forced job placement and labour camps. Millions of prisoners were condemned to forced labour, sometimes for decades, without trial. During the frequent famines, such as that after Mao’s disastrous experiment in 1958, life was reduced to searching for scraps of food. We know from surviving witnesses that in such camps the obsession with food replaced all feelings and other desires. Those suspected of ‘wrong thinking’, the ‘rightists’ and other dissidents fared the worst and had to submit to sessions of re-education to crush their independent spirit. How many hundreds of thousands did not survive can only be estimated. There were variations between conditions in different camps depending on the camp commanders, the work to be performed and the prevailing political mood. One truth emerges from all this horror: the resilience and courage of the survivors show that the human spirit knows no boundaries of nationality or race.

 

 

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