Social Revolution Party

"Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways: The point, however, is to change it."

The Students, United, Wage Cultural Revolution!

Posted by sorev on 30/08/2009

The following essay focuses on the effect that students had in constructing the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China. Our focus in this section on the GPCR is to draw the attention of comrades towards the concept of Social Revolution; that is to say, a revolution which attacks the very basic social relations of society in order to change them. The Social Revolution Party considers the GPCR to have been such an attempt. Furthermore, comrades should note that the role of students in the mass struggle is important. It is possible to change the world.

I. Introduction

…in the last fifty days or so some leading comrades from the central down to the local levels have acted in a diametrically opposite way [to Marxism-Leninism]. Adopting the reactionary stand of the bourgeoisie, they have enforced a bourgeois dictatorship and struck down the surging movement of the great cultural revolution of the proletariat. … How poisonous! Viewed in connection with the Right deviation in 1962 and the wrong tendency of 1964 which was ‘Left’ in form but Right in essence, shouldn’t this make one wide awake?1

It was with these words, written in early August of 1966, that Mao Zedong officially marked the beginning of the great proletarian Cultural Revolution. After months of unrest in much of China, particularly amoungst students and young workers, Mao latched himself onto a growing movement and in doing so provided the legitimacy required in order for the blossoming revolution to become a truly national phenomena throughout China. One of the most controversial periods in the history of modern China had been born.

rossoquote1The Cultural Revolution is considered by many historians to have begun around August of 1966, however the end point remains more ambiguous.2 Historians are generally divided into two camps in regards to the ending point of the Cultural Revolution; some consider the Cultural Revolution to have ended in December of 1968 with the destruction of the Red Guards and the establishment of the Down To The Countryside campaign,3 whereas others, including the official line of the Communist Party of China, believe the Cultural Revolution envelopes the drama surrounding the Gang of Four and comes to an end with the abolition of the Down To The Countryside campaign in 1977. While not mattering greatly within the scope of this paper, I fall into the former camp.4

It goes without saying that the interpretation of such a controversial event in the history of China is also greatly disputed. Though unfortunately not within the scope of this paper to argue, it is my conviction that the Cultural Revolution was a legitimate and honest struggle for socialism within China4. The Cultural Revolution attacked most of the old state institutions that existed within China, and specifically went after party bureaucrats who had become entrenched within the post-1949 Chinese state. The Cultural Revolution saw attacks on bourgeois forms of education, saw the creation of workers’ and students’ councils, saw the arming of said councils and the formation of the Red Guards, and ultimately saw the establishment of the Shanghai Commune in 1967.5 This is the historical bias from which I will approach the subject matter being discussed. However, the Cultural Revolution provides only the backdrop on which the events discussed in this paper occur. The main intent of this paper is to show how the student movement in China was instrumental in constructing the Cultural Revolution. The power of the student movement in China during the time leading up to and during the Cultural Revolution exists as a shining example to student and worker struggles everywhere, and indeed the Cultural Revolution needs to be re-evaluated within this light if we are to have success within the student movement in Canada. Particular attention will be paid to the experience of students at Peking University, and Tsinghua University. In the end, it will be proven that the student movement in China was instrumental in constructing the great proletarian Cultural Revolution.

II. The Experience of Students at Peking University

The origins of the Cultural Revolution at Peking University can be traced back to the after-effects of the largely failed Great Leap Forward. Despite the fact that one of the main goals of the Great Leap Forward was to extend quality education to the Chinese masses, particularly peasants, by the time 1965 arrived the Chinese education system was still extremely stratified. According to Victor Nee:

At the top were all of the elite schools… Their students were to become China’s future leaders, scientists, and professional men. Below the elite schools were the general full-time schools, which were to train middle level technicians, engineers, and teachers, most of who were destined for positions in the countryside. At the bottom were the part-time schools… which were there to provide a minimal education for China’s future peasant and working classes…6

Such a hierarchy of education ran completely contrary to the ideals of the Chinese Revolution of 1949, and “threatened to perpetuate structures which could only reinforce the social values of traditional China.”7 It was in response to the relative stagnation of progress within China’s education system that Mao initiated the Socialist Education Campaign in 1962. The aims of the Socialist Education Campaign (SEC) were three-fold. First, the SEC wanted to ensure that graduates of China’s best schools would go to the countryside and use their skills there. Second, the SEC encouraged students to go on work-study programs into the countryside in order to counter the spontaneous restoration of capitalism within small villages.8 And third, the SEC hoped to increase the enrolment of working class and peasant students within the elite schools.

Initially the SEC was limited to the countryside, but slowly and surely the SEC made its way into China’s cities. In 1964 the campaign was officially adopted at Peking University and a work-team arrived in rder to expose those within the university administration that were allegedly taking “the capitalist road.”9 The university administration, in particular the chair of Peking University’s Party Committee, Lu P’ing, was quick to criticize the work-team and actively organized for their removal. Working with the Beijing Municipal Committee, a close ally to Lu P’ing, “struggle-meetings” were organized that denounced the SEC work-team and attempted to force the work team to engage in self-criticisms. When the work-team refused to submit to criticism, they were removed from Peking University and 80 members of Peking University’s faculty who had sided with the work-team’s criticisms of the administration were forcibly removed from campus to await trial inside of the International Hotel in Beijing. This group of radical academics was to become known as the International Hotel Group.10

Meanwhile, the play Hai Jui Dismissed from Office, written in 1961 by famed historian Wu Han, was beginning to stir-up new controversy. Despite initial positive reception from Mao, various prominent leftists within China felt that the play was in fact a thinly veiled critique of Mao and his dismissal of old army bureaucrats. Mao, responding to pressure from his base of support within China, brought up the idea of criticizing Wu Han at a Central Committee meeting in October of 1965. Fearing that the renewed criticism of Wu Han would empower opponents of Peking University’s Party Committee,11 Lu P’ing organized for nearly two-thirds of the students at Peking University, particularly those students who were not members of the Communist Party, to be sent to the countryside. Under the guise of fulfilling the goals of the SEC, Lu P’ing had managed to isolate most of Peking University’s students from both the International Hotel Group and the new leftist criticisms of Wu Han.

Attempting to regain popularity amoungst the remaining students remaining at Peking University, Lu P’ing called a meeting of Party members in early May of 1966 where he encouraged the academic criticism of Hai Jui Dismissed from Office. Following this initial meeting, Lu P’ing began to organize public meetings where he echoed his encouragement of academic criticisms of Wu Han’s play. Lu P’ing had however seriously over-estimated his support within the Party at Peking University, and when various revolutionary elements within the Party began calling for a political criticism of Wu Han himself12, a call echoed by those faculty that still remained at the rossoquote2International Hotel, Lu P’ing began to realize that his control over Peking University was slipping.

Finding an opening in which the Party Committee and administration of Peking University could be attacked, the International Hotel Group began preparing a big-character poster criticizing Lu P’ing’s role in suppressing criticisms of Wu Han. The poster, entitled “What Have Sun Shuo, Lu P’ing, and P’en P’ei-yun Done in the Cultural Revolution?”,13 almost immediately began to garner support from the students still left at Peking University and within hours the walls of the school were covered in other posters criticizing the administration.14 The administration’s reaction was fierce, and in mobilizing the Communist Youth League (CYL),15 it was able to effectively shut down any meetings held by leftist dissenters and install a “reign of terror”16 at Peking University.

rossoquote3Lu P’ing’s victory was short-lived. On June 1st, 1966, Mao made a special request that the text of the International Hotel Group’s big-character poster be broadcast across Beijing;17 he would later go on to suggest that the particular poster was “China’s first Marxist-Leninist big-character poster.”18 Following the broadcast, a meeting was held at Peking University in which the leadership of the International Hotel Group was able to make a series of statements. The result was that even those students that had initially supported Lu P’ing and the Party Committee found themselves on the side of the leftists.

Throughout the following day, parades of revolutionaries from around Beijing – university students, high-school students, workers, peasants, Party cadres, etc. — made their way to the gates of Peking university in order to join the student rebels. P’eng P’eiyun, Sung Shuo, and most importantly Lu P’ing were all dismissed from office. The two thirds of Peking University students that had been sent to the countryside under the auspices of the SEC returned to the campus of Peking University filled with revolutionary vigour from their work-study experience, and the International Hotel Group was regraciated into the life of Peking University.

At the same time as celebrations were being carried out over the victory at Peking University, a new Municipal Committee had been formed. Attempting to restore order at Peking University, a work-team was dispatched in order to put down the leftist uprising. The work-team immediately closed the gates of the university and began a series of “struggle-sessions” that sought to denounce the leftists. While this initially worked, on June 7th posters criticizing the work-team appeared on the campus of Peking University. The renewed sense of struggle gradually galvanized the majority of the student population against the Municipal Committee’s work-team, and upon Mao’s recomendation,19 a delegation from Mao’s inner-circle was sent in order to inspect the climate at Peking University. The delegation was quick to issue criticism of the work-team for two main things. First, the delegation criticized the work-team for “not encourag[ing] the active participation of the revolutionary students and teachers of the whole University in carrying out the Cultural Revolution,”20 and second for failing to establish a new representative body at the university. Following an official report the work-team was immediately disbanded on July 26th, , 1966, and those students that had been dismissed for attacking the workteam were reinstated at Peking University. Peking University was renamed New Peking University; an institution which was reorganized and modelled after the Paris Commune of 1871. Attempting to network with others across China who were swept up in the revolutionary overthrow of the old post-revolutionary China, a Cultural Revolution Committee was formed on September 13th with one of the leaders of the International Hotel Group at its head.

The Cultural Revolution was in full swing at Peking University, built almost exclusively by the students.

III. The Experience of Students at Tsinghua University

If the students at Peking University reserved the right to claim the first rumblings of the Cultural Revolution, then the students at Tsinghua Univeristy, also in Beijing, reserved the right to claim the most intense conflicts during the Cultural Revolution. Immediately after Mao requested that the big-character poster of the International Hotel Group be broadcast on June 1st, 1966, students at Tsinghua University wasted no time in laying siege to their own university administration. For ten days, between June 1st, 1966 and June 10th, 1966, the students of Tsinghua University effectively turned their university into one of the key battle-grounds of the Cultural rossoquote4Revolution by launching intense criticisms of not only conservative professors, but also of those in high positions within the Party.21 The reaction of the Party bureaucrats within Tsinghua University’s Party Committee and the Beijing Municipal Committee was incredibly quick and severe. A work-team was formed and arrived on the Tsinghua Campus on June 10th in order to restore a sense of order and to ensure that criticisms of those in high positions in the Party were quickly silenced. Despite being received positively on their arrival,22 it was soon clear that the work-team was not there to aid the rebels. On June 13th, 1966, a mass meeting was held where Yeh Lin, the organizer of the work-team, laid out a twofold plan to restore order at Tsinghua University. Yeh Lin’s program amounted to: all department- and university-level cadres [being] suspended and [being] ordered to report in groups for study. … all students [being] called upon to return to their classrooms for a major campaign of self-and-mutual criticism.23 It became clear to the students that the goal of the work-team was to break up the blossoming student movement in order to prevent them from effectively waging the Cultural Revolution. Unfortunately for the work-team, the students of Tsinghua University were not ready to capitulate and resistance to the “white-terror”, as the period of the work-team was later to be known, began without much delay. On June 23rd a student named Kuai Ta-fu, who was to become one of the main student leaders at Tsinghua University, issued a poster known as “What’s this all about, Comrade Yeh Lin?” which viciously criticized the work-team. The work-team responded by calling a public meeting on June 28th in order to denounce Kuai as a counter-revolutionary.

The meeting resulted in an embarrassing failure for the work-team and posters began to surface that criticized the work-team’s commitment to not only the Cultural Revolution, but socialist revolution and Maoism in general. The work-team, reeling from criticisms, was thrown into disarray24. Rumours had been circulating that Liu Shao-chi’s wife, Wang Kuang-mei, was secretly in charge of the work-team.25 In order to hold the work-team together, Wang Kuang-mei was forced to step into the open at the June 28th mass meeting in order to ensure the work-team and the students of Tsinghua University that the workteam had the full confidence of the Party, particularly Liu Shaochi and Mao. Wang Kuang-mei’s appeal worked in that the workteam began to refocus itself, but the students of Tsinghua University were not convinced. The following day another series of posters criticizing the work-team appeared on campus.

In response to their waning influence, the work-team began a campaign directed entirely at Kuai Ta-fu known as the “Pull Out Kuai” campaign. Once again students did not respond and the resistance against the work-team further intensified. Everything came to a head when on July 22nd, 1966, Mao returned from southern China and wasted no time in questioning the purpose of the work-teams. Indeed, Mao had been a firm supporter of the student rebels and in reply to their queries wrote this: Red Guard comrades of Tsinghua University Middle School:

“I have received both the big-character posters which you sent on 28 July as well as the letter which you sent to me, asking for an answer. The two big-character posters which you wrote on 24 June and 4 July express your anger at, and denunciation of, all landlords, bourgeois, imperialists, revisionists, and their running dogs who exploit and oppress the workers, peasants, revolutionary intellectuals and evolutionary parties and groupings. You say it is right to rebel against reactionaries; I enthusiastically support you. I also give enthusiastic support to the big-character poster of the Red Flag Combat group of Peking University Middle School which said that it is right to rebel against the reactionaries; and to the very good revolutionary speech given by comrade P’eng Hsiao-meng representing their Red Flag Combat Group at the big meeting attended by all the teachers, students, administration and workers of Peking University on 25 July. Here I want to say that I myself as well as my revolutionary comrades-in-arms all take the same attitude. No matter where they are, in rossoquote5Peking or anywhere in China, I will give enthusiastic support to all who take an attitude similar to yours in the Cultural Revolution movement. …” 26

This letter, which was printed on August 1st but would have undoubtedly been received by the students at Tsinghua University beforehand, proved that Mao did not endorse the work-team and on July 29th a mass meeting was held where the work-team was denounced and forced to withdraw from Tsinghua University.27 The question then arose as to how best re-organize Tsinghua University after the fall of work-team’s 50 day reign. Two different lines emerged amoungst the students. The first sought to rehabilitate old and reactionary faculty in order to allow the university to return to normal. The second, headed by Kuai Ta-fu, wanted nothing to do with the old faculty and instead suggested that only revolutionary faculty should be allowed to teach. On August 8th, 1966, the latter organized themselves into a group known as the 8-8s, and the following day, the former organized themselves into a group known as the 8-9s.28 Following two weeks of active campaigning against one another, the 8-9s appealed to the university administration for help. On August 23rd, 1966, they received the support of Chian Nan-hsiang,29 effectively throwing the 8-9s into the ruling circles of Tsinghua University and silencing the 8-8s.30

Despite the fact that the 8-9s had administrative support, the 8-8s continued to campaign and gradually gained more support from the students at Tsinghua University. The 8-8s were effectively waging an up-hill battle until October 6, 1966, when Mao hosted another meeting of the Red Guards in Beijing. At this meeting Mao directly endorsed all those who were struggling against the old, reactionary order which provided a massive boom to the 8-8s and effectively put them on the offensive at Tsinghua University.31 In the days following, the 8-9s found themselves losing support to the 8-8s to the extent that they felt forced to burn their seal and flag, and in early November of 1966 the 8-9s merged with the 8-8s to form the Chingkangshan Regiment headed by Kuai Ta-fu. Kuai, due to his unchanging, and eventually correct stance throughout 1966 and 1967, became a national icon for students everywhere to emulate.

Throughout most of November and December of 1966 the Chingkangshan Regiment began consolidating their power at Tsinghua University and organizing their own cadre. Due to the Chingkangshan Regiment’s prestige throughout China, as early as January of 1967, other universities began appealing to the Chingkangshan Regiment for help in fighting their own manifestations of the Cultural Revolution. The Chingkangshan Regiment sent delegates to various universities around China, particularly in outlying regions. It was through these delegations that the cadre of the Chingkangshan Regiment learned the necessity of seizing power in order to effectively wage Cultural Revolution; indeed, their comrades in China’s outlying regions were not fortunate enough to have sympathetic administrations and had been forced to take over their universities in order to simply publish material. As a result, in mid-January of 1967 the Chingkangshan Regiment seized power at Tsinghua University and deposed the administration.32 The Cultural Revolution had become firmly established at Tsinghua University.

IV. Conclusion

As has been demonstrated, it was the students in China that jump-started the Cultural Revolution. Initially it was student revolt, and student-based challenges to entrenched bureaucrats within the Chinese Communist Party that led to the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution at Peking University. Following Mao’s support for the rebels at Peking University, the students at Tsinghua University began struggling, and intensified their struggle to the point that they managed to extend the Cultural Revolution to other institutions around China. In this way, the student movement in China was instrumental in constructing the great proletarian Cultural Revolution.

End Notes
1. Mao Zedong, “Bombard the Headquarters – My First Big-
Character Poster”, Peking Review, August 5, 1966
2. An, MAO TSE-TUNG’S Cultural Revolution , 22.
3. Nee, The Cultural Revolution at Peking University, 74.
4. My conviction rests upon the entire body of work written by the anti-revisionist school of Marxist thought, of which only an infinitely small amount was used in the preparation of this paper. Though this school of thought is certainly open to criticism, focusing too much on Mao`s role within the context of the Cultural Revolution proper detracts from the overall series of events.
5. An, MAO TSE-TUNG’S Cultural Revolution, 28.
6. Nee, The Cultural Revolution at Peking University, 38.
7. Ibid, 39
8. This spontaneous restoration of capitalism included: “increase in private plots, excessive sideline occupations, rural free markets, the tendency amoung better-off peasants to “go it alone”, and the re-emergence of rich peasants.”. Ibid, 42.
9. Ibid, 42.
10. Ibid, 43.
11. Wu Han was also the deputy mayor of Beijing, and therefore sat on the Beijing Municipal Committee. The Municipal Committee had, of course, been a staunch ally of Lu P’ing’s while Lu P’ing sought to sieze control of Peking University from the SEC work-team in early 1965.
12. As opposed to a purely academic criticism of his play. Academic criticisms focused solely on the historical merits of Hai Jui Dismissed from Office, whereas political criticisms of Wu Han sought to uncover the class nature of Wu Han’s deviancy from revolutionary ideals.
13. P’eng P’ei-yun was the Party Committee of Peking University’s vice-secretary, and Sung Shuo was a member of the Municipal Committee’s Universities Department. Ibid, 54.
14. Ibid, 54.
15. The CYL was organizationally conservative, as the leadership
was tied directly to Lu P’ing’s administration.
16. Ibid, 57.
17. The request was made in a document written by Mao that criticized Liu Shao-ch’i, the then-Chairman of the Communist Party of China and one of the main targets of the Cultural Revolution. Ibid, 57.
18. Mao Zedong, “Bombard the Headquarters – My First Big- Character Poster”, Peking Review, August 5, 1966
19. Mao had recently returned from Shanghai only to find the budding Cultural Revolution in disarray due to the intrigues of the work-team. Nee, The Cultural Revolution at Peking University, 61.
20. Ibid, 66.
21. Hinton, 100 Day War: The Cultural Revolution at Tsinghua University, 44.
22. It was believed that the work-team was being sent by Liu Shao-chi in order to aid the rebel students. While, as it was later found out, the work-team was sent by Liu Shao-chi, it was most definitely to put down the Cultural Revolution. Liu was to later become one of the prime targets of the Cultural Revolution.
23. Ibid, 45.
24. Ibid, 51.
25. Indeed, the reason for the poster “What’s this all about, Comrade Yeh Lin?” was that a female member of the work-team pretended to be Wang Kuang-mei in order to gather confessions from students.
26. Mao Zedong, “A Letter To The Red Guards Of Tsinghua University Middle School”, Long Live Mao Tse-tung Thought, August 1, 1966.
27. Hinton, 100 Day War: The Cultural Revolution at Tsinghua University, 68.
28. Ibid, 69.
29. Chian Nan-hsiang was the president of Tsinghua Univerisity.
30. Ibid, 74.
31. Ibid, 96.
32. Ibid, 106.


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