The origins of the Cultural Revolution in China : the dispute over 'liberalisation', 1956-1957.
China's leaders are currently reassessing the cultural revolution
unleashed by Mao Tee-tung in 1966. This 8eCOM rewriting of the
history of the 1950s and 1960s by Chinese propagandists makes
objective analysis of the period by outsiders more urgent. The
present stu&y focuses on the dispute over 'liberalisation' during the
so-called 'hundred flowers' period of 1956-7 and argues that the seeds
of the cultural revolution were sown then.
At that time, Mao became convinced of the importance of
improving relations between party and people. In particular, he
sought to conciliate the non-communist intellectuals whose skills
were needed for economic development. But after Khrushchev's denounciation
of Stalin and the Hungarian revolt, Mao saw that more
fundamental questions about the nature of communist society and the
role of the communist party within it were involved.
Mao proposed to improve the conduct of party members in the
governance of China by a 'rectification campaign' in which excesses
would be exposed and expunged by a process of open discussion. Some
party leaders, notably Liu Shao-ch'i (later the principal victim of
the cultural revolution) disapproved of the haste with which Mao
launched the campaign and his involvement of non-communists in it.
When students in particular began to organise and. • in some cases, to
denounce party rule, Liu and his supporters were able to compel Mao
to sanction a counter-attack which effectively stilled criticism.
But the lessons of 1956-7 were not lost on Mao. He continued
to ponder how to modify the dictatorial power of the party reaucracy,
and when he decided to take radical steps to destroy it in 1966-7,
he made the students (enrolled as 'Bed Guards') his principal weapon.