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Zhang Chunqiao helped Mao launch the Cultural Revolution and became a core member of the Central Cultural Revolution Group (CCRG). At the 10th Party Congress in 1973, Mao promoted him into the most powerful institution in the Chinese Communist Party, the Politburo Standing Committee, a rarely seen leap for a pre–Cultural Revolution vice-provincial-level official in the space of seven years. When his daughter asked him right after the congress whether he felt a sense of triumph, Zhang responded, “I don’t feel much. Which revolutionary base area did I build? Which army did I lead? Which battle did I win?” (Zheng 2017: ix) Despite his formal power, Zhang knew that since he was a writer and an ideologue instead of someone with faction followers throughout the party and the military, he had very little informal power. Given their limited political experience and narrow political networks in the party, why did Mao elevate Zhang and others in the scribblers mafia (笔杆子) into senior offices during the Cultural Revolution?
Although much of this book concerns political dynamics in the Mao Era, the tumults of the Cultural Revolution and the coalition rule that resulted from late-Mao politics indirectly led to an important political outcome by the 2010s, the survival of Xi Jinping as one of the few princelings among political leaders on the civilian side of the CCP. This created one of the preconditions for Xi to dominate the party soon after taking office as the head of the party in late 2012 – the relative absence of competition and oversight from other highly networked princelings. In the 1980s, two forces drove the selection of future leaders in the party. First, founding leaders such as Chen Yun and Deng Xiaoping had a genuine desire to promote a new generation of well-educated, loyal potential successors as their health began to fail them. Second, as the rest of the book has argued, the top leadership and even mid-level officials at the ministerial level did not want serious competitors to their power bases, and each pursued a coalition of the weak strategy within his own jurisdiction. Thus, besides a few senior veterans who had placed their children on accelerated paths for promotion, the vast majority of revolutionary veterans resisted the promotion of princelings due to their Red Guard activism during the Cultural Revolution and to fear of interference by well-networked princelings.
Chinese foreign relations and foreign trade during the Cultural Revolution’s radical phase (1966–1969) were different than during the period from 1970 to 1976. The radicals’ control of the Foreign Ministry affected the Chinese missions in Switzerland between 1966 and 1969. Because of Switzerland’s function as the Chinese headquarters in Western Europe, Swiss diplomats were among the few foreigners who remained relatively unaffected by Red Guard measures and other events in Beijing. Although diplomatic tensions occurred between Switzerland and China, these did not lead to a rupture of official relations. This preferential treatment changed during the period from 1970 to 1976, when Switzerland lost importance because China established relations with the majority of the Western nations. The anti-capitalist and anti-Western fervour of the Red Guards did not stop trade between China and Switzerland completely. In fact, Sino-Swiss trade continued – albeit haltingly – during the radical phase of the Cultural Revolution. The improvement of political relations between China and Western European countries, however, also increased Western European interest in the Chinese market. The last part of the chapter, therefore, discusses how the Swiss government and Swiss companies tried to stave off this competition in the early to mid-1970s.
Chapter 5 focuses on the 1967 Cultural Revolution campaign against Wang Guangmei, wife of the disgraced former PRC president Liu Shaoqi. A detailed firsthand account of Wang’s emblematic and theatrical mass struggle session at Tsinghua University introduces the story, followed by background to provide context for her poor treatment, and the larger political developments which led to Wang and Liu’s ultimate downfall. These include Wang’s early elite education as scientist, her work as an interpreter for the Chinese Communist Party’s underground in Beijing, and her eventual reassignment to Yan’an and role in the land-reform movement of 1947. The extreme violence of this earlier period contrasts with leading role in the implementation of the Four Cleans campaign in rural Hebei as part of the larger Socialist Education movement in the early 1960s. Her experience with exposing allegations of cadre malfeasance in the Peach Garden Brigade of Funing County ultimately provided a model for a nationwide anticorruption campaign, with Mao’s encouragement. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the violent backlash against the top-down work-team approach of the Four Cleans, advocated by Liu Shaoqi and Wang, in favor of the more chaotic bottom-up Red Guard approach of the Cultural Revolution that brought them down.
Chapters 6 and 7 reinterpret several high-profile events of the Cultural Revolution and argue that the longer-term result of the iconoclasm and destruction of the Cultural Revolution was the further elaboration of the self-expanding and compulsory consumerism of industrial capitalism. The activities of the Destroy the Four Olds movement examined in Chapter 6 did not build socialism; they negated the Revolution by expanding established forms of consumerism. This chapter first examines how Destroy activities specifically targeted visible manifestations of consumerism and reflected an undercurrent of anger at the CCP’s consistent prioritization of capital accumulation over a socialist transformation of relations of production. The chapter then demonstrate how, despite the stated aims of Red Guards, Destroy activities further spread consumption habits across China.
Education emerged as both a means and an end during the Cultural Revolution decade. School-system reform was one of the movement's ultimate aims. Because in retrospect the dual nature of education's role was often confused, this chapter distinguishes between the mobilization phase, which launched the movement, and the consolidation phase, aimed at institutionalizing the "revolution in education" thereafter. Initially, as indicated, the Party organization had tried to concentrate the movement on intellectual matters and educational reform. As the movement escalated out of the Party's control, Mao's educational principles provided the basis for the criticism of teachers and of the struggle objects. The question of actually transforming the education system was then thrust into the background as the Red Guards moved out into society to bring down the power holders everywhere. Educational reform itself belonged to the consolidation phase of the movement and thus had to await the dampening of factional conflict.
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