The East is Red

Above: Watch this four-minute clip from a 1965 extravaganza filmed at the Great Hall of the People. This signature tune of the Cultural Revolution got its start as a peasant love song about cabbage hearts! The lyrics told of life in the countryside, but in the 1930s, the ditty was pressed into service as a call to action against Japanese invaders. Later, a leftist school teacher penned another set of lyrics, obsequious praise of Chairman Mao Zedong and his devotion to the welfare of the people. If you can't get the player to work in your browser, you can also see the video by clicking here.


China's "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution," a period of tremendous upheaval, lasted for a full decade, from 1966-1976. Launched by Chairman Mao Zedong ostensibly as a call to students to rebel against the "repressive" education system, it was in fact an attack on so-called "capitalist roaders" in the Communist Party who were at loggerheads with Mao. He claimed they retained "liberal bourgeois" ideas and posed a danger to the Party and the society. He saw them as obstacles to the development of socialism in China, and checks on his own personal power.


At Mao's urging, radical students formed "Red Guard" organizations that traveled the country destroying property and attacking so-called "class enemies." They seized power from local officials and civil war broke out. Schools, factories and other enterprises closed and their leaders were exiled. As the nation sank into chaos, workers and the military were sent in to impose order, and millions of city youth were "sent down" to the countryside beginning in 1968.


Struggle at the top continued as moderates returned to power to restore order, even as radical elements continued to attack them. Finally, after Mao died in 1976, the leftist "Gang of Four," which included Mao's wife Jiang Qing, was arrested and eventually tried and convicted, and moderation was restored to public life under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping. The Cultural Revolution, which had caused the death of hundreds of thousands and the persecution, imprisonment and injury of millions more, finally ended, and was officially condemned by the Communist Party as a great blunder.

Top: Chairman Mao wearing a Red Guard armband.

Bottom: The trial of the Gang of Four, 1981.


2011-2021, Sasha Gong and Scott D. Seligman