Mao's Last Purge

Brass Tacks

"I am a young man and a people's fighter. I think of all the oppressed people in places yet to be liberated. If you think of your own splendid days of youth without seeing other people's youth and happiness, you need to caution yourself." Diary of Liu Ying-chun, a young soldier

The Communist Chinese newspapers ran excerpts from Liu Ying-chun's diary under large headlines this July, just before the Red Guards began their summer campaign. The young students defaced statues and harangued crowds on behalf of the Revolution and against revisionism, but also paid tribute to men like Liu, whose ideas (heavily edited, perhaps created, by the Party) Mao Tse-tung considers so exemplary.

Liu would have loved the clear stamp of Mao, his hero, on the campaign. But a young man as pure as Liu would have been puzzled if someone had told him that the reason for Mao's burst of activity was the Chairman's approaching death. No one knows at what point Mao first began to worry about when he was going to die, but at that moment he apparently began to wonder if the Chinese Communist Revolution could survive without him.

Mao had probably heard of Chinese students writing poetry about love rather than revolution and grumbling about the manual jobs they had to take after graduation from college. He knew of Party officials throughout the country who were unhappy and listless in their jobs because of the monopoly on the higher Party positions held by "Old Guard" communists -- those who had been with the Party for 30 and 40 years. Mao also knew that once he died the ambitious Old Guard members under him would clash in a long and devisive fight for the succession.

Mao, with more faith in his own longevity then the Western press had, still felt his vision of a happy, communist future for the Chinese peasant would fail unless Chinese youth received a new injection of revolutionary spirit and unless a few over-tired and over-ambitious people in the Party were weeded out quickly.

Mao decided to work first on the universities, which he felt had kindled little revolutionary fervor among youth. Even worse, few universities had paid attention to the children of peasants, whom Mao saw as the great hope of the revolution.

By early summer, several professors and administrators had been told to leave their books and head for the farm; an inordinate number in Peking University were removed because of connections with Mao's rivals in the Party. Finally, Mao decided to close the schools until the beginning of 1967 in order to revamp the curriculum and change admission procedures that excluded peasants who could not pass entrance exams.

The Youth League, the organization designed to prepare 15-and 25-year-olds for Party membership, was next on the cleaning list. The League's director, Hu Yueh-pang, dropped out of sight while Mao looked around for a new youth organization. The story goes that the Chairman heard of some young people in a provincial high school who had organized themselves to study Mao's thought and demonstrate against bourgeois shop owners, Buddhists, and others slow to convert to Maoist ideology. Mao, it is said, was delighted with this spontaneous activity, gave it his blessing, and the Red Guards were born.

The Red Guard movement merged naturally with Mao's purge of undesirable Party members. Mao had been quietly weeding persons out for several months and the Red Guards continued the purge through embarrassment and sometimes direct physical assault on selected men at the lower Party levels. Simultaneously, their patron and hero confronted his last problem -- who was to succeed him and how?

AFTER THE PURGE (with previous rank)

1. Mao Tse-tung

(Mau Tsuh-doong) (1)

2. Lin Piao

(Lin Beow) (5)

3. Chou En-lai