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

(Jo En-Iye) (3)

Off the list -- P'eng Chen (Pung Jun) (7)

4. T'ao Chu

(Tau Jew) (unranked)

5. Ch'en Po-ta

(Chun Bo-da) (17)

26. Chiang Ching (Jeong Jing (unranked)

In 1959 Mao had appointed a tubercular army marshall, Lin Piao, to take over the Defense ministry. Lin had been a brilliant strategist against the Japanese and the Nationalists and had a number of important contacts in southern China, but he came back halfway through the Korean War suffering from wounds and disease, and remained inactive for the next eight years.

Unexpectedly, Lin as Defense Minister became one of the most dynamic men in the government. He successfully (though perhaps only temporarily) resolved a heated argument between officers who favored an army based on technical expertise and officers who stressed political reliability. Through his energetic insistence on political control, Lin turned the People's Liberation Army over to Mao lock, stock, and barrel.

Mao was at first duly impressed, and then later deeply grateful for control of the army at the very moment he wished to risk a major purge. Lin's outspoken support of Mao's thought in speeches, articles, and private Party discussions apparently convinced the Chairman that Lin could be trusted with the country. Still, to insure an easy succession, Mao and Lin had to eliminate all possible opposition to Lin's rise.

In early spring P'eng Chen, mayor of Peking and rated seventh in the ruling Politburo, was removed from his post as Chairman of the Peking Central Committee. P'eng may or may not have been actively building a power base with Mao's job in mind, but his vigor and ambition rivalled Lin's and he was an obvious threat. The real purge was on.

Mao and Lin erased any doubts about the extent of their control over events by pulling their most trusted aides up into high Party offices. T'ao Chu, one of Lin's political officers during the Civil War and a Party leader in southern China, became director of the Party's propaganda department. Ch'en Po-ta, who had served for years as Mao's Bill Moyers, ghost-writing speeches and handling the press, was put in charge of the entire purge, dubbed the "Great Cultural Revolution." Official control over the Red Guards was reserved for Lin, who probably gave orders to the young demonstrators through army channels. He received support from the Premier, Chou En-lai. Chou, as usual, knew exactly what was going on and got on the winning side immediately.

On Aug. 18 Mao and Lin staged a huge rally in Peking to celebrate the purge and the campaign of the Red Guards. Accounts of the rally in Chinese newspapers and on radio observed Communist protocol by including a list of the Party hierarchy from Mao, Lin, and Chou on down. A severe shake-up had obviously occurred. T'ao had risen to number four and Ch'en to number five in the Politburo. Liu Shao-ch'i, President of the Chinese People's Republic and thus head of the government apparatus, had dropped to eighth. Liu is nearly as old as Mao but for years he was assumed to be the Chairman's likely successor and so he had won considerable support within the Party. That support, plus his close friendhip with P'eng, was apparently too much for Mao and Lin.

At the same time, many observers saw an interesting index of Mao's control over the Party in the surprise appearance of his wife, Chiang Ching, at spot number 26 on the list.

But now that Mao and Lin have somewhat consolidated their victory in the Politburo, many have tried to speculate when the frantic activity in China will end. Some observers see in the Cultural Revolution the germs of another abortive push toward impossible economic quotas such as the Great Leap Forward of the late 1950's. But Party directives have cautioned the Red Guards to strive for "cultural" improvements and leave the economy alone.

It might have been expected that the Red Guards would get out of hand this summer. During past campaigns as in this one, Chinese citizens have often exceeded Party directives for fear of being left behind. Also, Tuesday's huge Red Guard rally in Peking indicated that Mao and Lin may have several additional errands for the Guards to do. But the Party has already ordered some Red Guards to help harvest the crops, and with an anticipated drop in grain production the Party may send many more out to harvest every last kernel.

As soon as the young people are through on the farms the schools will presumably be ready to reopen; how the young Chinese succeed in the classroom will in the long run be more important than their successes on the streets. According to a number of reports, only those who can prove their Party loyalty will be able to enter a university. Course catalogues will be cut to the bone at the expense of the "non-essential" humanities and students will spend six months out of every year in planned projects on the farms or in factories.

When (or, as John K. Fairbank said recently, if) Mao dies, Lin Piao will inherit the problems that such an educational system creates. He will control a massive agricultural country that may have crippled its most talented classes. Moreover, Lin is a soldier, who must rely on economic advisors to handle China's industrial and agricultural growth, and Chinese economists have not shown the same imagination in dealing with the economy that Mao has shown with the Party and Lin with the army.

Young Chinese may in the future remember the diary of young Liu Ying-chun who, much like Mao, hoped that his nation's problems might be solved through a combined act of faith and will. They may admire Liu's desire to concentrate on the problems of the oppressed and unliberated peoples outside China. Yet a new Chairman Lin and the ageing Red Guards who grow up under him will for some time have to ignore that international concern while they confront the monstrous, and partially self-imposed, problems within their own borders.