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Transition after Mao’s death

Recall that there was enthusiasm for the CCP’s rule just before it came into power
Contrast this with the political atmosphere at the time of Mao’s death – provides
important context
Cultural revolution created morale and legitimacy problems that needed to be addressed
by post-Mao Chinese leaders

Cultural Revolution (launched 1966)

Red guard struggle
Ended in 1969, but still some activity in the rural areas until Mao’s death in 1976
Appeared to be the height of the “cult of personality” – groupthink, but in significant
ways there were other forces at work

By this time the Leninist power structures were no longer intact, thus the party
ceased to operate on an individual level – people would leave indoctrination
schools and travel, etc. People in fact had extraordinary personal freedom
because the communist infrastructure was broken. Individuals began to learn
more about their society than the official propaganda would let on, therefore
people (young people in particular) began to question the disconnect between the
CCP and the peasants.

Starting in 1969, Mao tried to reconstruct the communist institutions, impose


Violence and personal suffering led to all sorts of ‘nastiness’ (suicide, beatings)
which individuals questioned.

After the Cultural Revolution, there was state-organized downward social

mobility. Urban people were forced to move to the countryside and adopt a
peasant life (17-18 million). So unpopular that the mandate was changed from a
lifetime of rural life, to just a few years. These individuals became known as the
“Lost Generation”

Pleading up to Mao’s death, the propaganda and political campaigns became more
abstract, bizarre, and hard for the average citizen to understand. E.g. Lin Biao
(hero of Korean War) appointed during Cultural Revolution to succeed Mao, but
his plane crashed a few years later.

Deng Xiopeng was purged by Mao twice, thus he was more likely to question the
political machine that caused it.

In general, hard to convince people that things were going well when all these other
things were going on. Led to a feeling of tension and anxiety in society.

Deng Xiopeng determined that China’s political system had been overly-centralized and
overly bureaucratic
FOREIGN CULTURE 63 10.12.2005

Political initiatives of Deng Xiopeng in the Reform period

Arrests of Gang of Four in 1976, denunciation of their followers
Show trial of GoF in 1980
Party authorities wanted to criticize Mao’s policies, excesses, and crimes without
undermining the legitimacy of the party and government in general
Getting rid of the Mao “cult of personality” (still going on today)
Beginning to criticize the Cultural Revolution (starting in 1977); reversal of policies
Mass rehabilitations – those who had their lives destroyed in the Cultural Revolution or
in previous campaigns were rehabilitated.
Termination of the program that sent youth to the countryside
Declaration that the era of class struggle had ended; the Xiopeng said that the class
struggles had been fabricated; Mao’s notion that class struggle led to progress was
completely unfounded, and actually hurt economic/social improvement.
Decision to eliminate the class label system; had previously been used as a basis for
discrimination and the advancement of Mao’s “class struggle”
1981: Party produced a verdict on Mao himself (party document)
Acknowledged that Mao was a good leader at the beginning; declared that most
of the initiatives he took from 1957 onward were mostly wrongheaded and
harmful. Mao not totally denounced and discredited – still held on as a symbol of
the good things as well to some extent.

Mao in contemporary China

Diversity of opinion
Education individuals are relieved that he is gone, yet still a fair amount of Mao nostalgia
(among rural residents and factory workers)