The Perpetual Cultural Revolution
We were remiss last week in that we failed to note the ugly but important 52nd anniversary of the start of Mao Tse Tung’s “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.” The Cultural Revolution, as it is commonly known, was a decade-long purge of elements within Chinese society and especially within the Communist Party of which Mao disapproved and by which he felt threatened. It all began on May 16, 1966, with the infamous “May 16th Notification,” which included the following:
Chairman Mao often says that there is no construction without destruction. Destruction means criticism and repudiation; it means revolution. It involves reasoning things out, which is construction. Put destruction first, and in the process you have construction. Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tse-tung's thought, was founded and has constantly developed in the course of the struggle to destroy bourgeois ideology….
Those representatives of the bourgeoisie who have sneaked into the party, the government, the army, and various cultural circles are a bunch of counter-revolutionary revisionists. Once conditions are ripe, they will seize political power and turn the dictatorship of the proletariat into a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Some of them we have already seen through, others we have not. Some are still trusted by us and are being trained as our successors, persons like Khrushchev, for example, who are still nestling beside us. Party committees at all levels must pay full attention to this matter.
Over the course of the next several years, anywhere between 400,000 and 3,000,000 Chinese were slaughtered by their government in an attempt to prevent “revisionism.” Millions more were interred in reeducation camps, imprisoned, tortured, and otherwise abused both by the Party and by its new, wildly violent and officially empowered youth battalions. When all was said and done, virtually the entire traditional Chinese culture had been destroyed. Two years ago, on the 50th anniversary of Mao’s declaration, London’s Guardian newspaper noted the following:
The Cultural Revolution crippled the economy, ruined millions of lives and thrust China into 10 years of turmoil, bloodshed, hunger and stagnation. Gangs of students and Red Guards attacked people wearing “bourgeois clothes” on the street, “imperialist” signs were torn down and intellectuals and party officials were murdered or driven to suicide….
On 1 June, the party’s official mouthpiece newspaper urged the masses to “clear away the evil habits of the old society” by launching an all-out assault on “monsters and demons”. Chinese students sprung into action, setting up Red Guard divisions in classrooms and campuses across the country. By August 1966 - so-called Red August - the mayhem was in full swing as Mao’s allies urged Red Guards to destroy the “four olds” - old ideas, old customs, old habits and old culture.
Schools and universities were closed and churches, shrines, libraries, shops and private homes ransacked or destroyed as the assault on “feudal” traditions began. Gangs of teenagers in red armbands and military fatigues roamed the streets of cities such as Beijing and Shanghai setting upon those with “bourgeois” clothes or reactionary haircuts. …
Party officials, teachers and intellectuals also found themselves in the cross-hairs: they were publicly humiliated, beaten and in some cases murdered or driven to suicide after vicious “struggle sessions”. Blood flowed as Mao ordered security forces not to interfere in the Red Guards’ work. Nearly 1,800 people lost their lives in Beijing in August and September 1966 alone.
We mention this for two reasons today. The first and most obvious is that this represents another example of the revolution eating its own, which has become a recurring theme of ours of late. We put it this way in the April 23 edition of our flagship publication Politics, Et Cetera:
One of the defining characteristics of the leftist revolutionary is his disregard for anything that came before, for any of the traditions, customs, or mores of his society. Those “prejudices” are harmful, dangerous, and stifling. And they, along with everything else, must be discarded in pursuit of the “new man.”
The catch, of course, is that when everything is discarded, then even moral judgments cannot be based on anything and become totally subjective. This, as we have mentioned countless times in these pages, is Alasdair MacIntyre’s case against the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment stripped away all of the old traditions and customs, promising to replace them with a new order based on science and reason. The effects of this endeavor were demonstrated immediately in the French Revolution, which, as we noted above, was also to be based in science and reason. And the ongoing effects have continued to be demonstrated by Leftist revolutionaries down through the ages. Science and reason are solid-sounding foundations for a civilization, but they are inadequate and imperfect. And they give rise, eventually, to subjective interpretations based on nothing more than personal preferences. And preferences can change….
It’s never enough, you see. Once the revolutionaries turn on you, there is almost nothing you can do to bring yourself back into the fold. You become a “reactionary,” a “counter-revolutionary” who must be purged from the ranks. Starbucks can hope that the furor will eventually die down, but nothing it does proactively will assuage the revolution. It can only hope to avoid the guillotine.
Although we gave it short shrift in that piece, Mao’s Cultural Revolution is one of the greatest, deadliest, and ugliest examples of this phenomenon.
The second reason that we mention Mao and his brutality is because recent reports confirm what any schoolboy should already have known, that is the fact that the brutality still persists in still Communist China. Two new reports, one from the Associated Press and one from the Jamestown Institute reveal the conditions in the secret detention camps the Chinese government has created for its ethnic Muslim minorities. The AP put it this way:
Since last spring, Chinese authorities in the heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang have ensnared tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of Muslim Chinese — and even foreign citizens — in mass internment camps. This detention campaign has swept across Xinjiang, a territory half the area of India, leading to what a U.S. commission on China last month said is “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.”
Chinese officials have largely avoided comment on the camps, but some are quoted in state media as saying that ideological changes are needed to fight separatism and Islamic extremism. Radical Muslim Uighurs have killed hundreds in recent years, and China considers the region a threat to peace in a country where the majority is Han Chinese.
The internment program aims to rewire the political thinking of detainees, erase their Islamic beliefs and reshape their very identities. The camps have expanded rapidly over the past year, with almost no judicial process or legal paperwork. Detainees who most vigorously criticize the people and things they love are rewarded, and those who refuse to do so are punished with solitary confinement, beatings and food deprivation….
The detention program is a hallmark of China’s emboldened state security apparatus under the deeply nationalistic, hard-line rule of President Xi Jinping. It is partly rooted in the ancient Chinese belief in transformation through education — taken once before to terrifying extremes during the mass thought reform campaigns of Mao Zedong, the Chinese leader sometimes channeled by Xi.
This is a reminder that is, we think, especially pertinent to investors who do business with China. The Chinese government, for all its purported economic restructuring, is still arbitrary and coercive, to put it delicately. To quote then-Arizona Cardinal head coach Denny Green: “they are who we thought they were.”
The revolution eats it own. And then keeps on eating…as long as it can.