by Ramin Mazaheri for The Saker Blog
Actually talk to rural people in China and you can certainly learn of martyrs FOR the Cultural Revolution; talk to disgraced party elites, abusive factory bosses, tyrannical schoolteachers, smug technocrats, pagan witch doctors or parasitic monks, and you get stories of those martyred BY the Cultural Revolution.
Welcome back to the first day of journalism school! “One person’s ‘terrorist’ is another person’s ‘freedom-fighter’”. I am not spouting nonsense such as “all truth is relative”, but simply pointing out that perspective shapes opinion (it does not control fact).
The fact is that you have likely never heard a story of a Chinese person who died in order to support their Cultural Revolution (CR).
Nor have you ever heard of the CR’s beneficiaries – indeed, you likely imagine there were none, except for a power-mad Mao Zedong.
If you have heard anything on the CR – and many have not – you only heard stories from the CR’s victims. The reason for that is: if you are reading this in the West, your media has an informal ban on any pro-socialist story. Anyone who believes that unwritten censorship exists has never worked in the media. (And a pro-socialist story would, after all, empower the leftists in the West and they certainly can’t have that.)
The informal ban is separate from, but compounded by, an informal promotion of anti-socialist notions: for example, the 2015 winner for best novel at the Hugo Awards (given to the best in science fiction), was The Three-Body Problem by Chinese author Liu Cixin. The book was even promoted by Barack Obama, and it should be obvious why: the first 25 pages are a rehashing of the same old “the CR was an unholy terror” perspective. Considering the book is about scientists, perhaps such a perspective is somewhat accurate… but China is not full of 1 billion scientists. Democracy means there are losers in policies – socialist democracy ensures those losers are the 1%.
(Overall, I found the book to be rather boring “video gamer” escapism, as well as effective (and totally unsubtle) anti-socialist propaganda. Unsurprisingly, Amazon is spending $1 billion on a TV adaptation. For me, the only truly interesting passage described Euler’s three body problem in physics and astronomical theory –now there was something to meditate upon, finally. My point is: if the book was 400 pages of gamer escapism and 25 pages of pro-CR historical analysis…Obama ain’t pluggin’ yer book.)
Similarly, no one is plugging Dongping Han’s truly revolutionary and eminently readable book, The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village. The key word there is “village” – not too many top scientists working there, perhaps, but there are a lot of people who greatly benefitted from the CR decade (1966-76). I gave a brief overview and a few knockout punch data sets in Part 1, and this 8-part series is dedicated to popularizing Han’s book and his undeniably confirmed thesis: the CR’s educational reform, which became approved following changes to political culture, produced an explosion in rural economic development and rural human capital, and thus China’s economic boom actually came before Deng’s reforms in 1978. This series is also a roundabout way to popularize my new book, I’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China, to which Han graciously contributed the forward.
Yes, if one was a Chinese science nerd who insisted that they were infinitely smarter than a villager/peasant and thus deserving to rule oppressively in a technocracy… then one likely had a tough time during the CR. This is an old, already told, and often retold story – and I am sympathetic – but it’s time for a new story, for balance and accuracy.
Revolution is bloody, but not as bloody as what leads up to a revolution
Han relates a CR story and an analysis which you have most likely never heard. I will retell it briefly:
Yu Jiushu was a villager in Jimo County (the source of Han’s scholarly investigative work, as well as the place of his youth and formative years). During the Great Leap Forward Yu was recruited as a factory worker. The factory failed, causing him to lose his job and forcing his return home. The leaders of his village, during this era of shortage, refused to give him his grain ration on the grounds that he had forgotten his grain ration papers. Yu was forced to share his ration with his mother. Yu’s mother committed suicide to avoid the starvation of both her and her son.
The average Westerner would stop right there and say, “Isn’t this terrible?” Yes, of course it is.
A Western capitalist and Liberal Democrat would likely continue: “See how socialism only causes problems and deaths?”
Han disagrees: He gives a surprising, tough, 100% necessary analysis which shows why Widow Yu was a martyr FOR, and not a martyr OF, the Cultural Revolution.
“No doubt the village party leaders’ behavior was outrageous, and should be condemned. But should not Yu Jiushu be partly responsible for what happened? He and his mother did not have to put themselves through such suffering in the first place. They could have fought for their legal rights, but their ignorance of the law and their culture of submissiveness failed them.”
Han is showing us that a lack of rural education and a culturally-fostered fear towards officialdom is what doomed Widow Yu; it was not the inherent tyrannies of “socialism” or “big government”. Instead, Han shows, and in a clear rejection of political nihilism, that there WAS an obvious solution and vaccine to such ills: rural empowerment and education.
The Cultural Revolution cannot and will never be understood, much less appreciated and learned from, without grasping that rural empowerment was its absolute priority and goal – this really cannot be stressed enough.
How can anyone effectively fight for their rights when they have no schooling, precarious work and precarious social status? One can either provide the Western capitalist answer – have the brains and nerve of the elite 1% (or their connections) – or one can revamp the system in favor of the illiterate and poor, which is the socialist solution (and the CR’s solution).
How do you improve an unequal society? You drastically change it
In Jimo County Han shows that in 1956 only 66% of Jimo children were enrolled in school. That was up from 48% a year after China’s liberation in 1950. Good, but hardly a socialist miracle. The reason it wasn’t higher was because after 1949 economic resources were prioritized for urban educational needs, and not places like historically impoverished Jimo County.
But, by prioritising rural empowerment, during the CR decade that figure soared to 99%. By the end of the CR decade (1966-76) poor and rural Jimo County had more than 30 times more schools and more than 10 times more teachers (see part 1). Yes, urban colleges were temporarily shuttered during the CR, but it was largely in order to devote resources to rural areas, finally. It can’t be repeated enough, because it is contrary to modern Western nations: China’s rural population was 82% of the overall population in 1964, therefore this new rural focus was perfectly in keeping with democratic ideals.
But education is not enough – the political system must explicitly promote and defend the involvement of the 99%.
Chinese peasants were not historically apolitical – there are too many cases of uprisings to say that, even though this is exactly what many Western academics lazily claim about China – but the CR was undoubtedly the very first time they were ever empowered politically. “The fact that Mao and other Cultural Revolution leaders saw the need to involve common villagers, most of whom were illiterate and were considered ignorant by the educated elite, was in itself revolutionary and democratic.” It is precisely this refusal to involve common villagers which betrays one as a fake-leftist in the West.
Education and political support is still not enough – cultural changes must be forced through despite guaranteed resistance from those sectors which have refused to accept the People’s revolution.
“The major theme of the campaign was to criticize the elitist mentality in Chinese culture. It promoted Mao’s idea that the masses are the motive force of history and that the elite are sometimes stupid while working people are intelligent. These were not empty words. Villagers toiled all year round, supplying the elite with grain, meat and vegetables, but they were made to feel stupid in front of the elite. They did not know how to talk with the elite, and accepted the stigma of stupidity the elite gave to them.”
This elitist idea combated by Mao and his supporters – that rural Trash are stupid – is something which simply must be remedied in the West… or else Western society can never be whole, nor peaceful, nor empowered, nor efficient. Indeed, this series is an effort to show that Deplorables – or Gilets Jaunes, in French – must be empowered in Western nations along the same lines as Chinese Trash was during the CR.
Truly, at the heart of the CR is an idea of humility: our culture has become bad, and needs major changes. Western capitalist-imperialist nations simply do not permit such a trait: try telling such a thing to a typical jingoistic Frenchman, American, Britisher, Spaniard, etc. Yet everyone knows these countries (neo-imperialists) are arrogantly telling other countries what to do. Iranians use “arrogance” and “imperialism” synonymously for this obvious reason.
Because of the West’s (self-interested, leftist-repressing) laser-focus on the tragic, emotional, sensational aspects of these types of CR stories Han related – by failing to progress to Han’s more useful analysis of what can be done to prevent the reoccurrences of these types of negative and deadly social experiences – the Western analysis of the CR will always remain ultimately reactionary because it implicitly rejects the need for social changes; it thus preserves a status quo which is so very unequal for the 99% but especially rural dwellers.
Keeping capitalism-imperialism and condemning socialism is not the answer; reforming and improving socialism is. Socialism can be improved, despite its detractors – the CR stands as proof of this.
Han’s analysis likely seems cold to many Westerners, just as the West’s paralysis by over-emotional/nihilistic analysis may seem too hot to Han.
But Han’s view appears in keeping with the Chinese worldview, which emphasizes personal responsibility far more than in the Western or the Islamic worlds. The Chinese worldview is not Abrahamic, after all – there is no God pulling the strings: YOU are responsible, and shame is your portion when YOU fail. I note that their most sacred book, the I Ching, is essentially a book of social conduct in which only YOU are responsible for failing to cope with or failing to predict the inevitable vicissitudes of life. Embracing personal shame is all over the I Ching, LOL! Quite sorry to report that to the many Western lapsed Christians who dream of some sort of shame-free society/never-ending bacchanalia….
Socialism is thus very much in concordance with this ancient Chinese world view, as it stresses that YOU are responsible for changing our world for the better. (There is no logical reason why socialism and theism cannot be combined with the exact same goal of social and personal empowerment, like in, for example, Iranian Islamic Socialism, but that is another subject.)
How many more widows would have committed suicide to feed their children without the Cultural Revolution?
“In the final analysis, officials abused their power in part because the abused let them get away with it time and time again.”
Changing this reality of official over-empowerment in China truly necessitated a Cultural Revolution, and the CR worked expressly towards this socialist democratic goal.
Over-empowerment of government officials – from kings to French President/Jupiter Emmanuel Macron to Barry Dronebama – is exactly what socialism fights against, yet capitalist-imperialist propaganda accuses socialism of that which their system is far more guilty! Just 39 delegates signed the US Constitution; Nearly 75% of Cuba’s entire population helped draft their new constitution. Macron is going to write major new unemployment system reforms entirely on his own, ending 30+ years of union involvement, just as he’s done in other areas since taking office. The list goes on and on.
In the 1960s the Chinese left and center, as well as their youth, united behind implementing this idea of worker/citizen cultural empowerment expressly against the prevailing official empowerment. This same combination of forces, however, failed across the West despite having similar goals: No Western systems were drastically altered during the 1960s.
“Of course, the existence of such a legal system is important. But legal codes alone cannot solve any problem if the political culture and mentality of the ordinary people remains unchanged. Here, education to empower the ordinary rural residents is key.” Han is stressing that socialism is a way of life, a mentality, a worldview – capitalism is the same; one can change the law, but what good is it when the law is not enforced or the can be bought around in the courts, as in Liberal Democracies?
And this leads us to the next part of this series: Why was a Cultural Revolution needed in already-Red China? Short answer: in order to change China’s culture but NOT their socialist democratic legal code & system, which were established in 1949.
To finish with the story: All remember Shahida Widow Yu.
She was not Muslim but she certainly was a martyr against injustice. Han sensibly does not foolishly ignore the reasons of her death in order to leap to emotionalism and sensationalism, as a Western capitalist-imperialist journalists and academics would, but honors and elevates her to show exactly why the Cultural Revolution was necessary – to prevent such inhuman damage, more rural Chinese martyrs, and a cultural system which kept the entire Yu family disempowered, hungry and filled with tragedy.
The idea that China’s Cultural Revolution was some sort of bloody warmongering resulting from Mao’s political power struggles is what the West wants us to believe, and that’s because such a view inherently glorifies capitalism and denies any positive attributes or outcomes to socialist ideas in any nation, including their own.
The reality of the Cultural Revolution – as demonstrated by Han’s book and seconded in this series – was actually unprecedented development and success in the rural areas. It was the creation of this human capital (that most valuable capital) as well as economic capital which set the stage for the post 1980s economic boom in China.
The story of Widow Yu is a story of rural oppression and marginalization, and it is no different from the capitalist debt-provoked suicide of a French farmer which occurs every two days.
Their demises were caused by systems which were/are insufficiently socialist, and thus incredibly disempowering and unequal for rural citizens in both feudalism and Liberal Democratic/West European systems.
This is the 2nd article in an 8-part series which examines Dongping Han’s book The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village in order to drastically redefine a decade which has proven to be not just the basis of China’s current success, but also a beacon of hope for developing countries worldwide. Here is the list of articles slated to be published, and I hope you will find them useful in your leftist struggle!
Part 1 – A much-needed revolution in discussing China’s Cultural Revolution: an 8-part series
Part 2 – The story of a martyr FOR, and not BY, China’s Cultural Revolution
Part 3 – Why was a Cultural Revolution needed in already-Red China?
Part 4 – How the Little Red Book created a cult ‘of socialism’ and not ‘of Mao’
Part 5 – Red Guards ain’t all red: Who fought whom in China’s Cultural Revolution?
Part 6 – How the socioeconomic gains of China’s Cultural Revolution fuelled their 1980s boom
Part 7 – Ending a Cultural Revolution can only be counter-revolutionary
Part 8 – What the West can learn: Yellow Vests are demanding a Cultural Revolution
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. He is the author of I’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television. He can be reached on Facebook.